From Saint Domingue to Vermont

Luis Fernando Granados, Universidad Veracruzana, rethinks Latin American history within the context of bottom-up insurgences.

From Saint Domingue to Vermont

Photo by Mallory Adragna (LAI)

"Ideas are the result of the way people actually live, not out of books."

By Mallory Adragna, LAI Intern 

UCLA Latin American Institute, January, 25, 2018- Luis Fernando Granados, a professor of the Instituto de Investigaciones Histórico- Sociales de la Universidad Veracruzana, presented his book "En el espejo haitiano, los indios del Bajío y el colapso del orden en América Latina", a comparative history that includes the revolutionary process in St. Domingue and early popular insurgencies in New Spain. The event was cosponsored by the Department of HistoryCenter of Mexican Studies and the Latin American Institute, as part of the Atlantic History Speaker Series followed by a Q&A session from an audience composed of over 30 students and professors. 

Granados provided a brief historical analysis of the Haitian, French, and American Revolution arguing that the abolishment of slavery, feudalism, and indentured servitude came from bottom-up insurgencies.

(Photo by Mallory Adragna (LAI) 

Haiti: The Road to the Peasantry Revolution

Granados argued that contrary to historical belief the Haitian Revolution was one example of a bottom up insurgency that led to the greatest land reform victory in Spanish American history. An American historian, Jeremy Popkin, lays out the foundation for Granados' notion that the abolishment of slavery was not the byproduct of Jacobin egalitarianism, but rather by the general will of the former slaves struggling in the countryside. He recounts the incident of two French functionaries sent to govern Saint Domingue and to defeat the slave rebellions. The French functionaries were unable to control the slave rebellions and as a result an international war fare transpired. Thus, Granados stated out of survival instincts, the French succumbed to the rebel demands. Therefore, the popular discourse associates Haitian Revolution with French enlightenment ideals, but Granados argues the relation between the French and the slave rebels, which led to the abolishment of political, socioeconomical and institutional slavery, stemmed from a precarious situation not grounded by enlightened ideals, but survival tactics. Equally amazing as the abolition of slavery, by the slaves themselves, was one of the largest land reform in Spanish America in Haiti with the collapse of the plantation society. In which Granados stated, “I have just found a way of rethinking Spanish Latin American history”. 

French Peasant Rebellion

Furthermore, Granados stated that “Haiti could be an analytic model to understand political movements from below that would not match our expectations shaped by the way of the enlightenment ”. Thus, Granados shifts the focus from Latin America to France, to explore similar events within the French Revolution. In the summer of 1789, after the attack on the Bastille, a wave of fear and rumors ran through peasant villages that resulted in the demolition of feudal institutions. As a result, the French National Assembly began to conduct negotiations with the peasant population. Therefore, Granados argues that the French National Assembly decided to abolish slavery, not as a moment of inspiration, but because peasants all over the countryside took action to destroy feudalism. Thus, parallel to the French Revolution, there was an independent peasant revolution underneath. 

The Unknown American Revolution 

Equivalent to the French Peasant Revolution, Granados veers toward the United States and farmer led movements unrelated to the “Thomas Jefferson Revolution”. Inspired by Gary Nash, a distinguished professor at UCLA and the author of “The Unknown American Revolution” which recounts all the incidences of agrarian conflict happening in North America during the American Revolution. It is in the history of Vermont that Granados found similar patterns of peasant rebellion comparable to Latin America. In the 1740’s, the lands of Vermont was disputed between states of New Hampshire and New York and were occupied by the English poor farmers. Ten years before the American Revolution, Vermont farmers began to fight against the state of New York over land rights. It was not until the American Revolution, that Vermont farmers gained independence from Britain and New York. The earliest version of Vermont’s constitution stated that society had the right to organize itself, simultaneously abolishing indentured servitude. Therefore, Granados draws comparisons to Haiti such that “Ideas grow out of the material life … ideas are the result of the way people actually live, not out of books”.