The dedication of the Haitian Pavilion,
located in the World's Fair Grounds
By the Hon. Frederick Douglass,
Ex-Minister to Haiti.
January 2, 1893
Whatever else may be said of President Hyppolite by his detractors he has thoroughly vindicated his sagacity and his patriotism by endeavoring to lead his country in the paths of peace, prosperity and glory. And as for [Haiti], we may well say, that from the beginning of her national career until now, she has been true to herself and has been wisely sensible of her surroundings. No act of hers is more creditable than her presence here. She has never flinched when called by her right name. She has never been ashamed of her cause or of her color. Honored by an invitation from the government of the United States to take her place here, and be represented among the foremost civilized nations of the earth, she did not quail or hesitate. Her presence here to-day is a proof that she has the courage and ability to stand up and be counted in the great procession our nineteenth century's civilization.
Finally, Haiti will be happy to meet and welcome her friends here. While the gates of the World's Columbian Exposition shall be open, the doors of this pavilion shall be open and a warm welcome shall be given to all who shall see fit to honor us with their presence. Our emblems of welcome will be neither brandy nor wine. No intoxicants will be served here, but we shall give all comers a generous taste of our Haitian coffee, made in the best manner by Haitian hands. They shall find it pleasant in flavor and delightful in aroma. Here, as in the sunny climes of Haiti, we shall do honor to that country's hospitality which permits no weary traveler to set foot upon her rich soil and go away hungry or thirsty. Whether upon her fertile plains or on the verdant sides of her incomparable mountains, whether in the mansions of the rich or in the cottages of the poor, the stranger is ever made welcome there to taste her wholesome bread, her fragrant fruits and her delicious coffee. It is proposed that this generous spirit of Haiti shall pervade and characterize this pavilion during all the day that Haiti shall be represented upon these ample grounds.
But gentlemen, I am reminded that on this occasion we have another important topic which should not be passed over in silence. We meet to-day on the anniversary of the independence of Haiti and it would be an unpardonable omission not to [mention] it with all honor, at this time and in this place.
Considering what the environments of Haiti were ninety years ago; considering the antecedents of her people, both at home and in Africa; considering their ignorance, their weakness, their want of military training; considering their destitution of the munitions of war, and measuring the tremendous moral and material forces that confronted and opposed them, the achievement of their independence, is one of the most remarkable and one of the most wonderful events in the history of this eventful century, and I may almost say, in the history of mankind. Our American Independence was a task of tremendous proportions. In contemplation of it the boldest held their breath and many brave men shrank from it appalled. But as Herculean, as was that task and dreadful as were the hardships and sufferings is imposed, it was nothing in its terribleness when compared with the appalling nature of the war which Haiti dared to wage for her freedom and her independence. Her success was a surprise and a startling astonishment to the world.
Our war of the Revolution had a thousand years of civilization behind it. The men who led it were descended from statement and heroes. Their ancestry, were the men who had defied the powers of royalty and wrested from an armed and reluctant king the grandest declaration of human rights ever given to the world. They had the knowledge and character naturally inherited from long years of personal and political freedom. They belonged to the ruling race of this world and the sympathy of the world was with them. But far different was it with the men of Haiti. The world was all against them. They were slaves accustomed to stand and tremble in the presence of haughty masters. Their education was obedience to the will of others, and their religion was patience and resignation to the rule of pride and cruelty. As a race they stood before the world as the most abject, helpless and degraded of mankind. Yet from these men of the negro race, came brave men, men who loved liberty more than life; wise men, statesmen, warriors and heroes, men whose deeds stamp them as worthy to rank with the greatest and noblest of mankind; men who have gained their freedom and independence against odds as formidable as ever confronted a righteous cause or its advocates. Aye, and they not only gained their liberty and independence, but they have never surrendered what they gained to any power on earth. This precious inheritance they hold to-day, and I venture to say here in the ear of all the world that they never will surrender that inheritance. [Prolonged Applause.]
