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Liberia: America's Footprint in AfricaMaking the Cultural, Social, and Political Connections
By Jesse N. Mongrue
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Jesse N. Mongrue
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHow It All Started
Putting history in a proper setting, it can be argued that the return of freed American blacks to Africa was neither a voluntary act nor an accident by the founders. The idea to repatriate freed American blacks to Africa had economic, political, and security implications on both continents. Research shows that the United States was the number one slave-trading nation in the world until the Jefferson Anti-Slavery Act of 1803 and the Way Showing Act of 1807. While it is true that slave trade in the United States before the industrial revolution primarily served an economic purpose, especially in the South, returning blacks to Africa was compelled, from the perspective of the men who sponsored the creation an African colony.
The idea of sending free African Americans to Africa took a center stage after several key foreign and domestic events of the late seventeenth century, relating to slavery, hastened the process. The primary foreign event that influenced the idea of repatriation was the Haitian revolution of 1791, which was led by black leader Francois Dominique Toussaint L'Ouverture. He led fellow slaves in a revolt against their slave-masters in Santo Domingo and won their freedom. The slave rebellion lunched on August 22, 1791, represented the culmination of a conspiracy among black slave leaders on the French colony (van der Kraaij/Bremen, 1983, p. 23).
According to historical accounts of the rebellion that have been told through the years, Francois Dominique Toussaint L'Ouverture helped plot the uprising. Among the rebellion leaders were Boukman, a Maroon (runaway slave subsisting in community with other runaways) voodoo hougan (high priest), Georges Biassou, who later made Toussaint his aide in their struggle for freedom; Jean-Francois, who subsequently commanded forces along with Biassou and Toussaint under the Spanish flag, and Jeannot, the most bloodthirsty of them all. The carnage that wreaked havoc in the northern settlements of Acul, Limbe, Flaville, and Le Normand revealed the simmering fury of an oppressed people. The runaway slaves slaughtered every white person they encountered (Blackburn, Robin. The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 2004).
According to the US Department of State-Foreign Policy Agenda, (Bureau of Public Affairs) 2010, the rebellion left an estimated ten thousand black slaves and twenty-four thousand whites dead and more than one thousand plantations sacked and razed. During the ten-day rebellion, the slaves managed to take full control of the entire northern province in an unprecedented slave revolt that left the whites in control of only a few fortified camps. According to one account of the incident, the slaves sought revenge on their masters through "pillage, rage, torture, mutilation, and death."
Because the white plantation owners had long feared a revolt like this, they were well-armed and prepared to defend themselves should an attack happen. They retaliated by massacring black prisoners as they were being escorted back to town by French soldiers. Within weeks, approximately One hundred thousand slaves joined the revolt, and as the violence escalated over the next two months, insurgent slaves killed two thousand whites and burned or destroyed 180 sugar plantations and hundreds of coffee and indigo plantations.
By 1792, the African slaves had control of a third of the island, a situation that created major problems for the newly elected legislative assembly of France. In order to protect France's economic interests, the legislative assembly granted civil and political rights to "free men of color" in the colonies. Many Haitians believed that the Maroons' attacks were only the first manifestation of a revolt against the French and, potentially, the entire slaveholding system. Certainly, the 1791 rebellion was a turning point that evolved into the Haitian revolution. The event marked the beginning of a martial tradition (martial tradition means that the event was suited for war or military life) for blacks, just as service in the colonial militia had done for the gens de couleur ("free people of color," one of the four types of people in Haiti).
News of the incident spread like a wide fire around the world, including the United States. The fear and uncertainty among whites in America was that Toussaint, a full-blooded African who had defeated British and French forces, might eventually invade the United States and free the slaves; alternatively, free African Americans might follow or join Toussaint in freeing their brothers and sisters from captivity in this country. This sentiment was more prevalent in the southern part of the United States, where the general thought had been that the Haitian revolution could spell similar disasters here on the mainland. Haiti had an official policy to accept any black person who arrived on their shores as a citizen.
