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Haitian Declaration and Constitution : Anti – Slavery

William (Tradd) Stover

I found these two documents really interesting and unique from anything I have analyzed before. I say they are unique because of the cleanly stated, staunch outlaw off slavery that is stated in multiple areas of both pieces. Clearly, those sort of statements do not exist in the U.S founding documents. Rather, America makes claims that can be interpreted in different ways such as labeling all men as free. Well, this raises the question: what is a man?

In the Haitian Declaration, the commander in chief states that slavery is horrific and shall never be practiced again within the first few lines of the work. “Independence or death” is a phrase used multiple times throughout the document. This is interesting because on initial glance, this looks and sounds like something the U.S declaration would say. The idea of being free is relevant, and even crucial, to both nations, but it is simply the connotation of the word “free” that brings about a difference. Haitians want to be free in somewhat of a more literal sense. They want to be free from the chains that have held them down, oppressed, and bloodied their people. On the contrary, colonial Americans want to be free from an overbearing government, one that patriots deem unfair. This similarity in form but difference in context is really interesting and telling of some of the differences between each culture.

The Haitian Constitution is in many ways similar to that of the United States. Most notably, it lists powers that the president, or in this case Emperor shall possess. I noticed that the powers shared between the two are quite similar. The structure of the document is also quite similar to the U.S version in that it is separated into sections with articles. One of the main differences, again, is the clear outlaw of slavery. The second article reads, “slavery is abolished forever’. That is about as clear cut as possible. This idea of what the word free really stands for comes into play once again.

Another blatant and extreme difference is the feelings that these Haitian documents show toward France. The Declaration speaks of “pursuing forever the traitors and enemies of your independence” and “Eternal hatred of France”. There is an incredible theme of revenge here that is much more evident than in the United States Declaration.

These two documents make for an interesting read. I enjoyed comparing and contrasting these from the ones drafted by the U.S. It is striking in some ways how similar, yet fundamentally different these documents are from what I am used to reading and studying. This writing is very powerful and useful still today.

2 thoughts on “Haitian Declaration and Constitution : Anti – Slavery”

  1. Very nice identification of the ways in which Haiti’s founding documents’ departures from the U.S. models come into full view only because of how closely they *mirror* these models!


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