Dbq: Slavery during the Enlightenment and the French Revolution Directions

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DBQ: Slavery during the Enlightenment and the French Revolution

 Directions: The following question is based on the accompanying Documents 1-12. (Some of the documents have been edited for the purpose of this exercise.)

This question is designed to test your ability to work with historical documents. As you analyze each document, take into account its source and the point of view of the author. Write an essay on the following topic that integrates your analysis of the documents; in no case should documents simply be cited and explained in a "laundry list" fashion.

When grading this essay, I will not assume that you have any detailed knowledge of the Enlightenment – I will, however, assume that you know about something about slavery in the Americas. I am most interested in your ability to interpret the documents, based on the information you have been given.

  •  Make sure you base your argument on the documents below. Use ALL or ALL BUT ONE of the documents (including the pictures/charts). However, you do not have to analyze each document with the same level of detail. Don’t forget to GROUP them.

  • Please keep in mind who the author of each document is, why he/she is writing, and when the document was produced. For the non-literary sources, what information can you deduce from the pictures that will help you answer the question?

  • Make sure to discuss one additional type of source that would have been helpful to you in answering this question. Don’t just list the type of source, but explain WHY it would be helpful to you.

QUESTION: Analyze the views of those addressing the issue of slavery during the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. In doing so, explain how the authors of these documents thought the abolition of slavery would affect the existing economic, political and social order. In what way does the French government’s response to the events of the Haitian Revolution reflect or challenge those views?
Historical Background. During the Enlightenment (1750s-1770s), French intellectuals addressed the institution of slavery. The issue remained important through the French Revolution, when the French National Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (published in August 1789), which begins: "All men are born free and remain free and equal in rights." [HINT: Pay attention to the DATE of this document when answering the question!]

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen raised issues concerning the French colonies in the West Indies, including Saint Domingue (now Haiti). French merchants supplied these islands with slaves, and French planters used the slaves to maintain their sugar and coffee plantations. The populations of these colonies included African slaves, French colonists, mulatto (people of mixed white and black ancestry) landholders and freed blacks. Slaves, mulattos, and freed Black people had no political rights.

Early in 1791, mulattos from Saint Domingue sent a delegation to the National Assembly in Paris to secure the rights enumerated in the Declaration. They were refused. Once back in Saint Domingue, the mulattos rebelled against the white planters, but the revolt was quickly and brutally suppressed. The leaders were executed as a warning to future revolutionaries.

Late in 1791 the French National Assembly did decide to grant civil rights to all mulattos and blacks born of free parents. [They did not abolish slavery at that time.] Whites in Saint Domingue were enraged and civil war broke out. Complicating matters further, slaves in Saint Domingue also rebelled that year, led by the brilliant slave general Toussaint L’Ouverture. L’Ouverture declared independence from France and after many years of battle, the Republic of Haiti (formerly Saint Domingue) was established in 1804.

The slave rebellion in Haiti scared white elites all over the Caribbean. France itself abolished slavery in its colonies in 1794. However, that did not stop Napoleon Bonaparte from re-invading Haiti and capturing L’Ouverture in 1802. He died in a Parisian prison.



Document 1
 -- Louis de Jaucourt, "The Slave," Encyclopedia, 1755
(The Encyclopedia was a famous Enlightenment text)

Everything concurs to let humans enjoy dignity, which is natural. Everything tells us that we can not take away from a person that natural dignity which is liberty.

Document 2
-- Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The New Heloise, 1761
(Rousseau was one of the leading intellectual figures of the Enlightenment)

I have seen those vast unfortunate lands that seem only destined to be inhabited by slaves. I have averted my eyes from that sordid sight with loathing, horror and pity; and seeing one fourth of my fellow humans changed into beasts for the service of others, I have grieved to be a human.


 Document 3
-- Denis Diderot, "Natural Liberty," Encyclopedia, 1765
(This excerpt is also taken from the Encyclopedia – see #1)

Why did the Christian powers not consider that their religion, independent of natural law, was fundamentally opposed to Black slavery? The answer is that those nations needed slaves for their colonies, their plantations, and their mines.


 Document 4
-- Abbé Guillaume Raynal, Essay on the Administration of Saint Domingue, 1781
(Raynal was a French Enlightenment priest and historian who collaborated with Diderot (see #3) on a history of the European colonies in the Americas)

White people are incapable of working in the field under the hot sun in Saint Dominque; thus to make the best of this precious soil, it has been necessary to find a particular species of laborers. Saint Domingue is a milder climate for the slaves than the hot climate from which they have been transplanted.


Document 5
-- Count Mirabeau, Speech to the National Assembly, July 1789
(Mirabeau was a moderate reformer in the early French Revolutionary government who favored a the establishment of a constitutional monarchy)

I demand to know how the twenty White people here from the colonies can be said to represent the people of color from whom they have received no authority. I demand to know by what right the 23,000 White voters have refused their fellow citizens the right to name representatives and have arrogated to themselves the right to choose representatives for those whom they have excluded.


 Document 6
-- A delegate from Bordeaux (France), Speech to the National Assembly, March 1790

 The abolition of slavery and the slave trade would mean the loss of our colonies; the loss of the colonies would strike a mortal blow to commerce, and the ruin of commerce would result in stagnation for the merchant marine, agriculture, and the arts. Five million French citizens exist only by the trade they bring. The colonies bring in an annual income of more than 200 million livres.


Document 7
-- A delegate of the Owners of Property in the French Colonies of America Residing in Bordeaux, Speech to the National Assembly, date unknown (1790?)

End our fears by declaring that your proclamation on the Rights of Man does not extend to the Black people and their descendants. We have not enslaved them, but we discovered them in the hardest and cruelest slavery, and transplanted them to French colonies, under a kind of humane government, where, indeed, they work, but they live without fear for tomorrow.

 Document 8
-- Antoine Barnave, Report by the National Assembly's Committee on the Colonies, 1790

We have reached this level of prosperity thanks to our colonies. If someday they must gain independence, we must make sure to postpone that day so that we will be able to lose them without an economic shock and without a disturbance to our political existence.

Document 9


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