Malick Ghachem‘s recent book The Old Regime and the Haitian Revolution (Cambridge University Press, 2012) takes a long look at Haiti’s colonial history on...

Malick Ghachem‘s recent book The Old Regime and the Haitian Revolution (Cambridge University Press, 2012) takes a long look at Haiti’s colonial history on the legal questions around slavery. In particular, he traces the implementation of the Code Noir, France’s earliest attempt to impose a legal structure on its American colonies’ plantation system. Over the course of the eighteenth century, the Code ostensibly regulated how masters and slaves related to one another. Provisions in the Code sought to keep a strong colonial economy going, which meant limiting how much control an owner had over enslaved people. This produced areas of tension between imperial officials wanting to rein in abuse, and planters desire for total control over their laborers. At the same time, it created a legal consciousness for enslaved people who would eventually use the terms of the Code Noir in their insurgency turned revolution. Ghachem’s account adds rich complexity to our understanding of why the Haitian Revolution occurred. Rather than see it as a novel burst of enslaved action, Ghachem shows how the Revolution was part of a much longer tradition, anchored in the laws of slavery.

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