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The Haitian Constitution of 1801

Toussaint Louverture

Toussaint Louverture, “Constitution of the French Colony of Saint-Domingue, 1801,” in Slave Revolution in the Caribbean, 1789 – 1804: A Brief History with Documents, edited by Laurent Dubois and John D. Garrigus (New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s and Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 167 – 70.

The Haitian Revolution was a long struggle that lasted from 1791 to 1804. Even after the French government abolished slavery in 1793 and the former slaves took control under the leadership of Toussaint L’Ouverture, the French wanted to hold onto the rich colony. In 1801 L’Ouverture was worried that Napoleon, who was then dictator of France, would try to make the freedmen slaves again and take over the government of the colony of Saint Domingue. To prevent that, L’Ouverture created a Constitutional Assembly to write a constitution for the colony. This act infuriated Napoleon, who sent an army to eliminate L’Ouverture and all the rebels in Saint Domingue. However, the Haitian rebels (and yellow fever) defeated Napoleon’s army, and the Republic of Haiti declared independence in 1804. What rights did the constitution guarantee? What problems might arise from Article 28?



exercise of a public function: government officials carrying out their duties

a formally expressed order: an order from the government (but it’s not specifically a judge)

inviolable: can’t be taken away or stolen


confided: given

 The constitution written by Toussaint L’Ouverture in 1801 is quite a complex historical source. While its first goal was to ensure that slavery would not return, it also included strict provisions about property and labor that would have restricted the freedom of the new freedmen to move from one place to another. It did not grant them land, either. You may or may not want to discuss this with students, since it adds another layer of complexity. However, make sure they recognize that the constitution granted L’Ouverture the top executive position for life, a provision that might have resulted in a dictatorship. L’Ouverture was clearly intending to control events in Haiti, but he was betrayed to the French and died in a French prison. Jean-Jacques Dessalines, another former slave, declared Haitian independence in 1804.

Title 2: Of Its Inhabitants
Article 3. There can be no slaves in this territory; servitude is abolished within it forever. … All men who are born here live and die free and French.
Article 4. All men, whatever their color, are eligible for all positions.
Article 5. There exist no distinctions other than those based on virtues and talents, and no superiority other than that granted by the law to the exercise of a public function.
The law is the same for all, whether it punishes or protects.
Title 5: Of Men in Society
Article 12. The Constitution guarantees individual freedom and security. No one can be arrested except by virtue of a formally expressed order. …
Article 13. Property is sacred and inviolable. All persons, either by themselves or their representatives, are free to dispose of and administer what is recognized as belonging to them. Anyone who attacks this right commits a crime against society and is guilty. …

Title 8: Of the Government
Article 27. The administrative reins of the colony are confided to a governor. …

Article 28. The Constitution names as governor citizen Toussaint Louverture, the general-in-chief of the army of Saint-Domingue and, in consideration of the important services that he has rendered to the colony, in the most critical circumstances of the revolution, and per the wishes of the grateful inhabitants, the reins [of government] are confided to him for the rest of his glorious life.
Article 29. In the future, each governor will be named for five years. …