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January 19, 2012
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v2.1 Reference

Encountering Revolution

Haiti and the Making of the Early Republic

"The United States felt the impact of the slave insurrection in Saint-Domingue almost as soon as it began. The French possession, consisting of the western third of Hispaniola, was the most lucrative colony in the eighteenth-century West Indies, but its colonial regime came under threat in August 1791, when the enslaved majority rebelled, inaugurating what would become the Haitian Revolution. Over the next thirteen years, violence racked the island, as black and colored Saint-Dominguans faced intractable resistance to their bid for freedom and citizenship. Plantations went up in flames; Spanish, British, and French armies invaded; and thousands of residents, white and nonwhite, fled to other Caribbean islands, Europe, and North America. The rebels persevered, and finally, in 1804, the largest slave uprising in history ended with emancipation and national independence.

"While this remarkable outcome was uncertain in the first stages of the revolution, Americans realized early on that the rebellion had important consequences for their own republic. In the summer of 1793, as he learned that boatloads of refugees were disembarking on American shores, Thomas Jefferson connected the fates of Saint-Domingue and the United States: "I become daily more and more convinced that all the West India islands will remain in the hands of the people of colour, and a total expulsion of the whites sooner or later take place. It is high time we should foresee the bloody scenes which our children certainly, and possibly ourselves (South of Patowmac) have to wade through, and try to avert them." In the predicament of slaveowners in the French colony, Jefferson saw the destiny of his countrymen. Eventually, white Americans, too, because of their commitment to slavery, would experience civil war."—from the Introduction

Encountering Revolution looks afresh at the profound impact of the Haitian Revolution on the early United States. The first book on the subject in more than two decades, it redefines our understanding of the relationship between republicanism and slavery at a foundational moment in American history.

For postrevolutionary Americans, the Haitian uprising laid bare the contradiction between democratic principles and the practice of slavery. For thirteen years, between 1791 and 1804, slaves and free people of color in Saint-Domingue battled for equal rights in the manner of the French Revolution. As white and mixed-race refugees escaped to the safety of U.S. cities, Americans were forced to confront the paradox of being a slaveholding republic, recognizing their own possible destiny in the predicament of the Haitian slaveholders.

Historian Ashli White examines the ways Americans—black and white, northern and southern, Federalist and Democratic Republican, pro- and antislavery—pondered the implications of the Haitian Revolution.

Encountering Revolution convincingly situates the formation of the United States in a broader Atlantic context. It shows how the very presence of Saint-Dominguan refugees stirred in Americans as many questions about themselves as about the future of slaveholding, stimulating some of the earliest debates about nationalism in the early republic.

About the Author

Ashli White is an assistant professor of history at the University of Miami.


"White has written the go-to or standard account of the Haitian Revolution's impact on the United States."—Matthew Hale, H-SHEAR, H-Net Reviews

"White's volume dovetails nicely with earlier studies of American thoughts about the Haitian Revolution and helps show how the revolution's potential explosiveness was rendered moot by southern commentators wielding American exceptionalism."—Tim Matthewson, Journal of American History

"Drawing upon broader historiographies of the Haitian Revolution, Atlantic world, and the early republic, White focuses on the interactions between US residents and Saint-Dominguan refugees to demonstrate how revolutionary refugees confronted post-revolutionary Americans with their status as a slaveholding republic."—Choice

"This richly detailed study is especially important in extending our understanding of the impact of the Haitian Revolution on U.S. society back to the 1790s and to other strata beyond its elite political class."—Nick Nesbitt, American Historical Review

"A strong contribution toward understanding the Haitian Revolution's political impact on the United States."—John Davies, Florida Historical Quarterly

"A serious work of sober analysis, it has been written with great patience and scholarly care, making it accessible to seasoned researchers and undergraduates alike."—William and Mary Quarterly

"In this timely study, Ashli White offers a concise synthesis of much of this literature and provides a fresh and exciting analysis of Haiti's influence on the early American republic."—New West Indian Guide

9781421405810 : encountering-revolution-white
Paperback / softback
280 Pages
$28.00 USD

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