Haiti 1882

The Detractors of the Black Race and the Republic of Haiti

By Louis-Joseph Janvier

Source: Excerpted from “Les Détracteurs de la Race Noire et de la République d'Haïti.” Paris, Marpon et Flammarion 1882;
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2012.

If they bite you, bite them.”
(Motto of Morlaix)

In the letter we've just read M Quesnel gave a brief, evasive, and insignificant response that was inserted into the February 4 issue of the Revue Politique et littéraire.

This response contained neither all the rectifications I legitimately hoped to find nor a retraction of the false assertions and defamatory judgments concerning my fatherland that M. Quesnel accumulated in his original article.

Instead of declaring that he was led into error by an ignorant and spiteful traveler, M. Quesnel preferred to be evasive, providing us with the spectacle of a lack of loyalty and grandeur of spirit.

The denigrator of the black race took the trouble to compliment M Dévost and me. We didn’t ask for this and have no need of it: we know what we are. We disdainfully kick aside the compliments of an insulter of our country and our race.

M. Quesnel, defeated on the road of history, took refuge in that of pure social anthropology and physiology. I am going to follow him onto this scientific terrain. I do so with all the more pleasure in that it allows me at the same time to lay out the history of the development of the Haitian people and so dissipates the clouds and legends that still obscure the minds of those who don’t know in detail the history of Haitian society and the life lived today by that young and interesting nation.


M. Quesnel expresses himself thusly: “What, in summary, have we said? That if left to itself the African race would turn in a vicious circle and that it will only elevate itself through contact and fusion with the white race: a fusion of ideas, of hearts and blood.”

I respond.

The fusion of ideas is slowly but surely occurring, and increasingly so with each passing day, as with every fusion that is to be durable. It is so this fusion can occur that Haitians travel so frequently to Europe and the United States and that French, English, and Spanish are taught in higher education in Haiti.

To be sure, there must be a fusion of ideas between two peoples, one of which is nourished by the literature of the other.

We are as republican and rebellious as we are in Haiti because we read many French books, those that retrace the great scenes of the French Revolution, those of the authors of the great century and the 18th century, as well as the melodious and charming ones of contemporary authors.

In Haiti science is completely European, and the ideas of the Parisian school lead the way in jurisprudence, medicine, the natural sciences, and philosophy.

Great progress has been made ever since the theories laid out in the books of the illustrious English thinkers of the school of Darwin and Spencer have begun to penetrate Haiti, as well as the theories of Auguste Comte, Littré, and the French Positivist school. French newspapers, read a month after their appearance in Europe, keep Haitians up to date on the politics of the old continent. Voilà for the fusion of ideas.

The fusion of hearts has never ceased to exist with douce France. The reason for this is simple: the fusion of ideas ineluctably brings in its train the fusion of hearts. And the fusion of hearts often brings with it the fusion of blood!

The editor of the Revue Politique et Littéraire is right to believe that the fusion of blood is considerable in Haiti. We could even say that it is almost total.

In this most mountainous of Caribbean islands there is perhaps not one drop of pure Hamitic blood The Haitian black is almost always a Sacatra [1]. In this way selection will occur on its own through reproduction and cross-breeding among natives.


M. Quesnel writes the following with my compatriot and friend M. Justin Devost and me in mind: “Men whose language testifies to strong Darwinian convictions rebel against the idea of selection through absorption.”

We must make a couple of things clear in this regard. There are two kinds of anthropological absorption: 1- absorption to the profit of the autochthonous or indigenous race; and 2- absorption to the profit of the immigrant. Some examples: the armed immigration of the Visigoths to Italy and Spain; that of the Normans to England; that of the English to Chile; and the periodic immigration of the Tartars to China were immigrations that produced selections to the profit of the indigenous or autochthonous of these various countries because the conquerors, become colonists, melted into the mass of the existing population, bringing a new contingent of courage and intelligence to the populations that lacked one or the other of these moral levers.

The same cannot be said about the Spanish colonization of Haiti or the Anglo-Saxon colonization of the United States. These brought with them the destruction of the autochthonous Caraibes on the island of Haiti and the destruction of the autochthonous Indians on the American continent because the emigrants and colonists thought only of destroying the Caraibes in Quisqueya and destroying the Indians on the continent.

The Haitians of today have every reason to believe – and they are right – that a mass immigration of whites would be fatal to their autonomy and their existence as a nation. They are quite willing to accept a sporadic, individual, and slow white immigration, for through the latter the white element has the time to meld with the black element and espouse the interests of the Haitian nation. In a word, absorption occurs to the profit of the indigenous race of Haiti. But we rise up against the idea of a selection through absorption that would occur to the profit of the immigrants, and this for two reasons: 1- for a philosophical, physiological, and historical reason, and 2- for a political reason.

The physiological, philosophic, and historical reason: I can in one word explain that the purely biological reason we rebel at the idea of selection through absorption that would take place to the profit of the immigrants is that at this time we are pursuing an anthropological experiment in Haiti. Within ourselves we have to combat the African element, whose ardor and appetites are known. We also have to combat the turbulence and impatience of the blood of the French adventurers who populated Haiti. Around us we have to combat climatologic conditions: extreme heat, torrential rains, prolonged droughts, violent winds, storms, etc., so many elements that must be vanquished or disciplined with the assistance of a strong dose of moral and physical energy; of perseverance and the love of order.

