Brief History of 19th & 20th Century Haiti

On January 1, 1804, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, leader of the Haitian Revolution, declared independence and reclaiming the indigenous TaĆ­no name of Haiti for the new nation. Most of the remaining French colonists fled ahead of the defeated French army, many migrating to Louisiana or Cuba. Unlike Toussaint Louverture, Dessalines showed little equanimity with regard to the whites. In a final act of retribution, the remaining French were slaughtered by Haitian military forces. Some 2,000 Frenchmen were massacred at Cap-Francais, 900 in Port-au-Prince, and 400 at Jeremie.

Haiti is the world's oldest black republic and one of the oldest republics in the Western Hemisphere. Although Haiti actively assisted the independence movements of many Latin American countries - and secured a promise from the great liberator, Simon Bolivar, that he would free their slaves after winning independence from Spain - the nation of former slaves was excluded from the hemisphere's first regional meeting of independent nations, held in Panama in 1826. Furthermore, owing to entrenched opposition from Southern slave states, Haiti did not receive U.S. diplomatic recognition until 1862 (after those states had seceded from the Union), largely through the efforts of anti-slavery senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts.

On September 22 1804, Dessalines, preferring Napoleon's style rather than the more liberal yet vulnerable type of political government of the French, proclaimed himself Emperor Jacques I. Two of his own advisers, Henri Christophe and Alexandre Pétion, helped provoke his assassination in 1806.

Between 1806 and 1820, following the Dessalines coup d'état, the two main conspirators divided the country in two rival regimes. Christophe created the authoritarian State of Haiti in the north, and the Gens de couleur Petion helped establish the Republic of Haiti in the south.

Two years after Jean-Pierre Boyer had consolidated power in the west, Santo Domingo declared independence from Spain in 1821. An independent Santo Domingo requested inclusion in the Gran Colombia from Simon Bolivar. Boyer, preferring unification with Haiti over Gran Colombia, occupied the ex-Spanish colony during January 1822, encountering no military resistance. He accomplished the unity of the island.

In 1843, a revolt, led by Charles Riviere-Herard, overthrew Boyer and established a brief parliamentary rule under the Constitution of 1843. Revolts soon broke out and the country descended into near chaos, with a series of transient presidents until March 1847. In 1847, General Faustin Soulouque, a former slave who had fought in the rebellion of 1791, became president. He purged the military high command, established a Secret Police, and eliminated mulatto opponents.

Four years later, he was deposed by General Fabre Geffrard, the self-styled the Duke of Tabara. Geffrard's military government held office until 1867 In 1867 an attempt was made to establish a constitutional government, but successive presidents Sylvain Salnave and Nissage Saget were overthrown in 1869 and 1874 respectively. A more workable constitution was introduced under Michel Domingue in 1874, leading to a long period of democratic peace and development for Haiti.

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