DECLARATION: The Commander in Chief, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, to the People of Hayti, Gonaives, January 1, 1804



Image courtesy of The Fowler Museum

A round-up of The Black Agenda Review’s posts from 2022 – and a reprint of Haiti’s January 1, 1804 declaration of independence.

The first edition of The Black Agenda Review appeared on 2 December 2020.  Its mission was, and is, to serve as a weekly political-education supplement of the Black Agenda Report. The Review has attempted to take on a longer historical, and more explicitly pedagogical, perspective than the Black Agenda Report. It revisits and reprints from the historical archive of books, statements, speeches, and manifestos of Pan-African, Black internationalist, anti-capitalist, and anti-imperialist thought and struggle. Since the publication of our initial manifesto of first principles, The Black Agenda Review has reprinted more than one hundred items, fifty in the past year alone. Each reprint is introduced by a contextual essay. A review of 2022 gives one a sense of the scale and scope of the project, and of the breadth and depth of pan-African thought.

Over the past year, The Black Agenda Review reprinted documents by the imperial and colonial authorities – and statements by anti-imperial and anti-colonial organizations and institutions. In the former category, we published the well-known 1833 act to emancipate England’s enslaved Africans (and to compensate their former owners) and the little-known 1890 Brussels Act providing Europeans with the legal and humanitarian justification for the colonization of Africa. We unearthed a 1958 NATO white paper outlining their plans to break Afro-Asian solidarity and counter communist-nationalist alliances, and we published a declassified CIA document outlining their strategies for covert action in Angola in the 1970s. We also reprinted the prologue to one of the most important, but perhaps least understood statements of contemporary imperial policy:  2022’s United States Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability.

From the anti-imperialist archive, we reprinted José Martí’s account of the 1889 Pan-American Congress and US hegemony in the Americas. W.E.B. Du Bois’ 1917 polemic on war and whiteness appeared on The Black Agenda Review, as did Langston Hughes’ 1933 anti-war statement, Negroes Speak of War. George Padmore made two appearances; we reprinted the chapter “Black Soldiers of Imperialism,” from his classic Life and Struggles and Negro Toilers, and his essay on Black resistance to British rule in East Africa. We posted the 1961 All-African People’s Conference’s resolution on necolonialism and Kwame Nkrumah’s speech from the same year on the international white supremacist cabal responsible for the assassination of Patrice Lumumba and the crisis of the Congo. James Boggs’ analysis of the decline of the United States empire was reprinted, as was an excerpt from Pentagonism, Juan Bosch’s study of the political economy of US militarism. We re-published Thomas Sankara’s 1984 address to the United Nations General Assembly on the Burkina Faso revolution and Oyèrónkẹ́ Oyěwùmí’s 2021 speech the role of racist and sexist hierarchy in the organization and production of knowledge of Africa. We also returned to Glen Ford’s startlingly prescient 2014 Black Agenda Report article, “U.S. Prepares to Gas Russia Into Submission.”

The Black Agenda Review also drew on the great history of radical, Black manifestos: Harold Moody and the League of Colored Peoples’s Africa in the Post-War World: Manifesto for Presentation to the United Nations Conference, San Francisco, April 1945. The radical blueprint for African self-determination of the Pan African Congress of Azania’s 1959 Manifesto. The comprehensive program for Black politics outlined in 1972’s Gary Declaration: Black Politics at the Crossroads. The 1985 Nairobi Manifesto, a powerful warning on a world in crisis, collectively written by African women. The 2001 Dakar Manifesto demanding the total and unconditional cancellation of Africa’s odious debts. And, from 2020, The Anti-Racist Manifesto of Puerto Rico’s Colectiva Feminista en Construcción (La Cole) outlining a radical solution to capitalism, colonialism, and climate change.

The politics of class in the global African community emerged as an urgent and recurrent theme with The Black Agenda Review. On the hand, we reprinted work on the nature of the Black elite and the Black misleadership class including an excerpt from E. Franklin Frazier scathing Black Bourgeoisie; Imamu Amiri Baraka on the role of Black power-brokers in the expansion of US imperialism, and Glen Ford on the self-congratulatory elitism of the misleaders of Black Lives Matter. On the other hand, we returned to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. March 18, 1968 speech “All Labor Has Dignity” and a 1969 interview with John Watson of Detroit’s League of Revolutionary Black Workers, with their demonstration of the radical genius and hope of Black labor.

