Thursday, September 20, 2012

Liberty or Death Proclamation Jean-Jacques Dessalines of Haiti

Jean-Jacques Dessalines
Photo / Text credit: The Public Archive | Balance and Columbian Repository

War, even to Death, to Tyrants!" this is my motto; "Liberty! Independence !" this is our rallying cry.

– Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Governor General, to the People of Hayti

What then? Bent for many ages under an iron yoke; the sport of the passions of men, or their injustice, and of the caprices of fortune; mutilated victims of the cupidity of white Frenchmen; after having fattened with our toils these insatiate blood suckers, with a patience and resignation unexampled, we should again have seen that sacrilegious horde make an attempt upon our destruction, withou t any distinction of sex or age; and we, men without energy, of no virtue, of not delicate sensibility, should not we have plunged in their breast the dagger of desperation? Where is that vile Haitian, so unworthy of his regeneration, who thinks he has not accomplished the decrees of the Eternal, by exterminating these blood-thirsty tygers? If there is one, let him fly; indignant nature discards him from our bosom; let him hide his shame far from hence: the air we breath is not suited to his gross organs; it is the pure air of Liberty, august and triumphant.

Yes, we have rendered to these true cannibals war for war, crime for crime, outrage for outrage; yes, I have saved my country; I have avenged America. The avowal I make of it in the face of earth and heaven, constitutes my pride and my glory. Of what consequence to me is the opinion which contemporary and future generations will pronounce upon my conduct? I have performed my duty; I enjoy my own approbation; for me that is sufficient. But what do I say? The preservation of my unfortunate brothers, the testimony of my own conscience, are not my only recompense: I have seen two class of men, born to cherish, assist and succour one another — mixed, in a word, and blended together — crying for vengeance, and disputing the honor of the first blow.

Blacks and Yellows, whom the refined duplicity of Europeans has for a long time endeavored to divide; you, who are now consolidated, and make but one family; without doubt it was necessary that our prefect reconciliation should be sealed with the blood of your butchers. Similar calamaties have hung over your proscribed heads: a familiar ardour to slake your enemies, has signalized you: the like fate is reserved for you: and the like interests must therefore render you fore ever one, indivisible, and inseparable. Maintain this precious concord, that happy harmony amongst yourselves: it is the pledge of your happiness, your salvation, and your success: It is the secret of being invincible.

It is necessary, in order to strengthen these ties, to recall to your remembrance the catalogue of atrocities committed against our species ; the intended massacre of the entire population of this island, meditated in the silence and sang-froid of the cabinet ; the execution of that abominable project to me was unblushingly proposed, when already begun by the French, with the calmness and serenity of a countenance accustomed to similar crimes.

Guadaloupe pillaged and destroyed ; its ruins still reeking with the blood of the children, women, and old men put to the sword; Pelage1 (himself the victim of their craftiness), after having basely betrayed his country and his brothers ; the brave and immortal Delgresse2, blown into the air with the fort he defended, than accept their offered chains. Magnanimous warrior! that noble death, far from enfeebling our courage, serves only to rouse within us the determination of avenging or of following thee.

Shall I again recall to your memory the plots lately framed at Jeremie ? the terrible explosion that was to be the result, not-withstanding the generous pardon granted to these incorrigible beings at the expulsion of the French army? The deplorable fate of our departed brothers in Europe ? and (dread harbinger of death) the frightful despotism exercised at Martinique? Unfortunate people of Martinique, could I but fly to your assistance, and break your fetters! Alas! an insurmountable barrier separates us ; yet, perhaps a spark from the same fire which inflames us, will alight on your bosoms: perhaps, at the sound of this emotion, suddenly awakened from your lethargy, with arms in your hands, you will reclaim your sacred and indelible rights.

After the terrible example I have just given, sooner or later Divine Justice will unchain on earth some mighty minds, above the weakness of the vulgar, for the destruction and terror of the wicked. Tremble! tyrants, usurpers, scourges of the new world!

Our daggers are sharpened, your punishment is ready ! Sixty thousand men, equipped, inured to war, obedient to my orders, burn to offer a new sacrifice to the names of their assassinated brothers. Let that nation come who may be mad or daring enough to attack me.

Already at its approach, the irritated Genie of Hayti, arising from the bosom of the ocean, appears; his menacing aspect throws the waves into commotion, excites tempests, and with his mighty hand disperses, or dashes fleets in pieces; to his formidable voice the laws of nature pay obedience; disease, plague, famine, conflagration, poison, are his constant attendants.

