Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Napoleon and Slavery

Slaves in Haiti
From Shannon Selin:
Napoleon based his policies towards slavery on pragmatism. He favoured whatever would most benefit him and France. When he conquered Malta en route to Egypt in 1798, he freed 2,000 Muslim slaves found on the galleys of the Order of Malta. He called on the Turkish governors in Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli to reciprocate the gesture by liberating any Christians who might be found on their galleys. (1) Yet in Egypt Napoleon condoned slavery, hoping to gain the goodwill of the Egyptians. Although France abolished slavery in its colonies in 1794, this policy had not been fully implemented by the time Napoleon became First Consul in 1799. When insurrection broke out in Saint-Domingue, Napoleon argued that France should renew its commitment to emancipation, because
this island would go for England if the blacks were not attached to us by their interest in liberty…. They will produce less sugar, maybe, than they did as slaves; but they will produce it for us, and will serve us, if we need them, as soldiers. We will have one less sugar mill; but we will have one more citadel filled with friendly soldiers. (2)
Napoleon continued to express his commitment to emancipation even as he sent an expedition to try to overthrow the black leader Toussaint Louverture. Nonetheless, by a decree of May 20, 1802, Napoleon restored slavery and the slave trade in Martinique and other West Indian colonies (the law did not apply to Guadeloupe, Guyane or Saint-Domingue). Napoleon argued he was “maintaining” slavery, since its formal abolition had not actually been realized. He hoped to encourage the return of French settlers to the colonies, believing they were better able than the blacks to defend French interests against the British. Also, white planters in La Réunion had threatened to secede rather than free their slaves. (Read more.)
New Orleans auction house


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