What are some similarities and differences between the American and Haitian Revolutions?Focus on causes and effects of both revolutions.
Both the American Revolution, which started in 1775, and the Haitian Revolution, which started in 1791, were inspired by Enlightenment ideas about natural rights—that is, rights that were inherent and could not be taken away. The American Revolution inspired the French Revolution, which in turn inspired the revolution in Haiti, then known as Saint-Domingue, which was a French colony.
The revolutions were fundamentally different, however, in that the Haitian Revolution was directed by slaves and its aim was the abolition of slavery. This was a very radical goal, and the American Revolution was far less radical. While the outcomes of the American Revolution were the dissolution of the colonial status of America and its independence from Great Britain, it was a less radical revolution. The Haitian Revolution resulted in the ascendancy of a formerly less elite people, but the American Revolution did not result in the abolition of slavery, as the Haitian Revolution did. Instead, Haiti became an international pariah after its revolution and was not formally recognized by France until 1825. Haiti was not recognized by the United States until 1862, one year before the Emancipation Proclamation in the United States.
Both the Haitian and American Revolutions were motivated to some extent by ideas of natural rights. In Haiti, planters justified demands for their own independence in these terms, free men of color did the same, and ultimately slaves did too. Both struggles involved violent domestic conflict, especially the Haitian Revolution and the American Revolution in the southern backcountry.
Both involved, of course, immense slave populations, but slaves rose up to win independence and freedom in Haiti, while thousands fled to British lines during the American Revolution. Ultimately, however, the Haitian Revolution was followed almost immediately by violent civil war, while the American Revolution was followed by a counter-revolutionary Constitution that was intended to squelch much popular political participation, dissent, and disorder.
For obvious reasons, the Haitian Revolution excited slave populations in America (Gabriel's Revolt in Richmond has been linked to the Haitian Revolution as well as to the turmoil caused by the disputed ending to the election of 1800) and terrified American slave owners, including many, like President Thomas Jefferson, who had been revolutionary leaders themselves.
The common thread uniting the American Revolution with the Haitian Revolution is the concept of individual sovereignty—that the right to rule comes inherently, and only, from the consent of the governed. The upper classes in the thirteen colonies, as well as the diverse population of Haiti, were fighting for that same fundamental principle.
Other than that, and the violence that ensued, they are two fundamentally different revolutions.
The American Revolution reflected a transfer of power from the aristocracy in England to the upper class in the US. It did not reflect a transfer of power within US society itself. For the average citizen, and certainly for the slave, life largely went on as it had before the revolution. In fact, the American Revolution did such a poor job of addressing social grievances that unrest soon followed, immediately in the form of Shay's Rebellion and later in the form of the Civil War.
The Haitian Revolution, on the other hand, reflects a major overturn in the social order. The Haitians overthrew the French, and Haiti went on to be a country founded by former slaves.