Slavery During the Enlightenment and the French Revolution 1991


Directions: The following question is based on the accompanying Documents 1-15. (Some of the documents have been edited for the purpose of this exercise.) Write your answer on the lined pages of the pink essay booklet.

This question is designed to test your ability to work with historical documents. As you analyze each document, take into account its source and the point of view of the author. Write an essay on the following topic that integrates your analysis of the documents; in no case should documents simply be cited and explained in a "laundry list" fashion. You may refer to historical facts and developments not mentioned in the documents.


1. Analyze the views of those addressing the issue of slavery during the Enlightenment and the French Revolution AND explain how those who debated this issue thought its resolution would affect the economic, political and social order.


Historical Background. During the Enlightenment, French intellectuals addressed the institution of slavery. then, at the time of the French Revolution, the National Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Right of Man (August 27, 1789), which begins: "All men are born free and remain free and equal in rights." The application of this statement raised issues concerning the French colonies in the West Indies: Saint Domingue (now Haiti), Martinque, Guadeloupe, Tobago, Saint Lucia and Saint Martin. French Merchants supplied these islands with slaves, and French planters used the slaves to maintain their sugar and coffee plantations. The populations of these colonies included African slaves, French colonists, mulatto landholders and freed Black people. Slaves, mulattoes, and freed Black people had no political rights.


 Document 1

 Everything concurs to let humans enjoy dignity, which is natural. Everything tells us that we can not take away from a person that natural dignity which is liberty.

 Louis de Jaucourt, "The Slave," Encyclopedia, 1755

 Document 2

 One hundred thousand slaves, Black or mulatto, work in sugar mills, indigo and cocoa plantations, sacrificing their lives to gratify our newly acquired appetites for sugar, cocoa, coffee, and tobacco---things unknown to our ancestors.

 Voltaire, Essay on Morals and Customs, 1756

 Document 3

 I have seen those vast unfortunate lands that seem only destined to be inhabited by slaves. I have averted my eyes from that sordid sight with loathing, horror and pity; and seeing one fourth of my fellow humans changed into beasts for the service of others, I have grieved to be a human.

 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The New Heloise, 1761

 Document 4

 Why did the Christian powers not consider that their religion, independent of natural law, was fundamentally opposed to Black slavery? The answer is that those nations needed slaves for their colonies, their plantations, and their mines.

 Denis Diderot, "Natural Liberty," Encyclopedia, 1765

 Document 5

 Masters who acquired new slaves were obligated by law to have them instructed in the Catholic faith. this motivated Louis XIII to authorize this horrid commerce in human flesh.

 Louis de Jaucourt, "Blacks," Encyclopedia, 1765

 Document 6

 White people are incapable of working in the field under the hot sun in Saint Dominque; thus to make the best of this precious soil, it has been necessary to find a particular species of laborers. Saint Domingue is a milder climate for the slaves than the hot climate from which they have been transplanted.

 Guillaume Raynal, Essay on the Administration of Saint Domingue, 1781

Document 7

 Why are Black people enslaved? The color of people's skin only suggests a slight difference. There is no discord between day and night, the sun and the moon and between the stars and dark sky. All is varied; it is the beauty of nature. Why destroy nature's work?

 Olympe de Gouges, Reflections on Black People, 1788

 Document 8

 A day may come, gentlemen, when you will cast a glance of compassion on these unfortunate people who have been made a barbaric object of trade; these people who are similar to us, in thought and, above all, in their capacity to suffer.

 Jacques Necker, speech, opening meeting of the Estates General, May 1789

 Document 9

 I demand to know how the twenty White people here from the colonies can be said to represent the people of color from whom they have received no authority. I demand to know by what right the 23,000 White voters have refused their fellow citizens the right to name representatives and have arrogated to themselves the right to choose representatives for those whom they have excluded.

 Count Mirabeau, speech, National Assembly, July 3, 1789

 Document 10

 The abolition of slavery and the slave trade would mean the loss of our colonies; the loss of the colonies would strike a mortal blow to commerce, and the ruin of commerce would result in stagnation for the merchant marine, agriculture, and the arts. Five million French citizens exist only by the trade they bring. The colonies bring in an annual income of more than 200 million livres.

 A delegate from Bordeaux, speech, National Assembly, March 2, 1790

 Document 11


 Document 12

  seems to me that it would be possible to conciliate the interest of commerce, that of the colonies, and that of all France; and for that I propose to name a committee which will be sent all the papers relative to Saint Domingue and to Martinque. this committee will present to you, in a few days, a definite plan of procedure. We will gain time.

 Charles de Lameth, speech, National Assembly, early 1790

 Document 13

 End our fears by declaring that your proclamation on the Rights of Man does not extend to the Black people and their descendants. We have not enslaved them, but we discovered them in the hardest and cruelest slavery, and transplanted them to French colonies, under a kind of humane government, where, indeed, they work, but they live without fear for tomorrow.

 A delegate of the Owners of Property in the French Colonies of America Residing in Bordeaux, speech, National Assembly, date unknown

 Document 14

 We have reached this level of prosperity thanks to our colonies. If someday they must gain independence, we must make sure to postpone that day so that we will be able to lose them without an economic shock and without a disturbance to our political existence.

 Antoine Barnave, report, National Assembly's Committee on the Colonies, 1790

 Document 15

 I am here to defend the Declaration of the Rights of Man. Let the colonies perish if the planters, with their threats, try to force us to legislate in their private interest! I declare in the name of the Assembly, in the name of those members of the Assembly who do not want to destroy the Constitution, I declare in the name of the entire nation which wishes to be free, that we will not sacrifice to the colonial deputies. I say that any other course, whatever it might be, is preferable.

 Maximilien Robespierre, National Assembly, May 15,, 1791