French Experiment with Equality
The French Revolution’s promise of equality ended with anarchy and Bonaparte in France; the lofty experiment of equality in St. Domingo terminated not in freedom, but military despotism after a fearful destruction of human life. After all the horrors of their bloody revolution, the blacks in Haiti only effected a change of masters. “The white man had disappeared, and the black man , one of their own race and color, had assumed his pace and his authority.”
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
French Experiment with Equality
“[We shall quote] from the language of Dr. [W.E.] Channing, the scholar-like and the eloquent, though visionary, advocate of British [slave] emancipation. Even as early as 1842, in an address delivered on the anniversary of that event, he burst into the following strain of impassioned eulogy: “Emancipation works well, far better than could have been anticipated . . . Freedom, simple freedom, is in my estimation just, far prized above all price.”
In these high-sounding praises, which hold up personal freedom as “our proper good,” as “our end,” it is assumed that man was made for liberty, and not liberty for man. It is, indeed, one of the fundamental errors of the abolitionist to regard personal freedom as a great substantive good, or as in itself a blessing, and not merely as a relative good.
It may be, and indeed often it is, an unspeakable benefit, but then it is so only as a means to an end. The end of our existence, the proper good, is the improvement of our intellectual and moral powers, the perfection of our rational and immortal natures.
When freedom subserves this end, it is a good; when it defeats this end, it is an evil. Hence there may be a world of evil as well as a world of good in “this one word.”
The wise man adapts the means to the end. It were the very height of folly to sacrifice the end to the means. No man gives personal freedom to his child because he deems it always and in all cases a good. His heart teaches him a better doctrine when the highest good of his child is concerned. Should we not be permitted then, to have something of the same feeling in regard to those who Providence has placed under our care, especially since . . . they stand in utmost need of guidance and direction?
Few of the abolitionists are disposed to offer any substitute for our method. They are satisfied merely to pull down and destroy, without the least thought or care in regard to consequences.
But what is meant by the freedom of the emancipated slaves, on which so many exalted eulogies have been pronounced? Its first element, it is plain, is a freedom from labor – freedom from the very first law of nature. In one word, its sum and substance is a power on the part of the freed black to act pretty much as he pleases. Now . . . would it not be well to see how he would be pleased to act?
This kind of freedom, it should be remembered, was born in France and cradled in the revolution. May it never be forgotten that the “Friends of the Blacks” at Boston had their exact prototypes in “les Amis des Noirs” of Paris. Of this last society Robespierre was the ruling spirit, and Brissot the orator. By the dark machinations of the one, and the fiery eloquence of the other, the French people . . . were induced, in 1791, to proclaim the principle of equality to and for the free blacks of St. Domingo. This beautiful island . . . thus became the first of the West Indies in which the dreadful experiment of a forced equality was tried.
The authors of that experiment were solemnly warned of the horrors into which it would inevitably plunge both the whites and the blacks of the island. Yet firm and unmovable as death, Robespierre sternly replied, then “Perish the colonies rather than sacrifice one iota of our principles.”
The atrocities of this awful massacre have had . . . no parallel in the annals of human crime. “The Negroes,” says Alison, “marched with spiked infants on their spears instead of colors; they sawed asunder the male prisoners, and violated the females on the dead bodies of their husbands.” The work of death, thus completed with such outbursts of unutterable brutality, constituted and closed the first act in the grand drama of Haytian freedom.
But equality was not yet established. Equality had been proclaimed, and anarchy produced. In this frightful chaos, the ambitious mulattoes, whose insatiable desire for equality had first disturbed the peace of the island, perished miserably beneath the vengeance of the very slaves whom they had roused from subjection and elevated into irresistible power. Thus ended the second act of the horrible drama.”
(An Essay on Liberty and Slavery, Albert Taylor Bledsoe, J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1856, pp. 269-278; available from www.confederatereprint.com)