jean pierre boyer

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Jean-Pierre Boyer (15 February 1776 – 9 July 1850) was one of the leaders of the Haitian Revolution, and President of Haiti from 1818 to 1843. He reunited the north and south of Haiti in 1820 and also annexed newly independent Spanish Haiti (Santo Domingo), which brought all of Hispaniola under one Haitian government by 1822. Boyer managed to rule for the longest period of time of any of the revolutionary leaders of his generation.

Fun fact: In the 1820s, 6000-13,000 African American slaves immigrated to the Dominican Republic, mainly from NYC, New Jersey, and Philly. They were sponsored by Haitian president Jean Pierre Boyer in order to strengthen his occupation on the island. The largest AA concentration in DR were in Santo Domingo, Santiago, and Puerto Plata. Smaller numbers settled in Neiba, San Jose de las Matas, and Hinchas.

*side eye to all those Afrodominicanxs who still deny their Blackness and try to deny any erasure of Blackness on the island*

President Geffrard, Haiti c.1859

Guillaume Fabre Nicolas Geffrard (Sept. 19, 1806– Dec. 31, 1878) was a general in the Haitian army and President of Haiti from 1859 to 1867.

He’s known for revived the policy of former rulers Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Alexandre Pétion and Jean-Pierre Boyer of recruiting African Americans to settle in Haiti. In May 1861, a group of African Americans led by James Theodore Holly settled east of Croix-des-Bouquets.

Part II: Haiti – From Boyer’s Fall to the U.S. Occupation, 1843-1915 (a very brief overview)

Introduction // Part I

Although the United States intervened in Haiti on July 28th, 1915 largely as a result of short-term and long-term objectives in the region, the country’s political instability since the fall of Jean-Pierre Boyer in 1843 surely presented the Americans with a pretext for landing their troops. Indeed, with a few notable exceptions, most Haitians heads of state came and went until 1915, with the period immediately preceding the occupation being the most volatile one. This post will (very briefly) survey some currents in pre-occupation Haiti in hopes of understanding the particular economic, social and political context in which the U.S. occupation unfolded.

Many factors help explain Haiti’s difficult position in the decades leading up to the U.S. occupation. Although this post is not set to cover all of them in great details, it does want to stress the importance of recognising that both a series of internal and external factors concurred into aggrieving the Haiti’s fragile standing as a sovereign nation. 

Since the onset of its independence, Haiti enjoyed a peculiar position in Latin America. It was the first modern country born out of a successful slave rebellion and second only to the United States in gaining its independence from a European power. Unlike what popular belief would seem to suggest today, Haiti was not among the Americas poorest states in the early and mid-nineteenth century. Indeed, historian and professor of economics Victor Bulmer-Thomas (2012) notes that the “Haitian economy entered a downward spiral in the 1890s from which it has never recovered.” Before that point, Haiti had been an important exporter of coffee, coming third after Brazil and part of the Dutch East Indies. Several elements may help explain why the Haitian economy suffered such an important blow in the 1880s and why, as stated by Bulmer-Thomas, it was difficult for it to recover. 

First, when Alexandre Pétion assumed power in 1806, he favoured an agrarian system which encouraged the parcelling out of land in much of Western Haiti. This process was largely accelerated by his successor, Jean-Pierre Boyer, who reunited the two Haiti’s in 1820 and who later annexed the Dominican Republic in 1822. Although this system guaranteed that Haitian peasants –  unlike most of their Latin American counterparts who were disenfranchised for the most part – could own parcels of land, it also meant that as time progressed, more individuals were competing for fertile land. 

Second, as coffee became an important stable for commerce, Haiti fell prey of the fluctuation of a competitive and uncertain global market. Competition from Brazil was particularly important. Unlike the small Caribbean island, Brazil enjoyed a slave labour (as slavery was not abolished until 1886). This made it difficult for a country such as Haiti to prosper as an effective player in this business. Moreover, Haitian politicians invested little in modernising agriculture, which meant that peasants, who were the backbone of the country’s economy, had to use some of the same archaic methods they had utilised under the French colonial system. Likewise, a global depression in the 1890s greatly contributed to the falling out of the Haitian economy mentioned by Bulmer-Thomas. 

A discussion on Haiti’s economy in the ninetieth century, however brief it might be, should still mention, if only in passing, the controversial question of the French indemnity. Although originally proposed by Haiti’s president Alexandre Pétion in hopes that France would recognise Haiti’s independence, the Ordonnance concluded between Charles X of France and Haiti’s Jean-Pierre Boyer in 1825 was very different from what Pétion seemed to have envisaged a decade earlier. With a sum negotiated at 1789 values (the most profitable year of French revenues in Saint-Domingue), the 150 million francs debt was difficult for the Haitian state to absurd. Though it was eventually renegotiated at 90 million francs in 1838, new clauses guaranteed that France would receive a preferential treatment in all commerce with Haiti. The indemnity, in essence, changed little in Haiti’s position vis-à-vis France and afforded subsequent Haitian governments very restricted financial manoeuvre. Haiti was independent in name but a neo-colonial structure was edified between the country and its former metropole which, for the most part, remained unchallenged until the U.S. occupation in 1915. 

As the century progressed, the indemnity had largely become a “fact of life.” Indeed, when speaking of contemporary evils in Haiti (aside from the color question which will be discussed later in this post) most Haitian intellectuals of the day would have spoken of the place of foreigners in the country. Although research in this domain is scarce and future scholars should apply themselves to the task of examining late nineteenth century Haiti, whatever scholarship that deals with this period tends to point out a European immigration to the country at the close of the century. Leaving aside conceptual debates about who they were and why they might have decided to travel to Haiti (as again, future scholarship should try to answer), one group at least, irrespective of their small number became very influential in Haiti. 

