DBQ: How should Toussaint Louverture be remembered?
By Kate McReynolds
How would you want to be remembered? With a Memorial? Or perhaps with a long poem describing your many attributes? Well, that’s not really the choice of the person who is being remembered. The same goes for Toussaint Louverture, a freed slave from the island once known as Saint Domingue. The island was named Saint Domingue after the French took control of the western half. This island was a major contributor in agricultural ways. By 1780, the 8,000 plantations were producing more than half of the worlds coffee and 40% of the worlds sugar. When the French Revolution swept by in 1789, the slaves were inspired to start a revolution of their own. Toussaint rose through the ranks and emerged a leader. He was appointed commander-in-chief of the army. Soon slavery was abolished in the colonies in 1794. But as Napoleon, the new emperor of France, talked of reinstating slavery Toussaint turned against France. His efforts were held at bay when he was captured and held in prison, where he later died. The work of the slaves against the invasion of the French forces in 1802 helped bring this small colony to it’s freedom in 1804. So how should Toussaint Louverture be remembered, in view of his work in the revolution? As a liberator of slaves, Toussaint did more good by freeing his people and giving dignity to the colony. He also used his stance as a liberator of slaves to help with being a military commander or a ruler of Saint Domingue.
As a man who was once a slave himself, Toussaint knew what the people felt as they worked for the empowered whites. Toussaint had been freed by a kind owner and had been able to become a respected man once the French began to speak of abolishing slavery and to have it turned on him when Napoleon came into power. The rage he felt was unimaginable when he wrote to the French government this letter, “Could men who have once enjoyed the benefits of liberty look on calmly while it is taken from them! They bore their chains when they knew no condition of life better than that of slavery. But today when they have it, if they had a thousand lives, they would sacrifice them all rather than be subjected again to slavery...”(Document B). Toussaint wrote this letter to Napoleon to hopefully stop the reinstating of slavery. The French Government received it and the message it installed was very clear: that Toussaint and the people in Saint Domingue would gladly fight for their freedom. As the deed was done and war was inevitable, Toussaint still tried to go about it in a diplomatic way. He still tried to keep the battlefield clean and fair, even if the odds were against Saint Domingue. In this way, he was able to help the people and keep them respected by bigger enemies. Toussaint also pointed out that taking the freedom from someone who had only ever had a taste of it was wrong and that it would almost destroy the people if they were forced to go back. He was helping the slaves by telling the French Government by telling them this.
Military leaders are hard to come by but Toussaint was one that stuck. He Helped defend his people and helped do many things that helped drive the people towards freedom. Toussaint was able to get the confidence of the army he lead and keep the soldiers ready for the coming fight. Toussaint helps his army when he described here, “By his genius and surpassing activity, Toussaint levied fresh forces, raised the reputation of the army, and drove the English and Spanish from the island...”(Document F) Tousaint was able to keep the freedom of the people from the enemies. But he did have some questionable ways of going about it. He burned the town of Samana so as to keep Napoleon from gaining land and forced them to follow the armies to the alps. Toussaint taught the slaves to fight in a gentlemen style and Gorilla style so as to keep a leg up on the enemy. When Napoleon arrived in the mountains the black slaves overpowered their forces. Toussaint used his abilities as a liberator of slave to gain his victories. When he was seen as such, power emanated from him. He was able to give the slaves a right to fight for themselves by freeing them.
Saint Domingue was technically still under French rule even under Toussaint Louverture. Toussaint did his best to be a good ruler. But even as he went on things began to get worse. As described here, “Any Manager or driver of a plantation upon which a foreign cultivator shall have taken refuge shall denounce him to the captain or commander of the section within 24 hours under penalty of one week in prison.”(Document D) As his rule progressed, Toussaint began to see the cracks in his country. The people needed stronger rules but suspected Toussaint of holding the hand of the whites on the island. He needed to keep people in line so he created different rules and restrictions. Anyone who was seen violating these restrictions would automatically be sent to jail or court. Toussaint was taking a stronger tone with the slaves he helped to free, because that they needed structure. And that worked for a time, until the slaves began to revolt. Whatever Toussaint did, he always had his credit to the slaves for freeing them. He had helped them discover their potential and freedom.Toussaint Louverture should be remembered as a man who helped set the Island of Saint Domingue free. He used all of his abilities to achieve that goal and was very successful, considering That the island was later named an independent nation in 1804. His life is credited to that great feat and always will be.