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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Essay, "The Delicate Interest" - Review of U.S. - Haitian Relations, 1798-1848

The “Delicate Interest:” American Relations with Haiti, 1798-1848
Alexander Marriott

Historians have only relatively recently begun to examine the importance of the Haitian Revolution in the context of the spirit of revolution which swept the Atlantic World during the half century between the American Revolution and the Wars of Independence in the American colonies of Spain.[1] The question of why the United States, self-proclaimed standard bearer of republicanism in the world, did not recognize the second republic in the Western Hemisphere is one that is often too easily answered. Tim Matthewson has argued that U.S. foreign policy was “proslavery” from the outset with the “policies of President George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers.”[2] Matthewson further contends that “No country has suffered more than Haiti from the export of America’s racial divisions abroad.”[3] This is strong medicine and surly some amount of chastisement is necessary, but it would seem as to the latter charge that Liberia has a better clam to that dubious distinction. As to the former charge, others (including Matthewson)[4] have offered more complex and more convincing explanations for U.S. foreign policy towards Haiti in the Early Republic. A recent work on the subject claims:
The ambiguities of our policy toward the emerging state of Haiti were, in the end, a reflection of how closely balanced those competing interest groups were during most of the period under discussion in this work. It was only when the combined effect of Jefferson’s embargo and the collapse of the Haitian export economy caused the maritime interests effectively to drop out of the political argument than an anti-Haitian policy became crystal clear.[5]

What can too easily be lost in focusing on just the years of the early republic (1789-1825) is the foreign policy of those who came afterwards. While the “pragmatic policy”[6] which the early administrations adopted may strike people today as callous and even cowardly, such judgments must be tempered by two important facts. The first is the reality that the United States in the entire period of 1798-1848, but especially in the early republic years, was a relatively weak military power incapable of the projection of power it now commands. The second fact to keep in mind is that the early administrations were headed almost exclusively by people committed, at least theoretically and rhetorically, to the end of slavery and the recognition of its fundamental immorality. Two of the last Secretaries of State this study will look at, John C. Calhoun and James Buchanan, could not have the same caveats applied to them. Their policies and statements reflect this distinction. At the risk of picking on historical punching bags, the coarsening of the attitudes of some American towards Haiti was visible earlier than the 1840s. During Henry Clay’s tenure as Secretary of State in the administration of John Quincy Adams (1825-1829), the consular commercial agent in Port au Prince, Andrew Armstrong, wrote to Clay: “it is evident that our trade, is, notwithstanding the disadvantages under which it labours, the most considerable of the Island And that although we have a really ugly and crooked race of beings to deal with, yet they afford us so important a debouche for our produce, that it is worth our while to cultivate their good graces.”[7] But even this level of contemptuousness was too tame for the much more radical pro-slavery men who would steer the country towards disaster in the years that followed.

The relations of the United States and Haiti from 1798-1848 were complicated. Complicated by the presence of slavery in the United States; complicated by racism in both countries; complicated by intense Southern paranoia; complicated by colonization schemes; complicated by abolitionism; and complicated by ideological parallels and juxtapositions. To write-off the foreign policy of the United States towards Haiti in the early republic as “proslavery” presumes that many people, let alone those occupying the White House, had begun seriously articulating proslavery arguments (upon which to base a proslavery foreign policy). This was not the case. The tragic fact is that it would be the case by 1848, when the proslavery argument was in full bloom and the foreign policy of proslavery Presidents reflected it quite obviously.

The United States would not officially recognize Haiti until 1862, in the midst of the Civil War, when pro-slavery Southerners were not present to stop the action as they had been since 1804.[8] With that eventuality in mind, this survey terminates in 1848, a year of seminal importance in world affairs and in the Americas on several levels. Aside from being a year of revolutions in Europe, 1848 marks the end of the Mexican-American War and all official attempts to extend the territory of the United States through armed conflict until 1898.[9] Second, it is the last year of James K. Polk’s presidency; he would be the last pro-slavery Southerner to occupy the White House. Third, the political situation of the United States increasingly focused inward after 1848 leading up to the eruption of armed conflict in 1861. And, lastly, Haiti in 1848 was undergoing yet another political transformation. After the collapse of President Jean-Pierre Boyer’s regime in 1843, Haiti had been in political turmoil (with the creation of the Dominican Republic). For Haiti, 1848 was the year that Soulouque consolidated his power upon the ashes of republicanism, culminating in his becoming Emperor Faustin I the next year.

Navigating fifty years of diplomacy chronologically could be an immense task, given the myriad incidents and changes of government.[10] This problem has been surmounted by organizing this survey around three distinct phases of American policymakers. The first phase will take Thomas Jefferson and James Madison as examples. Both men were slave owners committed to the ultimate abolition of slavery, to the colonization of the freed slaves to some location outside of the United States, and to non-recognition of Haiti. The second phase includes James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, and Henry Clay. The time period in which these men shaped and directed foreign policy (1811-1829) witnessed the rise of slavery as the most divisive internal political issue. As a consequence, the solution they fashioned placed Union above all else. The end result was continued non-recognition. The last phase considers the diplomatic efforts of John C. Calhoun and James Buchanan; a southerner who thought slavery was a positive good and a northerner who thought slavery was not a moral issue to be meddled with, but repressed from the political scene if at all possible. These groups of statesmen confronted Haiti and the problem of diplomatic recognition from widely divergent assumptions. Crucially important were their different views of the issues which made U.S.-Haitian relations such a contentious issue in the antebellum period, slavery and race.[11]

