Slavery abolition efforts by Les Amis des Noirs


Slavery abolition efforts by Les Amis des Noirs

The Slavery abolition efforts by Les Amis des Noirs took place against the background of the French Revolution with the argument that "liberté, égalité, fraternité" precluded slavery.

Background

A common perception of the French Revolution of 1789 is that it was, in part, a struggle for the rights of man. The pursuit of these ideals, exemplified in the revolutionary cries for "Liberté, Equalité, Fraternité," was indeed a driving force behind the upheaval. For the revolutionaries, actual realization of their aspirations began on July 14, 1789 with the dismantling of the Ancien Régime.

Economically, however, the endeavour to attain equality and freedom for all, was somewhat impractical. One of the incongruities lies in the fact that France's economy was dependent upon revenues from the colonies, where slavery existed on plantations and thrived due to the lucrative trade triangle. Ships would sail south to pick up African natives, and transport them across the Atlantic to be sold as slaves in the colonies. The ships' hulls were then filled with plantation goods, such as sugar and coffee, to be marketed back in Europe. With reference to Saint Dominque, Stein states: "Saint Domingue was the leading producer of sugar and coffee for the European market, and its wealth made France the envy of every colonial power." [Stein, R. Léger Félicité Sonthonax. (London: Associated University Press, 1985), p. 26. ] With respect to slave-trade profiteering, figures indicate that slave-trade activity during the years leading up to the revolution resulted in some profit percentages exceeding 100 percent. In 1784, for example, the outfitter Chaurands realized a profit of 110 percent through the use of a single ship, the Brune. (In 1789, one outfitter reached 120 per cent.) [Stein, R. "The Profitability of the Nantes Slave Trade, 1783-1792," Journal of Economic History, 35, 3 (1975): p. 782. (This is further corroborated by Atlantic slave ship tonnage statistics: Viles, P. "The Slaving Interest in the Atlantic Ports, 1763-1792," French Historical Studies, 7, 4 (1972): pp. 530-531)]

There were those, however, who felt that the freedom of man should take precedence over economic matters. Having been exposed to the writings of the Philosophes, they realized that the subjugation of one person by another did not coincide with their moral beliefs regarding the rights of man. But France was not the only country during the late eighteenth-century which had its detractors of slavery. The English had already established an abolitionist movement, its most noteworthy member, and founder, being Thomas Clarkson. The activities of Clarkson and other English abolitionists did not go unnoticed in France. In fact, they were to have a strong influence in the formation of France's abolition movement, particularly in the creation of La Société des Amis des Noirs. The Society was created in Paris, in 1788, and remained in existence until 1793. During this five-year period, it managed to publish and distribute anti-slavery literature, as well as address its concerns on a substantive political level in the National Assembly. Ironically, however, any real, practical legislative mitigation of the slaves' plight would emerge only after the demise of the Society in 1793. In February 1794, the National Assembly legislated the Universal Emancipation decree, which effectively freed all colonial slaves.

Influence

Undoubtedly, the Amis des Noirs was active during the years leading up to the abolition decree. But the question emerges, was the Society influential in bringing about the abolition of slavery? Several articles and monographs have explored this question with opinions covering the entire spectrum, from those which identify the Amis des Noirs as instrumental in the abolition of slavery, to others which state that the Society was nothing more than a "société de pensée" [Resnick, Daniel P. "The Société des Amis des Noirs and the Abolition of Slavery," French Historical Studies, 7, 4 (1972): p. 562. ] . The obvious discrepancy in opinions regarding the effectiveness of the Society perhaps suggests that a re-examination of existing material, both primary and secondary, would be useful. The objective of this paper is to undertake that re-examination. As a result, the analysis may provide a clearer indication as to the impact La Société des Amis des Noirs had on the abolition of slavery during the French Revolution.

The initial formation of La Société des Amis des Noirs was undertaken by Jacques-Pierre Brissot, in February 1788. An admitted follower of the Philosophes, Brissot's anti-slavery efforts were also due to his exposure to humanitarian activities on both sides of the Atlantic. In America, where he visited Philadelphia's constitutional convention, he became absorbed with Jefferson's humanitarian nature (Brissot was to later ask him if he wished to become a member of the Society [Lokke, C. France and the Colonial Question. (New York: AMS Press, 1968), p. 115. ] ) In England, Thomas Clarkson invited Brissot to attend a meeting of The London Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. So enthused was Brissot that shortly thereafter he would create his own abolitionist society in Paris. Its objectives would be to suppress the slave trade and, at a later date, to attain equal rights for free men of colour.

In determining the Society's effectiveness, an investigation of the philosophical and affiliate leanings of the Society must be undertaken. Additionally, the more practical aspects of the organization should be examined. Research on the Society through secondary sources has unveiled a recurring conclusion which states that the Society was virtually impotent due to its organization, strategy, and membership criteria. In terms of organization, Quinney refers to the group's ineffective operations, stating that the government, which contained pro-slavery elements, had a nation-wide propaganda network, while the Society was mainly Paris-based [Quinney, V. "Decisions on Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Civil Rights for Negros in the Early French Revolution," Journal of Negro History, 55, 2 (1970): pp. 124, 126-127. ] . Resnick concurs when he states: "Both leadership and membership at large were drawn heavily from the Paris area, with no established network of regional filiations." [Resnick, Daniel P. "The Société des Amis des Noirs and the Abolition of Slavery," p.562. ]

Clearly, La Société des Amis des Noirs, though stirred with humanitarian good intent, and imbued with Enlightenment thought, nevertheless lacked the organizational skills required to create a more effective campaign. Additional evidence of this deficiency was seen in the irregular holding of meetings, without full membership present. Even in 1789, Thomas Clarkson commented upon the poor attendance the meetings were receiving [Clarkson, T. History of the Rise, Progress and Abolition of the African Slave Trade by the British Parliament. (London: 1808), pp. 381-404. ] . The lack of organization and continuity among the Society's activities is further evidenced by the fact that Brissot, though inaugurating the Society's first meeting in February of 1789, was to depart for AmericaPerroud, C. "La Société Française des Amis des Noirs," La Révolution Française 69 (1916): p. 124. ] four months later, to meet that country's leading abolitionists. He was not active within the Society until the spring of 1790, when he again became the Society's president. Brissot was able to become eligible upon his return from America, due to a regulation of the Society which stated that the organization must have rotating presidents every three months, a condition which would hinder the continuity of effort within the organization ["Reglemens de la Société des Amis des Noirs," - S.I. (Paris) s.d. [1789] , La Révolution française et l'abolition de l'esclavage (12 vols; Paris: Editions d'histoire sociale), 6, pp. 27-28. ] . Another structural hindrance to the progressiveness of the Society was the regulation which stated that, within the Society, an inner "General Assembly" would be elected. This body would not only represent the Society and make the rules, but it would also hold exclusive voting rights in the election of the officials ["Reglemens de la Société des Amis des Noirs," 6, p. 26. ] . Hence, from the organization's inception, any rank and file membership would be excluded from participating in the Society's operations.

It has been illustrated how the organization and strategy of La Société des Amis des Noirs obstructed its own effectiveness. However, there is another major reason which authors have brought forward as to why the Society did not reach its potential: that of its membership composition and recruiting practice. Examination of the membership list of the Society, upon its inception, reveals that there are an overwhelming number of privileged names, which in itself was not necessarily negative. Although possessing great influence, the effectiveness of these people would be muted and Paris-based, partially due to a lack of popular participation. The founding members of the Society included such notables as Brissot, Condorcet, Saint-Lambert, Lafayette, La Rochefoucauld, and Claviere [Benot, Y. la révolution française et la fin des colonies. (Paris: Éditions La Découverte,1988), p. 40. ] . The initial Society began with a handful of abolitionists, increased to ninety-five by 1789, and would swell to a maximum of 141 [Perroud, C. "La Société Française des Amis des Noirs," p. 144. ] associates in later years. A computer analysis of membership lists published seventy-five years ago shows that out of the 141 members, twenty-five percent were government employees, twenty-nine percent were nobility, and thirty-eight were professionals, thus bringing the cumulative sum of the elitist membership to ninety-two percent of the total [There were two sources used to accumulate the names of the members: Tableau des Membres de la Société des Amis des Noirs. Année 1789 - S.I. (Paris), s.d. (1789) and Perroud, C. "La Société Française des Amis des Noirs." (A list of members is presented at the end of this article.) ] . Cohen has observed this fact as well, stating: "It [the Society] ... concentrated on having important, well-connected members, rather than large members...The members [were] drawn from the French social elite..." [Cohen, W.B. The French Encounter with Africans (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1980), p. 139. ] . The phrase "well-connected members" extends one step further when Perroud states that the members of the Society, in many instances, were not only close knit friends, but family members and relatives as well:

