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Haiti Among the Foremost Civilized Nations of the Earth: An Address Delivered in Chicago, Illinois, on January 2, 1893



(Chicago, 1893), 46-57. Other texts in
Chicago , 3 January 1893; Milwaukee (Wisc.) , 14 January
1893; Speech File, reel 16, frames 636-45, 646-50, 651-56, FD Papers, DLC.

As Haiti’s official representative at Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition,
Douglass took “possession” of its pavilion when completed on 2 January
1893. Since the contractors finished the building earlier than expected, there
had been little time to arrange these ceremonies. As a consequence, Douglass
spoke before a small audience. Douglass accepted the pavilion from its
builders, and George R. Davis, the director general of the exposition, congrat-
ulated Haiti on the completion of its handsome building. When published in
the , the address attracted much favorable attention in
Haiti. Charles A. Preston to Douglass, 21 December 1892, 6 February 1893,
Douglass to Louis M. F. Hyppolite, 25 January 1893, Douglass to “M.
Ducasse,” 18 February 1893, General Correspondence File, reel 6, frames
756-58, reel 7, frames 28-32, 5-8, 45, FD Papers, DLC.


Ladies and Gentlemen:—The first part of my mission here to-day is to
speak a few words of this pavilion.1The government of Haiti had been among the first to plan for an exhibition site at the World‘s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The Haitians had a one-and-a-half-story building constructed of wood with a central dome and a broad veranda. The site was on a corner lot facing one of the major intersections in the portion of the exposition grounds set aside for foreign exhibits. Among its immediate neighbors were the pavilions of Germany, Sweden, and Poland. The Haitian building housed the offices of Douglass and other officials of that country at the world's fair as well as displays of the nation's agricultural products. , 3: 301 (March 1893); Stanley Applebaum, (New York, 1980), 75-83, 103. In taking possession of it and dedicat-
ing it to the important purposes for which it has been erected within the
grounds of the World’s Columbian Exposition,2On 1 May 1893, in Chicago, Illinois, President Grover Cleveland and numerous other dignitaries celebrated the opening of the World's Columbian Exposition, at Jackson Park along the Lake Michigan shore. The exposition was both a continuation of the tradition of world’s fairs begun in London in 1851 and a commemoration of the four-hundredth anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of the Americas. The culmination of two years of planning and construction, the exposition cost in excess of $31 million and boasted an attendance of 27.5 million visitors during its 179 days. In order to contain exhibits received from 49 nations, exposition officials constructed specially designed buildings, including the Horticultural Building, the Transportation Building, the Electrical Building, the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building, Women's Building, and numerous art galleries. In addition, many countries, states, and private companies constructed smaller exhibition buildings on or adjacent to the exposition grounds. , 3: 54-56 (May 1893), 3: 85-86 (June 1893); Robert W. Rydell, (Chicago, 1984), 38-71; , 836-40; , 812-27; , 760- 73. Mr. Charles A. Preston3Charles A. Preston, a Port-au-Prince native and the former secretary of the Haitian legation at Washington, D.C., served as a commissioner, along with Douglass, for the Haitian exhibit at the World's Columbian Exposition. Responsible for administrative and financial affairs, Preston corresponded with Douglass over a two-year period, keeping him informed of the project's development and conferring on important decisions. Douglass reported to Haitian President Louis M. F. Hyppolite that he had “full faith in his [Preston's] ability, industry, and fidelity." Preston to Douglass, 19 March, 15 June, 19 September, 21 December 1892, 28 January 1893, Douglass to Charles A. Preston, 4 June 1892, Douglass to Louis M. F. Hyppolite, General Correspondence File, reel 32, frames 208-10, reel 6, frames 548-49, 681-83, 756-58, reel 7, frame 117, reel 6, frame 528, reel 7, frames 5-8, FD Papers, DLC; Quarles, , 345.
and myself, as the Commissioners, appointed by the government of Haiti,
to represent that government in all that belongs to such a mission in connec-
tion with the Exposition, wish to express our satisfaction with the work
thus far completed. There have been times during the construction of this
pavilion, when we were very apprehensive that its completion might be
delayed to an inconvenient date. Solicitude on that point is now happily
ended. The building which was once a thought is now a fact and speaks for
itself. The vigor and punctuality of its builders are entitled to high praise.
They were ready to give us possession before we were ready to accept it.


