Fall 2016

Law, Liberty, and Slavery: The French and Haitian Revolutions

Listed in: Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought, as LJST-259

Moodle site: Course


Sarah Johnson (Section 01)


In 1791 a slave insurrection that soon became one of the world’s most significant and transformative revolutions began in Saint Domingue, France's most valuable colony. Over the next thirteen years it led France to abolish slavery in all of its colonies and to extend French citizenship to former slaves; it decimated the colonial economy in Saint-Domingue and overthrew French rule there; and it produced the independent state of Haiti. Just two years earlier a revolution in France had overthrown monarchical rule, established popular sovereignty, and enshrined natural rights in law. Yet in the words of historian Michel-Rolph Trouillot, the idea of a slave insurrection had been unthinkable to the French people, despite their own struggles for liberty, because it violated widely-held assumptions about who can and should fight for the right to self-determination.

This course explores the interconnected histories of the French and Haitian Revolutions in order to consider how a revolution in one of France’s colonies betrayed the limits of its own revolutionary principles. In particular, we will investigate the ways in which the Haitian Revolution challenged the legal order that triumphed in France in 1789. We will also explore what the French and Haitian Revolutions can teach us about the nature of freedom, rights, and revolution itself.  In addition to primary sources, readings will include classic studies of the French and Haitian Revolutions by Alexis de Tocqueville and C.L.R. James.

Limited to 30 students. Fall semester. Visiting Professor Johnson.

If Overenrolled: Priority would be given to LJST majors.

Cost: 6.00 ?


Attention to Writing


2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016