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The Haitian Constitution

The Haitian Constitution is quite a historic document. This constitution was the 3rd one created in the world at this point in time and it was also created for the first black republic in the world. Comparing the Haitian Constitution to the constitution of the United States, there are some obvious differences. In comparison to the United States constitution, some of the articles of Haitain constitution were created, obviously submerged in the events of the time, and was in comparison more racially charged, instead of thinking towards the future. 

A few of the articles that are slightly odd and are reflective of Haiti’s feeling towards the French include Article 12, 13, and 14. Article 12 states that “No white person, of whatever nationality, shall set foot on this territory with the title of master or proprietor, nor in the future, acquire property here.” Being that slavery had been recently abolished, it would make sense for having this in the constitution at that time, however thinking  forward to the present, articles like this don’t apply to Haitian society today. Articles 13 and 14 essentially follow the same suit, and address race in the sense of a child coming from a Haitian man and white woman, is a Haitain citizen and the woman is allowed to stay as well.

Partus Sequitur Ventrem

In both Philip’s and Harris’ works, there is a question, spoken or non, about the association of blackness to property.

For Harris, she noted that slavery was a system that thrived from the division of color, facilitating the idea that ownership was a birthright of skin tone. On page 278, Harris says, “…the institution of slavery, lying at the very core of economic relations, was bound up with the idea of property.” There were many continuing underlying issues perpetuating the idea of whiteness as property, but the most notable was the monetary gain white slave owners were earning from their black slaves.

Philips examined every line of text from the Zong legal case and offered her own expert insight on the determination of the case. As she tore into insurance and property law, she highlighted several key points, one of which was the reasoning behind throwing the African slaves overboard. The insurance company would have to pay the Captain and the family buying the slaves money for “loss of property and income.” In the original case document, the slaves were referred to as “cargo.” Slaves were considered property.

I find it interesting that in both readings we hear cases for blackness as property, and in each case, the law stands on the side of white, property-owning citizens. Even though the law does not strictly mention skin color, it mentions property, and slaves had their statuses legally demoted to “domestic animal” and were branded as animals (Duke Law). This was because whites had adopted the Roman law of partus sequitur ventrem. It handled the legal status of animals in Rome, but the law had been twisted to fit the needs of slave owners by becoming “a legal doctrine concerning the slave or free status of children born in the English royal colonies” (Wikipedia, Duke Law). Both authors make strong legal arguments that blackness was a determinant of property, and I believe they are correct in their stances of black skin color sealing slaves’ fates as property.

Duke Law:

I realize Wikipedia isn’t a good source, but Duke Law stated the same idea. Wikipedia just said it better.

Presentation of Law in Two Constitutions

While reading, I was drawn to do a close reading comparison of the Haitian Constitution and the U.S. Constitution. I am currently in a Constitutional Law class so I couldn’t help but note the differences between the document from Haiti and here. Specifically, the biggest difference is in how the law is presented. One aspect of the United States Constitution that is frustrating in a Con Law class, but I found an appreciation for after reading the Haitian document, is the fluidity of it. The US Constitution is crafted in a vague way, especially in the Bill of Rights. I think that this vagueness and introduced elasticity is actually beneficial for the law. The law in the U.S. Constitution becomes malleable in a way that is still firm, but also open to interpretation. It opens it to changing times and beliefs so that it is not stuck in tradition, but able to move forward with the people. For example, the First Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law establishing religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” which may seem specific, but is not. It brings up the questions of “what is a religion”, “can Congress allot tax money to religious organizations with secular aims”, etc. These are all questions that have answers that can change with the time because the law, in this case, is how it is interpreted. The Haitian Constitution does not have this flexible aspect. It seems that the clauses are very specific. Article Two says that “slavery is abolished forever”. This applies to the list of duties of the government as well. The U.S. Constitution lists vaguely again the roles of each branch of government, but the Haitian Constitution gets specific. Article 15 says that “The Empire is one and indivisible; its territory composed of six military divisions”. I should also note that there are some strangely vague parts like the article about the “good father”, but for the most part, I see this Constitution as something very specific. There is little room there for potential change. I am not here to argue that one is better than the other, but it is interesting that the U.S. Constitution opens the law to change, while the Haitian Constitution sets it more firmly. 

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.