The idea of universal rights is often understood as the product of
Europe, but as Laurent Dubois demonstrates, it was profoundly
shaped by the struggle over slavery and citizenship in the French
Caribbean. Dubois examines this Caribbean revolution by focusing on
Guadeloupe, where, in the early 1790s, insurgents on the island
fought for equality and freedom and formed alliances with besieged
Republicans. In 1794, slavery was abolished throughout the French
Empire, ushering in a new colonial order in which all people,
regardless of race, were entitled to the same rights.
But French administrators on the island combined emancipation
with new forms of coercion and racial exclusion, even as newly
freed slaves struggled for a fuller freedom. In 1802, the
experiment in emancipation was reversed and slavery was brutally
reestablished, though rebels in Saint-Domingue avoided the same
fate by defeating the French and creating an independent Haiti.
The political culture of republicanism, Dubois argues, was
transformed through this transcultural and transatlantic struggle
for liberty and citizenship. The slaves-turned-citizens of the
French Caribbean expanded the political possibilities of the
Enlightenment by giving new and radical content to the idea of
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