Much has been said of the savage and sanguinary character of the warfare waged by the Haitians against their masters and against the invaders sent from France by Bonaparte with the purpose to enslave them; but impartial history records the fact, that every act of blood and torture committed by the Haitians during that war was more than duplicated by the French. The revolutionists did only what was essential to success in gaining their freedom and independence and what any other people assailed by such an enemy for such a purpose would have done.
They met deception with deception, arms with arms, harassing warfare with harassing warfare, fire with fire, blood with blood, and they never would have gained their freedom and independence if they had not thus matched the French at all points.
History will be searched in vain for a warrior, more humane, more free from the spirit of revenge, more disposed to protect him enemies, and less disposed to practice retaliation for acts of cruelty than General Toussaint L'Ouverture. [Prolonged Applause.]
His motto from the beginning of war to the end of his participation in it, was protection to the white colonists and no retaliation of injuries. No man in the island had been more loyal to France, to the French Republic and to Bonaparte was fitting out a large fleet and was about to send a large army to Haiti to conquer and reduce his people to slavery he, like a true patriot and a true man determined to defeat his infernal intention by preparing for defense.
Standing on the heights of Cape Samana he with his trusted generals watched and waited for the arrival of one of the best equipped and most formidable armies ever sent against a foe so comparatively weak and helpless as Haiti then appeared to be. It was composed of veteran troops, troops that had seen service on the Rhine, troops that had carried French arms in glory to Egypt and under the shadow of the eternal pyramids. He had at last seen the ships of this powerful army one after another to the number of fifty-four vessels come within the waters of his beloved country.
Who will ever be able to measure the mental agony of this man, as he stood on those heights and watched and waited for this enemy to arrive, coming with fetters and chains for the limbs and slave whips for the backs of his people. What heart does not ache even in the contemplation of his misery?
It is not for me here to trace the course and particulars of the then impending conflict and tell of the various features of this terrible war; a conflict that must ever be contemplated with a shudder. That must be left to history, left to the quiet and patience of the study.
Like all such prolonged conflicts, the tide of battle did not always set in the favor of the right. Crushing disaster, bitter disappointment, intense suffering, grievous defections and blasted hopes were often the lot of the defenders of liberty and independence. The patience, courage and fortitude with which these were borne, fully equals the same qualities exhibited by the armies of William the Silent, when contending for religious liberty against the superior armies of the Spanish Inquisition under Philip of Spain. It was more heroic in the brave Dutch people to defend themselves by the water of their dykes, than for the dusky sons of Haiti to defend their liberties by famine on their plains and fire on their mountains. The difference was simply the difference in color. True heroism is the same whether under one color or another, though men are not always sufficiently impartial to admit it.
The world will never cease to wonder at the failure of the French and the success of the blacks. Never did there appear a more unequal contest. The greatest military captain of the age backed by the most warlike nation in the world, had set his heart upon the subjugation of the despised sons of Haiti; he spared no pains and hesitated to employ no means however revolting to compass this purpose. Though he availed himself of bloodhounds from Cuba to hunt down and devour women and children; though he practiced fraud, duplicity and murder; though he scorned to observe the rules of civilized warfare; though he sent against poor Haiti his well-equipped and skillfully commanded army of fifty thousand men; though the people against whom his army came were unskilled in the arts of war; though by a treachery the most dishonorable and revolting the invaders captured and sent Toussaint L'Ouverture in chains to France to perish in an icy prison; though his swords were met with barrel hoops; though wasting war defaced and desolated the country for a dozen years--Haiti was still free! Her spirit was unbroken and her brave sons were still at large in her mountains ready to continue the war, if need be, for a century.
When Bonaparte had done his worst and the bones of his unfortunate soldiers whitened upon a soil made rich with patriot blood, and the shattered remnant of his army was glad to escape with its life, the heroic chiefs of Haiti in the year 1803 declared her INDEPENDENCE and she has made good that declaration down to 1893. [Prolonged applause]
Her presence here to-day in the grounds of this World's Columbian Exposition at the end of the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of the American Continent, it is a re-affirmation of her existence and independence as a nation, and of her place among the sisterhood of nations.
Related document: Lecture on Haiti