Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

First Advisor

Schwartz, Stuart

Abstract

Historians of postemancipation will recognize the questions that drive my dissertation, “The Emancipated Empire: Faustin I Soulouque and the Origins of the Second Haitian Empire, 1847-1859.” Among other things I am interested in examining the process by which Haitians, elite, urban, and rural in the late 1840s rejected the political legitimacy of republicanism and forged a common sense of nationhood that befitted what they felt were new circumstances—hence their conviction that the time was ripe for a sweeping symbolic change to empire and monarchy.This line of inquiry follows a long succession of theoretical explanations on the Atlantic phenomenon of emancipation and the rise of post-slavery nation-states in the mid-nineteenth century. For the Haitian case specifically, I have asked: how did post-slavery populations negotiate their definitions of freedom and how did the state set out to construct a sense of legitimacy in light of the limits placed on freedom? While the second Haitian empire eventually fell into a continuation of the socioeconomic divide, in its origin’s empire provided a sense of popular sovereignty and legitimacy by integrating a symbolic sense of freedom that united highly differentiated social factions and bridged the regional networks of authority. My research not only provides an excavation of the second Haitian empire’s origins, but also provides new information about the history of sociopolitics and postslavery state-formation. Emphasizing the subjective nature of society and national politics, I see it as an ongoing practice, one in which powerful actors project an inevitably self-serving discourse meant to manipulate political supporters, who themselves deployed their own notions of participation and fairness through daily interactions. My dissertation begins by establishing the sociopolitical history of political legitimacy and freedom in mid-century Haiti, charting structural changes that took place after the Haitian Revolution up until the political crisis of the mid-1840s. Next, I reread the moment of 1848-1849 to investigate the origins Soulouque’s base of power in the capital and in the Southern and Western departments. I find that whereas the events have been typified as riots and massacres—specifically in the form of peasant and urban color violence—these rebellions had roots in larger arguments about the nature of postslavery freedom and the rejection of Haiti’s ruling class republicanism. President Faustin Soulouque was able to create a sense of political legitimacy through the cooption of collective aggression and turn two major black publics, Piquets and Zinglins, into tools for the consolidation of power. Then, I look to the 1849 apparition of La Vierge to reconstruct the spiritual landscape of power and religious legitimacy. While Haiti’s many overlapping and interplayed spiritualisms gave way to numerous parallel hierarchies and semi-autonomous governmentalities, Soulouque’s most successful bid for emperor came from his ability to openly acknowledge and utilize them to affirm spiritual and moral legitimacy. Finally, I look to the Coronation of 1852 and I follow how as Emperor, political theatre in the form of grandiose ritual and performative monarchy, reflected persistent practices in the ontology of Haitian cultural legitimacy. Haitian monarchy refracted symbols of Afro-power politics reflected a close paternalism of Haiti’s founders, and built upon idioms of black male aspirations.

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