Noam Maggor in the European Review of Books:
Saint Domingue was the crown jewel of the French empire in the Caribbean when its slaves rebelled in 1791. They formed the independent republic of Haiti in 1804, but the terms of the island’s separation from France was contested long thereafter, and French reconquest loomed. In 1825, in order to secure their sovereignty, the Haitians were forced (in the words of Charles X’s decree) « to compensate the former colonists who may claim an indemnity » for the human property that had been lost. The total sum of these reparations was 150 million golden francs, which the new Caribbean nation funded through a massive loan, paid back slowly over decades. Generations of Haitians – deep into the twentieth century – contributed a significant portion of their livelihood to support the descendants of those who had kidnapped their ancestors from Africa in the hundreds of thousands and forced them to labor under genocidal conditions.
The French aristocrat and intellectual Alexis De Tocqueville is best remembered for his prophetic insights into American democracy, but in 1843 he turned his attention to Haiti. When the indemnity arrangement was again debated in France, Tocqueville declared his unqualified support for the deal, calling it « fair to all participating parties. » Not only would it compensate slaveholders for their lost property, he argued, and restore the social order that had been badly undermined by the rebellion.