But why calculate on the assistance of the climate and of the elements? Have I forgot that I command a people of no common cast brought up in adversity whose audacious daring frowns at obstacles and increases by dangers? Let them come then these homicidal Cohort! I wait for them with firmness and with a steady eye. I abandon to them freely the sea shore and the places where cities have existed but woe to those who may approach too neat the mountains! It were better for them that the sea received them into its profound abyss than to be devoured by the anger of the children of Hayti.

War, even to Death, to Tyrants!" this is my motto; "Liberty! Independence!" this is our rallying cry.

Generals, Officers, Soldiers, somewhat unlike him who has preceded me, the Ex-General Toussaint L'Ouverture, I have been faithful to the promise I made to you, when I took up arms against tyranny, and whilst the last spark of life remains in me I will keep my oath. "Never again shall a colonist, or an European, set his foot upon this territory with the title of master or proprietor." This resolution shall henceforward form the fundamental basis of our constitution. Should other chiefs, after me, by pursuing a conduct diametrically opposite to mine, dig their own graves, and those of their own species, you will have to accuse only the law of destiny, which shall have taken me away from the happiness and welfare of my fellow-citizens. May my successors follow the path I shall have traced for them!

It is the system best adapted for consolidating their power it is the highest homage they can render to my memory.

As it is derogatory to my character and my dignity to punish the innocent for the crimes of the guilty, a handful of whites commendable by the religion they have always professed and who have beside taken the oath to live with us in the woods have experienced my clemency.

I order that the sword respect them and that they be unmolested. I recommend anew and order to all the generals of departments to grant succours [help], encouragement and protection to all neutral and friendly nations who may wish to establish commercial relations in this Island.

Head-Quarters at the Cape, 28th April, 1804, first year of independence.

The Governor-General, (Signed) Dessalines. A true Copy,
The Secretary-General, Juste Chanlatte.

Jean-Jacques Dessalines, “Liberty or Death. Proclamation. Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Governor General, to the People of Hayti,” Balance and Columbian Repository (June 19, 1804)

Happy birthday Papa Desalin! Janjak Desalin - 20 September 1758 – 17 October 1806

Further reading:
The full text of Dessaline's declaration can be read here.

"The Republican military establishment in Guadeloupe incorporated gens de couleur in the most senior positions, the mulatto General Magloire Pélage and the black general Louis Delgrés being notable amongst them. In 1801 Bonaparte sent Lacrosse, who had saved the Iles du Vent for the Republic in 1792, to prepare Guadeloupe for the Consulate's special colonial regime. Magloire Pélage quickly divined this threat and arrested Lacrosse on October 24th. Bonaparte thereupon dispatched a large force to the colony commanded by General Richepanse. Magloire Pélage came to terms with Richepanse in May, but Louis Delgrès opted for armed resistance. After a heroic last stand in the crater of the volcano Matouba Delgrès was killed and most of his followers overwhelmed. As soon as Richepanse received the decree of Floréal he decided to reintroduce slavery.

 […] To Leclerc's consternation news of the restoration of slavery in Guadeloupe reached St Domingue [Haiti] in July, demolishing the idea that the decree of Floréal was only applicable to Martinique and other territories where slavery had never been abolished. Leclerc complained to Paris that fear of the restoration of slavery was having a disastrous effect, stimulating the black revolt and undermining the loyalty of his black and mulatto commanders. Dessalines and Christophe had pitilessly repressed the rebels in the areas entrusted to them by the French Captain General.

In August and September they began to hedge their bets, covertly assisting some rebel groups while vigorously eliminating potential rivals. In an effort to retain the loyalty of his black generals Leclerc sent Rigaaud back to France. But the racism of the white colonial establishment had recreated the alliance between black and mulatto which had disappeared in the civil war of 1799. The black commanders, slighted by the French, were also profoundly aware of the depth of popular resistance to slavery and the caste regime. A decade of struggles had fused the pragmatic and the ideological dimensions of anti-slavery in the popular mentality. Intelligence of the restoration of slavery thus triggered the defence of quite specific rights and possessions; as for the anciens libres they sensed that their own civic status would be similarly degraded if black slavery was restored. On October 13th-14th 1802 the most outstanding black and mulatto generals – Dessalines, Christophe, Clerveau and Pétion – simultaneously turned on the French, with regiments comprising some 6,000 disciplined and well-armed troops." -- The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 1776-1848 by Robin Blackburn

Magloire Pélage and Louis Delgrés of Guadeloupe:
The impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic world - Page 122 - Google Books Result
by David Patrick Geggus

Louis Delgrés: Tribute to Louis Delgrès - The Toni Morrison Society (pdf)

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