::"Brissot a amené, cela va sans dire, son groupe d'amis, Blot, Bergasse, Crevecoeur, Lanthenas, Bancal des Issarts, Pigott, Petion, ...;Lafayette a fait inscrire sa femme; Condorcet, sa femme et son frere; Mirabeau, les deux Genevois qui travaillaient pour lui; Claviere, sa femme et son frere" [Perroud, C. "La Société Française des Amis des Noirs," p. 144. ]

The small member base of the agency was definitely elitist-oriented, but another reason for the lack of a "grass-roots" following was due to the organization's insistence on having dues payable, along with four reference signatures, in order to become a member of the Society. Moreover, there were different fee scales: two Louis per year for those who lived in Paris, and 24 livres per year for those living in the provinces ["Reglemens de la Société des Amis des Noirs," 6, pp. 19-20. ] . Undoubtedly, the membership practices of La Société des Amis des Noirs both hampered its attempt at increasing in size, and affected its ability to become a credible and effective entity. These prerequisites to membership, along with a weak structural foundation and somewhat ill-prepared organization, compromised La Société des Amis des Noirs' contribution to the fight against slavery.

Although the Society's internal machinations were detrimental to its functionality, another impediment to its effectiveness stemmed from the Society's association with the English anti-slavers. Many French citizens believed that the Society was an offshoot of the English abolitionist society, to the point of being paid by its English counterpart [Quinney, V. "Decisions on Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Civil Rights for Negros in the Early French Revolution," p. 122. ] . This would result in a loss of credibility in the eyes of the French populace. Britain and France had been antagonistic towards each other for many years prior to this point, in terms of colonial acquisitions and economic superiority. Therefore, any influences from England were seen as "dealing with the enemy." This view extended to encompass the activities of the Society. The perception that it was a vehicle for English infiltration into French matters, overshadowed its real intentions.

Perroud states that it was Brissot's trip to London in November of 1787 which prompted him to form an identical chapter in France.::"Brissot, arrivé en Angleterre au mois de novembre...se mit en relation avec eux et résolut des lors de fonder en France, oj il retourna bientôt, une oeuvre analogue" [Perroud, C. "La Société Française des Amis des Noirs," p. 123. ] In fact, the English society had only been formed a few months earlier, in May of 1787 [Cohen, W.B. The French Encounter with Africans, p. 139. ] . Just how much influence London really had is revealed in a discussion amongst a group of abolitionist friends in Paris [The report is entitled "Discours sur la nécessité d'établir a Paris une Société pour concourir, avec celle des Londeres, a l'abolition de la traite & de l'esclavage des Negres. (Prononcé le 19 Février 1788, dans une Société de quelques amis, rassemblés a Paris, a la priere du Comité de Londres)" La Révolution française et l'abolition de l'esclavage, 6, p.2. ] . It states how the London society encouraged others to join its cause, as well as mentioning that France and England had a commonality [The report is entitled "Discours sur la nécessité d'établir a Paris une Société pour concourir, avec celle des Londeres, a l'abolition de la traite & de l'esclavage des Negres. (Prononcé le 19 Février 1788, dans une Société de quelques amis, rassemblés a Paris, a la priere du Comité de Londres)" La Révolution française et l'abolition de l'esclavage, p. 16] with respect to abolishing slavery:::"Une Société respectable s'est formée a Londres pour faire abolir légalement, l'horrible trafic des Negres: elle invite tous les hommes, amis de leurs semblables, a concourir avec elle, pour accomplir par-tout cet oeuvre de justice: elle nous invite a chercher, a rassembler en France des personnes zélées, & capables de répandre les lumieres qui doivent y préparer & determiner cette révolution. Pourrions-nous mieux remplir les intentions de cette Société, qu'en nous adressant a des hommes, dont le voeu le plus ardent est de voir réparer les erreurs, les folies, les atrocitiés des siecles passés, & s'avancer le systeme de paix & de fraternité qui devroit unir tous les Peuples?" [The report is entitled "Discours sur la nécessité d'établir a Paris une Société pour concourir, avec celle des Londeres, a l'abolition de la traite & de l'esclavage des Negres. (Prononcé le 19 Février 1788, dans une Société de quelques amis, rassemblés a Paris, a la priere du Comité de Londres)" La Révolution française et l'abolition de l'esclavage, p. 16]

Adherence to the English abolitionist movement also included the translation and publication of English anti-slavery literature. This is evidenced in a letter written by Brissot, shortly after the creation of the Society, to Quaker James Philips, an original member of the English abolitionist society. In it he essentially states that the Amis des Noirs would translate and publish English anti-slavery works for distribution to the French public [Seeber, E.D. Anti-Slavery Opinion in France During the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1937), p. 161. ] . Indeed, the intention of using English publications surfaced even before the formation of the Amis des Noirs, as stated in a February 1788 discourse outlining the necessity for a French abolitionist society:

::"La Société de Londres a dj croire qu'elle trouveroit en France un concours énergique a ses vues; nous offrons en répondre, son espoir ne sera pas trompé. Elle s'est adressée a nous, pour répandre des livres qu'elle a fait imprimer & publier en Angleterre, pour l'instruction publique. Elle voudroit voir se former dans chaque État en relation aves les contrées que les Esclaves cultivent, une Société semblable a la sienne" ["Discours sur la nécessité d'établir a Paris une Société pour concourir, avec celle de Londres, a l'abolition de la traite & de l'esclavage des Negres.", p. 15. ]

As can be seen, La Société des Amis des Noirs was definitely influenced by the English anti-slavery movement. Possibly, as suggested by various authors, this had the result of undermining its own credibility in France.

Though the shortcomings previously discussed were a hindrance to the Amis des Noirs, the Society was nevertheless, not totally without merit. The Society's founder, Brissot, had already decided at the onset that the method of spreading the society's message would be through literature [Seeber, E.D. Anti-Slavery Opinion in France During the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century, pp. 160-161. ] , and this he did in profusion. The Society emitted not only English literature, but also works written by Brissot ("Mémoire sur les Noirs de l'Amerique septentrionale" [Brissot J.P. "Mémoire sur les Noirs de l'Amérique Septentrionale, lu a l'Assemblée de la Société des Amis des Noirs", le 9 février 1789. Paris, 1789. La Révolution française et l'abolition de l'esclavage. ] ), and other members of the Amis des Noirs, such as Claviere ("De la France et des Etats-Unis" - co-written with Brissot [Seeber, E.D. Anti-Slavery Opinion in France During the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century, p. 172. ] ) and Condorcet ("Réflexions sur l'esclavage des negres" [Condorcet (J.A.N. de Caritat, marquis de): "Réflexions sur l'esclavage des negres." Par M. Swartz [Condorcet's pseudonym] , Pasteur du Saint Evangile a Bienne, Membre de la Société économique Nouvelle édition revue & corrigée. - Neufchatel et Paris, Froullé, 1788. La Révolution française et l'abolition de l'esclavage, 6, p. 34. ] ). The public forum, however, was not the only arena in which the Society expressed its opinion. Addresses were delivered to other societies as well, such as the Amis de l'humanité [Adresse aux Amis de l'humanité, par la Société des amis des Noirs, sur le plan de ses travaux. Lue au Comité, le 4 juin 1790, et imprimée par son ordre. - (Paris), Imprimerie du Patriote François, s.d. (1790). La Révolution française et l'abolition de l'esclavage., 8, p.86. ] , and the Société des Amis de la Constitution [Brissot, J.P.: Discours sur la nécéssité de maintenir le décret rendu le 15 mai en faveur des hommes de couleur libres, prononcé le 12 septembre 1791, a la séance de la Société des Amis de la Constitution...Imprimé par ordre de la Société. - S.I. (Paris), s.d. (1791). La Révolution française et l'abolition de l'esclavage, 8, p. 173. ] . It was a reflection of not only the "Philosophe upbringing" of the Society members, but also of their efforts to be active participants in the moulding of the revolutionary government.