The legislatures of Pennsylvania and South Carolina, as well as Washington, DC, sent help to the French whites of Saint-Dominique, Haiti. According to Blackburn in his article "Haiti's Slavery in the Age of the Democratic Revolution" (William and Mary Quarterly; 63.4, 633–644, 2006), studies on the history of the Haitian Revolution, there was debate over whether the United States should institute an embargo against Haiti. John Taylor of South Carolina spoke for much of the popular sentiment among the leaders from the South during that time. To Taylor, the Haitian revolution exemplified that slavery should be permanently institutionalized in the United States. He further argued against the idea that slavery had caused the revolution in Haiti by suggesting that the antislavery movement had provoked the revolt in the first place.
According to historian Tim Mathewson, John Taylor's comments in the debate shows how people's attitude had changed in the South from one of reluctantly accepting slavery as a necessity to one of seeing it as a fundamental aspect of Southern culture and the planter class. As the years progressed, Haiti had only become a bigger target for scorn amongst the pro-slavery factions in the South. The belief among many southern whites was that the revolution through violence in Haiti was an inherent characteristic of blacks, as proved by the slaughtering of French whites and the authoritarian rule that followed at the end of the revolution.
The fearful white slaveholders called the will of the slaves to free themselves the "Santo Domingo virus," a sickness whites believed arrived on slave ships from the West Indies. It was thought that the revolutionary forces set off by the Haitian revolution—on the island that encompassed Santo Domingo, the present-day Dominican Republic, and Saint-Domingue, present-day Haiti—were infecting the American slave population and inciting insurrection. The white Americans were concerned that a race war was imminent. In the 1800s, there was an alarming increase in the number of free African Americans in the United States. Although the ratio of whites to blacks was 8:2 from 1790 to 1800, it was the massive increase in the number of free African Americans that disturbed the colonizationists. From 1790 to 1800, the number of free African Americans increased from 59,467 to 108,378, a percentage increase of 82 percent; and from 1800 to 1810, the number increased from 108,378 to 186,446, an increase of 72 percent. While colonizationists in the south were motivated by racism and fear of a slave uprising, colonizationists in the north refused to accept the notion of white–black coexistence. The final solution would be to have this class of people deported from United States.
Situation before the Slave Revolt
According to an account from Haiti before the uprising in 1791, the African-born slaves lived in terrible conditions, oppressed and treated as if they were less human. In 1789, the colony of Saint-Domingue was producing 40 percent of the world's sugar. Not only was it France's most profitable and wealthiest colony, it was the period's most flourishing slave colony in the Caribbean. There were three classes of people: whites, free people of color (gens de couleur or mulattoes), and the enslaved blacks, who outnumbered the whites and the people of color by eight to one. The slave population on the island totaled five hundred thousand by 1789, according to Bob Corbett, a Haitian historian, almost half of the one million slaves in the Caribbean. The slaves were mostly first generation African-born. The death rate in the Caribbean exceeded the birth rate; as a result, kidnapped Africans continued to be imported as slaves to meet the demand for labor on the plantations. At the same time, the adult slave population declined at an annual rate of 2–5 percent, due to deaths caused by exhaustion. The slaves also had inadequate food and shelter, no clothing or medical care, as well as an imbalance of the sexes, the men outnumbering the women, Corbett, (2009). Some of the slaves were of a Creole language (Creole is a language spoken by more than twelve million along with French in Haiti), elite class born in the urban areas and served in domestic capacities as cooks, personal servants, and artisans around the plantation house. They were a relatively privileged class who were chiefly born in the Americas (the Creole-speaking Haitians were equivalent to "house Negros" in the United States during the period of slavery; Haitian slaves and their descendents who did not work on the plantations).
The underclass of African-born slaves were confined to hard labor and abusive conditions. On the island of Saint-Domingue in 1789, the population of whites was about forty thousand. The sugar planters, known as the grands blancs, or "rich whites," were chiefly minor aristocratic Frenchmen. This group usually returned to France as soon as possible when their assignments were over to avoid the dreaded, tropical yellow-fever disease, which regularly swept the colony. The lower-class whites, also known as petit blancs, or "minor whites," included artisans, shopkeepers, slave dealers, overseers, and day laborers. The island of Saint-Dominique's free people of color known as the gens de couleur libres, with a total population of twenty-eight thousand by 1789, was what is known in America as a biracial population. Many of them served as artisans and overseers or domestic servants in the big houses (Corbert, 2009).
