Request Presented to the Royal Estates-General, June 8, 1789, by the Deputies of the Isle of Saint-Domingue

While the Island of Saint-Domingue was long considered part of the French Empire, the ten Colonial Deputies of Saint-Domingue felt in 1789 that they had become separated from the colonial Metropole. Frankly, many colonists aspired independence from the Metropole, but such freedom meant that Saint-Domingue would be subject to much harsher tariffs and taxation from France for materials imported to the colony. The Colonial Deputies were also some of the most wealthy and powerful landowners in Saint-Domingue, which granted them the privilege to usurp popular interest in greater autonomy. Therefore, under the guise of inclusion, the Deputies argued that they wished to partake in the newly formed Estates-General, knowing that they would be able to reap economic advantages.  Thus, on June 8, 1789, nearly one month before the Storming of the Bastille, the following request was presented in Paris before Louis XVI’s committee of the Estates-General.

In April 1789, the island of Corsica officially became part of Hexagonal France and became the first ‘overseas’ French territory to be considered wholly incorporated into the mainland. In November 1789, France would be divided into 83 departments[1] — Corsica was the only department included from outside continental Europe.[2] The inclusion of Corsica provoked significant anxiety among the Deputies of colonial Saint-Domingue, as they desired the island to have same the economic advantages as Corsica, and above all, for its inhabitants to be considered French citizens.

[1] As of 2014, France is composed of 96 departments, as well as five overseas departments in the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean.

[2] 30 novembre 1789. Décret portant que l’isle de la Corse fait partie de l’empire français ; sanctionné au mois de janvier 1790.

Original
(Requête présentée aux États-Généraux du royaume, le 8 juin 1789, par les députés de l’Isle de Saint-Domingue)


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Translation:

To the gentlemen of the Estates-General,

Gentlemen,

At the moment when, in France’s good fortune, the Nation’s Senate has finally come into being, one of the largest, perhaps the most powerful, and definitely the most productive provinces of the Empire is going to suspend the important deliberations of the Estates-General for a moment in order to fix the gaze of the Nation’s Fathers on the representations [of the Empire].

These noble representatives of 24 million people, hardly recovered from the surprise that provoked yet another unexpected meeting, with their souls open to all the feelings that fraternity provides, could not possibly realize at first glance that the entire family had not been reunited, a truth that they will admit to when they see that their brothers, the representatives of the French colonies, no longer sit beside them.

Of all of the islands, since the last states extended the French Territory across the seas, today Corsica alone has the good fortune of being admitted into the Sanctuary of the Nation. The justice that was given [to Corsica] is a sure guarantee of one that could not be refused to her other sister islands.

It is to the oldest of all of these islands, it is to the most extended, it is to the most considerable according to its population, its commercial activity, political influence, and the to one which, without ostentation, may call itself the capital of our Colonies, to present itself first in front of the Sovereign Court of the Empire to reclaim the honorable exercise of an imperceptible right to which is attached the honor and the happiness of its inhabitants.

Such is, sirs, the relationship under which Saint-Domingue – never conquered, never acquired, formerly independent, and voluntarily French – brings today an offering of its respect to the Nation, paying tribute to France for identical sentiments that she offered Saint-Domingue more than a century and a half ago through the actions of Louis-le-Grand.[1]

[Saint-Domingue’s] Deputies, to whom the seas, the storms, and a distance of 2,000 leagues have only rendered more dear the flattering mission that should make them nearer to you, in marking out the [Estates-General’s] preliminary functions, to obtain from your fairness a moment of attention that they will not abuse.

From these high places where the votes of the Nation have placed each of you, deign yourselves to extend your gaze beyond the Kingdom. Cross the ocean, embrace the immense country that we represent: in a space of 200 leagues of coastline covered in the most rich productions, count the three capitals,[2] sixty cities or towns, six thousand plantations that are much more than villages; notice the one hundred forty thousand French heads that make a million African arms behave;[3] notice the commerce we have invigorated, the navigation we have encouraged, the twenty thousand seamen we have employed; notice the six hundred million we have generated each year;[4] notice the 500 French vessels loaded with our commodities that sail the seas and supply the Economies of Europe and of Africa and of Asia; notice in times of war our goods, our people, the first victims of the enemy. Notice us in this instant as the first line of defense for the State. Notice that on destructive soil our days pass far from the wealthy King under the empire of immediate abuse and arbitrary power that the King detests and which oppresses us. And, struck by the truth of this grand portrait, deign at the presentation and examination of our powers, of our titles, and of our rights to assign us the position that your justice will hasten to grant to Saint-Domingue, a place in the current Assembly of the great Family.[5]

That is, gentlemen, the noble and fraternal request that an immense province has charged these deputies to submit to the respectable Assembly of the Nation. They await, with eagerness, tranquility, and trust, the outcome of a process whose result is going to forever strengthen the indissoluble ties that, for the good fortune of the Empire, are going to intimately unite the Colonies with the Metropole.

With respect and tender friendship,

Gentlemen,

Your brothers, your children

The Deputies of the Colony of Saint-Domingue

[1] King Louis XIV, also nicknamed “Le Roi Soleil

[2] The three capitals were also referred to as the three “provinces” of Saint-Domingue – the northern province around Cap Français, the Central plain, and the Southwestern portion near Port-au-Prince – which comprised three of the “five island colonial units” in the Caribbean. See: Dubois, Laurent. A Colony of Citizens: Revolution and Slave Emancipation in the French Caribbean, 1787-1804. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004. pp 50.

[3] Estimates at the time of the slave population of Saint-Domingue were around 500,000 African slaves. This number takes into account the fact that each slave has two arms.

[4] This is a monetary amount, often reiterated in many pamphlets as the annual earnings of the colony. The six hundred million would most likely be counted in livres, which was the French currency at the time. This exact amount is continually referenced when discussing the potential loss of Saint-Domingue during the Haitian Revolution.

[5] While the deputies and many colonists living in the Americas longed for greater autonomy, the appeal here is to be brought under the umbrella of the French Empire so that the arbitrary costs of dealing with French merchants would be assumed by the Monarchy. If Saint-Domingue were to gain a status similar to Corsica’s, they would no longer be taxed like a foreign entity and would benefit from more direct dealings with Hexagonal capitalist ventures.