La Société des Amis des Noirs was presumably most active dispersing its anti-slavery literature in and around Paris, due to the lack of a stable and reliable communications network. The Society, nevertheless, did make some attempts to convey its message to those living outside Paris. Quinney reveals one instance, during 1791, when the organization had garnered assistance from its Jacobin friends: "The Friends of the Blacks had several meetings with their friends in Jacobin clubs in provincial cities and sent to every city government a lengthy pamphlet exposing the injustices done to people of colour." [Quinney, V. "The Problem of Civil Rights for Free Men of Color in the Early French Revolution", p. 555. ] An earlier attempt to stir the feelings of the populace was initiated by Condorcet in 1789. During the election of representatives to the Estates-General, he had asked that there be inserted into the cahiers de doléances a demand for the abolition of the slave trade [Cahen, L. "La Société des Amis des noirs et Condorcet," La Révolution française, 50 (1906), pp. 481.511. ] .

Additionally, as research indicates, the political activities of the Friends of the Blacks also included addresses to the National Assembly. In 1790 alone, there were no less than three sessions in which the Society expressed its views on the slave question. Addresses promoting the abolition of the slave trade were made in February and April of 1790 [Addresse a l'Assemblée Nationale, pour l'abolition de la Traite des Noirs. Par le Société des Amis des Noirs de Paris. Février 1790. - Paris, Imprimeriede Potier de Lille, 1790. Another address was delivered a few months later: Seconde adresse a l'Assemblée Nationale, par la Société des Amis des Noirs, établie a Paris. - (Paris), Imprimerie du Patriote François, s.d. (9 avril 1790). La Révolution française et l'abolition de l'esclavage), 7, p. 245. ] . Four months later, a discourse was presented concerning the violence in Saint Domingue ["Reflexions sur le Code Noir, et Dénonciation d'un crime affreux, commis a Saint-Domingue." La Révolution française et l'abolition de l'esclavage, 8, p. 90. ] . In July 1971, Claviere addressed the National Assembly's commercial interests, discussing trade relations between France and its colonies ["A toutes les Villes de Commerce, a toutes les Manufactures, aux Colonies, a toutes les Sociétés des Amis de la Constitution; Addresse dans laquelle on approfondit les relations politiques et commerciales entre la Métropole et les Colonies, etc." La Révolution française et l'abolition de l'esclavage), 9, p. 1. ] .

The Society also addressed government individuals such as Barnave, who was a member of the Committee on Colonies, and Jacques Necker, France's Controller-General Of Finance. Although Necker was a believer in the inhumaneness of slavery, as outlined in his Administration des finances, he could not sanction emancipation unless the practice of slavery and the slave trade were halted simultaneously in every country. In this manner, the existing economic balance between nations would be maintained [Lokke, C. France and the Colonial Question, p. 77. ] . Nevertheless, in a letter written in 1789 the Society urged Necker to form a committee similar to the one in England and expressed hopes that the conduct of the English parliament might have a positive effect on the Estates-General ["Lettre de la Société des Amis des Noirs, B M. Necker, avec le Résponse de ce Ministre." (Paris: 1789). La Révolution française et l'abolition de l'esclavage, 7, p. 53.] . Other Society addresses extended to denunciations of colonial individuals. One such incident occurred in 1791, when the Amis des Noirs responded to criticisms written by pro-slaver Arthur Dillon, Député de la Martinique ["La Société des Amis des Noirs a Arthur Dillon, Député de la Martinique a l'Assemblée Nationale" La Révolution française et l'abolition de l'esclavage, 8, p. 173. ] , and owner of a large plantation.

Evidently, La Société des Amis des Noirs did employ "journal warfare" [Resnick, Daniel P. "The Société des Amis des Noirs and the Abolition of Slavery," p.563. ] to enlighten people about the inhumane nature of slavery. Unfortunately, however, the effort did not prove to be very productive. As mentioned earlier, the royal government, in 1789, had requested petitions of grievances from all parts of the country. In an attempt to influence the authors of these cahiers to mention their disapproval of slavery and the slave trade, Condorcet wrote and distributed a letter denouncing the institutions as inhumane and unjust. Six hundred general cahiers were assembled from literally thousands of local ones, which listed complaints and suggestions relating to the running of the government. Out of these six hundred cahiers, less than fifty called for an end to the slave trade and slavery [McCloy, S. " Further Notes on Negros and Mulattoes in Eighteenth-Century France," The Journal of Negro History, 39 (1954), p. 291. ] . The poor response might have been due to the existing social, political and economic disarray of the country. Preoccupation with self-survival, as well as a lack of awareness, precluded most common people from involvement in the slavery issue. Another explanation for the low number of petitions which referred to the slavery question can be attributed, in part, to the fact that the writers of these cahiers were not everyday people, but notables. As Cohen states:

::" [The cahiers] were not the result of being hammered out spontaneously in popular session. Rather, specific points were written by local notables, who then presented them for acceptance to mass meetings that with little debate approved them. Thus the presence in the cahiers of some sentiments echoing the Enlightenment's and the Société des amis des noirs' critique of slavery should be taken more as an indication that such ideas had become familiar to small-town lawyers, notaries, "men of letters," and other notables than as evidence that they had become the concern of a broad mass of the French population" [Cohen, W.B. The French Encounter with Africans, pp. 140-142. ]

The cahiers' treatment of slavery and the slave trade indicated a lack of affiliation between the general public and the Amis des Noirs.

The Society's ineffectiveness would also emerge in its dealings with the National Assembly. In the fall of 1789, Society member Abbé Gregoire's recommendation, that two deputies chosen from the population of free coloured men be admitted [Garrett, M. The French Colonial Question 1789-1791 (Ann Arbor: George Wahr, 1916), p. 33. ] , was accepted by the Committee on Verification of Credentials in the National Assembly (Gregoire was president of the Committee). Unfortunately, he was unable to present the recommendation to the National Assembly because every time he rose to speak, he was shouted down by the colonists in the Assembly [Necheles, R. The Abbé Grégoire 1787-1831 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Publishing Corp.), p. 59. ] . In March of 1790, Gregoire questioned the article on voting rights in the National Assembly, wishing to ensure that men of colour also received the right to vote. The colonial deputies, however, took offence to this "indiscreet proposition" of Gregoire and subsequently persuaded the National Assembly to close the discussion [Quinney, V. "Decisions on Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Civil Rights for Negros in the Early French Revolution," p. 126. ] . During that same month Barnave, a pro-slavery advocate, delivered his report on maintaining the slave trade. When Mirabeau, another member of the Society, advanced to the rostrum to protest, he was drowned out by the cries of the opposition [Quinney, V. "Decisions on Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Civil Rights for Negros in the Early French Revolution," p. 125. ]

Though seemingly unable to produce results on a political level, the efforts of the Society to effect change within the National Assembly were not totally unsuccessful. Focusing on the rights of free men of colour, Gregoire and Pétion (another member of the Society) essentially told the Assembly on May 15, 1791 that if these people were not given their rights, then violence would ensue [Quinney, V. "The Problem of Civil Rights for Free Men of Color in the Early French Revolution." p. 550. ] . Because of the increasing conflict in the colonies, as well as the growing influence of free men of colour with some deputies, Barnave felt that the members of the Society could not be ignored: "We can't win against the influence of the Friends of the Blacks." [Quinney, V. "The Problem of Civil Rights for Free Men of Color in the Early French Revolution." p. 553. ] The result was the May 15 decree, which proclaimed that men of free parents could vote. Though perhaps not instrumental in pressing the government for this legislation, some authors feel that the Amis des Noirs had exerted some influence. As Biondi & Zuccarelli state:

::"Dans cette opposition des principes et des conjonctures, la société des Amis des Noirs est conduite a manoeuvrer prudemment. Durant plusieurs années, les anitesclavagistes, comprenant l'inutilité d'un affrontement direct sur ce point, s'emploient plutôt a obtenir l'égalité des droits pour les Noirs libres. Ce pragmatisme est récompensé par le vote des décrets de mai 1791: pour le premiere fois, l'égalité raciale est clairement reconnue. Ce n'est pas bouleversant, c'est néanmoins une avancée significative dans la voie des principes révolutionnaires, deux ans apres la réunion des états généraux" [Biondi, J.P. - Zuccarelli, F. 16 Pluviose An II. (Paris: Éditions Denoel, 1989), p. 188. ]

In overall terms, it cannot truthfully be said that La Société des Amis des Noirs was completely ineffectual. The Society did spread its message through the use of cahiers and, though political successes were muted, they were not totally absent. If nothing else, the Society was continually to remind the General Assembly of the injustices it was perpetuating by sanctioning slavery and the slave trade. Also, through its many writings and speeches, it was able to garner the attention of notable opposition figures such as Necker and Barnave.