* * *

In August 1791, the slaves of Saint-Domingue revolted. It was a coordinated and planned revolt which caught the whites and free people of color on the island off guard. The initial chaos and brutality of the revolt, in atrocity and reprisal, created the images and horrors which paranoid slave-owners and the active pro-slavery men would exploit and point to in justification of the non-recognition of Haiti. One historian of the revolutions in the Americas provides the following, “They strapped white planters to racks and cut them in half, raped their daughters and wives, and decapitated their children, impaling their heads on pikes. Women stuffed the severed genitals into the mouths of former masters and rapists as they bled to death. In reprisal, whites killed indiscriminately, imitating the rebellious slave practice of staking decapitated heads or hoisting tortured victims on crosses. In Cap Francais, they hanged slaves in the public square, joyously raising the British flag out of gratitude for the assistance—which included, among other things, slave-hunting dogs—they had received.”[12] The road from August 1791 to January 1804, when the Haitian Republic was born, was long, torturous, and complex. French, British, and Spanish armies would all become involved. The leaders of the rebels would split against each other under alliances with one or another foreign power.[13]

The United States monitored all of these events within the context of world trade and the continuing wars of the French Revolution. American merchants actively traded with France and her colonies since the days of the American Revolution. The French Revolution and the forces unleashed by it made this situation much more complex. George Washington declared American neutrality and the Federalist Party set itself against the French Republic. In 1798, when American diplomats were told they would have to pay bribes to meet with Foreign Minister Talleyrand, American public opinion became bellicose towards France. For the next two years a naval war ensued between France and the United States (known as the Quasi-War) with full expectation of French invasion.

Saint-Domingue, under the de jure control of France, but the de facto control of Toussaint L’Ouverture, created a unique problem for the Congress when considering the suspension of trade with France and her colonies. Thomas Jefferson, the Vice-President, presented the proposed solution to his temporarily retired friend James Madison: “The bill for continuing the suspension of intercourse with France and her dependencies is still before the Senate, but will pass by a very great vote. An attack is made on what is called Toussaint’s clause, the object of which, as is charged by the one party and admitted by the other, is to facilitate the separation of the island from France.”[14] When Toussaint’s clause became law, Jefferson voiced the paranoid fears of many Southerners: “We may expect therefore black crews, and supercargoes and missionaries thence into the southern states.”[15] He concluded his warning to Madison ominously, “If this combustion can be introduced among us under any veil whatever, we have to fear it.” Because his attitude as President was much more judicious, one wonders whether the hyperbolic partisanship of the crisis with France influenced Jefferson’s paranoia about the ability of black sailors and others from Saint-Domingue to come to the American south.
When Jefferson became President and placed his friend and ally Madison in the State Department, the political situation with France—and by extension, Saint-Domingue—had altered markedly. John Adams had successfully dissolved the crisis before leaving office, meaning American relations with Toussaint had to be conducted more delicately than before, so as not to provoke France into another military confrontation.[16] Above all else, Jefferson hoped to have the best of both worlds, unfettered trade with the island, while also preserving the status quo of French control. While both Jefferson and Madison committed themselves to the moral condemnation of slavery, they were also committed to the non-recognition of Haiti. This was all the more ironic when one considers the demonstrable fact that Jefferson’s greatest triumph, the Louisiana Purchase, would not have been possible (at least when it occurred) without the unintended assist of the blacks of Saint-Domingue, who foiled Napoleon’s grand designs in the western hemisphere (or at least delayed them so long that war restarted in Europe). The man Jefferson selected to perform the tricky legwork of his Haitian policy on the ground was Tobias Lear, whose most prominent former job was as private secretary to President George Washington.

When Tobias Lear, newly appointed agent of the United States of America to the Island of Saint-Domingue, arrived in his new post in the summer of 1801 he was quickly introduced to that “extraordinary man” who “commands everything in this Island,” Toussaint L’Ouverture.[17] The meeting went poorly; President Jefferson’s policy towards Saint-Domingue was intended to be much like that of President Adams, respectful non-recognition with a wink and a nod towards American merchants dealing with the former slaves. Toussaint was no fool and he immediately detected a change. According to Lear, “I handed my Commission to the General [Toussaint], who asked me if I had not a letter for him from the President, or from the Government. I told him I had not, and explained the reason, as not being customary in missions of this kind, where I should be introduced by my Predecessor, and exhibit my Commission as an evidence of my Appointment. He immediately returned my Commission without opening it, expressing his disappointment and disgust in strong terms, saying that his Colour was the cause of his being neglected, and not thought worthy of the Usual attentions.”[18] It would take more than one meeting with the General to convince him that he had not been slighted, Lear had to “assure him of the President’s respect & consideration” which mollified the leader of former slaves only temporarily.[19] The crisis was only resolved when Toussaint’s “sincere desire to preserve harmony and a good understanding with the United States” let him move beyond his perceived slight.[20]

