Motion from M. le Comte de Reynaud, Deputy of Saint-Domingue at the August 31 Session

This motion, given by Jean François Reynaud de Villeverd, Count of Reynaud, on August 31, 1789 before the French National Assembly in Versailles, argues in favor of importing more flour into Saint-Domingue due to the lack of food and the resulting famine in the colony. The motion explains that the colony needs only temporary relief and that importing flour and biscuits from abroad is the best solution. In describing how the colony was once before granted permission by the General Governor to import flour from abroad, it makes the case that a new ordinance be created due to present similar circumstances.

M. le Comte de Reynaud implores the gentlemen of the National Assembly to temporarily suspend the prohibitive laws [1] and open the warehouse ports to foreign grain importation. To support his argument, he claims future financial benefit to France while recalling the devastating annual loss of slaves and the negative impact famine creates on the entire colony. This pamphlet reveals the Saint-Domingue Deputies’ concerns regarding the future of the colony and the efforts they took in protecting the population of both colonists and slaves.

[1]  The prohibitive laws (les lois prohibitives) excluded the colony from receiving provisions from non-French merchants.

(Motion de M. le comte de Reynaud, député de Saint-Domingue, a la séance du 31 août)

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The merchants from the French seaports have the exclusive privilege of providing the colonies with grain.

When the National Assembly sees to make a definite declaration regarding the prohibitive laws, we will prove that France is without interests in the trade of grain with the colonies, that it is a true monopoly, not in favor of the State as the merchants insinuate adroitly, but well in their favor only and even to the detriment of the State.

As, at the moment, the colony of Saint Domingue asks only for provisional permission to take grain and biscuits from abroad in these circumstances of scarcity, and because this provisional arrangement was granted to them by the General Governor’s Ordinance from last May 27, we are limited to demonstrating the good sense and necessity of reestablishing it.

The Governor General was influenced, both by the drought that has prevailed in Saint-Domingue since January and the alarming news from France regarding the scarcity of grain, to allow the introduction of foreign grain and biscuits until the first of next July in the three warehouse ports established in 1784 by the Judgment of the Council.

Everyone ensures that commerce and trade are one and the same.

Foreign ships, not having permission to load themselves with foodstuffs from the colony, imported so little flour that the General Governor, observing that the colony was on the eve of feeling all the horrors of the famine because the drought was ongoing and no flour from France was arriving, felt the need to lift the restrictions given in his Ordinance. Consequently, he gave a new one on the following May 27 granting permission to foreign ships to import grain and biscuits into all of the ports where there is admiralty and to load themselves with foodstuffs from the colonies for only the value of the grain they imported there until the first of next October.

This provisional ordinance, required by the circumstances, was broken by a Judgment from the State Council from the 23rd of last July, without the deputies from the colony at the National Assembly being summoned or heard.

One feigns confusing this general ordinance for the entire colony with another ordinance from May 9 concerning the southern section. When time permits, we will prove the advantages that would have resulted for the good of the state and the colony from the maintenance of this ordinance that was broken by the Judgment of the Council from July 2, against which we make all of our reservations.

Yearly, the colonies lack supplies from the Country for three or four months because frequent droughts, hurricanes and overabundant rains succeed one another in turns, arrest their development and destroy them. The colonists would have all of their land planted with crops, so as not to lack food for their slaves. Incidentally, it is impossible to make a supply of vegetables, fruits, roots and other plants from the Country, as they cannot be stored in the warehouse.

In times of great plenty, the seaport merchants only bring one hundred and fifty thousand barrels of flour to Saint-Domingue, common year.

This provision is hardly enough for the colonists.

Four hundred thousand more barrels are needed for the subsistence of the slaves during the three or four months that food from the country is lacking each year.

The grain merchant from France will ask how they have thus subsisted up to the present? We will respond that they are dying from famine, 10 to 12 thousand per year.

The public opinion makes itself heard from all sides in favor of relieving the fate of the slaves, whom the colonists are interested in more than anyone and whom they have successfully taken care of for a long time.

One may truthfully say that the most effective means to achieve in this regard, which remains to be wanted, is to abundantly give food to the blacks, for whom the scarcity of food causes more punishment than any other reason, because the lack of food leads to theft, altercations, desertions, revolts and even assassinations, and order must be, above all, maintained in the work gangs.

If the introduction of foreign grain and biscuits were to be allowed, the colonists would always have some in the warehouse for support during the period of scarcity and would avoid all of the misfortunes of which they become the first victims [2].

The abundance of food would increase the population. The farming would follow this proportion in such a way that French trade, far from losing, would profit from it because it would find a larger outlet for manufactured goods from the competition of foreign ships, and that, because of the growth in farming, there would be much more foodstuffs to export.

The Deputies from Saint-Domingue wait from the Justice of the National Assembly until it makes the following decree.

The National Assembly, wanting to provide to the subsistence of the colonists and the slaves in Saint-Domingue in a guaranteed manner and away from all occasion, decreed and decrees provisionally and this, until it delivered once and for all on the prohibitive laws,

1. That foreign ships, loaded with flour and biscuits, will be received in all the colony’s ports where there is admiralty and will be allowed to load themselves with foodstuffs from the colony, only for the sum of the grain they import there.

2. That foreign ships will be subject to local laws and will additionally pay the western tax for the foodstuffs they export, such as French ships pay in France for the colonial foodstuffs they import there.

[2] The “misfortunes” in this case is not the possibility of starvation, but retribution from slaves during a possible revolt. Long before 1789, plantation and slave owners had adopted a fear of slave retaliation for instituting and continuing the practice of slavery. Essentially, under conditions of revolt, slaves would subject their former owners to the same brutal treatment they experienced under colonial slavery. Colonial administrators and writers would often evoke these fears to appeal for assistance and from the Metropole. After the Haitian Revolution, the fictionalized rhetoric of black violence towards whites would continue, with some even suggesting that Haitian leaders like Henry Christophe and Jean-Jacques Dessalines wished to enslave and dominate whites. For Haitian intellectual responses to race and colonial rhetoric, see Daut, Marlene. Tropics of Haiti: Race and the Literary History of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World, 1789-1865. Liverpool: University of Liverpool Press, 2015.