Opposition from pro-slavery groups

While internal shortcomings of the Society diminished its effectiveness, external forces, not the least of which were the government, also hindered its efforts. The Committee on Colonies, mentioned earlier, was formed to deal with escalating problems arising from slavery unrest in the colonies. Its resolution of the problem, however, would lean heavily in favour of the colonists. Quinney has done extensive research regarding this committee, and her findings reveal that it was actually permeated by those who bore little sympathy for the plight of the slave. The members of the committee included colonists Reynaud and Gérard, as well as colonial landowners Payen de Boisneuf and Pellerin de la Buxiére. Atlantic slave-trade ports were represented as well, by merchants Bégouen-Demeaux from Le Havre and Garesché de Saintes from Nieul. Two lawyers on the committee also came from Atlantic seaports, Alquier from La Rochelle and Thouret from Rouen. The remaining two members of the committee were also lawyers, LeChapelier from Rennes and Barnave from Grenoble. Out of 12 members, at least half had colonial interests, while the two colonists owned slaves, as did the colonial landowners. Moreover, the majority of members were either lawyers or merchants, and all were advocates of French commercial interests [Quinney, V. "The Problem of Civil Rights for Free Men of Color in the Early French Revolution." p. 545. ] . Not surprisingly, the final report of the Committee did not alleviate any of the problems relating to slavery. In fact, it stressed the point that it did not wish to interfere in the commercial interests of the colonies: "The National Assembly declares that it had not intended to innovate in any branch of commerce direct or indirect of France with its colonies..." [Quinney, V. "The Problem of Civil Rights for Free Men of Color in the Early French Revolution." p. 547. ]

Another political group whose efforts were directed at undermining the objectives of the Amis des Noirs consisted of National Assembly deputies who were either colonists or slave trade merchants. This group had actively campaigned the French chambers of commerce and city governments to maintain the slave trade and slavery, proclaiming that economic disaster would result from its abolition. The deputies argued their point so effectively that even La Société des Amis des Noirs feared abolition would cause chaos [Quinney, V. "The Problem of Civil Rights for Free Men of Color in the Early French Revolution." p. 549. ] . Political lobbyists also got into the fray. One such pro-slavery assembly was composed of the lobbyists for the French chambers of commerce, who designated themselves as the "Deputies Extraordinary of Manufactures and Commerce." Members included Mosneron Launay from Nantes, J.B. Nairac from La Rochelle, and Rostagny and Abeille from Marseilles [Quinney, V. "The Problem of Civil Rights for Free Men of Color in the Early French Revolution." p. 548. ] . Their main efforts focused on influencing the Committee on Agriculture and Commerce to maintain slavery and the slave trade. Since revenue from the colonies was collected mainly from the sale of slaves and crops, the Committee was investigating the economic ramifications should this source of income cease to exist. The lobbyists were evidently successful in their efforts, for Quinney claims that Barnave's non-committal report to the National Assembly was a result of his knowledge that the Committee on Agriculture and Commerce "had already decided to advise the National Assembly to retain the trade and slavery." [Quinney, V. "The Problem of Civil Rights for Free Men of Color in the Early French Revolution." p. 547. ]

These 'special interest' groups were determined to convince the government that measures should not be taken which would adversely affect the economic interests of France, nor of its colonies (and hence their own). This, of course, brought them into direct conflict with the goals and objectives of the Society. The lobbying against the Society by these pro-slavery groups was directed specifically towards their abolitionist aims. There was a third pro-slaver group, however, which directed its energies towards not only the Society as a whole, but towards its individual members as well.

This pro-slavery organization, called the Massiac Club, was composed of colonial planters who were living not only in Paris, but throughout France. The club had its main headquarters in Paris, with chapters located in the provinces. The club was formed by the Société de correspondence des colons français in August of 1789, at the residence of the Marquis Mordant de Massiac, place des Victoires in Paris [McCloy, S. The Negro in France (Kentucky: University of Kentucky, 1961), p.67. ] . Realizing that success related to political influence, the club proceeded systematically to contact government officials. As Biondi & Zuccarelli state:"Le club, en fait, forme avant tout un lobby. Il n'a pas de représentant en tant que tel B l'Assemblée nationale mais joue sur l'influence de certains élus, en tLte desquels l'avocat grenoblais Barnave, membre des Jacobins." [Biondi, J.P. - Zuccarelli, F. 16 Pluviose An II, p. 42 ]

The Massiac members did not wish to risk the possibility of any type of abolition legislation being passed, and, accordingly, communicated with every colonial deputy to ensure that pro-slavery interests were maintained. An indication of their thoroughness is revealed in a statement made by Mirabeau to other members of the Society. He stated that when he attempted to sway the deputies in favour of abolition, every official he spoke to had been approached by a member of the Massiac club [Quinney, V. "The Problem of Civil Rights for Free Men of Color in the Early French Revolution." p. 548. ] . Like the Amis des Noirs, the Massiac group published and distributed propaganda literature. In fact, the club had responded "in toto" [Hazard, S. Santo Domingo, Past and Present (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1873), p. 116. ] to practically every idea the Amis des Noirs had put forward, to the point that there was almost an equal balance of abolitionist literature and pro-slavery propaganda. As Vidalenc states: "L'action contradictoire des tendances politiques avait contribué a créer autour du probleme de la traite une agitation que les pamphlétaires du club Massiac ou ceux de la société des Amis des Noirs contribuaient également a entretenir." [Vidalenc, J. "La traite des negres en France au début de la Révolution," Annales Historiques de la Révolution Française, 146 (1957): p. 64. ]

As well, the Massiac Club delivered accusations that the Amis des Noirs were involved in subversive activity. In a leaflet distributed to the members of the Comité de Commerce de l'Assemblée Nationale, the club declared:

::"The Société des Amis des Noirs wishes to bring into question in the National Assembly the abandonment of our colonies, the abolition of the slave trade and the liberty of our Negros. If only one of these points is decreed, there would no longer exist either commerce or manufacture in France. Agriculture itself would fail, for lack of consumers and means of exchange for our agricultural surplus. The countryside will be crowded with millions of men today occupied by navigation and manufacture; it will be deserted by them, because they will be unable to work or live. Or emigration will depopulate France of one quarter of its inhabitants. There is the alternative." [Resnick, Daniel P. "The Société des Amis des Noirs and the Abolition of Slavery," p.564. ]

To discredit further the Amis des Noirs, the Massiac Club published a handbill which stated that the members of the Amis des Noirs were not truly humanitarian philanthropists, but rather an organization attempting to subvert social order. The rationale behind this charge was simple: since France's economy depended heavily on slavery and the slave trade, the loss of this commerce would weaken the country to the point of collapse. Consequently, it would also allow the British to take entire control of the trade, thus, strengthening their position at France's expense. Therefore, abolitionists of the slave trade could now be considered not only as counter-revolutionaries, but pro-British. As Cohen states: "Advocates of slavery tried to pin the charge of treason on the Société. In response to these charges, to which it was very sensitive, the Société trod carefully and hesitated to mount a full-scale campaign against slavery." [Cohen, W.B. The French Encounter with Africans, p. 139. ]

To further strengthen their position, the pro-slavers had even distributed leaflets denouncing individual members of the Société: Brissot, Grégoire and Pétion [Benot, Y. la révolution française et la fin des colonies, p. 154. ] . The pro-slavers, however, not satisfied with this accomplishment, continued their efforts to ensure that the abolitionists' cause would be a fruitless endeavour. They supported the slave trade in debates held in district assemblies within Paris [Quinney, V. "Decisions on Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Civil Rights for Negros in the Early French Revolution," p. 123. ] , and attempted to influence voting in these districts when the question of the slave trade was introduced [Quinney, V. "Decisions on Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Civil Rights for Negros in the Early French Revolution," p. 124. ]

