Boyer, Jean-Pierre (1776–1850)

views updated

Boyer, Jean-Pierre (1776–1850)

Jean-Pierre Boyer (b. 1776; d. 9 July 1850), ruler of Haiti (1818–1843). The regime of Jean-Pierre Boyer marked a vital watershed in the development of Haitian government and society in the nineteenth century. Born in Port-au-Prince, Boyer began his career when he joined the revolutionary forces led by Pierre Dominique Toussaint L'ouverture that abolished slavery and freed Haiti from French colonial domination. In the power struggles dividing Haitians after independence, Boyer, himself a mulatto, sided with mulatto leader Alexandre Sabès Pétion and, in March 1818, succeeded Pétion as head of the Republic of the South. In 1821, after the death of his major rival in the North, Henri Christophe, Boyer unified the country. Under his auspices, Haiti began to consolidate its status as an independent nation. In 1822, out of fear of French plans for reprisal, Boyer sent his troops to the vulnerable eastern half of Hispaniola, which, with Boyer's encouragement, had recently declared its independence from Spain. He remained in control of the region for the remainder of his twenty-five-year reign. In 1825, Boyer obtained France's diplomatic recognition (by paying an indemnity of 150 million francs), an achievement that had eluded earlier leaders of the young nation and that marked the end of Haiti's status as an international pariah. Recognition from the British came in 1826, after which other countries followed suit.

Despite these successes on the international front, Boyer faced serious challenges at home. The most significant problem was trying to reconcile the needs and interests of two major sectors of the population: the mulatto elite and the black peasantry. During his early years in power, Boyer tried to win the loyalty of the peasantry through land distribution. This popular policy was started by Pétion and contributed to the predominance of small-scale, subsistence agriculture, especially in the South. Yet, Boyer also responded to the demands of mulatto landowners for a restoration of plantation agriculture. In May 1826, he implemented the Code Rural in an attempt to force peasants to work for the large estates. The code stipulated that all peasants were to contract themselves to an estate owner or be considered "vagabonds" liable to arrest and forced labor on public-works projects. It also provided for a rural police force to inspect plantations and keep order in the countryside. Yet, because of government laxness as well as lack of cooperation from some estate owners, it was impossible to enforce the code. Thus, Boyer witnessed the decline of Haiti's once-productive plantation system and the rise of subsistence farming as a way of life for most Haitians.

Boyer's regime also saw a hardening of social and class divisions based on skin color as well as property ownership. In general, government fell into the hands of the more educated, Westernized mulattoes while blacks dominated the military. This split helped undermine the success of Boyer's effort to entice free blacks from the United States to settle in Haiti. During the Boyer period, about 13,000 blacks arrived on the island with the hope of becoming property owners and living in a more egalitarian society; yet, due to problems created by language and cultural differences as well as mulatto social prejudice against blacks, little more than half that number stayed. The revolt of 27 January 1843 led to his exile on 13 March, first in Jamaica and later in Paris. In sum, Boyer not only brought about Haitian unity and consolidated his nation's claim to sovereignty but also oversaw the emergence of a society with color and class divisions that have continued to shape Haitian society and politics to this day.

See alsoHaiti .


James Graham Leyburn, The Haitian People (1968).

David Nicholls, From Dessalines to Duvalier: Race, Colour and National Independence in Haiti (1979).

Frank Moya Pons, "Haiti and Santo Domingo, 1790–ca. 1870," in The Cambridge History of Latin America, vol. 3, edited by Leslie Bethell (1985), pp. 237-275.

Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Haiti: State Against Nation (1990).

Additional Bibliography

Dubois, Laurent. Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2004.

Dubois, Laurent. A Colony of Citizens: Revolution and Slave Emancipation in the French Caribbean, 1787–1804. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

Geggus, David Patrick, ed. The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World. Columbia: University of South Carolina, 2001.

                                          Pamela Murray