"Exultations, Agonies, and Love: The Romantics and the Haitian Revolution" by Lewis B.H. Eliot
On the twenty-first of August 1791, slaves, backed by rural maroon communities in Saint-Domingue’s Northern Province, rose up against their enslavers in what would become the opening stanza of the Haitian Revolution. In the ensuing years of conflict, the self-emancipated slaves defended their newly acquired freedom from their French former masters, as well as British, Spanish, and American attacks. After more than a decade of conflict, Haiti declared its independence on New Year’s Day 1804. The Haitian Revolution, as the first successful slave revolt, caused perhaps even greater global uproar than either the American or French Revolutions.
The impact of Haitian slaves’ successes fundamentally changed the ways in which imperial governments in Europe viewed enslaved Africans in their empires. Relationships between the myriad imperial powers changed dramatically, leading to, among other events, the ultimate rejection of Bourbon Reforms in Latin America, the Louisiana Purchase, the Napoleonic Wars, and the ending of the transatlantic slave trade. The Haitian Revolution also, however, drastically altered how the white European public related to the enslaved. Romantic poetry written after the Haitian Revolution is particularly illustrative of the evolution of the imperial public’s anxieties concerning slaves.