Saturday, December 29, 2012

Slavery and the French Revolution

"Execrable Human Traffick, or The Affectionate Slaves"
by George Morland - 1789 (The Menil Collection - Houston, Texas)

"Why are Black people enslaved? The color of people's skin only suggests a slight difference. There is no discord between day and night, the sun and the moon and between the stars and dark sky. All is varied; it is the beauty of nature. Why destroy nature's work?"
Olympe de Gouges, Reflections on Black People, 1788

Even before 1789 critics had attacked the slave trade and slavery in the colonies. France had several colonies in the Caribbean, the most important of which was Saint Domingue (later called Haiti). There were 500,000 slaves there in 1789 and they provided the labor for sugar, coffee, and cotton plantations.
The behavior of slaves and the actions of slave owners in the colonies was regulated by a series of royal edicts, called the Code Noir, or slave code.
When the Revolution began in 1789 the free mulattos of Saint Domingue discussed the rights of free blacks.Vincent Ogé presented the views of his fellow mulatto property owners to a meeting of the white planters in 1789.Assembly of Colonists
Both groups sent their representatives to France to demand representation in the National Assembly. There were those in the National Assembly who believed in rights for blacks and worked for abolition of slavery. Some were members of the Society of the Friends of Blacks, a French abolition organization. However, there was not much support for aboliton among the revolutionaries. They also argued for full rights for free blacks - There were about 28,000 free blacks and mulattos in Haiti, many of whom owned slaves of their own. More radical revolutionaries continued to urge abolition. Olympe de Gouges, who also championed rights of women, wrote Reflections of Black People, a pamphlet urging improvement of the situations of slaves and free blacks.

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