It is not difficult to understand Toussaint’s frustration with having a new agent from the United States with no introductory letter from the government (though he may have been engaging in wishful thinking to expect a letter from Jefferson or any American President). It had been barely half a year since Toussaint L’Ouverture, victor of battles over French, Spanish, British, and opposition forces within Saint-Domingue and now “undisputed master”[21] of the island, had received a letter from outgoing Secretary of State, John Marshall. That letter was very interesting because, like the Lear incident, it characterized much of the confused nature of American dealings with what would become Haiti for the next half-century. Marshall was responding to requests for supplies from Toussaint through an intermediary merchant: “The principles which direct the Government of the United States do not permit its executive to engage in commercial enterprizes; of consequence from that source the articles you wish cannot be furnished. It is by individuals only that you can be supplied. No law exists which prevents the exportation from this Country to St Domingo, of any article of commerce what can be received there.”[22] Marshall even concluded on a note of optimistic cordiality, “Be assured, Sir, of our sincere desire to preserve the most perfect harmony and the most friendly intercourse with St. Domingo, and that we shall rejoice at every occasion of manifesting this disposition compatible with those fixed principles, which regulate the conduct of our Government.”[23] When Lear showed up without the title of “Consular,” which had been taken away in concession to France and no introduction from anyone aside from his predecessor, it is easy to see how Toussaint thought he was losing ground. Lear characterized the problem as arising out of Toussaint’s fear of not being “thot. Worthy of having a letter from the President or the Governmt.”[24]

When peace arrived in Europe in late 1801, the island of Saint-Domingue waited with hope and dread to see what Napoleon would do. Toussaint had angered the “Little Corsican” when he had invaded Spanish Santo Domingo on his own initiative, and Bonaparte was tired of the situation of nominal French control.[25] Tobias Lear reported the situation to Secretary Madison in the early months of 1802 as well as his own escape once the French invasion force arrived by the simple yet effective method of “gold.”[26] The campaign of the French, while initially going quite well, became mired in ceaseless guerilla warfare. At the same time the French soldiers under General Leclerc, Napoleon’s brother-in-law, were perishing at appalling rates due to the heat and disease of the tropics.[27]

American policy makers had been worried by the idea of French troops in the Caribbean because they thought it would just be a stepping stone to reestablishing a French North American Empire in the Louisiana territory, newly acquired from Spain. Madison requested information of Lear about the intentions of the French regarding their North American possessions:

Reports as you well know have long prevailed that a cession of Louisiana has been made to France by Spain. It is now conjectured by some that part of the force allotted for St. Domingo is directly or eventually destined to take possession of that territory. Should any discoveries be made by you with respect to either of these points You will be so good as to communicate them and in cipher is the nature of the communication require that precaution.[28]

Lear communicated that the intentions of the French were to go on to Louisiana, but he also informed him of America’s unwitting friend:

It is true that a force is destined to take possession of Louisiana. It is reported that General Barnadotte with 10 ships [of] the line is daily expected here on his way to take possession of that country. That this will be done I have no doubt but in the present states of the island all the force which [may] arrive here will be kept for the present.[29]

The French army would not be able to subdue Saint-Domingue, Leclerc would perish with his troops, and Louisiana would not become the base of operations for a reincarnated French North American empire. All this is due to the tenacity and fighting of the ex-slaves of Saint-Domingue. The United States, unable to help Saint-Domingue out militarily even if it wanted to (it did not), declared itself neutral and dealt with whoever controlled the ports where American merchants sold their products. President Jefferson told his Special Envoy to France, James Monroe, “As to the time of your going you cannot too much hasten it, as the moment in France is critical. St. Domingo delays their taking possession of Louisiana, and they are in the last distress for money for current purposes.”[30] Alexander Hamilton, degrading the supposed diplomatic genius of Jefferson, attributed the Louisiana Purchase “To the deadly climate of St. Domingo, and to the courage and obstinate resistance made by its black inhabitants.” It had been the “repeated and fruitless efforts to subjugate St. Domingo” which had “delayed the colonization of Louisiana” until war broke out again in Europe. War in Europe and the delay/defeat of French forces in Saint-Domingue had “destroyed at once all her [France] schemes as this favourite object [Louisiana] of her ambition.”[31]

The many faults of Jefferson and Madison in dealing with Toussaint and then the Haitian Republic of Dessalines (1804-1806) and the subsequent two states (Henri Christophe in the north as King, and Alexandre Pétion in the south as President) which existed while they controlled foreign policy should not move us to assume these two men were pro-slavery in outlook and unsympathetic to the people of Haiti. Jefferson, while speculating on black inferiority in his Notes on the State of Virginia (1787) made it clear that even if blacks were inferior human beings “it is no measure of their rights. Because Sir Isaac Newton was superior to others in understanding, he was not therefore lord of the person or property of others.”[32] Jefferson did not doubt the justice of slaves who revolted and that is precisely why the prospect frightened him. Towards the end of his life, Jefferson would write optimistically of President Boyer’s offer to import free black emigrants from the United States, “My proposition would be that the holders should give up all born after a certain day, past, present, or to come, that these should be placed under the guardianship of the States, and sent at a proper age to S. Domingo. There they are willing to receive them, & the shortness of the passage brings the deportation within the possible means of taxation aided by charitable contributions.”[33] Colonization of free blacks and emancipated slaves was an idea that many southern slaveholders, along with many others around the country, could not give up on. Jefferson and Madison clung desperately to it as a peaceful way of ending slavery, of letting the wolf go without it turning around to bite those who held it by the ears. It would be an idea which the next phase of policymakers would also embrace, but one that they would also see assaulted by abolitionists and rejected by pro-slavery men with no interest in seeing the ultimate demise of their “peculiar institution.”

