By Ted Rajchel

Napoleon-Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte wanted a western international trade empire through the production power of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. However, Toussaint L’Ouverture led a slave uprising in Saint-Domingue (Haiti) to stop those imperial plans. L’Ouverture wrote a constitution based on liberty, equality, and fraternity. Napoleon rejected this constitution proposal because he hated the idea of a democracy. Napoleon Bonaparte wanted a western international trade empire through the production power of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. However, Toussaint L’Ouverture led a slave uprising in Saint-Domingue (Haiti) to stop those imperial plans. L’Ouverture wrote a constitution based on liberty, equality, and fraternity. Napoleon rejected this constitution proposal because he hated the idea of a democracy.

King Carlos IV, of Spain, signed a secret treaty in 1800 that ceded the Louisiana Territory to Napoleon Bonaparte and used Saint-Domingue as a rendezvous point for his invasion armada. The Haitian Revolution and L’Ouverture’s constitution were about to disrupt the careful schemes of Spain, France, and Britain. Although the invasion armada was setting out to conquer Saint-Domingue and New Orleans, President Jefferson had no interest in supporting a slave revolt on his nation’s soil.

Général Toussaint-Louverture

After the third partition of Poland, many Poles believed that revolutionary France and her allies would come to Poland’s aid. Many Polish soldiers, officers, and volunteers, therefore, emigrated, especially to Italy and to France, where they joined forces with the local military. With support from Napoleon Bonaparte, Polish military units were formed.

They became known as the “Polish Legions”; under French command, the Polish Legions saw combat in most of Napoleon’s campaigns.  When the Duchy of Warsaw was created in 1807, many of the veterans of the legions formed a core around which the Duchy’s army fought a victorious war against Austria in 1809 and would go on to fight alongside the French Army in numerous campaigns, culminating in the invasion of Russia in 1812, which marked the end of the Napoleonic Empire.

In 1802 Napoleon added a Polish Legion to the forces sent to Saint-Domingue to fight off the slave rebellion. Upon discovering that the slaves fought for their freedom, the vast majority of Poles eventually joined the slaves against the French. The Polish had a familiar situation back home, where they fought for their liberty against invading Russia, Prussia, and Austria that began in 1772. These Poles were naturalized according to the new Haitian constitution.  Haiti’s first president Jean-Jacques Dessalines called Polish people “the white Negroes of Europe”, which was then regarded a great honor, as it meant brotherhood between Poles and Haitians.

To this day, descendants of Polish Haitians still live in Haiti and are mixed racially.   In 1788, the colony was determined to stay free. The Polish demi-brigades arrived for a mission in Saint-Domingue in 1802 and 1803, but it was a virtual nightmare for them. Out of the 5,200 Poles that were forced to serve Napoleon, 4,000 were dead in 1803. French forces couldn’t quell the Haitian Rebellion.  Napoleon dispatched 20,000 soldiers to restore peace and order, but a combination of yellow fever and unyielding solidarity among the former slaves defeated the military’s efforts. Napoleon considered Saint-Domingue a key asset for building his Caribbean Empire. He abandoned his western strategy and decided to refill France’s dwindling treasury for impending war with Britain.

While Napoleon sorted out his imperial problems, President Thomas Jefferson viewed French control over the port at New Orleans as a hindrance to American settlement in the West. Jefferson sought a diplomatic solution with France.  He offered to buy New Orleans for $3 million dollars, but Napoleon surprised Jefferson and put up the entire Louisiana Territory for sale. To get around the constitutional limitation that prevents the federal government from accepting land purchases, Jefferson framed the deal as a treaty between the United States and France.

The strategy worked and Jefferson bought the enormous piece of land for $15 million dollars on April 30, 1803. In under three years, Louisiana passed from Spain to France to the United States, though it took a war and a slave uprising in Saint-Domingue to get there. President Thomas Jefferson refused to recognize the new Haitian Republic. In 1801 Jefferson became the third President of the United States and his interests had aligned with those of Napoleon. He wanted to restore French control of Saint-Domingue while Jefferson wanted to see the slave rebellion crushed.

Jefferson agreed to help Napoleon and his French army traveling to Saint-Domingue, but Jefferson was unaware of Napoleon’s secret second phase. After handling L’Ouverture, Napoleon intended to advance to the North American mainland, basing a new French Empire in New Orleans and settling the vast territory west of the Mississippi River. In May 1801, Jefferson learned of Napoleon’s other agenda. Alarmed at the prospect of a successful republic organized by freed African slaves, Jefferson took no action to stop Napoleon’s endeavors. Hoping to end the war, L’Ouverture accepted Napoleon’s promise of a negotiation that would ban future slavery in the country. As part of the agreement, L’Ouverture turned himself in.

However, Napoleon, jealous of L’Ouverture, had him shipped in chains back to Europe where he was mistreated and died in prison.   Jefferson also saw the new territory as an opportunity to expand slavery in the United States, a new slave-breeding industry that would financially benefit plantation owners like himself. The decisive contribution made by the black freedom fighters went almost unnoticed by the Jeffersonian administration.

The loss of L’Ouverture’s leadership dealt a severe blow to Haiti’s prospects, but events in Paris and Washington soon conspired to undo the promise of Haiti’s new freedom. Some slave-owning founders, including President Jefferson, were fearful of the slave rebellion in Saint-Domingue.In 2010 when announcing emergency help for Haiti after the devastating earthquake, President Barack Obama noted America’s historic ties to the impoverished Caribbean nation, but few Americans understand how important Haiti’s contribution to United States history was.

More than two centuries ago, Haiti represented one of the most important neighbors of the new American republic and played a central role in enabling the United States to expand westward.  If not for Haiti, the course of United States history could have been very different, with the United States possibly never expanding much beyond the Appalachian Mountains.By Ted Rajchel

References:1. Polish Haitians—Wikipedia2. Polish Legions (Napoleonic Period)3. Polish Legions (Napoleonic Period)—Wikipedia4. The Haitian Revolution and Louisiana Purchase5. Haitian Hero Saved the Louisiana Territory for the United States6. Haiti and America’s Historic Debt

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