Defeat in Victory

The Price of Haitian Independence

As evident in Pierre Force's Wealth and Disaster, although Haiti won the Haitian Revolution in 1804, it had not won recognized independence from France. Rather, the Haitian government was required to pay the French government an indemnity "in exchange for diplomatic recognition" (111). This reparations agreement, made in 1825 and later "reduced from 150 million to 90 million francs...in 1838" (112), was largely debated by politicians in both countries, but the Haitians were especially incensed by their new president's decision to pay the indemnity "for the recognition of an independence that had already been earned with their blood" (114). Furthermore, they angrily realized that the indemnity was "'a sum that was beyond [their] means,'" and one that would become the burden of their future generations.

Regardless of the Haitian's general feelings, the reparations had already been agreed upon by leaders in both France and Haiti. In time, French citizens who had been forced out of Haiti during the revolution and who were living in various places across the globe began to receive these payments for the plantation lands and property – including slaves – that they had lost. While the United States government had refused to provide an indemnity to British loyalists – who then received some compensation from Britain – after the American Revolution, the Haitian government assented to the terms, allowing French families to get "relief from the government they had ruined themselves to prevent coming into existence" (116).

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Reparation Letter to the Corneau Family Reparation Letter to the Corneau Family

A two-page letter of reparation to the family of John Baptist Toussant Corneau from the French Banque Hottinguer.

Audio Recording of the Letter from Banque Hottinguer to the Corneau Family.

The letter displayed to the left is an example of a notice of incoming payments to a French family. In this case, it was sent to the family of John Baptist Toussant Corneau, the same man who fled the French Revolution to Haiti, the Haitian Revolution to Cuba, and eventually settled in the United States. In this letter, one can see that the French government's assessment of Corneau's incurred damages was 2,963 francs and 48 centimes, of which 4% would be paid out over the course of four years. Each year for the first four years (after the deduction of the necessary processing fees) the family would receive 106.50 francs from the French Banque Hottinguer via the Haitian government.

Finally, on the second page one can witness just how extensive the total indemnities were, scheduled to be paid at increasing rates for several decades. One may also imagine the strain that this amount of debt put on the already struggling economy of young Haiti; indeed, it was a debt so large that it altered the Haitian way of life and led to the poverty and struggle from which many of its inhabitants never fully recovered.

An audio recording of this document has been provided for increased accessibility.