PROCLAMATION OF HAITI’S INDEPENDENCE BY THE GENERAL IN CHIEF, Jean Jacques Dessalines to the Haitian people in Gonaives, on January 1st 1804, year first of Haiti’s independence
Source: Translated from French into English by Noe Dorestant, E.E., Geocities.com)
“Live free or die!”
It is not enough to have expelled from your country the barbarians who have bloodied it for two centuries; it is not enough to have put a brake to these ever reviving factions which take turns to play-act this liberty, like ghost that France had exposed before your eyes; it is necessary, by a last act of national authority, assure forever an empire of liberty in this country our birth place; we must take away from this inhumane government, which held for so long our spirits in the most humiliating torpor, all hope to resubjugate us; we must at last live independent or die.
Independence or death… May these sacred words bring us together, and may they be the signal of our struggles and of our gathering.
Citizens, my compatriots, I have gathered in this solemn day these courageous servicemen, who on the eve of harvesting the last crotchets rest of liberty, have given their blood to save it; these generals who led your efforts against tyranny, have not yet done enough for your well being…The french name still glooms our countryside.
All is there to remind us of the atrocities of this barbarian people: our laws, our customs, our cities, all bear the french imprint; what do I say? There are French in our island, and you believe yourself to be free and independent of that republic which fought all nations, it is true, but who has never been victorious over those who wished to be free.
Well what! victims for over fourteen years of our own credulity and our own indulgence; defeated, not by the french armies, but by the shamefaced eloquence of the proclamation of their agents; when will we get tired of breathing the same air than them? Its cruelty compared to our moderated patience; its color to our; the vast seas that keep us apart, our avenging climate, tell us enough that they are not our brothers, and that they will never become and that, if they find asylum amongst us, they will be once more the schemers of our troubles and our divisions.
Indigenous citizens, men, women, girls and children, bear your regards on all the parts of this island; look for, yourself, your spouses, your husbands, yourself, your brothers, you, your sisters; what do I say? Look for your children, your children, those that are being breast fed! What have they become?…I tremble to say it… the prey of these vultures.
Instead of these interesting victims, your eye dismayed can only perceive their assassins; may the tigers that are still dripping their blood, and whose horrible presence reproach your insensibility and your slowness to avenge them. What are you waiting for to appease their souls? Remember that you have wished that your remains be buried near the remains of your fathers, when you had chased away tyranny; would you go down to your tomb without avenging them? No, their skeleton would push away yours.
And you, precious men, intrepid generals, whose lack of insensibility to your own misfortunes, have resurrected liberty by giving it all your blood; you should know that you have done nothing if you do not give to the nations a terrible example, but just, of the avenge that must exercise a proud people who have recovered their liberty, and jealous to maintain it; let us instill fear in all those whom would dare try to take it away from us again; let us begin with the French… May they tremble when they approach our coasts, if not by the memory of the cruelty that they have inflicted, at least by the terrible resolution that we are about to take to devote to death, anyone born french, who would dirty of his sacrilegious foot the territory of liberty.
We dared to be free, let us dare to be so by ourselves and for ourselves, let us emulate the growing child: his own weight breaks the edge that has become useless and hamper its walk. What nation has fought for us? What nation would like to harvest the fruits of our labors? And what dishonorable absurdity than to vanquish and be slaves. Slaves! Leave it to the French this qualifying epithet: they have vanquished to cease to be free.
Let us walk on other footprints; let us imitate these nations whom, carrying their solicitude until they arrive on a prospect, and dreading to leave to posterity the example of cowardliness, have preferred to be exterminated rather than to be crossed out from the number of free peoples.
Let us be on guard however so that the spirit of proselytism does not destroy our work; let our neighbors breath in peace, may they live in peace under the empire of the laws that they have legislated themselves, and let us not go, like spark fire revolutionaries, erecting ourselves as legislators of the Caribbean, to make good of our glory by troubling the peace of neighboring islands: they have never, like the one that we live in, been soaked of the innocent blood of their inhabitants; they have no vengeance to exercise against the authority that protects them.
Fortunate to have never known the plagues which have destroyed us, they can only make good wishes for our prosperity. Peace to our neighbors! but anathema to the french name! Eternal hate to France! That is our cry.
Indigenous of Haiti, my fortunate destiny reserved me to be one day the sentinel who had to watch guard the idol to which you are making your sacrifice, I have watched, fought, sometimes alone, and, If I have been fortunate to deliver in your hands the sacred trust that you had under my care, remember that it is up to you now to conserve it. Before you consolidate it by laws which assure your individual liberty, your leaders, which I assemble here, and myself, we owe you the last proof of our devotion.
Generals, and you, leaders, reunited here near me for the well being of our country, the day has come, this day which must make eternal our glory, our independence.
If there could exist amongst you a half-hearted, may he distance himself and tremble to pronounce the oath that must unite us.
Let us swear to the entire universe, to posterity, to ourselves, to renounce forever to France, and to die rather than to live under its domination.
To fight until the last crotchet rest for the independence of our country!
And you, people for too long misfortuned, witness to the oath that we are pronouncing, remind yourself that it is on your perseverance and your courage that I depended on when I threw myself in this career for liberty in order to fight against despotism and tyranny against which you struggled since fourteen years. Remind yourself that I sacrificed myself to jump to your defense, parents, children, fortune, and that now I am only rich of your liberty; that my name has become in horror to all nations who wish for slavery, and that the despots and tyrants do not pronounce it only while cursing the day that saw me born; and if for whatever reason you refused or received while murmuring the laws that the genius which watch over your destiny will dictate me for your good fortune, you would deserve the fate of ungrateful peoples.
But away from me this horrible idea. You will be the support of the liberty that you cherish, the support to the chief which command you.
Take then in your hands this oath to live free and independent, and to prefer death to all those who would love to put you back under the yoke.
Swear at last to pursue forever the traitors and the enemies of your independence.
Done at the general headquarter of Gonaives, this January 1st 1804, the first year of Independence.
Words of General in Chief:
Jean Jacques Dessalines, hero of the Haitian war of Independence.