Toussaint Louverture and the American Civil War: The Promise and Peril of a Second Haitian Revolution

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At the end of the eighteenth century, a massive slave revolt rocked French Saint Domingue, the most profitable European colony in the Americas. Under the leadership of the charismatic former slave François Dominique Toussaint Louverture, a disciplined and determined republican army, consisting almost entirely of rebel slaves, defeated all of its rivals and restored peace to the embattled territory. The slave uprising that we now refer to as the Haitian Revolution concluded on January 1, 1804, with the establishment of Haiti, the first "black republic" in the Western Hemisphere.

The Haitian Revolution cast a long shadow over the Atlantic world. In the United States, according to Matthew J. Clavin, there emerged two competing narratives that vied for the revolution's legacy. One emphasized vengeful African slaves committing unspeakable acts of violence against white men, women, and children. The other was the story of an enslaved people who, under the leadership of Louverture, vanquished their oppressors in an effort to eradicate slavery and build a new nation.

Toussaint Louverture and the American Civil War examines the significance of these competing narratives in American society on the eve of and during the Civil War. Clavin argues that, at the height of the longstanding conflict between North and South, Louverture and the Haitian Revolution were resonant, polarizing symbols, which antislavery and proslavery groups exploited both to provoke a violent confrontation and to determine the fate of slavery in the United States. In public orations and printed texts, African Americans and their white allies insisted that the Civil War was a second Haitian Revolution, a bloody conflict in which thousands of armed bondmen, "American Toussaints," would redeem the republic by securing the abolition of slavery and proving the equality of the black race. Southern secessionists and northern anti-abolitionists responded by launching a cultural counterrevolution to prevent a second Haitian Revolution from taking place.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A challenging and provocative study that asks us to think much more broadly both about the political culture of antebellum America and about the coming and meaning of the Civil War."—Steven Hahn, author of A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration

"Exploring the ambiguous and contested place of Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolution in American political and cultural life, [Matthew Clavin] contends that Haiti's influence extended well into the nineteenth century and was a significant factor in shaping American understandings of their Civil War. . . . A well-written, deeply researched study that extends and deepens our understanding of the connections between two nations whose destinies were so closely entwined during the era of slavery."—Journal of American History

"Toussaint Louverture and the American Civil War demonstrates beyond a doubt just how much attention the Haitian Revolution received in the United States between 1791 and 1865, from both whites and blacks, from the North and the South alike, and from abolitionists to fire-eaters. Elegantly written and deeply researched, this gripping account is filled with insight about America's fascination with Louverture and his rebellion."—Douglas Egerton, author of Death or Liberty: African Americans and Revolutionary America

"Toussaint Louverture and the American Civil War is a challenging and provocative study that asks us to think much more broadly both about the political culture of antebellum America and about the coming and meaning of the Civil War."—Steven Hahn, author of A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812242058
  • Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/18/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 248
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Matthew J. Clavin is Associate Professor of History at the University of Houston.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1. "The insurrection of the Blacks in St. Domingo": Remembering Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolution

Chapter 2. "He patterned his life after the San Domingan": John Brown, Toussaint Louverture, and the Triumph of Violent Abolitionism
Chapter 3. "Contemplate, I beseech you, fellow-citizens, the example of St. Domingo": Abolitionist Dreams, Confederate Nightmares, and the Counterrevolution of Secession

Chapter 4. "Liberty on the Battle-field": Haiti and the Movement to Arm Black Soldiers
Chapter 5. "Emancipation or Insurrection": Haiti and the End of Slavery in America

Chapter 6. "Many a Touissant L'Overture amongst us": Black Identity
Chapter 7. "A Repetition of San Domingo?": Southern White Identity
Chapter 8. "Do we want another San Domingo to be repeated in the South?" Northern White Identity


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