A number of posts examined the history and strategy of Black organizing and resistance. These included a May Day 1928 essay by Black communist Williana “Liana” Jones Burroughs – aka Mary Adams – on the  history of African revolt in the Americas and a Malcolm X speech reminding us that Black revolution is part of the world-wide struggle. We reprinted an editorial by the late Charlene Mitchell calling for a coalition to fight political repression, a Jack O’Dell’s interview with Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer on life and organizing in Mississippi and beyond, and Rhoda Reddock’s concise history of women’s organization in the Caribbean. We republished a 1980 editorial Black struggles against whitesupremacist violence in Buffalo, New York and, from the same year, Pat Parker’s speech on anti-imperialism and revolution, given at the ¡Basta! Women's Conference On Imperialism And Third World War. Beverly Smith’s important essay on Black women and the struggle for abortion rights appeared in The Black Agenda Review, as did The late Jayne Cortez’s poem “There it is” and its urgent demand to fight, resist, organize, and unify to seize power.

During Black August, we reprinted an account of the massacre at Attica published in the The Black Panther Intercommunal News Service, Assata Shakur’s expose of the conditions faced by incarcerated Black women, and a William L. Patterson essay on racial genocide, the law, and the Martinsville Seven. These texts added to previous years on Black August, including the Attica Liberation Faction Manifesto of Demands and Anti-Depression Platform and two statements on the origins of Black August written by San Quentin inmates.

Of course, Haiti has had a steady, galvanizing presence in The Black Agenda Review. In 2021, we re-printed Dantès Bellegarde’s 1927 editorial on the US occupation and Cyril Briggs’ 1929 essay on Toussaint L’Ouverture and the Haitian Revolution. With the threat of violence and deportations towards Haitians in the Dominican Republic emerged, we posted eyewitness testimonies to the 1937 Parsley Massacre and Ernesto Ernesto Sagás’s essay on anti-Haitianismo in the Dominican Republic. In light of Haiti’s ongoing crisis of imperialism, we turned to the late Jamaican journalist John Maxwell on imperialism, underdevelopment, and the foreign love affair with Haiti’s misery – and Jeb Sprague’s essay on the convergence of labor politics, neoliberal policy, and imperial malfeasance in the 2004 coup. These add to previous posts on Haiti, including Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s “Ten Commandments of Democracy in Haiti,” from  September 25, 1991, and Jean Jacques Dessalines’s 8 April 1804 proclamation, “Liberty or death”– one of the most radical declarations of Black freedom in history.

To mark the new year, to celebrate Haiti’s independence, and to help us gear up for another year of struggle, we reprint below Jean Jacques Dessalines’ January 1, 1804 message to the Haitian people.

Peter James Hudson

Jemima Pierre

Editors, The Black Agenda Review


The Commander in Chief, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, to the People of Hayti, Gonaives, January 1, 1804


It is not enough to have expelled the barbarians who have bloodied our land for two centuries; it is not enough to have restrained those ever-evolving factions that one after another mocked the specter of liberty that France dangled before you. We must, with one last act of national authority, forever assure the empire of liberty in the country of our birth; we must take any hope of re-enslaving us away from the inhuman government that for so long kept us in the most humiliating torpor. In the end we must live independent or die.

Independence or death… let these sacred words unite us and be the signal of battle and of our reunion.

Citizens, my countrymen, on this solemn day I have brought together those courageous soldiers who, as liberty lay dying, spilled their blood to save it; these generals who have guided your efforts against tyranny have not yet done enough for your happiness; the French name still haunts our land.

Everything revives the memories of the cruelties of this barbarous people: our laws, our habits, our towns, everything still carries the stamp of the French. Indeed! There are still French in our island, and you believe yourself free and independent of that Republic which, it is true, has fought all the nations, but which has never defeated those who wanted to be free.

What! Victims of our [own] credulity and indulgence for 14 years; defeated not by French armies, but by the pathetic eloquence of their agents’ proclamations; when will we tire of breathing the air that they breathe? What do we have in common with this nation of executioners? The difference between its cruelty and our patient moderation, its color and ours the great seas that separate us, our avenging climate, all tell us plainly that they are not our brothers, that they never will be, and that if they find refuge among us, they will plot again to trouble and divide us.

Native citizens, men, women, girls, and children, let your gaze extend on all parts of this island: look there for your spouses, your husbands, your brothers, your sisters. Indeed! Look there for your children, your suckling infants, what have they become?… I shudder to say it … the prey of these vultures.

Instead of these dear victims, your alarmed gaze will see only their assassins, these tigers still dripping with their blood, whose terrible presence indicts your lack of feeling and your guilty slowness in avenging them. What are you waiting for before appeasing their spirits? Remember that you had wanted your remains to rest next to those of your fathers, after you defeated tyranny; will you descend into their tombs without having avenged them? No! Their bones would reject yours.

