The language of a decree outlining the conditions of slavery in 17th-century France actually gave Haitian revolutionaries a way to legitimize their claims for freedom through clauses in the law, according to University of Maine law professor Malick Ghachem.
Ghachem discussed the effects of colonial law on the Haitian Revolution in a lecture Monday night. Supporting his latest book, The Old Regime and the Haitian Revolution, Ghachem detailed the rise and fall of slavery and slave societies through the lens of law.
“[The Haitian Revolution] is an example of people using what is available to them under the oppressive society…and a unique example of the use of the technical law of slavery [in abolition],” Ghachem said.
Yet, this specific legacy of the Haitian Revolution is in many ways echoed in the history of many former slave societies throughout the New World. Ghachem pointed out similarities between the slave histories of Haiti and America. The Federalist papers used language similar to that of the Code Noir, the decree issued by King Louis XIV, on the question of slave rights. However, the story of abolition in the United States took a different route.
“I think this story shows just how up-for-grabs the story of slavery and abolition is. What does abolition mean? Is it the end of slavery or the end of working on the plantation?” Ghachem said.
The event took place in the Classics building and was co-sponsored by the History Department, the France Chicago Center, and the Latin American History Workshop.