In retrospect, the Massiac club was able to undermine the efforts of the Amis des Noirs most effectively by concentrating on the negative economic aspects which would result from the abolition of slavery. La Société des Amis des Noirs had no effective economic argument as to how revenues lost by the abolition of slavery and the slave trade would be replaced, revenues upon which the country and its citizens depended. Consequently, the members seriously began taking to heart the predictions issued by the pro-slavers, that the downfall of the country would be imminent if slavery and the slave trade were to be abolished. As Cohen states:

"It was clear to the abolitionists that the country that prohibited slavery would be at an economic disadvantage compared with its rivals. France alone could not abolish slavery without British action. Necker, Louis XVI's enlightened minister, opposed slavery but favoured its continuation until an international agreement could regulate it. The Société des amis des noirs also demanded an international agreement to abolish slavery. Thus the ideals of humanity could be served without unduly damaging the national interests of France. Of course, a fundamental belief of the Enlightenment was that interests of humanity and personal or national interests were not incompatible. It was left to later generations to learn that humanitarianism requires self-sacrifice." [Cohen, W.B. The French Encounter with Africans, pp. 138-139. ]

Political influence

On a political level, the Society was virtually non-influential in the decision-making process of the Committe on Colonies. This was not only due to the Committee's pro-slavery composition, but because of accusations brought forward by the Massiac Club. These pro-slavery factions were more than just a thorn in the Society's side; they had effectively lobbied both for their cause and against the Society to such a degree that slavery and slave trade operations would not be altered by the Society's efforts. Additionally, the Massiac Club managed to portray the Society as treasonous, thus further eroding the group's ability to effect change.

Forces both within and without the Society were responsible for creating a dampening effect on its ability to produce results. A more pervasive negative influence existed, however, due to the preceding Enlightenment period. The writings of many French Philosophes, though humanitarian in nature, reveal a less than charitable viewpoint when referring to slavery. Essentially, they perceived that the slaves and other repressed peoples existed in their present depressed state because they were simply inferior, or victims of circumstance. Voltaire considered them inferior as outlined in his Essai sur les moeurs, where he describes the external differences between whites and blacks, as well as stating that the latter possesses an inferior intelligence [Hunting, C. "The Philosphes and the Question of Black Slavery 1748-1765," Journal of the History of Ideas," 39, 3 (1978): p. 413. ] . As for victims of circumstance, Montesquieu outlined in his Esprit de lois, four reasons for the existence (and justification) of slavery [Whitman, D. "Slavery and the Rights of Frenchmen: Views of Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Raynal," French Colonial Studies, 1 (1977): p. 19. ] . One reason cited adherence to traditional custom practices. Another reason stated that in certain instances, the procedure of religious conversion could only be accomplished through slavery. Montesquieu also pictured slavery as an "escape" from the harsh reality of a despotic government. As Davis reveals, "Although Montesquieu attacked the traditional justification for slavery, he conceded that the institution would have a rational basis in a despotic state, whose subjects would better their lot by selling themselves into bondage." [Davis, D. The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (London: Cornell University Press, 1969), p. 394. ] Montesquieu's last reason declared that the existence of slavery was a result of "climatic determinism". As stated in Book 15 of Esprit de lois:

::"Comme tous les hommes naissent égaux, il faut dire que l'esclavage est contre nature, quoique dans certain pays, il soit fondé sur une raison naturelle; et il faut bien distinguer ces pays d'avec ceux oj les raisons naturelles mLmes le rejettent, comme les pays d'Europe oj il a été si heursement aboli" [Despin, J. "Montesquieu etait-il esclavagiste?" La Pensée, 193 (1977): p. 103. ]

He refers to the subject again in Book 17, stating:

::"Il ne faut donc pas Ltre étonne que la lácheté des peuples des climats chauds les ait presque toujours rendus esclaves, et que le courage des peuples des climats froids les ait maintenus libres. C'est un effet qui dérive de sa cause naturelle." [Whitman, D. "Slavery and the Rights of Frenchmen...", p. 19. ]

In reality, Montesquieu and many other Philosophes espoused ambiguous sentiments in reference to slavery. In the case of Diderot's Encyclopédie, it was more informative than critical of the practice [McCloy, S. The Humanitarian Movement in Eighteenth-Century France, p. 88. ] . With respect to Raynal, he believed that even though slavery was basically against nature, dependence and authority were essential to the development of equality [Davis, D. The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture, p. 14. ] . Montesquieu, though not encouraging slavery, nevertheless was able to legitimize and tolerate the situation [Lafontant, J. Montesquieu et le probleme de l'esclavage dans L'esprit des lois (Sherbrooke, Canada: Éditions Naaman, 1979), p. 10. ]

Though some critics of the day did denounce the writings as vague and obscure [Jameson, R. Montesquieu et L'esclavage (Paris: Librairie Hachette et Cie, 1911), pp. 339-342. ] , the attitude of Negro inferiority still managed to permeate French society during the mid-eighteenth century. Legislative decrees were enacted, during this time, in order to control the activities of the Negro. In June of 1763, and again in August of 1777, Blacks were ordered to leave France and return to the colonies [McCloy, S. "Negroes and Mulattoes in Eighteenth-Century France," The Journal of Negro History, 30 (1945): p. 288. ] . In a further attempt to halt their infusion into France, ports were closed to the entry of Blacks. In order to minimize the presence of the Blacks who still remained in France, an order of the council was issued in April, 1778 forbidding marriage between whites and Negros [Geggus, D. "Racial Equality, Slavery,and Colonial Secession during the Constituent Assembly," American Historical Review, 94 (1989): p. 1297. ]

The thoughts of 'justified slavery' by the Philosophes, coupled with the anti-Negro sentiment found throughout the country, were not unperceived by the future members of the Amis des Noirs. Being exposed to an affluent upbringing, a basic concept amongst the privileged was the inherent belief that their position in life was the result of a basic national, if not racial, superiority. This way of thinking would inevitably exist in the consciousness of the Society's members. Cohen paints the Society as a whole in this light when he states:

::"Although the abolitionists blamed slavery for the Africans' condition, their hesitations about emancipation paralleled the slavers' argument that blacks were debased and unsuited for freedom...The abolitionists created an intellectual climate that forced the government and even the slave interests to address the question of slavery. But in discussing the conditions of the Africans, both in their homeland and in the Antilles, the abolitionists reinforced contemporary opinion. Even as they attributed their condition to causes beyond the African's control, they nevertheless depicted them as degraded and diminished in their humanity." [Cohen, W.B. The French Encounter with Africans, pp. 153-154]

Though Cohen expresses his views with respect to the Society as a whole, there are instances where individual members of the Society also reflect this mode of thought. In 1788, Condorcet wrote a piece entitled "Réflexions sur l'esclavage des negres..." and in it he stated that emancipation would not be in the best interests of the blacks because of their violence and vagabondage. In fact, he felt that the blacks could not be treated as equals and needed up to seventy years to be assimilated into society. In Chapter VII of his work, Condorcet states:

::"Comme il seroit a craindre que les Negres, accoutumés a n'obéir qu'a la force & au caprice, ne pussent Ltre contenus, dans le premier moment, par les mLmes loi que les Blancs; qu'ils ne formassent des attriupemens, qu'ils ne se livrassent au vol, a des vengeances particulieres, & a une vie vagabonde dans les foréts & les montagnes; que ces désordes ne suffent fomentés en secret par les Blancs, qui espéroient de l'esclavage; il foudroit assijettir les Negres, pendant les premiers temps, a une discipline sévere, reglée par des loix; il foudrait confier l'exercise du pouvoir a un homme humain, ferme, éclairé, incorruptible, qui fft avoir de l'indulgence pour l'ivresse oj ce changement d'état plongeroit les Negres, mais sans leur laisser l'espérance de l'impunité, & qui méprisât également l'or des Blancs, leurs intrigues & leurs menaces....Il en resulteroit qu'en portant a cinquante ans le terme de la fécondité des Négresses, & a soixante-cinq ans celui de la vie des Negres, il ne resteroit plus aucun esclave dans les colonies au bout de soixante-dix ans..." ["Lettre de la Société des Amis des Noirs, B M. Necker, avec le Résponse de ce Ministre." (Paris: 1789). La Révolution française et l'abolition de l'esclavage, 7, pp. 29-45]

Lafayette went one step further. He purchased a plantation in Guiana, complete with fifty-two slaves, as an 'experiment' to prove that the Negro could enjoy equality, but needed gradual exposure to the situation in order to become fully assimilated. The project soon became forgotten and in the end Lafayette, an abolitionist and member of the Amis des noirs, decided to sell his slaves [Krebs, A. "La Fayette et le Probleme de L'Esclavage." La Société de L'Histoire de France, Annuaire-Bulletin 1958, p. 55. (A refutation of this charge made by the plantation manager's brother can be found in the May 14, 1791 edition of the Journal de Paris.)]