And you, precious men, intrepid generals, who, without concern for your own pain, have revived liberty by shedding all your blood, know that you have done nothing if you do not give the nations a terrible, but just example of the vengeance that must be wrought by a people proud to have recovered its liberty and jealous to maintain it let us frighten all those who would dare try to take it from us again; let us begin with the French. Let them tremble when they approach our coast, if not from the memory of those cruelties they perpetrated here, then from the terrible resolution that we will have made to put to death anyone born French whose profane foot soils the land of liberty.

We have dared to be free, let us be thus by ourselves and for ourselves. Let us imitate the grown child: his own weight breaks the boundary that has become an obstacle to him. What people fought for us? What people wanted to gather the fruits of our labor? And what dishonorable absurdity to conquer in order to be enslaved. Enslaved?… Let us leave this description for the French; they have conquered but are no longer free.

Let us walk down another path; let us imitate those people who, extending their concern into the future, and dreading to leave an example of cowardice for posterity, preferred to be exterminated rather than lose their place as one of the world’s free peoples.

Let us ensure, however, that a missionary spirit does not destroy our work; let us allow our neighbors to breathe in peace; may they live quietly under the laws that they have made for themselves, and let us not, as revolutionary firebrands, declare ourselves the lawgivers of the Caribbean, nor let our glory consist in troubling the peace of the neighboring islands. Unlike that which we inhabit, theirs has not been drenched in the innocent blood of its inhabitants; they have no vengeance to claim from the authority that protects them.

Fortunate to have never known the ideals that have destroyed us, they can only have good wishes for our prosperity.

Peace to our neighbors; but let this be our cry: “Anathama to the French name! Eternal hatred of France!”

Natives of Haiti! My happy fate was to be one day the sentinel who would watch over the idol to which you sacrifice; I have watched, sometimes fighting alone, and if I have been so fortunate as to return to your hands the sacred trust you confided to me, know that it is now your task to preserve it. In fighting for your liberty, I was working for my own happiness. Before consolidating it with laws that will guarantee your free individuality, your leaders, who I have assembled here, and I, owe you the final proof of our devotion.

Generals and you, leaders, collected here close to me for the good of our land, the day has come, the day which must make our glory, our independence, eternal.

If there could exist am The Commander in Chief to the People of Haiti among us a lukewarm heart, let him distance himself and tremble to take the oath which must unite us. Let us vow to ourselves, to posterity, to the entire universe, to forever renounce France, and to die rather than live under its domination; to fight until our last breath for the independence of our country.

And you, a people so long without good fortune, witness to the oath we take, remember that I counted on your constancy and courage when I threw myself into the career of liberty to fight the despotism and tyranny you had struggled against for 14 years. Remember that I sacrificed everything to rally to your defense; family, children, fortune, and now I am rich only with your liberty; my name has become a horror to all those who want slavery. Despots and tyrants curse the day that I was born. If ever you refused or grumbled while receiving those laws that the spirit guarding your fate dictates to me for your own good, you would deserve the fate of an ungrateful people. But I reject that awful idea; you will sustain the liberty that you cherish and support the leader who commands you. Therefore vow before me to live free and independent, and to prefer death to anything that will try to place you back in chains. Swear, finally, to pursue forever the traitors and enemies of your independence.

Done at the headquarters of Gonaives, the first day of January 1804, the first year of independence.

The Deed of Independence

Native Army

Today, January 1st 1804, the general in chief of the native army, accompanied by the generals of the army, assembled in order to take measures that will insure the good of the country;

After having told the assembled generals his true intentions, to assure forever a stable government for the natives of Haiti, the object of his greatest concern, which he has accomplished in a speech which declares to foreign powers the decision to make the country independent, and to enjoy a liberty consecrated by the blood of the people of this island; and after having gathered their responses has asked that each of the assembled generals take a vow to forever renounce France, to die rather than live under its domination, and to fight for independence until their last breath.

The generals, deeply moved by these sacred principles, after voting their unanimous attachment to the declared project of independence, have all sworn to posterity, to the universe, to forever renounce France, and to die rather than to live under its domination.

Signed: Dessalines, Christophe, Petion, Geffard, Vernet, Gabart, et al.

Source: Jean-Jacques Dessalines to the People of Hayti, January 1, 1804, translated by Laurent Dubois and John Garrigus and published in Slave Revolution in the Caribbean 1789 – 1804: A Brief History with Documents and Duke Today. Original in the National Archives UK.

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