For our first meeting, participants of the seminar read a chapter by David Armitage, “Every Great Revolution is a Civil War,” forthcoming in Keith Michael Baker and Dan Edelstein, eds., Scripting Revolutions (Stanford, 2014). “When tracing the genealogy of the modern script of revolution,” Armitage argues, “we should seriously consider the hypothesis that civil war was the original genus of which revolution was only a late-evolving species.” Ever since our first meeting, I’ve been thinking about how we can situate Haiti in Armitage’s argument; I think it does fit, but the case needs a bit of special attention.
My immediate question when I began reading was “can slaves be part of a civil war?” It seems as though Algernon Sidney beat me to it in the 17th century. Sidney, Armitage reveals, sought to exclude wars involving slaves and free non-citizens from the category of “civil war” in order to refute Robert Filmer’s defense of monarchy. By narrowing the definition, Sidney was able to confine the period of civil wars to the Roman Empire and therefore provide evidence of the instability caused by monarchy. Because slaves were not citizens in Saint Domingue, my first instinct was to exclude the Haitian Revolution from the category of civil war. But the story is not quite as simple as slaves v. free people and I began to see the parallels and similarities that Armitage emphasizes between “civil war” and “revolution” since they are part of the same genealogy.
In 1791, enslaved people in the northern part of the French colony of Saint Domingue rose up in rebellion and began the event that we know today as the “Haitian Revolution.” Without any other choice, the French commissioners in the colony declared the abolition of slavery in 1793. The French National Convention ratified this decision in 1794 and applied it to the entire French empire and they also granted civil and political rights to all non-whites in the colonies. Up until 1793/4, therefore, the war had been between slaves/non-citizens and free people/citizens (the French revolutionary government had granted citizenship to free non-whites in 1791 but the measure had not been adopted by the ruling colonial elite).
Between1793/4 and 1798, however, the colony was entangled in a complicated series of battles involving local conflicts and international armies. British and Spanish armies, royalists, republicans, whites, former slaves, and former free people of color all fought with and against each other whenever it suited their immediate goals and needs. I’m struggling to think of this period as a civil war since the British and Spanish forces played such a central role and occupied territory in the colony. Can civil wars also include a central international dimension? Can Revolutions? Between 1799 and 1803, however, the conflict is much more clearly civil since the central military and political conflicts were between Toussaint Louverture and André Rigaud and then between Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Napoléon’s army under Charles Leclerc and Donatien Rochambeau.
What I find incredibly interesting, is that at least one observer at the time claimed that the conflict between Haiti and France after 1804 should be considered a “civil war.” In a debate surrounding the prohibition on trade with Haiti in the United States in 1806, Senator Samuel White of Delaware proclaimed a lengthy speech in support of continuing the trade with Haiti. To help make his case, White tried to prove that prohibiting trade with Haiti was contrary to the law of nations. The status of Haitians as free citizens (according to the 1794 law), White argued, meant that the battle between St. Domingo and France was not a “rebellion” but instead a “civil war.” He cited Emmerich de Vattel in support of this argument. “Custom appropriates the term of civil war,” White read from Vattel’s writings, “to every war between the members of one and the same political society. If it be between part of the citizens on the one side, and the sovereign, with those who continue in obedience to him, on the other; provided the malcontents have any reason for taking up arms nothing further is required to entitle such disturbance to the name of civil war, and not that of rebellion.” White cited resistance against political and personal slavery as a very just cause for war. Once he had established that the conflict should be considered a civil war, White argued that in such scenarios neutral nations were to treat both parties equally. White did not win his case in Congress and the United States prohibited trade with Haiti in 1806.
Armitage argues that many “self-conscious revolutionaries… were well aware [that] the scripts of civil war and revolution had much in common and were difficult to disentangle.” I too am having difficulty disentangling the two – if it can be done – and I welcome any additional thoughts on the issue.
 “Mr. White’s Speech in the Senate of the United States, on the bill interdicting all intercourse between the United States and the island of St. Domingo; February 20, 1806,” ([no publication information], 1806).
 White, 11; White cites from Vattel’s chapter on Civil War: Emmerich de Vattel, The Law of Nations, Or, Principles of the Law of Natures, Applied to the Conduct and Affairs of Nations and Sovereigns, Joseph Chitty, ed., (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1834), 424; Lauren Benton highlights that thirteen years later US President James Monroe defined the “status of Spain’s former colonies as belligerents in a civil war.” Lauren Benton, “Strange Sovereignty: The Provincia Oriental in the Atlantic World,” Mexico 20/10, La Modernidad en el Atlantico Iberamericano; see also Jaime E. Rodriguez O., The Independence of Spanish America, (Cambridge, 1998).
 This paragraph is a modified excerpt from my dissertation, “’So Many Schemes in Agitation’: The Haitian State and the Atlantic World, (Ph.D. Dissertation, Duke University, 2012).