Since Dessalines 1805 document, most Haitian constitutions barred foreigners from owning land in Haiti. This position began more difficult to uphold by Haitian governments who were in need of financing and were willing to accept the money from non-Haitian through legal or illegal channels. Although in The United States Occupation of Haiti, 1915-1934, historian Hans Schmidt estimates that at their highest, there were never more than 100 families in Haiti, German became a particularly prominent group by the 1900s. These German immigrants assimilated into Haitian society, partly thanks to inter-marriage with local élite families. Unlike Americans who during the years of the U.S. Occupation insisted on segregating Haitian form American institutions, wealthy German merchants were able to find a niche in Haiti’s upper crust. In 1912, a first German school was opened in Port-au-Prince and by 1914, German interests controlled as much as 80% of Haiti’s commercial business. More daringly however, Germans had financially assisted Haitian General Pierre Nord Alexis in 1902 in toppling his opponent Tirésias Simon Sam. It was evident that as influential members of Port-au-Prince’s society, they could and would force their will. As it will be seen later in another instalment of this blog series, Washington took Germans actions in Haiti very seriously and perceived them to be a threat to the logic of the Monroe Doctrine. Fear of a German takeover of the Haitian state, especially in the first fifteen years of the twentieth century, when political instability was at its highest, was very real.

Haitian politicians and intellectuals were all very much aware of the various ills which plagued their country. What made it more difficult, especially for the Haitian state, to properly react to the various crises, it experienced since Boyer’s demise was the general political instability and the lack of unity in the country’s political class. In his influential monograph From Dessalines to Duvalier: Race, Colour and National Independence in Haiti (1979) David Nicholls paints nineteenth-century Haiti as a contested terrain between black and mulatto fractions for the control of the Haitian state. While his analysis tends to offer a conceptual framework much too rigid to understand the complexity of colorism in Haiti, Nicholls is right in assuming that the color question took an (almost) unprecedented importance in the mid and late nineteenth century Haiti. By the later decades of the century, and especially after the fall of the mulatto-élite-favouring Fabre Geffrard in 1867, Haitian politicians were generally divided between the National Party (mostly dominated by blacks) and the Liberal Party (mostly dominated by mulattoes). With a few notable expectations, the ideological impetus behind Haitian politics followed both political philosophy and considerations of colour. Haitian politicians found it difficult to agree among themselves even within their respective parties. In such context, cooperation for one compensable national project was almost impossible to find.

As Haiti entered into the twentieth century, it did so largely bankrupt, with its sovereignty threatened by foreign aliens and politically fragmented. Between 1908 to 1915, there were seven different admirations, most of which were disposed through violent revolutions. It is amid this complicated economic, social and political situation that in 1910, Washington supported the actions of the New York City Bank in trying to take control of the Haitian national bank. The contest for the control of Haiti’s Banque Nationale de la République d’Haïti (BNRH) is in fact the first real episode of the U.S. occupation of Haiti and will be the subject of part three of this series. 

References:

Bulmer-Thomas, Victor. The Economic History of the Caribbean since the Napoleonic Wars. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Dorigny, Marcel. “Aux origines : l’indépendance d’Haïti et son occultation.” Cahiers libres, January 1, 2005, 45–55.

Nicholls, David. From Dessalines to Duvalier: Race, Colour and National Independence in Haiti. Revised edition. New Brunswick: Scholarly Book Services Inc, 2002.

Schmidt, Hans R. The United States Occupation of Haiti, 1915-1934. Reprint edition. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 1995.

Séphocle, Marilyn. “Germany’s Challenge to the Monroe Doctrine.” Pouvoirs Dans La Caraïbe. Revue Du CRPLC, no. 13 (January 1, 2002): 177–90.

Jean-Pierre Boyer (15 February 1776 – 9 July 1850) was one of the leaders of the Haitian Revolution, and President of Haiti from 1818 to 1843. He reunited the north and south of Haiti in 1820 and also invaded and took control of Santo Domingo, which brought all of Hispaniola under one government by 1822. Boyer managed to rule for the longest period of time of any of the revolutionary leaders of his generation. 

Today in Haitian History - April 1, 1818 - Jean-Pierre Boyer swears into office. After the death of Alexandre Pétion in March 1818, Boyer takes office and very soon reunites Northern and Southern territories (following a rebellion and the suicide of Henri Christophe), and annexes the Dominican Republic.

Today in Haitian History - March 13, 1843 - Jean Pierre Boyer is forced into exile. After 26 years of rule as a Haitian president and uniting the entire island of Hispaniola under his rule, Jean Pierre Boyer is forced to resigned  by a liberal revolt in Haiti. Boyer is exiled to Jamaica before re-locating to France, where he dies in 1850.

February 15, 1576:  Birth of Haitian revolutionary and later president Jean Pierre Boyer. While still a teen, Boyer joins the revolutionary struggle and eventually sides with Pétion and other mulattoes in Southern Haiti. After Pétion’s death in 1818, Boyer becomes president of the Southern provinces, only to re-unite Haiti in 1820, with Henri Christophe’s suicide, and annex the Dominican Republic in 1822. Three years later, Boyer finalizes discussions with France concerning indemnity for French loses that occurred during the revolution, in exchange for unquestionable and irrevocable recognition by the former metropole. The original sum is settle at 150 million francs, to be paid in five instalments, an arrangement that is beyond the young republic's means and leads Boyer to the creation of a new Rural Code the following year (1826), which coupled with a revolt in the Dominican Republic, and a  liberal insurrection in Haiti, is said to have brought his eventual downfall in 1843-1844.