On the State of Slaves Regarding the Prosperity of French Colonies and their Metropole; Address to the Nation’s Representatives

The Société des Amis des Noirs [Society of the Friends of Blacks], led by Jacques-Pierre Brissot de Warville, was established in 1788 and operated until 1793. The group was comprised mostly of French men and women, and they welcomed members of color. The mission of the Society of the Friends of Blacks (abolishing the Atlantic Slave Trade and eventually bringing about the end of slavery altogether) provoked strong reactions in Paris. The group existed concurrently with The Society of Citizens of Color, a group led by the prominent mulatto planter and slaveholder Julien Raimond.[1]

After rousing the worries of French politicians and supporters of slavery, members of the Society of the Friends of Blacks were often the subjects of defamation by their compatriots. This speech, presented to the representatives of France, is a vehement rejection of the beliefs of the Society of the Friends of Blacks and ultimately seeks to reduce them to the level of ideologues.[2] By insisting on the “dogmatic” approach of the Society of the Friends of Blacks, the society’s detractors argue that the abolition of slavery is not pragmatic and would cripple the economic stability of France and its Empire.

Although this excerpt focuses on the economic aspects of the defense of slavery, it is crucial to understand the tone of this particular speech toward the Society of the Friends of Blacks. Throughout the speech, the Society of the Friends of Blacks is referred to as a political and religious sect, as false and perfidious philosophers, and even as enemies of France. “It is within the Society [of the Friends of Blacks] that the first torches, which shall set the [New and the Old] World ablaze, were lit in order to topple thrones and overturn every form of government” (22).

Finally, the speech concludes by stating that the Society of the Friends of Blacks is an import from England that will plague France until the French Empire crumbles economically. The capitalist frame of the speech pits France and England against one another based on the debate for and against slavery. By abolishing slavery, France stands to lose its material wealth in the span of 10 years, and by ceding its colonies, France would turn into “a tributary for its enemies,” and for England. The following excerpt is a hypothetical situation posed to the French representatives, articulating what might happen if slavery were abolished and if France were to lose control over its colonies.

[1] One source for more information on abolitionist groups in France is the  New York Public Library’s Abolition of the Slave Trade website.

[2] While it is not clear who gave this speech, the overall tone of the speech is nationalistic and anti-abolitionist. According to the speech, the two greatest threats to the status quo in France are the influence of the British and the abolitionist sentiments they import because they threaten to alter the shape of the French economy and its Empire.

(De l’État des nègres rélativement [sic] à la prospérité des colonies françaises et de leur métropole ; discours aux réprésantans [sic] de la nation)

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We will limit ourselves, Gentlemen, to a simple and factual discussion of this great and important matter.

No one is made rich, Gentlemen, from what he consumes, but rather, what he possesses after his consumption and what he continues to gain as a consequence of his fortune. This is an indisputable truth.

As such, if France hardly produces enough for her own needs, if the products she sells abroad from either her territories or her factories do not amount to even 30 million[2] (the estimated profit of these sales), France is therefore not rich by herself.

Indeed, Gentlemen, let us suppose for one moment that by some circumstance France were to lose her Colonies and that their farmers, instead of being from French families belonging to the heritage of France by all of the qualities that tie these men to a wealthy class and to their homeland, were to suddenly become English subjects.

In this hypothetical state of affairs, Gentlemen, it is easy to see that, because the Colonies’ ports are closed to French vessels, this Kingdom would be obligated to import from abroad what it consumes in sugar, in coffee, in cotton, and in indigo, and that it would consequently become tributary of these Foreigners. It would be impossible for this kingdom to clear a sum of 50-60 million as a result of all of these exchanges.

It is even easier to see the ways in which this powerful enemy of France would augment its wealth and prosperity and the degree of strength and glory it would gain through an increase of six hundred million in monetary wealth at the expense of France. This powerful enemy [England] could also use its strength to attack and dismember the most beautiful Kingdom of Europe, notwithstanding its population and the courage of the French people.

You see, once again, the degree of poverty to which the Kingdom would find itself reduced in ten years, if it threw from its bosom such a large sum of money.

But, Gentlemen, I beg you to attentively consider the portrait of misery that would await France if this enormous expenditure of six hundred million, which she would experience over the next ten years, were added to an importation of more than one hundred and forty million that she owes to foreign interests. Consider also, for all the years to come, the American commodities that France sells to England that would inevitably increase the strength of this Powerful enemy of France.

Calculate, Gentlemen, the miseries that the loss of close to 2 billion in ten years would cause the Kingdom.

Calculate, on the other hand, all the danger from a power enriched in monetary wealth and other considerable aspects that could threaten France in one way or another – a Strength that could increase in number and in considerable ways. You will tremble, without a doubt, from the consequences of the plans of a society that reeks of criminality, if I dare say so, of a corporation established in London, protected, guided, accredited by the Cabinet of London, with the hidden intention to unsettle and annihilate the Kingdom.


[1] This excerpt was chosen in order to illustrate the following: to reveal the ways in which many French officials reacted to the establishment of abolitionist groups, to demonstrate the argument for continuing slavery as an economic debate, and in order to demonstrate the contributions Saint-Domingue made to the French Empire. This excerpt portrays the intersections between French nationalism, economics, and European Trans-Atlantic slavery that resonates with the situation in the colonies, most specifically in Saint-Domingue.

[2] The original footnote asks the reader to consult a previous report on the economic output of France and its colonies, printed by Moutard, page 103.

One response to “On the State of Slaves Regarding the Prosperity of French Colonies and their Metropole; Address to the Nation’s Representatives

  1. Pingback: Reflections on the Code Noir, and Denunciation of an Atrocious Crime Committed in Saint-Domingue: Addressed to the National Assembly by the Society of the Friends of Blacks Paris, August 1790 | A Colony in Crisis: The Saint-Domingue Grain Shortage of 1789·

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