There were other issues among the three groups in addition to the class and racial tension between whites, free people of color, and the enslaved blacks. The island was polarized by regional rivalries between regions in the north, the south, and the west. There were also conflicts between proponents of independence: those loyal to France, the allies of Spain, and the allies of Great Britain, all of whom desired control over this valuable colony. With such polarization, it is obvious that uprising was inevitable; there was discontent among the African slaves who were going through abuse both physical and emotional at the time.
Laws and Regulations Enacted in the United States in Reaction to the Haitian Revolt
Between 1794 and 1800, the US federal government passed anti-slave-trade laws to prevent the possible spread of the Haitian slave revolt to its shores. The first act prohibited citizens from equipping ships engaged in slave-trade commerce; the second prohibited Americans from serving aboard such ships or from having any interest in their voyages (Aptheker, (1993): 45). Beginning in 1792, southern states like South Carolina, Kentucky, North Carolina, Georgia, and Maryland passed laws restricting slave trade as a means of preventing the possible infection of the country by the Haitian rebellion.
South Carolina's statute prohibited the importation by any one person of more than two slaves and required that the slaves imported be for personal use only. This law was subsequently modified to retain a total ban only with respect to slaves from the West Indies or South America. However, all imported slaves had to be accompanied by a statement signed by two magistrates attesting that the slaves had not been involved in any insurrection or revolt (Aptheker, (1993): 73–74).
In 1797, Baltimore, Maryland, passed an ordinance declaring all slaves imported from the West Indies between 1792 and 1797 to be "dangerous to the peace and welfare of the city" and ordering their masters to banish them (Aptheker, (1993): 74).
Many southern states enacted measures restricting the civil liberties of blacks, including laws forbidding meetings of slaves without the presence of whites, prohibiting the assembly of blacks on city streets after dark, requiring slaves to have passes when off plantation, forbidding slaves to possess weapons, and providing severe penalties for sedition.
Aptheker also points out the South Carolina regulation that made it necessary for a magistrate and five freeholders to approve a document of manumission or liberation from slavery, freeing slaves from bondage. One of the stated reasons for this regulation was a concern that slaveholders would release slaves "of bad or depraved character" who might incite rebellion once freed.
Freed blacks were restricted in their rights to hold certain jobs or learn certain trades that might make it easier for them to organize a rebellion. They were also restricted in their freedom of movement from state to state or county to county. In some states, blacks were prevented from testifying in court against white persons; this restriction had the effect of preventing blacks from defending themselves against charges that they were part of a slave conspiracy.
Shortly after the Vesey Plot to burn down Charleston, North Carolina, was aborted, white Carolinians took measure to ensure that free blacks were given even less freedom. (Dermark Vessy was a convicted plotter in the 1822 slaves rebellion; Vessy, along with thirty-four other blacks, were hanged in what historians believed to be the largest civil execution in United States' history.) As part of the effort, in December 1832, the South Carolina legislature enacted the Free-Colored Seamen's Act, requiring that all free blacks employed on incoming vessels be detained in jail while their ship was in port.
Chapter TwoEstablishment of the American Colonization Society (ACS)
The common belief that Liberia was founded by freed American slaves in 1847 must be challenged. An argument can be made that Liberia was founded by people other than free African Americans, namely the American white men who organized as the American Colonization Society (ACS) and established Liberia in 1821.
The ACS was inaugurated on December 21, 1816, in Washington, D.C., by American political and religious leaders who formulated the idea of creating an African colony. They included the following dignitaries:
President James Monroe
President Thomas Jefferson
President James Madison
Speaker of the House of Representatives Henry Clay of Kentucky
Chief Justice John Marshall of the United States Supreme Court
Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford of Georgia
Attorney General William Hirt
Associate Supreme Court Justice Bushrod Washington (nephew of President George Washington)
President (and general) Andrew Jackson of Tennessee
Elias B. Caldwell, clerk of the United States Supreme Court
Congressman Charles Fenton Mercer of Virginia
Daniel Webster of Massachusetts
Francis Scott Key, author of the Star-Spangled Banner, the US national anthem
John Taylor of Virginia
Richard Rush, who served as United States Minister of England
Rev. Robert Finley
Excerpted from Liberia: America's Footprint in Africa by Jesse N. Mongrue Copyright © 2011 by Jesse N. Mongrue. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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