* * *

James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, and Henry Clay were not pro-slavery men in the sense that they actively argued that slavery was a positive good for the country. All three of these men, in differing degrees, argued against slavery and the practices that went along with it during their long public careers. Monroe and Clay owned slaves during their public lives and both supported colonization. Adams most assuredly did not own slaves, ever, but his foreign policy and public actions while in a position to influence American actions towards Haiti were not substantially different from Clay or Monroe. The thing which united these men when they dealt with the issue of recognizing Haiti as an independent country, which every major European power had done by the end of the Adams presidency, was their concern for the Union. By 1829, issues dealing with slavery, even vaguely, could be dynamite on the national level.

Monroe had had some sobering experience in this regard when, as Governor of Virginia, he confronted Gabriel’s Rebellion in the fall of 1800. For many Southerners, including Monroe, the possibility of rebellion among their slaves immediately conjured up images of the horrors of the rebellion in Saint-Domingue. He told Jefferson, “It is unquestionably the most serious and formidable conspiracy we have ever known of the kind: tho’ indeed to call it so is to give no idea of the thing itself.”[34] The “rebellion” itself was a minor event which illustrated more about white paranoia than imminent black revolution.

As President, Monroe deployed the United States Navy off the coast of Africa to interdict American ships illegally engaged in the slave trade, which had been outlawed in 1819. He told Secretary of State John Quincy Adams: “I do not think that any foreigner can sustain a claim against an African brought directly from Africa as a slave, in our Courts, but that brought within our jurisdiction he must be free.”[35] When Boyer’s government demanded recognition and the Senate took up the issue in 1823, Monroe’s response was to list a series of complaints against the Haitian government, including the fact that the United States had to pay more trade duties than other nations and the anti-white provisions of the Haitian Constitution, such as the prohibition on white property ownership.[36] Monroe explained his reasoning to the retired Sage of Monticello:

The govt. of St. Domingo has demanded its recognition, & complains that a formal application for it, has not been answered. The subject was referr’d to me at the last session, but a motion of Mr. Holmes, of Maine, and on which I sent a special message, advertising very concisely to all the most important considerations involved in it, in the expectation that it would be published, & in the hope that the view therein taken, would conciliate the several parts of the Union towards each other, in regard to the delicate interest, to which it related.[37]

The “delicate interest” alluded to scarcely needed explication. Slavery, with an assist from explicit and implicit racism, lay at the core of the American inability to recognize what even France was finally coming to grips with.

Monroe and Clay were both firm supporters of the American Colonization Society, an organization devoted to the premise that only by offering the real possibility of sending blacks away to an African colony could Southerners then be convinced to emancipate their slaves. James Madison had held the Presidency of the ACS after he left the Presidency of the country, and had tried in vain to convince his own slaves to consent to being shipped off to Africa for their freedom.[38] Monroe and Clay were no more persuasive or successful, though the fifth President’s name was immortalized when Liberians decided to honor him with their capital city, Monrovia. After leaving his post as Secretary of State, Henry Clay spoke to the “Gentlemen of the Colonization Society of Kentucky” about the location best suited to send free blacks and the theoretical ex-slaves. The possible locations included, “Hayti,” a “district beyond the Rocky Mountains,” or the Liberian colony. Clay, an advocate of the ACS, spent the majority of the speech speaking to the advantages of Africa, but he did provide reasons for why Haiti could not be of greater advantage:

Hayti is objectionable as the sole place of their removal, on various accounts. It is too limited in its extent. Although a large island, containing considerable quantities of unseated land, it is incompetent as an assylum, during any great length of time, for the free persons of color of the United States. It possesses no advantage, either in the salubrity of its climate, or the fertility of its soil over the Western Coast of Africa. The productions of both countries are nearly the same. The expense of transportation to the one or to the other, is nearly the same. The emigrants would be in a state of dependence on the present inhabitants of the island, who have more intelligence and have made greater advances in civilization, and moreover possess all the power of the Government. They speak a different language. It should not be the policy of the United States, when they consider the predominant power of the island, and its vicinity to the Southern states, to add strength to it. And finally Hayti is destitute of some of those high moral considerations which belong to the foundation of a colony in Africa.[39]

From this statement and others like them from a whole host of other ACS spokespeople it is not difficult to deduce the reasons behind hostility from blacks and abolitionists. The implicit racism of the ACS and the drive to send free blacks off to an “assylum” tainted the organization as an anti-slavery group which it officially was.