In upholding the "ideals of the Philosophes" [Tarrade, J. "Les Colonies et les Principes de 1789: Les Assemblées Révolutionnaire face au Probleme de L'Esclavage" Revue française d'histoire d'outre-mer, 76 (1989): p. 19. ] , the members of La Société des Amis des Noirs were also defending the Philosophes' views regarding attitudes towards the Negro. Consequently, actions taken by the Society would inevitably reflect, however limited, these sentiments, from their initial belief and advocation of gradual emancipation, to their departure from the cause, focusing instead on the rights of the mulatto [Lokke, C. France and the Colonial Question, p. 135. ] . A product of the era, La Société des Amis des Noirs was created within an Ancien Régime frame of mind, but was operating within a revolutionary framework.

Attitudes from the past influenced the Amis des Noirs' drive for abolition. But the present state of the country was no less influential. The unfolding of the French Revolution consumed the interests of virtually everyone connected to it, not the least of which included the members of the Amis des Noirs. Consequently, its abolitionist endeavours were to be overshadowed by the upheaval. As Blackburn states:

::"Indeed part of the reason for the Society's low level of activity was certainly the wider preoccupations of those who had founded it. In the early months they saw in abolitionism a symbol of the struggle to purify the French monarchy, they were soon caught up in events in which the nature of the regime had to be addressed quite directly. Henceforth colonial controversies were important because they tested the scope of civic and suffrage rights rather than because slavery was at issue." [Blackburn, R. The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery 1776-1848. (London: Verso, 1988), p. 172]

The revolutionary diversions of the Society's members included direct involvement in the functioning of the government. Claviere was once Minister of Finance and Condorcet Director of the Mint. Moreover, Brissot was a Parish Deputy as well as being the Girondin's leading figure between 1789-1792 [Brown, G. "The Origins of Abolition in Santo Domingo." The Journal of Negro History, 7 (1922): p. 369. ] . In the end, however, many of the high-profile members of the Amis des Noirs would become victims of the revolutionary process. The early 1790s would see the "...eclipse of its Brissotin leaders by the ascendent Jacobins..." [Jennings, L. "The Interaction of French and British Antislavery, 1789-1848." unpublished article, p. 3. ] Its effect on La Société des Amis des Noirs would be devastating. Claviere committed suicide while Condorcet was a refugee in hiding. As for Brissot, he was guillotined [Ellery, E. Brissot de Warville (New York: Burt Franklin, 1970), pp. 384-386. ] . Others suffered as well, like Liancourt and Pétion [Resnick, Daniel P. "The Société des Amis des Noirs and the Abolition of Slavery," pp. 561-562. ] , and Lafayette, who was in a German military prison. The loss of so many influential members in such a short period of time had a profoundly negative impact on the Society. Ultimately, it would lead to the disbandment of La Société des Amis des Noirs in 1793.

Though humanitarians, the members of the Society were also revolutionaries. Composed of "those who had complaints against the monarchy [Cooper, A. Slavery and the French Revolutionists (1788-1805) (New York: The Edwin Mellen Press,1988), p. 42. ] ," the Society has been described by some authors as "...a dialectical movement of the Third Estate's insistence on recognition for itself as a significant part of French society. [Whitman, D. "Slavery and the Rights of Frenchmen...", p. 30. Whitman explains the dialectic earlier in the article: "Here we seem to return to the Rousseauistic dialectic, where "slavery" becomes the rhetorical code word for the condition of Frenchmen, not Africans." ] " If this is true, before any significant action on abolition could be taken by the Society, the country's 'revolutionary dust' had to settle. Colonial events outside the immediate control of the government, however, would soon bring the issue of abolition to the forefront. As Tarrade states:

::"Il faut attendre la fin de la lutte entre la Gironde et la Montagne suivie de la grande crise de l'été 1793 pour que le probleme soit effleuré en juillet 1793 et l'évolution de la situation a Saint-Domingue pour que le Montagne triomphante, mais divisée, prenne enfin la décision d'abolir l'esclavage." [Tarrade, J. "Les Colonies et les Principes de 1789: Les Assemblées Révolutionnaire face au Probleme de L'Esclavage," p. 28. ]

As a consequence, on February 4, 1794 (16 Pluviôse an II) -approximately a year after the demise of the Amis des Noirs- the National Convention passed the Emancipation Declaration:

::"La Convention Nationale déclare que l'Esclavage des Negres dans toutes les Colonies est aboli: en conséquence elle décrete que tous les hommes, sans distinction de couleur, domiciliés dans les colonies, sont Citoyens Français, et jouiront de tous les droits assurés par la Constitution. Elle renvoie au comité de salut public, pour lui faire incessamment un rapport sur les mesures a prendre pour assurer l'exécution du présent décret." [Decret de la Convention Nationale, du 16. jour de Pluviôse, an second de la République Française, une & indivisible, Qui abolit l'esclavage des Negres dans les Colonies," Révolution française et l'abolition de l'esclavage, pp. 320-323.]

But this was not directly due to the efforts of the Amis des Noirs. The catalyst for change emerged not from continental France, but from her Caribbean colony Saint-Domingue.

The island had become a lucrative possession for France due to its production of commodities such as sugar and coffee. The maintenance of this enterprise, however, relied on the use of slaves and the slave trade. It was used to such an extent that by the end of the eighteenth century the population of the French colony consisted of approximately 400,000 slaves, with whites and mulattos numbering approximately 29,000 each [Métral, A. Histoire de L'Expédition des Français a Saint-Domingue (Paris: Editions Karthala, 1985), p. 18. ] . Though the white population was clearly the minority, the 'grand blancs' of the island wielded the power, and did little to improve living conditions for the slaves or the mulattos. Evidence of this dates back prior to the Revolution. The colonial government, in 1784, acknowledged the existence of "maroons" - runaway slaves who fled the plantations to escape their harsh treatment [Stoddard, T. The French Revolution in San Domingo. (Westport, Conn.: Negro Universities Press, 1970. pp. 62-63. ] The overbearing dominance of the planters would ultimately lead to a slave rebellion on the island. The result of this, as Stein [Stein, R. Léger Félicité Sonthonax, pp. 109-111] infers, was the creation of the Decree of Universal Emancipation in February 1794.

Conflict on the island existed on many levels. The 'petits blancs', or poor whites, resented the lifestyle of the planters, and of the free men of colour who were faring better, economically, than themselves. The free men of colour too were discontented with the planters for their refusal to grant them equal rights. And, of course, the slaves were becoming increasingly frustrated and angry over the lack of improvement in their social status. With the advent of the Revolution of 1789 in France, the situation was ripe for rebellion in Saint Domingue. As in France, colonial cahiers were written, revealing that the free men of colour desired equality [Stein, R. "The Free Men of Colour and the Revolution in Saint Domingue, 1789-1792," p.17.] . The discontent outlined in the cahiers, however, would be virtually ignored. In January 1790, France refused the entry of mulatto colonial deputies in the National Assembly [Stein, R. "The Free Men of Colour and the Revolution in Saint Domingue, 1789-1792," p.18. ] , while in March of that year, the colony established self-government for internal affairs, excluding the coloured population from any type of participation [Hazard, S. Santo Domingo, Past and Present, p. 117.] . Mulatto frustrations grew, and by the winter of 1791, men of colour took up arms in protest. They would eventually be subdued, culminating in the death of the rebellion's mulatto leader, James Ogé [Thibau, J. Le Temps de Saint-Domingue (St.-Armand Montrond, France: Editions Jean- Claude Lattes, 1989), p. 249. ]

France, recognizing a problem existed in the colony with respect to mulattos, decreed on May 15, 1791 that all men of colour would be granted equal rights if they were born of free parents [Cochin, A. L'Abolition de L'Esclavage (Fort-de-France: Editions Emile Désormeaux, 1979 reprint edition), p. 10. ] . Colonial whites opposed the legislation, however, thus forcing the mulattos to take up arms again. This time, however, they enlisted the aid of the slaves and began their insurrection in August 1791 [Foubert, B. "Colons et esclaves du Sud de Saint-Domingue au début de la Révolution," Revue Français d'histoire d'outre-mer, 61, 223 (1974): p. 202. ] . Due to the overwhelming number of slaves allied with the mulattos, many regions of the colony began signing concordats with mulatto leaders in order to prevent any reprisals from the slaves [Stein, R. "The Free Men of Colour and the Revolution in Saint Domingue, 1789-1792," p. 25.] . France, in an effort to stem further erosion of its control over the colony, decreed the Law of April 4, 1792 (with influence from La Société des Amis des Noirs), stating that every free man of colour now enjoyed equal rights [Gaston-Martin Histoire de L'Esclavage dans les Colonies Françaises, (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1948), p. 214.] . To ensure that the law would be upheld in the colonies, three commissioners from France were sent to Saint Domingue to implement the legislation: Sonthonax, Polverel and Ailhaud.