That some pains have been taken to have this pavilion in keeping with
the place it occupies and to have it consistent with the character of the
young nation it represents, is manifest. It is also equally manifest that it has
been placed here at a considerable cost. The theory that the world was
made out of nothing does not apply here. Material itself, it has required
material aid to bring it into existence and to give it the character and
completeness it possesses. It could not have been begun or finished without
having behind it, the motive power of money, as well as the influence of an
enlightened mind and a liberal spirit. It is no disparagement to other pa-
triotic citizens of Haiti who have taken an interest in the subject of the
World’s Columbian Exposition, when I say, that we have found these
valuable and necessary qualities pre-eminently embodied in the President
of the Republic of Haiti. His Excellency General Hyppolite,4Louis Mondestin Florvil Hyppolite. has been the
supreme motive power and the main-spring by which this pavilion has
found a place in these magnificent grounds. The moment when his atten-
tion was called to the importance of having his country well represented in
this Exposition he comprehended the significance of the fact and has
faithfully and with all diligence endeavored to forward such measures as
were necessary to attain this grand result. It is an evidence not only of the
high intelligence of President Hyppolite, but also of the confidence re-
posed in his judgment by his country-men that this building has taken its
place here, amid the splendors and architectural wonders which have
sprung up here as if by magic to dazzle and astonish the world. 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 herself, 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 of our nineteenth century’s civilization. (Applause)

Though this pavilion is modest in its dimensions and unpretentious in
its architectural style and proportions, though it may not bear favorable


comparison with the buildings of the powerful nations by which it is
surrounded, I dare say, that it will not be counted in any sense unworthy of
the high place which it occupies or of the people whose interests it repre-
sents. The nations of the Old World can count their years by thousands,
their populations by millions and their wealth by mountains of gold. It was
not to be expected that Haiti with its limited territory, its slender population
and wealth could rival, or would try to rival here, the splendors created by
those older nations. and yet I will be allowed to say for her, that it was in her
power to have erected a building much larger and finer than the one we now
occupy. She has, however, wisely chosen to put no strain upon her re-
sources and has been perfectly satisfied to erect an edifice, admirably
adapted to its uses and entirely respectable in its appearance. In this she has
shown her good taste not less than her good sense. (Applause)

For ourselves as Commissioners under whose supervision and direc-
tion this pavilion has been erected, I may say, that we feel sure that Haiti
will heartily approve our work and that no citizen of that country who shall
visit the World’s Columbian Exposition will be ashamed of its appearance,
or will fail to look upon it and contemplate it with satisfied complacency.
Its internal appointments are consistent with its external appearance. They
bear the evidence of proper and thoughtful consideration for the taste,
comfort and convenience of visitors, as well as for the appropriate display
of the productions of the country which shall be here exhibited. Happy in
these respects it is equally happy in another, its location and situation are
desirable. It is not a candle put under a bushel,5Douglass adapts Matt. 5: 15. Mark 4: 21, and Luke 11: 33. but a city set upon a hill.6A paraphrase of Matt. 5: 14.
(Applause) For this we cannot too much commend the liberality of the
honorable commissioners and managers of these grounds. They might have
easily consulted the customs and prejudices unhappily existing in certain
parts of our country, and relegated our little pavilion to an obscure and
undesirable corner, but they have acted in the spirit of human brotherhood,
and in harmony with the grand idea underlying this Exposition.

They have given us one of the very best sites which could have been
selected. We cannot complain either of obscurity or isolation. We are
situated upon one of the finest avenues of these grounds, standing upon our
verandah we may view one of the largest of our inland seas,7Lake Michigan is the largest lake entirely within the borders of the United States, encompassing an area of approximately twenty thousand square miles. , 1: 1408. we may inhale
its pure and refreshing breezes, we can contemplate its tranquil beauty in its


calm and its awful sublimity and power when its crested billows are swept
by the storm. The neighboring pavilions which surround us are the works
and exponents of the wealth and genius of the greatest nations on the earth.
Here upon this grand highway thus located, thus elevated and thus sur-
rounded, our unpretentious pavilion will be sure to attract the attention of
multitudes from all the civilized countries on the globe, and no one of all of
them who shall know the remarkable and thrilling events in the history
of the brave pe0ple here represented, will view it with other than sympathy,
respect and esteem. (Applause)