Henry Clay served as Secretary of State at a crucial moment in the history of American diplomacy. He and President John Quincy Adams confronted the problem of diplomatic recognition for a whole host of new republics, stretching from Mexico to Chile. Haiti, stabilized under the republican government of Jean-Pierre Boyer, also cried out to be recognized by the western hemisphere’s first and still most enduring republic. President Adams, often remembered for his actions against slavery in the House of Representatives and his argument before the Supreme Court on behalf of the rebellious slaves of the Spanish slave ship Amistad, was reluctant to extend recognition to the Haitians. The most important diplomatic effort during their control of foreign policy was the meeting of the Panama Congress in 1826. But, according to one historian, “Long before Congress took up the Panama mission, the administration decided against any formal or informal alliance with the Spanish American nations, any possible recognition of Haiti, and any sign of encouragement for revolutionizing Cuba.”[40] Southerners were alarmed that American commissioners would be required to meet on an equal footing with black Haitian representatives or, more ominously, that the Panama Congress would call for Haiti’s recognition. Clay acknowledged that “the independence of the Haytian Government must shortly be recognized.” President Adams stayed true to “the course of the late Administration upon that subject.”[41] By the time American commissioners were approved by the Senate and had finally arrived in Panama, the congress had already met and disbanded.[42]

The debate in the Senate did not help U.S.-Haitian relations at all. Henry Clay had to remind the consul for Port au Prince, Andrew Armstrong, that, “Our policy must be regulated by our own sense of our interests and duties, whether it be conformable to the wishes of the Government of Hayti or not.”[43] As for any potential negative response from Boyer’s government in terms to American trade: “At all events the Government could not be driven from the line of policy which it has at present marked out, by apprehensions of any non-intercourse which the Government of Hayti might think proper to ordain to effect that purpose.”[44] Monroe’s concerns with the Haitian government, that they were discriminatory in their trade duties and prevented white property ownership, investments, etc. became the focus of Boyer in revitalizing the domestic economy of his country and gaining diplomatic recognition from the United States. The Haitian government moved toward free trade in 1828, or at least as near a version of it as the mulatto-run government could safely put forward without incurring the wrath of the black majority.[45] Samuel Israel reported to Clay in the summer of 1828 that Boyer believed that “when all nations are placed upon the same footing” the “U States will then no doubt acknowledge their Independence.”[46] Whether this would have occurred under a second Adams administration (as the projected date of equalization was in 1830) is unknowable, but given the precedent up to that point one would have to conclude that it was highly unlikely. Given that the slave-owning Southerner Jackson confronted near secession over his policies on tariffs, one can scarcely imagine the response of South Carolina radicals if the New Englander Adams had recognized Haiti during the same period.

* * *

In 1843, Daniel Webster quit the post of Secretary of State out of disgust with President John Tyler. The President, banished from the Whig party that had elected him Vice-President in 1840 and unwelcome in the Democratic Party that remembered he was an enemy of Andrew Jackson, was trying to create a niche for himself in the upcoming Presidential race by pushing the issue of annexing the Republic of Texas into the forefront of national debate. The move failed and succeeded all at once. The issue forced the Whig candidate, Henry Clay, to hint that he might not oppose annexing Texas and thus angered his northern base of support, while it made Southern Democrats wary of Martin Van Buren’s reliability on the Texas question, instead turning to the Tennessean, James K. Polk. John Tyler was left out of the contest and failed to win reelection, even though it was he who had succeeded in annexing Texas and causing a crisis which led to more than one war.[47] Webster’s successor was Abel P. Upshur, but his service lasted only half a year. Upshur was replaced by a man as hard-pressed to find and keep a political party as the President he served, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina.

Calhoun was a man who had shucked the nationalism of his early career in the House of Representatives in favor of the self-appointed role as spokesman for the South. He had led the efforts of South Carolinians in resisting and nullifying President Andrew Jackson’s tariff measures and the Force Bill, passed to make sure South Carolina could not, in fact, nullify anything. The remainder of his career was spent in and out of Congress, broken only in 1844 when he was appointed to the post of Secretary of State. His last time in a cabinet had been his two terms as Secretary of War under James Monroe. Calhoun was a man who could, without any sense of contradiction, thunder in the Senate: “It is proposed, from a vague, indefinite, erroneous, and most dangerous conception of private individual liberty, to overrule the common liberty which a people have of framing their own constitution!” while trying to make sure that the balance of free and slave states remained the same.[48] His was a mind that could view the crisis in 1850, again without any sense of contradiction, as one in which “simple justice” had to prevail: “The North has only to will it to accomplish it [save the union]—to do justice by conceding to the South an equal right in the acquired territory, and to do her duty by causing stipulations relative to fugitive slaves to be faithfully fulfilled—to cease the agitation of the slave question.”[49]

That Calhoun was a brilliant man in many ways does not change the fact that he was morally blind. Whereas Jefferson could at the very least acknowledge slavery as an evil that should be done away with, Calhoun only saw fault with those who agitated against it. It was an unjust violation of “liberty” to pressure the south on slavery, or to even prevent territories from legalizing slavery. This is the perverted logic of the pro-slavery argument, and John C. Calhoun brought it with him wherever he went, be that the States Department or the U.S. Senate.
Calhoun could not have arrived at a more important time for Haiti. Fed up with rule by the mulatto Haitian elite under Jean-Pierre Boyer, the culturally Spanish eastern part of Hispaniola rebelled, eventually creating the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic would be promptly recognized by the United States as the black majority in Haiti deposed Boyer’s regime. The American Consul in Kingston, Jamaica wrote to Calhoun with his own thoughts on the Haitian experiment in self-government: “After nearly fifty years of full possession of so fine and fruitful an Island as Haiti, its people making little or no progress in civilisation, and remaining nearly stationary in their difficienties of all sorts, prove indisputably their want of energy and industry, and that something is faulty in their intellectual powers; and that indolence and idleness overpower and inslave the Haitian Citizens! Unfortunate effect of a fine climate, a beautiful sky, and too generous a Soil!”[50] Calhoun accepted the paranoid fears of race war and racism that lay at the heart of colonization, but he used these concerns as an excuse to keep blacks enslaved as opposed to sending blacks away as a way of ending slavery. Slavery, while being of obvious financial benefit to slave-owners, was also advantageous and beneficial to the slave in the universe of pro-slavery thought. Calhoun declared to William King, the U.S. Minister to France:

Where statistical facts, not to be shaken, prove, that the freed negro, after the experience of sixty years, is in a far worse condition, than in the other States, where he has been left in his former condition. No; the effect of what is called abolition, where the number is few, is not to raise the inferior race to the condition of freemen but to deprive [the negro] of the guardian care of his owner, subject to all the depression and oppression belonging to his inferior condition.[51]

The wholesale context dropping engaged in by Calhoun and others, forgetting that the “prosperity” and alleged civilization of pre-revolt Saint-Domingue was built entirely upon a grave injustice, allowed them to rationalize their way around the enlightenment’s fading legacy.
The revolution of slaves against their French masters had been greeted with fear and hesitation in the United States, but the revolution of whites and mulattos in the eastern part of the island against the Haitians, leading to the creation of the Dominican Republic was met with optimism and interest. Calhoun corresponded several times with the representative of the Dominican Republic to the United States, Dr. José M. Caminero, before his tenure as Secretary of State ended, about the prospects of recognition for the new republic. Calhoun told Caminero that President Tyler “has read your memoir with much interest and that he trusts that the people of the Dominican Republic will be able to maintain the independence they have declared and the government they have adopted.”[52] Calhoun sent along his thoughts and wishes concerning the Dominican Republic to his successor at the State Department, James Buchanan: “I hope, if it [a report] should be favourable, the administration will not hesitate to recognize the independence of the Republick, as soon as it can be done.” Calhoun added, “Should the Dominican Republick sustain itself, it opens a prospect of restoring the Island again to the Domain of commerce & civilization.”[53]

James Buchanan was not a pro-slavery man in the sense of a John C. Calhoun, but he was certainly no Henry Clay either. A Pennsylvanian by birth, Buchanan was a northern Democratic “doughface.” A man of genteel proclivities, he was clearly at home among effete Southerners who he surrounded himself with and who brought him into the highest echelons of power. So while he may have found slavery distasteful, he was never one to think the issue was anything more than a rousing partisan gimmick. What Buchanan shared with Calhoun has a frightening moral blindness and inability to see the world for what it was. One scholar of Buchanan has summed him up this way: “Less heed was paid to enemies at home—the forces at work to dissolve the Union. To the end, he did not believe that expansion would contribute to a Civil War. It would all pass. The sacred Constitution would triumph, anger would subside, hearts would be cleansed of hate, and reason would conquer evil. Slavery would slowly die. Cuba would become a state of the Union, and the slave traffic would cease.”[54] His inability to identify things properly in the world around him assured him a top spot among his pro-slavery Southern allies, not to mention the general derision of history.

Buchanan’s attitude towards Haiti was informed by his, along with many Southerners, almost consuming obsession with obtaining Cuba from Spain before it should descend into chaos or be seized by a foreign power like Great Britain or France. An even greater nightmare was that Spain would, in order to retain control of her colony, emancipate the slaves – setting in motion the events to create another Haiti less than 100 miles from the shores of the American south. Ironically, the controversial effort to annex Texas and then go to war with Mexico, which consumed Buchanan’s time as Secretary of State, sapped the country’s tolerance and desire for “Manifest Destiny.” By the time Buchanan and President Franklin Pierce tried to implement a policy to gain Cuba in the early 1850s, the will to do so outside of the South was fading fast. Buchanan saw the importance of acquiring Cuba as a way to prevent blacks from taking over the island: “And should a black government, like that of Haiti, be established there, it would endanger peace and domestic security of a large and influential portion of our people. To come to the point—it has been publicly stated … over and over again in the United States and Spain, should she find it impossible to retain the Island, will emancipate the slaves upon it, and the British Government … [will] persuade her to pursue the course.”[55] This was the extent of Buchanan’s concern for the union; would Southerners be able to survive the “Africanization” of Cuba? Of much more importance was the organization of the territories newly acquired from Mexico. Would they be slave or free territory? Who would decide? How? These questions and their answers would consume the nation and realign politics until Americans decided to replace the ballot box with the cannon and rifle. Buchanan could not see these other questions because he had no conception of the premises they were based upon. There was a reason that the country could not get rid of slavery or recognize Haiti until “doughfaces” like Buchanan and pro-slavery Southerners were out of office.

