A true revolution occurs when the citizens of a regime unify to overthrow either a current leader, government structure, or any other fundamental aspect inflicted on society by the current administration. Revolutions may be violent or peaceful, but must attempt to remove a regime that a minority group is imposing on the majority. Overall, it typically has a goal of making the lives of the average citizen better because they were the ones starting the revolution. I view the word revolution as somewhat synonymous to progression, ultimately, revolution is when citizens work together with a shared goal of transforming their society to better fit their wants and needs.
The Haitian revolution is characterized by the abolishment of slavery and the ending of a powerful yet harsh regime. Not only was the Haitian revolution a revolution by the definition explained above, but it was also a successful one during an era of oppressive regimes. The beginning of the revolution can be observed in 1791, when a revolt “spread throughout the colony” which later turned into a “successful revolution”(Trouillot 37). The uprisings were composed of about twenty thousand former enslaved people.
The group was led by Toussaint Louverture, a black general who would ultimately lead his group to freedom as well as create a constitution which unified a list of rights that the citizens demanded. Both the Constitution created in 1801 and 1805 were revolutionary, but were each groundbreaking to different extents. In 1801, Toussaint Louveture sent a letter to Napoleon which included a list of demands which created the first Haitian Constitution that resulted from the revolution. Louveture wrote this Constitution before enslaved Hatians were granted freedom from the French rule, but it was a list of demands in hopes of Napoleon granting the enslaved people more rights as well as an equal status for all men. This first set of demands were somewhat progressive and revolutionary in the sense that it demanded freedom which would disrupt the current system and require remodelling. Some of these freedoms that they wanted to be granted were the abolishment of slavery, the employment of all men regardless of their race, that laws be applied equally to men whether they are being punished or not, and that all citizens follow Roman Catholic Christianity.
Although some of the articles did not allow total freedom and control for the citizens, like freedom of religion, this is still revolutionary because it demanded a large aspect of society be controlled and mandated by formerly enslaved Haitians instead of the French colonizers. Although it still would be defined as revolutionary, the version seen four years later takes the revolution to a new level. In the 1805 version of the Haitian Constitution some of the previous conservative demands are changed. In the 1805 version it states that there is “no predominant religion”, which is a change from its predecessor . This is one of the aspects that makes the second document more revolutionary than the first.
Although the first Constitution allowed for citizens to participate in a religion that some might have wanted to convert to anyways, the 1805 version allowed all religions which meant that vodou could be reinstated. Vodou has a long history relating to Haiti and during the enslavement of many Haitians, they coped with the torture through a combonation of Catholocism and African rituals, includnig vodou. These traditions include songs like “Sou Lan Me” and “On the Ocean” (Dubois 22) and these songs displayed the fact that the current state of labor in Haiti was built on torture inflicted on those who endured the middle passage.
By allowing the former enslaved Haitians to practice vodou, this also allowed them to freely sing and perform rituals that did not cover up the harsh history that brought them and their ancestors to the island. Ultimately, while both constitutions were revolutionary, the 1805 version was to a greater extent due to it allowing the citizens greater freedom to make their own choice and not rely on the previous restrictive society. Overall, not only was the Haitian revolution a revolution by definition, but the two constitutions described above aided in labelling this movement as revolutionary. Abolishing slavery, promoting equality, and allowing a freedom of religion within the island recontructed the regime and transformed it into something that the common citizen preferred more than before. Formerly enslaved Haitians were able to have greater control of the island.