The effect of the legislation in Saint Domingue, however, was not what France anticipated. The mulattos, now having equal rights, aided the whites in controlling the slaves. The slaves soon realized that the mulattos were not fighting in their best interests, and began fighting against the mulattos as well. Consequently, white planters began leaving their plantations as slaves began rampaging the countryside. To ensure victory over the colonial whites, Spain was asked for assistance by the rebels. Realizing that any assistance from France would be too late, the whites therefore looked closer to home for help. England had colonial possessions in the vicinity and was more than willing to help quell the rebellion [Brown, G. "The Origins of Abolition in Santo Domingo." , p. 375. ]

This turn of events alarmed the government officials from both France and the island. By the middle of 1793, Spain had taken control of the north-east section of the island with help from its non-white allies, including the maroons Stein, R. Léger Félicité Sonthonax, p. 79.] . The English, meanwhile, were preparing to invade the island's south and west coasts, more for reasons of control than for assisting the whites in their struggle.

The colony was on the verge of being lost by France. Sonthonax, the commissioner of the north province, declared that the only way to keep Saint Domingue "French and revolutionary" [Stein, R. "The Free Men of Colour and the Revolution in Saint Domingue, 1789-1792," p. 28.] , was to free the slaves. The Governor-General of the island, Galbaud, also felt that this was the only solution to retain Saint Domingue as a French possession [Stein, R. Léger Félicité Sonthonax, p. 63.] . Consequently, Sonthonax declared the island's slaves in the north province emancipated on August 29, 1793 [Brown, G. "The Origins of Abolition in Santo Domingo." , p. 375.] . The other island provinces (south and west) would follow suit when commissioner Polverel emancipated the remaining slaves on October 31, 1793 [Stein, R. Léger Félicité Sonthonax, p. 93. ] . By January 1794, the National Assembly in France was informed of the hopelessness of the situation in Santo Domingo. Aware that the colony could soon be lost, the National Assembly shortly thereafter declared Universal Emancipation for all slaves on February 4, 1794.

Slaves were now acknowledged as freemen by France. But it was not due to any political manouverings in France by government members or abolitionist groups (the Amis des Noirs had disbanded a year earlier). Instead, it was the realization that if the slaves were not given their freedom immediately, there was a strong possibility that France would lose not only the conflict with the slaves, but the entire colonial establishment.

In retrospect, it appears that the Amis des Noirs had numerous hurdles to overcome in its abolitionist endeavours. Granted, concrete results arising from the Society's efforts were minimal, but the fact that the organization existed at all meant at least some people in France were conscious of the slavery situation. The members of the Amis des Noirs attempted to broaden this awareness through the printed media. The Society's literature (both translated and original), did spread their message, albeit not to any great lengths due to the lack of a communications network. Moreover, the Society did attempt to lobby the government through various addresses by members of the Amis des Noirs in the National Assembly. They succeeded, if nothing else, in raising the awareness and consciousness of the Assembly concerning the slavery issue [Stein, R. The French Slave Trade in the Eighteenth Century, (Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1979), p. 43. ]

With respect to its overall performance in its drive for abolition, the Amis des Noirs were largely ineffective. One reason for the Society's inefficiency was its organization and strategy. The lack of regular meetings, the non-attendance of members when there were meetings, plus the absence of any provincial chapters (the majority of members residing in Paris - please refer to membership list cited below) all contributed to the Society's lacklustre performance. Additionally, its affiliation practices were too restrictive to allow for any great membership enrolment. At a time when money for bread was at a premium, only the well-to-do were able to afford the subscription dues demanded by the Society, not to mention the references required from other members to enter the organization. Oddly enough, the insistence of providing fees and referrals apparently was not viewed as an impediment at the time. In 1796 the Society was resurrected under the new name "La Société des Amis des Noirs et des Colonies" but it still retained the organizational structure of the original group, including membership referral and dues [Wadstrom (Charles-Bernard). "Additions aux réglemens de la Société des Amis des Noirs et des Colonies," (Paris: 1796), pp. 2-3. (Taken from a collection of pamphlets entitled LaRévolution française et l'abolition de l'esclavage)]

Another factor detrimental to the success of the Amis des Noirs was its affiliation with its counterpart organization operating in London. Brissot had decided to create the Society with encouragement from London's abolition movement (of which he was an honorary member [Brissot J.P. "Mémoire sur les Noirs de l'Amérique Septentrionale, lu a l'Assemblée de la Société des Amis des Noirs'" (Paris: 1789) La Révolution française et l'abolition de l'esclavage, 7, p. 66.] ). Long-standing tensions between the two countries, however, would ultimately make the Society's association with London become suspect.

Another damaging force against the Amis des Noirs was the pro-slavery faction, which effectively blockaded any change advocated by the Society. The Committee on Colonies, for example, could exert greater influence on the National Assembly than any outside agency, such as the Amis des Noirs. Other groups went to the extent of discrediting the members of the group. The Massiac club first denounced the Society, then began to criticize the members of the Society, accusing them of being treasonous and pro-British. While government agencies stifled the advances of the Amis des Noirs in the National Assembly, the Massiac Club was simultaneously in the process of discrediting its members, thus preventing the Amis des Noirs from undertaking any large-scale initiatives.There were additional factors, however, which played a role in defining the Society's level of effectiveness. One such factor was the Ancien Regimes' 'Enlightened' philosophy. Though the monarchical framework was being dismantled when the Amis des Noirs was formed, the members were nevertheless products of the pre-revolutionary era, that of the Enlightenment and French Philosophes. Class distinction had become an integral part of the Ancien Regime. Because the members identified with these social positions, they unconsciously (or consciously) made distinctions between themselves and others, thus constituting a class form of society. Moreover, leaders of the Amis des Noirs believed there was a fundamental difference between the races.

Another reason which contributed to the Society's inefficacy was the French Revolution itself. A new order was being created out of the dismantling of the Ancien Regime. Understandably, many of the members of the Amis des Noirs were preoccupied with events at home, thus concentrating less on the colonial abolition cause. In fact, it could be said that the French Revolution literally brought about the demise of the Amis des Noirs in 1793.

In the final analysis, the past efforts of La Société des Amis des Noirs were not to be the catalyst for the Decree of February 1794, which declared Universal Emancipation. In the end, the freeing of all colonial slaves would be due to events in Saint Domingue. Faced with the prospect of losing a financially successful colonial possession, France had decided to legislate slave emancipation, an act which was carried out six months earlier by Sonthonax in Saint Domingue. Essentially, the Amis des Noirs' own shortcomings, coupled with external pressures and events, would cause the Society to be virtually ineffective in its drive for slavery abolition.

