The Caribbean slave revolution story tells an essential part of American history that configured the political landscape in the United States significantly. Studies on the slave revolution focus mainly on the factors that drove the decision to change the status quo among the slaves, the leaders of the slave revolution and the outcomes of the practices associated with the revolution. Across many different literatures, there are different perspectives shared on the history of slavery, as well as on the slave revolution in the Caribbean. Accordingly, it is deductible that the perception of different authors about violence is different, and communicates differently about the authors. One common perception is concerning the use of violence by the enslaved, on which diverse opinions prevail. Comparing different authors’ perspectives on slavery and on violence can help to identify diverse issues on slavery and come to a personal conclusion of the relevance of violence to the slave revolution.
In an article commenting on the play “Black slavery”, De Gouges describes the violent nature of men claiming that even in the most enlightened period, men still have the intention to hurt others, going against the August law that states that all men are brothers. From this statement alone, the author’s perspective of slavery as wrong from all points of view is clear. Men should be looking out for one another, and not aiming at destroying others. The thought that the enslaved would try to pay back the wrongs done to them by the slave masters through violence is frowned upon. De Gouges highlights the her rationale for denouncing the use of violence by the enslaved, with emphasis on its inhumanity and the principle that even among the seemingly violent slave masters, there were good individuals who suffered as much as their violent counterparts during the comeback by the enslaved.
According to De Gouges, violence is a reflection of the barbaric part of human beings and should be implored under no circumstances (2). The implication of this statement is that while the slave masters may have used violence on the slaves, the slaves were unjustified to use violence in retaliation. Second to that, the slave revolution should not have been used as an avenue to punish the slave masters since the initial perceptions of slavery were born in the native countries of the slaves, in which men were hunted as animals and the slaves were sold off by their kin (De Gouges 2-3). This means that as much as the slave masters were also to be blamed for their violent behaviors, they should not be held entirely responsible for the inhumane way in which the slaves were treated. While the initial suggestion that the use of violence was unjustified on account of the August law was acceptable, the consideration of violence as evil on the premise that the initial perpetrators were the kin of the enslaved is tantamount to rejecting reliability on the side of the slave masters and thus unjustified.
Contrary to the perception that violence is wrong and does not communicate the expected human behavior, Marat points out the importance of human autonomy as a premise for the Caribbean slave revolution (1). According to Marat, simple common sense justifies the basis of all free government as the decision to be self-ruling and self regulating (1). No people should be subject to any authority other than that which it chooses over itself; no people should be ruled based on laws beyond those it sets for itself; and that there should be no regulation that subjects people to the supremacy of others beyond its jurisdictions. This assertion implies that whatever situation a community or group of people finds itself in, the objective should always be to strive towards independence. As such, Marat points out the need to become not only free citizens but also to accept any methods used by the enslaved to become free citizens (2). From this second perspective, Marat concludes that any people considering its jurisdiction and independence to be at jeopardy should be able to use any means disposable to them to gain freedom; including not only violence but also the massacre of its detractors (2). Accordingly, it can be deduced from Marat’s arguments that he supports the use of violence by the enslaved, whoever they are.
While both De Gouges (1-3) and Marat (1-2) provide their opinions on the use of violence by the enslaved, Clarkson recognizes the oppression with which the slaves have been treated without particularly mentioning his stand on the use of violence (101-103). Accordingly, his position recognizes the role that slaves have played in the capitalist economy of the Caribbean as well as the factors motivating the slave revolution. From Clarkson, it is clear that the slave revolution was driven by the oppression from the slave owners and the willingness to be free (102). However, far from recognizing the need for the slave masters to stop using oppression and to possibly stop slavery, Clarkson emphasizes the need to continue the oppression, to foster allegiance given that the slaves feel no obligation to serve their owners. The implication that can be drawn from Clarkson’s arguments is that while the slave masters are allowed to use violence and even compound it more to get what they want even to their posterity, the slaves are not allowed to use violence to get what they need.
A comparison of the three articles shows a unified recognition of the oppression committed by the slave masters against the slaves. Each of the three authors recognizes the effects of the said oppression on the enslaved and the reactions of the slaves towards it. However, the three diverge on their opinion about the use of violence by the slaves, with Marat recognizing the need for the enslaved to use any means available to them, including violence, to gain their freedom. The other two authors cite different arguments against the use of violence.
From a comparison of the three articles, it is clear that all the authors recognize the implications of slave oppression on the slave revolution and consider it as the main causative factor of the revolution. However, there are different perspectives on the use of violence by the oppressed. While Marat recognizes the need for the enslaved to use violence to free themselves, both De Gouges and Clarkson dissuade the use of violence by the enslaved. De Gouges holds the opinion that the use of violence by the slaves would make them no different from the slave masters, and that the first group to be punished through violence should have been the ancestors of the enslaved, who sold them into slavery without consideration of humanity, and from whose countries men are hunted like animals. Clarkson on the other hand, argues that the slaves should not be given an opportunity to gain freedom through violence but rather, the oppression should be magnified to dissuade them from the revolution. While De Gouge’s argument seems plausible and humane, Clarkson’s argument is most oppressive and inhumane as it is based on selfish intentions to keep others enslaved as the oppressors attempt to create value for their posterity.
Clarkson, Thomas. “The True State of the Case, Respecting the Insurrection at St. Domingo.” Law of April 4, (1792), pp. 101-103.
De Gouges, Olympe. “Preface to The Slavery of the Blacks.” 1792.
Marat, Jean-Paul. “From The Friend of the People.” 1792.