Alexandre Sabès Pétion
(April 2, 1770 –
March 29, 1818) was
President of the southern Republic of Haiti from 1806
until his death.
He is considered as one of Haiti's founding
fathers, together with Toussaint
, and his rival Henri
born in Port-au-Prince to a Haitian mother and a wealthy French white father. Like other
gens de couleur libre with
wealthy fathers, Pétion was sent to France in 1788 to
be educated and study at the Military Academy in Paris.
Saint-Domingue, many gens de couleur, often freed by their fathers,
constituted a third caste between the whites and enslaved Africans.
While restricted in political rights, many became educated and
wealthy landowners, resented by the petits blancs
were minor tradesmen. Before the slave uprising of 1791, they led a
rebellion to gain voting and political rights they believed due
them as French citizens after the French Revolution. At that time
most did not support freedom or political rights for enslaved
Africans and blacks.
Years of Haitian Revolution
Pétion returned to Saint-Domingue as a young man to take part in
the Créole expulsion of the British from Saint-Domingue (1798–99).
There had long been racial and class tensions between gens de
couleur and enslaved Africans and free blacks in Saint-Domingue,
where slaves outnumbered whites and gens de couleur by ten to one.
During the years of warfare against planters or grand
, Spanish, English and French, racial tensions were
exacerbated in competition for power and political alliances.
When tensions arose between blacks and mulattoes, Pétion often
supported the mulatto faction. He allied with General André Rigaud
and Jean Pierre Boyer
against Toussaint L'Ouverture
in a failed
rebellion, the so-called "War of Knives", in the South of
Saint-Domingue, which began in June 1799. By November the rebels
were pushed back to the strategic southern port of Jacmel; the defence
was commanded by Pétion.
The town fell in March 1800 and the
rebellion was effectively over. Pétion and other mulatto leaders
went into exile in France.
In February 1802, General Charles
arrived with tens of warships and 12,000 French troops
to bring Saint-Domingue under more control. Gens de couleur Petion,
Boyer and Rigaud returned with him in the hope of securing power in
Following the French deportation of Toussaint Louverture and the
renewed struggle, Pétion joined the nationalist force in October
1802. This followed a secret conference at Arcahaie, where Pétion
, the general who had captured Jacmel. The rebels took the
capital of Port-au-Prince on October 17, 1803.
independence on January 1, 1804, naming the nation Haiti. On
October 6, 1804, Dessalines declared himself ruler for life and was
Following the assassination
Dessalines on October 17 1806
, Pétion championed the ideals of democracy and
clashed with Henri Christophe
wanted absolute reign. Christophe was elected president, but he did
not believe the position had sufficient power, as Petion kept
powers for himself. Christophe went to the north with his followers
and established an autocracy. The loyalties of the country divided
between them, and the tensions between the blacks and mulattoes
were reignited once again.
After the inconclusive struggle dragged on until 1810, a peace
treaty was agreed and the country was split in two. While
Christophe made himself king of the northern Kingdom of Haiti
, Pétion was elected
President of the southern part of Haiti in 1806.
Initially a supporter of democracy, Pétion found the constraints
imposed on him by the senate onerous and suspended the legislature
in 1818. Fearing a lack of political power, he turned his post into
President for Life in 1816, going against his former beliefs.
Pétion seized commercial plantations from the rich gentry. The land
was redistributed to his supporters and the peasantry, earning him
the nickname Papa Bon-Cœur
("good-hearted father"). The
land seizures and changes in agriculture unfortunately dealt a
serious blow to the economy. Most of the population did little more
than subsistence farming and exports declined sharply, reducing
money available for investment in education and
Believing in the importance of education, Pétion started the Lycée
Pétion in Port-au-Prince. Petion's virtues and ideals of freedom
and democracy for the world (and especially slaves) were strong and
he often showed support for the oppressed. He gave sanctuary to
independence leader Simón
in 1815 and provided him with material and infantry
support. This was vital aid played a defining role in Bolivar's
success in liberating the countries of what would make up Gran Colombia
Boyer was named successor to Pétion and took control following the
death of Pétion from yellow fever