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,8There is no evidence that other pavilions and exhibits at the exposition observed this prohibition. In fact, one exhibit, the Old Times Distillery, won first prize and considerable popularity for its whiskey. Douglass’s involvement in the temperance movement and personal abstinence from alcoholic beverages might be reasons why he believed such a restriction proper. , 3: 213 (October 1893). 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. (Applause)
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. (Applause) It is pro-
posed that this generous spirit of Haiti shall pervade and characterize this
pavilion during all the days that Haiti shall be represented upon these ample

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 Haiti9Although Toussaint L'Ouverture declared Haiti independent of all foreign powers in 1801, it was not until January 1804, following the defeat of Napoleon's French troops, that Jean-Jacques Dessalines, commander-in-chief of the rebellious black population, and a convention of generals proclaimed the independence of Haiti from France. At the time of Douglass's speech, Haiti had been independent for eighty-nine years. Davis, , 55-57, 87-96; Heinl and Heinl, , 692. and it would be an unpardonable


omission not to remember it with all honor, at this time and in this
place. (Applause)

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 train-
ing; 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 remark-
able 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 it 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. (Applause) Our war of the Revolution had a
thousand years of civilization behind it. The men who led it were de-
scended from statesmen 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. (Ap-
plause.) 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 (applause); 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. (Applause) 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 invad-
ers sent from France by Bonaparte10Emperor Napoleon I. with the purpose to enslave them; but
impartial history records the fact, that every act of blood and torture com-
mitted by the Haitians during the 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. (Applause)

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 his enemies, and less
disposed to practice retaliation for acts of cruelty than General Toussaint
L’Ouverture. (Prolonged Applause.) His motto from the beginning of the
war to the end of his participation in it, was protection to the white colonists
and no retaliation of injuries.11Countless cases of atrocities and bloody retaliation by whites against blacks and blacks against whites occurred during the Haitian Revolution (1789-1804). In the decade of turmoil following the start of the French Revolution in 1789, the white population of the colony of Saint-Domingue had been reduced to a few thousand inhabiting the principal cities. Douglass probably alludes to the policies of Toussaint L'Ouvenure during the short period of his control of Haiti (1797-1801). Recognizing the value of experienced white planters in the revival of the Haitian economy, Toussaint promised protection to those who returned to their estates. In October 1801, Toussaint acted ruthlessly to suppress an uprising of black soldiers and plantation workers against this new economic order, an uprising that had killed hundreds of white planters and their families. In the final phase of warfare after Toussaint‘s exile in 1802, the French executed tens of thousands of Haitians while black military leaders such as Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe sought to exterminate the last of the white presence in the country. Thomas O. Ott, (Knoxville, Tenn., 1973), 130-31, 148-50, 173-78; Davis, , 51; Heinl and Heinl, , 77, 85, 90, 95. (Applause) No man in the island had been
more loyal to France, to the French Republic and to Bonaparte; but when he
was compelled to believe that 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 this
infernal intention by preparing for defence. (Applause)

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 coun-
try.12On 14 December 1801, French Emperor Napoleon I launched a fleet of fifty-four ships from Brest, Lorient, and Le Havre, France, in an attempt to subdue the Haitian rebel forces led by Toussaint L'Ouvenure. Captain General Victor-Emmanuel Leclerc, brother-in-law of Napoleon, commanded the expedition's nearly thirty thousand French troops, many of whom were veterans of the French Army of the Rhine. As the French fleet sailed into Samana Bay on the northeast coast of the present-day Dominican Republic on 29 January 1802. Toussaint stood and watched from a nearby hillside. Ott, , 146-48, 151; Davis, , 61; Heinl and Heinl, , 101-02; , 1: 380, 2: 1958.

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

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.13Douglass alludes to the efforts by Spain to subdue the Dutch Revolt in the sixteenth century. Was it 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 dif-
ference 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. (Applause)

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 blood-
hounds from Cuba to hunt down and devour women and children;14In 1803, General Donatien-Marie-Joseph de Vimeur Rochambcau, successor of Victor-Emmanuel Leclerc as commander of French forces in Haiti, imported hundreds of dogs from Cuba and instructed his subordinates to feed the hungry animals the flesh of black rebels. Sources dispute whether the French succeeded in training Rochambeau’s dogs to kill and devour blacks. Heinl and Heinl,
, 114-15; Ott, , 179.
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. (Applause)

When Bonaparte had done his worst and the bones of his unfortunate
soldiers whitened upon a soil made rich with patriot blood, and the shat-
tered 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 Conti-
nent, is a re-affirmation of her existence and independence as a nation, and
of her place among the sisterhood of nations. (Applause)


Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895


January 2, 1893


Yale University Press 1992



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