Membership List for the Société des Amis des Noirs

"See Main Article: Society of the Friends of the Blacks"

References

Further reading

Primary Sources

The following list of letters, addresses, and minutes were obtained from a collection of pamphlets entitled La Révolution française et l'abolition de l'esclavage. 12 vols. Paris: Editions d'histoire sociale, 1968.
*Brissot J.P. "Mémoire sur les Noirs de l'Amérique Septentrionale, lu a l'Assemblée de La Société des Amis des Noirs, le 9 février 1789",Paris, au Bureau du Patriote, 20 décembre 1789
**Ibid "Seconde Adresse a l'Assemblé Nationale, par la Société des Amis des Noirs, etablie a Paris" -(Paris), Imprimerie du Patriote François, s.d. (1790)
**Ibid "Discours sur la nécéssité de maintenir le décret rendu le 15 mai en faveur des hommes de couleur libres, prononcé le 12 septembre 1791, a la séance de la Société des Amis de la Constitution" Imprimé par ordre de la Société. - S.I. (Paris), s.d. (1791).
*Claviere, E. "Adresse de la Société des Amis des Noirs, a l'Assemblée Nationale, a toutes les Manufactures, aux Colonies, a toutes les Sociétés des Amis de la Constitution; Adresse dans laquelle on approfondit les relations politiques et commerciales entre la Metropole et les Colonies" Seconde édition, revue et corrigée. - Paris: Desenne et au Bureau du Patriote François, 10 juillet 1791.
*Condorcet (J.A.N. de Caritat, marquis de): "Réflexions sur l'esclavage des negres" Par M. Swartz [Condorcet's pseudonym] , Pasteur du Saint Evangile a Bienne, Membre de la Société économique Nouvelle édition revue & corrigée. - Neufchatel et Paris, Froullé, 1788.
*Wadstrom (Charles-Bernard). "Additions aux réglemens de la Société des Amis des Noirs et des Colonies" Paris: 1796.
*La Société des Amis des Noirs. "Discours sur la nécessité d'établir a Paris une Société pour concourir, avec celle de Londres, a l'abolition de la traite & de l'esclavage des Negres" Prononcé le 19 Février 1788, dans une Société de quelques amis, rassemblés a Paris, a la priere du Comité de Londres. - (Paris), s.d. (1788)
**Ibid "Reglemens de la Société des Amis des Noirs." - S.I. (Paris) s.d. (1789)
**Ibid "Tableau des Membres de la Société des Amis des Noirs. Année 1789" - S.I. (Paris), s.d. (1789)
**Ibid "Lettre de la Société des Amis des Noirs, B M. Necker, avec le Résponse de ce Ministre" S.I. (Paris) s.d. (1789)
**Ibid "Adresse a l'Assemblée Nationale, pour l'abolition de la Traite des noirs" Par le Société des Amis des Noirs de Paris. Février 1790. - Paris, Imprimerie de Potier de Lille, 1790.
**Ibid "Adresse aux Amis de l'humanité, par la Société des amis des Noirs, sur le plan de ses travaux" Lue au Comité, le 4 juin 1790, et imprimée par son ordre. - (Paris), Imprimerie du Patriote François, s.d. (1790)
**Ibid "Reflexions sur le Code Noir, et Dénonciation d'un crime affreux, commis a Saint-Dominigue; adressés a l'Assemblée Nationale par la Société des Amis des Noirs" - Paris, Imprimerie du Patriote François, aôut 1790.
**Ibid "Decret de la Convention Nationale, du 16. jour de Pluviôse, an second de la République Française, une & indivisible, Qui abolit l'esclavage des Negres dans les Colonies" (Paris: 1794)
*Clarkson, T. "History of the Rise, Progress and Abolition of the African Slave Trade by the British Parliament" (London: 1808), pp. 381-404

econdary Sources

*Baker, K. "Condorcet" Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1975
*Benot, Y. "La révolution française et la fin des colonies" Paris: Éditions La Découverte, 1988
*Blackburn, R. "The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery 1776-1848" London: Verso, 1988
*Biondi, J.P. "Zuccarelli, F. 16 Pluviose An II" Paris: Éditions Denoel, 1989
*Brown, G. "The Origins of Abolition in Santo Domingo" The Journal Negro History, 7 (1922): 365-376
*Cahen, L. "La Société des Amis des noirs et Condorcet" La Révolution française, 50 (1906): 481-511
*Cochin, A. "L'Abolition de L'Esclavage. Fort-de-France" Editions Emile Désormeaux, 1979. (reprint)
*Cohen, W.B. "The French Encounter with Africans" Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1980
*Cooper, A. "Slavery and the French Revolutionists (1788-1805" Lewiston, New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1988
*Davis, D. "The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture" Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1969
*Despin, J. "Montesquieu était-il esclavagiste?" La Pensée, 193 (1977): 102-112
*Ellery, E. "Brissot de Warville" New York: Burt Franklin, 1970
*Foubert, B. "Colons et esclaves du sud de Saint-Domingue au début de la Révolution" Revue Française d'histoire d'outre-mer, 61, 223 (1974): 199-217
*Garrett, M. "The French Colonial Question 1789-1791" Ann Arbor, Michigan: George Wahr, 1916
*Gaston-Martin "Histoire de L'Esclavage dans les Colonies Françaises" Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1948
*Geggus, D. "Racial Equality, Slavery, and Colonial Secession during the Constituent Assembly" American Historical Review, 94 (1989): 1290-1308
*Hazard, S. "Santo Domingo, Past and Present: With a Glance at Hayti" Harper and Brothers, 1873
*Hunting, C. "The Philosophes and the Question of Black Slavery 1748-1765" Journal of the History of Ideas, 39, 3 (1978): 405-418
*Lafontant, J. "Montesquieu et le Probleme de L'Esclavage dans L'Esprit des Lois" Sherbrooke, Québec: Editions Naaman, 1979
*Jameson, R. "Montesquieu et L'Esclavage" Paris: Librairie Hachette, 1911
*Jennings, L. "The Interaction of French and British Antislavery, 1789-1848" Unpublished article 1991
*Krebs, A. "La Fayette et le Probleme de L'Esclavage" Annuaire-Bulletin de la Société de L'Histoire de France, (1956-57): 49-60
*Lokke, C. "France and the Colonial Question" New York: AMS Press, 1968
*McCloy,S. "Negroes and Mulattoes in Eighteenth-Century France" The Journal of Negro History, 30 (1945): 276-292
**Ibid "Further Notes on Negroes and Mulattoes in Eighteenth-Century France" The Journal of Negro History, 39 (1954): 284-297
**Ibid "The Negro in France" Kentucky: University of Kentucky, 1961
**Ibid "The Humanitarian Movement in Eighteenth-Century France" New York: Haskell House Publishers, 1972
*Métral, A. "Histoire de L'Expédition des Français a Saint-Domingue" Paris, Editions Karthala, 1985
*Necheles, R. "The Abbé Grégoire 1787-1831" Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Publishing Corp., 1971
*Perroud, C. "La Société Française des Amis des Noirs" La Révolution Française, 69 (1916): 122-147
*Quinney, V. "Decisions on Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Civil Rights for Negroes in the Early French Revolution" Journal of Negro History, 55, 2 (1970): 117-130
**Ibid "The Problem of Civil Rights for Free Men of Color in the Early French Revolution" Journal of Negro History, 55, 2 (1970): 544-557
*Resnick, Daniel P. "The Société des Amis des Noirs and the Abolition of Slavery" French Historical Studies, 7, 4 (1972): 558-569
*Seeber, E.D. "Anti-Slavery Opinion in France During the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century" Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1937
*Stein, R. "The Profitability of the Nantes Slave Trade" Journal of Economic History, 35, 3 (1975): 779-793
**Ibid "The French Slave Trade in the Eighteenth Century" Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1979
**Ibid "The Free Men of Colour and the Revolution in Saint Domingue, 1789-1792" Social History, 14 (1981): 7-28
**Ibid "Léger Félicité Sonthanax" London: Associated University Press, 1985
*Stoddard, T. "The French Revolution in San Domingo" Westport, Conn.: Negro Universities Press, 1970
*Tarrade, J. "Les colonies et les Principes de 1789: Les Assemblées Révolutionnaire face au Probléme de L'Esclavage" Revue française d'Histoire D'Outre-Mer, 76 (1989): 9-34
*Thibau, J. "Le Temps de Saint-Domingue" Saint-Armand-Montrond, France: Editions Jean-Claude Lattes, 1989
*Vidalenc, J. "Les traite des negres en France au début de la Révolution (1789-1793)" Annales Historiques de la Révolution Française, 146 (1957): 56-69
*Viles, P. "The Slaving Interest in the Atlantic Ports, 1763-1792" French Historical Studies, 7, 4 (1972): 529-543
*Whitman, D. "Slavery and the Rights of Frenchmen: Views of Montesquieu, Rousseau and Raynal" French Colonial Studies, 1 (1977): 17-33


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