Christophe's Kingdom and Pétion's Republic
Artist's rendering of Henri (Henry) Christophe's palace,
Sans Souci at Cap-Haïtien
Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
Many candidates succeeded Dessalines, but only three
approached his stature. Most Haitians saw Henry Christophe
most logical choice. He had served as a commander under
and could therefore claim the former leader's mantle and
his mystique. Christophe was black like Dessalines, but he
Dessalines's consuming racial hatred, and he was much more
pragmatic in this regard. His popularity, especially in
north, however, was not strong enough to offset the
elite's growing desire to exert control over Haiti through
leader drawn from its own ranks. The mulattoes had two
candidates in mind: Gérin and Pétion, the presumed authors
In November 1806, army officers and established
libres (pre-independence freedmen) landowners--an
dominated by the mulatto elite--elected a constituent
that was given the task of establishing a new government.
of the assembly drafted a constitution that established a
presidency and a comparatively strong legislature. They
Christophe as president and Pétion as head of the
the earliest attempt in Haiti to establish what would
known as the politique de doublure (politics by
understudies). Under this system, a black leader served as
figurehead for mulatto elitist rule.
The only defect in the mulattoes' scheme was Christophe
himself, who refused to be content with his figurehead
mustered his forces and marched on Port-au-Prince. His
the city failed, however, mainly because Pétion had
Christophe did not. Indignant, but not defeated,
retreated to north of the Artibonite River and established
own dominion, which he ruled from Cap Haïtien (which he
later rechristen Cap Henry). Periodic and ineffectual
went on for years between this northern territory and
republic, which encompassed most of the southern half of
country and boasted Port-au-Prince as its capital.
The northern dominion became a kingdom in 1811, when
Christophe crowned himself King Henry I of Haiti. Unlike
Dessalines, who as emperor declared, "Only I am royal,"
Christophe installed a nobility of mainly black supporters
associates who assumed the titles of earls, counts, and
Below this aristocratic level, life in the northern
was harsh, but not nearly so cruel as the conditions that
prevailed under Dessalines. Laborers remained bound to
plantations, but working hours were liberalized, and
was increased to one-fourth of the harvested crop.
Christophe was a great believer in discipline. He
African warriors from Dahomey (present-day Benin), whom he
Royal Dahomets. They served as the primary agents of his
authority. Incorruptible and intensely loyal to
Dahomets brought order to the countryside.
Many people were dissatisfied with the strictness of
Christophe's regime. As productivity and export levels
however, the quality of their lives improved in comparison
revolutionary and immediately post-revolutionary days.
In the more permissive southern republic, where Pétion
as president-for-life, people's lives were not improving.
crucial difference between the northern kingdom and the
republic was the way each treated landownership.
ownership of the bulk of the land to the state and leased
tracts to estate managers. Pétion took the opposite
distributed state-owned land to individuals in small
Pétion began distributing land in 1809, when he granted
his soldiers. Later on, Pétion extended the land-grant
other beneficiaries and lowered the selling price of state
to a level where almost anyone could afford to own land.
Pétion's decision proved detrimental in the shaping of
Growth and Structure of the Economy
, ch. 8).
had little incentive to produce export crops instead of
subsistence crops. Coffee, because of its relative ease of
cultivation, came to dominate agriculture in the south.
of coffee production, however, did not permit any
exports. Sugar, which had been produced in large
Saint-Domingue, was no longer exported from Haiti after
When the cultivation of cane ceased, sugar mills closed,
people lost their jobs. In the south, the average Haitian
isolated, poor, free, and relatively content yeoman. In
north, the average Haitian was a resentful but
prosperous laborer. The desire for personal autonomy
most Haitians more than the vaguer concept of contributing
strong national economy, however, and defections to the
were frequent, much to the consternation of Christophe.
Pétion, who died in 1818, left a lasting imprint upon
homeland. He ruled under two constitutions, which were
promulgated in 1806 and 1816. The 1806 document resembled
ways the Constitution of the United States. The 1816
however, replaced the elected presidency with the office
president for life.
Pétion's largely laissez-faire rule did not directly
discriminate against blacks, but it did promote an
mulatto elite that benefited from such policies as the
restoration of land confiscated by Dessalines and cash
reimbursement for crops lost during the last year of the
emperor's rule. Despite the egalitarianism of land
government and politics in the republic remained the
the elite, especially because the control of commerce came
replace the production of commodities as the focus of
power in Haiti. Pétion was a beneficent ruler, and he was
by the people, who referred to him as "Papa Bon Coeur"
Good Heart). But Pétion was neither a true statesman nor a
visionary. Some have said that his impact on the nations
America, through his support for rebels such as Simón
Palacios and Francisco de Miranda, was stronger and more
than his impact on his own impoverished country.
Although Christophe sought a reconciliation after
death, the southern elite rejected the notion of
submission to a
black leader. Because the president-for-life had died
naming a successor, the republican senate selected
mulatto secretary and commander of the Presidential Guard
Présidentielle), General Jean-Pierre Boyer, to fill the
the north, King Henry committed suicide in October 1820,
having suffered a severe stroke that caused him to lose
of the army, his main source of power. The kingdom, which
been ruled by an even narrower clique than the republic,
ripe for the taking. Boyer claimed it on October 26 at Cap
Haïtien at the head of 20,000 troops. Haiti was once again
Data as of December 1989