* * *

The antebellum history of U.S.-Haitian relations is not a particularly inspiring or courageous story. The early Presidents, while acknowledging the evil of slavery and contemplating its end, could not bring about the recognition of Haiti because of the tremendous strain such an action could put on the Union. This does not mean that their foreign policy was “pro-slavery” but that it was subordinated to objects of higher priority. Were the foreign policy of the United States actually “pro-slavery” under the early administrations the United States would not have continued trading with the Haitians and would not have declared neutrality in the conflict between the blacks and the Europeans. While it would have been extremely dangerous to side with the ex-slaves against France, it would have been relatively safe for the United States to pledge support to the French in their attempt to conquer the island in 1802. For that neutrality, the Haitians succeeded in destroying a French army, with the unintended benefit of Louisiana becoming a feather in Jefferson’s cap.

During the Presidencies of James Monroe and John Quincy Adams, the United States committed itself firmly to squashing the slave trade and to maintaining the Union. The appointment of commissioners to the Panama Conference in 1826 was an incident illustrative of how disruptive the issue of Haiti could still be. Even those who favored recognition of Haiti, like Henry Clay, still did not know what to make of the place and objected to strengthening the numbers of the island by sending American Colonization Society ships there. The concerns of Monroe, Adams, and Clay were attuned much more to sectional harmony. They could recognize the Latin American republics without objection, but recognition of Boyer’s government threatened the harmony of the Union and was thus avoided. The moral commitment against slavery still remained with these men, but this group of leaders was soon to be replaced by another set less inclined to admit Africans into the family of man.

The pro-slavery men who controlled American foreign policy in the 1840s actually thought slavery was a positive good. Their foreign policy reflected that. They attempted to protect slavery in the United States by preventing slave revolt in Cuba, encouraging movements against the black government of Haiti, and criticizing efforts to abolish slavery at home and abroad. John C. Calhoun and James Buchanan led the foreign policy of the United States into a morally ambiguous nether region from which it could not recover until the purging fires of Civil War removed those who had tainted it.

For Haiti, the failure of the United States to recognize its independence was as demoralizing as Toussaint’s anger and shame at not receiving a letter of introduction when Tobias Lear was sent to him in 1801. Haitians could not, and did not, want to understand America’s “delicate interest” in dealing with their republic. That they had to was a great failure of U.S. diplomacy, no matter what motivated it.

