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Chapter 2 is titled "The Owners", and is devoted to describing three groups, and the divisions and tensions between and among them.  These three groups were the planters of San Domingo, the French bourgousie, and the British bourgousie.

On the island of San Domingo, crops flourish year-round, and there is no strong cycle of seasons.  Plantations were large, and the planter population was spread thinly, and easily bored.  The wealthy owners and the wealthiest merchants were the "big whites", and their main ambition was to make enough money to either move back to France, or at least frequently spend several months in Paris.  They spent their unwanted time on San Domingo in drunken idleness and sex with their slaves.  Their numbers were augmented by younger scions of the French aristocracy.  Deprived of most of its power by the king, they sought riches to obtain another form of power.

Another group among the owners were the "small whites", managers and stewards on the plantations, lawyers, notaries, clerks, artisans, and grocers in the towns.

P. 33  No small white was a servant,no white man did any work that he could get a Negro to do for him.

Over and above the big and small whites was the ruling bureaucracy, which came in two forms.  The Governor represented the king, and was a soldier and aristocrat.  The Intendant was responsible for justice, finance, and general administration.  These two were generally at odds with one another.  The planters, little emperors on their own plantation, hated the bureaucracy.  In order to find a counterweight, the bureaucracy cultivated the interests of the small whites.

The other class of free people in San Domingo consisted of free Mulattoes and free blacks.  In the earlier days of the colony, it was easier to obtain freedom, particularly for the children of white men.  As time went by, they started amassing wealth, since they lived more soberly and didn't blow away huge amounts of money going to France. Their growing numbers and wealth caused alarm to the whites, who would have liked to wipe them out.  However, their numbers and wealth gave them some protection, and they had their own plantations.  

P. 41 The colonists had to content themselves with throwing on these rivals every humiliation that ingenuity and malice could devise ...They were forbidden to meet together "on the pretext" of weddings, feasts or dances, under penalty of a fine for the first offence, imprisonment for the next, and worse to follow. ... The only privilege the whites allowed them was the privilege of lending white men money.

The overriding justification for the nasty society of San Domingo was its prosperity.  The island was extraordinarily productive, and continually becoming more so.  Still, the French government kept a heavy hand on what the colonists were allowed to do for themselves.  They were meant to supply raw materials to French industry, not to set up industries of their own.  

P. 46  Whatever manufactued goods the colonists needed they were compelled to buy from France.  They could sell their produce only to France.  The goods were to be transported only in French ships.
These restrictions led to revolts by the planters in the 1720's, including throwing the governor into prison to get some relief on the restrictions.
P 47 Political dependence on the mother country was now retarding the economic growth of San Domingo. .... Thus if big whites and small whites were in permanent conflict with each other, they were united against the Mulattoes on the one hand and against the French bourgoisie on the other.  They could persecute the Mulattoes, but against the French bourgeoise they  could do nothing but rage.  Long before 1789 the French bourgeoisie was the most powerful economic force in France, and the slave-trade and the colonies were the basis of its wealth and power.

The maritime cities of France were enriched by the shipping to and from the colonists.  The industries that grew up in France in the 18th century were based on the raw materials from San Domingo; sugar refining, manufactured goods for the colonists, hide working, manufacture of cotton fabrics.  The livelihood of between two and six million Frenchmen depended on the colonies.

The British bourgeoisie also obtained some wealth from San Domingo, since the colonial trade was too big for the French to handle alone.  They were the most successful of slave-traders, and sold thousands of smuggled slaves to San Domingo.  Still, they watched the economic growth of San Domingo and thus of France with unease.  And they saw a great weapon in their hands.  They didn't need slaves nearly as much as San Domingo did, and San Domingo's productivity depended on a continued supply of slaves. So they started a great outcry for the abolition of the slave-trade.

Pitt, the prime minister of England, pressured Wilberforce to introduce legislation banning the slave-trade in England, and foresaw success there.  He tried to persuade the European governments to do so as well, with little success.  But in France, pre-revolutionary fervor was building for the end of many kinds of abuses, and a group of French liberals started an anti-slavery society.

Meanwhile, in San Domingo, the price of rising prosperity was a need for many more African slaves.  The enormous increase in slave imports meant that much of the slave population were native Africans; of the half-million slaves in the colony in 1789, more than two-thirds had been born in Africa.  This enormous increase led to increased inhumanity of treatment and terrorization of the slaves.

And in France, the bourgoisie became increasingly unhappy with the king's autocracy, the renewed bid for power from the aristocracy, and increasingly struggled against their government. The San Domingo planters were divided on the question of getting more government representation for themselves, but those who were in favor were more active than those who were against.  They threw their support to the French bourgeoisie when King Louis tried to intimidate the Third Estate, and France thus admitted the principle of colonial representation.  They claimed 18 seats, and got their slave-holding thrown back in their faces by Mirabeau, one of the lights of the French anti-slavery society.  They only got 6 seats; and they had tied liberty in France to slave emancipation in San Domingo.

Then the French Revolution began with the storming of the Bastille.

Originally posted to RunawayRose on Sun Aug 14, 2011 at 03:33 PM PDT.

Also republished by Black Kos community, Anti-Capitalist Chat, Haiti Book Diary, and Readers and Book Lovers.

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