"I Have Been Confided in by the Pope to Save Hayti, If I Can": Sovereignty, Diplomacy, and Religious Dominion in the Aftermath of Revolution

Friday, January 4, 2019: 10:50 AM
Spire Parlor (Palmer House Hilton)
Julia Gaffield, Georgia State University
The Haitian Declaration of Independence signaled the end of the Haitian Revolution, but this ending was also the beginning of a new array of challenges for Haiti. International recognition took various forms, what I call “layers of recognition,” and Haitian leaders, in addition to diplomatic and economic recognition, worked to secure religious recognition from the Vatican by establishing Roman Catholicism as the state religion. Between 1804 and 1860 the Papacy grappled with questions of sovereignty, the diplomatic implications of religious recognition and non-recognition, and the impact of changing policies on local populations. During this period, representatives from the Vatican engaged in negotiations with the Haitian state in the 1830s, 1842, 1855, and then finally in 1859-60. Haiti was the first of the new American states to proclaim Roman Catholicism as the state religion, but the debates regarding religious dominion in Haiti were part of a much larger conversation between civil and religious authorities concerning jurisdiction and the Catholic hierarchy. The negotiations regarding Haiti’s post-Declaration of Independence status is based on a massive documentary record in Rome and Vatican City. This includes sources produced by Haitians such as letters from officials, newspapers, reports relating to internal and international events, and laws and constitutions. Additionally, Vatican officials and local clergy wrote letters and reports in which they summarized their interpretation of the status of religion in the country as well as the possibilities, limitations, and implications of establishing or not establishing “normal” relations with Haiti.