[1] Works which tie the Haitian Revolution into the wider ideological context of this period include Lester D. Langley, The Americas in the Age of Revolution, 1750-1850 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996); A Turbulent Time, eds. David Barry Gaspar and David Patrick Geggus (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1997); and The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World, ed. David P. Geggus (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001).
[2] Tim Matthewson, A Proslavery Foreign Policy (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003), vii.
[3] Ibid, viii.
[4] See Tim Matthewson, “Jefferson and the Nonrecognition of Haiti,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 140, No. 1 (Mar., 1996), 22-48.
[5] Gordon S. Brown, Toussaint’s Clause (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005), 7.
[6] Matthewson, “Jefferson and the Nonrecognition of Haiti,” 25, 29.
[7] Andrew Armstrong to Henry Clary, 25 January 1826, The Papers of Henry Clay, eds. James F. Hopkins and Mary W. M. Hargreaves (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1973), Vol. 5, 60-61.
[8] For a discussion of the move towards recognition see Charles H. Wesley, “The Struggle for the Recognition of Haiti and Liberia as Independent Republics,” The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 2, No. 4 (Oct., 1917), 369-383.
[9] The great exception to this is the effort of Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan to obtain Cuba from Spain through purchase and intimidation in the 1850s. This movement was informed by fears of the Haitian Revolution, only this time on an island perilously close to the United States. See Frederick Moore Binder, James Buchanan and the American Empire (Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1994); and David M. Potter, The Impending Crisis, completed and edited by Don E. Fehrenbacher (New York: HarperPerennial, 1976), 177-198.
[10] For an excellent work that does just that, and more, see Rayford W. Logan, The Diplomatic Relations of the United States with Haiti, 1776-1891 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1941).
[11] For more on these two topics as they relate to American reaction to the Haitian Revolution see Kenneth M. Stampp, The Peculiar Institution (New York: Vintage Books, 1956), 20; Winthrop Jordan, White Over Black (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1968), 375-402; and Eugene D. Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll (New York: Vintage Books, 1972), 129.
[12] Lester D. Langley, The Americas in the Age of Revolutions, 1750-1850 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), 112-13.
[13] Two particularly useful and informative books on the Haitian Revolution itself are Thomas O. Ott, The Haitian Revolution, 1789-1804 (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1973); and Laurent Dubois, Avengers of the New World (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2004).
[14] Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 5 February 1799, The Republic of Letters: The Correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, 1776-1826, ed. James Morton Smith (New York: W.W. Norton, 1995), 1092-93.
[15] Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 12 February 1799, The Republic of Letters, 1095.
[16] Brown, Toussaint’s Clause, 179-186.
[17] Tobias Lear to James Madison, 20 July 1801, The Papers of James Madison: Secretary of State Series, eds. Robert J. Brugger, Robert Rhodes Crout, Dru Dowdy, Robert A. Rutland, and Jeanne K. Sisson (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1986), Vol. 1, 445.
[18] Tobias Lear to James Madison, 17 July 1801, Papers of Madison: Sec. of State Series, Vol. 1, 427-28.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Ibid.
[21] David Nicholls, From Dessalines to Duvalier (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1979), 29.
[22] John Marshall to Toussaint L’Ouverture, 26 November 1800, The Papers of John Marshall, ed. Charles F. Hobson (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990), Vol. 6, 22.
[23] Ibid.
[24] Tobias Lear to James Madison, 17 July 1801, Papers of Madison: Sec. of State Series, Vol. 1, 427-28.
[25] Joseph I. Shulim, The Old Dominion and Napoleon Bonaparte (New York: Columbia University Press, 1952), 115-6; Nicholls, From Dessalines to Duvalier, 28-32; Robert L. Paquette, “Revolutionary Saint Domingue in the Making of Territorial Louisiana,” A Turbulent Time, 204-211; and Alan Schom, Napoleon Bonaparte (New York: HarperPerennial, 1997), 346, 389.
[26] Tobias Lear to James Madison, 11 December 1801; Tobias Lear to James Madison, 12 February 1802, The Papers of James Madison: Secretary of State Series, eds. Mary A. Hackett, J.C.A. Stagg, Jeanne Kerr Cross, and Susan Holbrook Perdue (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993), Vol. 2, 306; 462.
[28] James Madison to Tobias Lear, 26 February 1802, Papers of Madison: Sec. of State Series, Vol. 2, 490.
[29] Tobias Lear to James Madison, 22 March 1802, The Papers of James Madison: Secretary of State Series, eds. David B. Mattern, J.C.A. Stagg, Jeanne Kerr Cross, and Susan Holbrook Perdue (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995), Vol. 3, 60.
[30] Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 13 January 1803, Thomas Jefferson: Writings, ed. Merrill D. Peterson (New York: Library of America, 1984), 1113.
[31] Alexander Hamilton, 5 July 1803, “Purchase of Louisiana,” Alexander Hamilton: Writings, ed. Joanne B. Freeman (New York: Library of America, 2001), 996-7.
[32] Thomas Jefferson to Henri Gregoire, 25 February 1809, Jefferson: Writings, 1202.
[33] Thomas Jefferson to Albert Gallatin, 25 December 1820, Jefferson: Writings, 1450. See also Thomas Jefferson to Jared Sparks, 4 February 1824, Jefferson: Writings, 1486.
[34] James Monroe to Thomas Jefferson, quoted by Harry Ammon, James Monroe (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1971), 187. See also Sean Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy (New York: W.W. Norton, 2005), 87-88.
[35] James Monroe to John Quincy Adams, 3 August 1820, quoted by James P. Lucier in The Political Writings of James Monroe, ed. James P. Lucier (Washington D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2001), 295.
[36] See James E. Lewis, The American Union and the Problem of Neighborhood (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1998), 257.
[37] James Monroe to Thomas Jefferson, 30 June 1823, The Writings of James Monroe, ed. Stanislaus Murray Hamilton (New York: AMS Press, 1969), Vol. 6, 316-7.
[38] For more on this see Drew R. McCoy, The Last of the Fathers (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989), 279-286.
[39] Henry Clay to Gentlemen of the Colonization Society of Kentucky, Frankfurt, KY, 17 December 1829, The Papers of Henry Clay, ed. Robert Seager II (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1984), Vol. 8, 152-3.
[40] Lewis, American Union and the Problem of Neighborhood, 265.
[41] Ibid. See also Robert V. Remini, Henry Clay (New York: W.W. Norton, 1991), 299.
[42] James E. Lewis, John Quincy Adams (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 2001), 99-116.
[43] Henry Clay to Andrew Armstrong, 14 June 1826, The Papers of Henry Clay, eds. James F. Hopkins and Mary W. M. Hargreaves (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1973), Vol. 5, 434-5.
[44] Ibid.
[45] Robert K. Lacerte, “Xenophobia and Economic Decline: The Haitian Case, 1820-1843,” The Americas, Vol. 37, No. 4 (Apr., 1981), 507-9, 512-5.
[46] Samuel Israel to Henry Clay, 11 July 1828, The Papers of Henry Clay, ed. Robert Seager II (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1982), Vol. 6, 382.
[47] Michael F. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 162-207.
[48] John C. Calhoun, “Speech on His Resolution on the Slave Question,” 19 February 1847, John C. Calhoun: Selected Writings and Speeches, ed. H. Lee Cheek, Jr. (Washington D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2003), 637.
[49] John C. Calhoun, “Speech on the Slavery Question,” 4 March 1850, Calhoun: Selected Writings and Speeches, 706.
[50] Robert Morton Harrison to John C. Calhoun, 4 May 1844, The Papers of John C. Calhoun, ed. Clyde N. Wilson (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1988), Vol. 18, 434.
[51] John C. Calhoun to William R. King, 12 August 1844, The Papers of John C. Calhoun, ed. Clyde N. Wilson (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990), Vol. 19, 576.
[52] John C. Calhoun to Dr. José M. Caminero, 21 February 1845, The Papers of John C. Calhoun, ed. Clyde N. Wilson (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1993), Vol. 21, 336.
[53] John C. Calhoun to James Buchanan, 30 August 1845, The Papers of John C. Calhoun, ed. Clyde N. Wilson (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1995), Vol. 22, 97-8.
[54] Binder, James Buchanan and the American Empire, 275.
[55] James Buchanan, quoted in Binder, James Buchanan and the American Empire, 202.