This dissertation examines the nineteenth-century French debate on slavery and emancipation by analyzing its engagement with the antislavery legacies of the French Revolution and the Haitian Revolution. In revising the prior historiography’s preoccupation with the influence of the benchmark British example, it contends that the impacts of revolutionary abolition formed another vital factor in shaping French abolitionism and emancipation. For this purpose, this thesis charts the discursive mobilization of the revolutionary past’s divisive meanings concerning slavery and the controversial state of postindependence Haiti as the first postemancipation society in the French antislavery debate. This process seeks to rework Michel- Rolph Trouillot’s thesis and trace the complex practices and the procedure of “silencing the Haitian Revolution,” not reducible to “unthinkable.”
In order to reconstruct the discursive contestation over revolutionary legacies, this thesis is predicated on two approaches. First, it delves into the linkage between French domestic politics and antislavery issues. As the politics of memory over the French Revolution dominated French postrevolutionary politics, it excavates how narrating the history of the French and Haitian Revolutions became a crucial part of antislavery politics. From the Restoration to the July Monarchy, the shifting political positions of the antislavery elites in the regime deeply affected their changing uses and strategies of the representation of the Haitian Revolution and Haiti. Second, this thesis revamps the studies of French antislavery from a transatlantic perspective by examining the roles of three colonial groups: refugee planters of Saint-Domingue in Paris; free people of color from French colonies represented by Cyrille Bissette; and Haitian ruling elites intervening in metropolitan discussions. The study of these three groups illuminates the evolution of French antislavery at the nexus of metropolitan-colonial interactions and on a transatlantic scale. For these purposes, I mobilize a variety of instances in which the narratives of slavery and abolition were produced and contested: political tracts, historical books, parliamentary debates, antislavery associations, the press, the causes célèbres, and artistic representations.
This thesis works towards three goals. First, it reveals the key role of revolutionary examples in molding French antislavery discourse—in particular, the Haitian Revolution and post-1804 Haiti. By doing this, it provides an alternative explanation for the dynamics of French emancipation and also illuminates the Haitian Revolution’s discursive impact on French abolitionism. Second, this thesis focuses on revolutionary legacies in order to delve into a wider array of discourses engendered by antislavery debate. It delineates the overlapping and often conflicting concepts of Frenchness, race, and colonialism contested by the various groups who sought to define and appropriate revolutionary examples. By investigating the dispute over the status of colonial groups in the French national community—white planters, free people of color, and slaves—this work argues that the negotiations over French citizenship and Frenchness were at the center of the antislavery debate, with an emphasis on French citizenship’s complicated relation to race and colonialism. Third, this thesis ultimately shows how these contestations over revolutionary antislavery led to the formation of the dominant national discourse of French-given universal liberty, and how in this process the hegemonic narrative of the French Revolution and emancipation “silenced” the Haitian Revolution and Haiti.