06 Dec

Capsule Review: Toussaint Louverture by Philippe Girard

Several people hit me up to note that Toussaint Louverture by Philippe Girard just came out. It’s apparently the first biography of Louverture that’s English first that has come out in 80 years.

I snagged a copy that arrived last night and read the book promptly.

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It’s best read if you already have an appreciation of Caribbean history. Something like Carrie Gibson’s Empire’s Crossroads is a great start.

Haiti’s history and the US is so intertwined. I could write a large essay. But short of it: the entire Louisiana Purchase came about because Napoleon wanted to reinvade Haiti after Toussaint Louverture’s successful rebellion. Haiti was such an economic crown jewel that Napoleon jettisoned enough territory to the US that it doubled the size of the US, much to the shock of the negotiators who showed up. There is no modern US as you conceive of it without Haiti. The French gave up plans to invade the US as well, which was a war that had been possibly brewing.

See Haiti and the Founding Fathers.

Hamilton (yes, that Hamilton) helped Toussaint draft a constitution. Hamilton, famously finding democracy and liberty messy, basically suggested a highly centralized military run system and advised against an American styled system. We’re not sure how much that influenced Toussaint, but that’s what he went with.

I find the American blindspot to Haiti very frustrating.

Oh, yeah, and Jefferson as president actively supported the French attempt to retake Haiti (Sant Domingue) because he was just plain racist.

A lot of the American South reacted to the revolution and refugees by becoming super racist, setting the state not only for the American Civil War but to the Southern Strategy in US politics that just kicked our ass right now.

It’s all bound together. History still lies with us. The evil of slavery and the creation of racism as a major tenet of modern Wester Civilization still stains the body politic, so it’s important to read about one of the major figures in this long, sad history of the fight against slavery and its follow on effects.

So finally digging deeper into Toussaint is important, and I read biography last night in one big gulp. It’s not a hagiography, but then few really good delves into the complications of major historical figures are. While I learned some things I wasn’t expecting, I have a greater appreciation for the sheer unlikeness of what Toussaint did.

Here are some highlights I noted on twitter as I was reading:

3 thoughts on “Capsule Review: Toussaint Louverture by Philippe Girard

  1. I love “Hamilton,” but I really really wish Lin-Manuel had done/will do a treatment of Toussaint

  2. The Revolutions Podcast (http://www.revolutionspodcast.com/) did 20 episodes (so nearly 10 hours of audio) on the Haitian revolution in the first half of this year. It’s well worth listening to (Mike Duncan has also covered a British revolution, the American revolution, the French revolution — which gets tied into the Haitian revolution, and is near the end of the South America revolutions. Before this podcast, he also did The History of Rome podcast)

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