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Why Was the Haitian Revolution Unique?

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

In this lesson, we'll discuss the Haitian Revolution, which was was one of the most successful slave rebellions in the history of the world. In particular, we'll explore what makes this revolution exceptionally unique.

Haitian Revolution

Revolutions and rebellions are very common occurrences in world history. When a group of people is oppressed or abused, it's only natural for them to want change. In many cases, change is brought about by violent or very extreme means. This was the case during the Haitian Revolution. For over a decade, the tiny island was caught in a bloody and violent conflict. But what makes the Haitian Revolution different from so many other revolutions in history?

Levels of Revolution

What exactly were people revolting against during the Haitian Revolution? At face value, the Haitian Revolution was a widespread slave rebellion. After decades of brutality, the slaves in the French colony of Saint-Dominique (now Haiti) were fed up. At the same time, there were other factors at play.

Saint-Dominique was controlled by the French government, but the people living in the colony had no say or representation in that government. Their fates and livelihoods were in the hands of people thousands of miles away. Tensions between Saint-Dominique's different social classes continued to grow. Rich plantation owners fought with the petit blancs, a group of white merchants and artisans. And free blacks and mulattoes (people of both European and African descent) had no rights as citizens.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic Ocean, the French Revolution was in full-swing. The monarchy no longer existed and a new government was in place. Leaders of the French Revolution adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, a document that argued for equal rights for all men and a government that actually represented the people. These ideas inspired many people in Saint-Dominique to fight for change in the colony, especially free blacks and mulattoes.

Successful Slave Rebellion

In U.S. history books, you've probably read about various slave rebellions leading up to the American Civil War. None of these rebellions, however, was very successful. The slaves were captured or killed, and slavery continued to exist in the United States. In Saint-Dominique, however, this was not the case. The Haitian Revolution was one of the most successful slave rebellions in world history. Not only did the rebellion bring an end to slavery in Haiti, it also helped to make Saint-Dominique its own country completely separate from France. Pretty impressive for a tiny island!

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