Have we succeeded? A bit, I daresay.

We have evolved, and I will demonstrate this.

From the intellectual point of view- In support of my thesis I will mention the great faculty for understanding the Haitians have acquired: no science or art is closed to them. As soon as they decide to study and assimilate something it is astounding to see with what ease and rapidity this is done.

They have musical souls. This is a distinctive trait of the black race: it has an instinct for music. We see them become painters without need of teachers, and though there has only been one sculptor he is as well known as a hundred. Denmark has only one known sculptor: Thorwaldsen.

Languages as well are learned with an astounding rapidity by the children of the island Michelet called the Black France. A Haitian who speaks Spanish or French has barely an accent, mainly that of the letter “r,” which isn’t in his larynx and which gives him a manner of speaking that is slow and gentle as music.

In Haitian colleges it is interesting to note the progress that stimulation and pride can lead to in a short period of time. The brains that laboratory anthropologists like M. Dailly think are retarded are shaped in such a way that they can be filled without exploding and are contained within skulls capable of being quite capacious.

We see young Haitians go to Paris and with an admirable flexibility set aside historical and social studies to embrace mathematics, and then pass from these to the study of botany, geology, and the other natural sciences; they enter the domain of metaphysics, of comparative linguistics and legislation while still writing sonnets, all of this effortlessly and without giving the impression that they are engaged in a labor that would make mad a man born above 55 degrees north latitude.

From the moral point of view – The bravery of the Haitians is proverbial and M. Quesnel was wrong to deny it. Who were our fathers? Poor pariahs who barefooted, without weapons, in rags, lacking in tactics, but bold in the face of fire, vanquished the bands of the Army of the Rhine and the Army of Italy.

The veterans who were at Jemappes, Lodi, Hohenlinden, and Marengo greatly admired the ferocious bravery of those 1500 Haitians who at Crête-à-Pierrot fought for almost a month against four French divisions. Even the evacuation from the fort was a triumph. I will quote here the opinion of a historian worthy of trust, one who knows something about bravery: “The retreat that the commander of Crête-à-Pierrot dared conceive and execute is a remarkable feat of arms. We surrounded his post with more than 12,000 men. He escaped, and didn’t lose half his garrison and left us nothing but his dead and wounded.” (P. de Lacroix, “Révolution de Saint-Domingue.”) On page 311 of the same work the same author expresses himself thusly: “Not a one of our artisans or laborers, passing suddenly from his condition to an elevated rank, would be able to as quickly and ably attain the external habits of the exercise of power as the men of Haiti.” If that was the case in 1818, at the time Pamphile de Lacroix wrote his book, we can only imagine what it must be at present.

At the moment of the capitulation of the city of Le Cap in 1803 the commander in chief of the French army, General Rochambeau, who was to die at the battle of Leipzig in 1813, sent compliments to the Haitian Captain Capois for the intrepidness that so impressed him during the furious assaults of the black troops on the positions occupied by the French around the city. These are two traits among a thousand that we can recall.

And today courage under fire has not been extinguished in the Haitian soul. Alongside it has grown civic courage. The sublime virtues of the citizen are practiced among us with an abnegation and grandeur worthy of the Romans. If this weren’t the case would we see so many revolutions?

When a man’s soul is mired in matter does he ever think of rising up against authority or defending his country when it’s under attack? Only those who live on the summits of the earth and thought are ferocious lovers of liberty, devotion, and abnegation; they alone do not despise enthusiasm and patriotism.

What has always been difficult has been to regulate this exalted patriotism and make it understand that it is better for the fatherland that the citizen remain forever peaceful and tranquil, and that it is dangerous for the fatherland that we resort even once to force in demanding any right or liberty.

But we don’t have the wisdom of the English who in 1688 with the Bill of Rights, complemented in 1701 by the Act of Establishment, conquered their liberties one after the other without a bloody revolution. If we lack this wisdom it’s because it is difficult to acquire and is the fruit of a long train of cerebral transformations which have not yet taken place in the Haitian brain. What is more, we are Latin Americans living on the 17th-21st degrees latitude above the equator. Does this mean this wisdom will not be born? Yes it will be, but everyone knows that a child becomes wise as it grows and that psychological heredity is more difficult to vanquish than physiological heredity; that every progress is followed by reaction and that in no place has civilization been the work of a day or even a century. Prosper Lucas, Caro, Th. Ribot, Guizot, Herbert Spencer, Darwin, de Nadailhac and John Lubbock have sufficiently investigated and examined these truths to allow us to affirm them.

1. The precise meaning of this word can only be found in Saint-Remy. The definition in Littré; “The sacatra can have from eight to sixteen white portions and from 112 to 120 black. The sacatra is a child born of the union of a sacatra with a negress, from the union of two sacatras, from the union of a black man and a griffone (Moreau de Saint-Méry, Description de la partie française de Saint-Domingue, vol 1 1797) All these foolish distinctions, which give an idea of the narrowness of spirit of the colonists of Saint Domingue have so completely disappeared in the republic of Haiti of today that the word “sacatra” has completely fallen into disuse. Today this archaism is only known to Haitian historians.