The Magazine

American Nietzsche (part I)


Insofar as people today remember Massachusetts-born T. Lothrop Stoddard (1883-1950) at all, they remember him vaguely as a once-popular writer-journalist who had the bad taste to address forthrightly matters of race and immigration, as those topics concerned American national policy, in the decades before the Great Depression. People over 40 who read the footnotes while studying English might recall that F. Scott Fitzgerald alludes to Stoddard obliquely in The Great Gatsby conflating his name with that of his contemporary Madison Grant. A few people might further connect Stoddard with the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924. Stoddard lobbied for it, another black mark against his name by contemporary standards.

The wispy image of Stoddard will therefore suggest to most people, should it improbably appear to them, that the man belongs on the distinctly politically incorrect side of right attitudes and behaviors; they will adjust their emotions accordingly. Yet Stoddard contributed his considerable cachet to such causes as Pacifism and Eugenics, having been allied in the latter project with that distinctly Leftwing notable Margaret Sanger; he saw himself, in part, as an American Friedrich Nietzsche, rather as Fitzgerald saw himself as an American Oswald Spengler. In a recent VDARE article, Robert Locke protested cautiously against the existing caricature of Stoddard, reminding readers that Stoddard once exercised considerable authority as a public intellectual.

Stoddard presents a fascinating case precisely because of his anomalousness when measured against early 21st-century political templates. The regime of Multiculturalism must see in him only a scandal; on the other hand, he seems to be an ideological forerunner of Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg and of the entire Democrat abortion constituency. Stoddard's case, discomfiting to all sides, suggests the limitations and rigidity of most contemporary judgments. An excellent writer, he appears to have argued his brief honestly and without malice; much of what he says about race -- take for example his contention that multi-racial societies are dubious propositions that always leave one element feeling slighted -- is simply assumed in the Afro-Centric religiosity of black separatists like the Revered Jeremiah Wright. How to square it?


From the beginning of his writerly career to its end, Stoddard, who earned his Harvard doctorate in history, maintained intense curiosity about revolutionary disruptions of normative political order and their attendant ideologically driven violence. The remarkable episode of the Transatlantic Jacobin outburst in the jewel-colony of the French West Indies, which saw born from its bloody chaos the New World's most corrupt and impoverished nation, formed the topic of Stoddard's first book, the one whose perhaps unlikely commercial success guaranteed him to his publisher as a good risk.

Issued by Scribner's, The French Revolution in San Domingo (1914) focused on the insular race-war that erupted out of long-simmering class-hatreds after the abrupt political discontinuity of 1789. I call this colonial rebellion and its terrific sequelae "remarkable," but I do not mean that the details, or even so much as the plain fact of the event, have any lodgment in current knowledge. That we know little today about Haiti other than that the Federal Government of the United States has sent it foreign aide, earthquake relief, and, frequently, troops to pacify Port-au-Prince is linked to our knowing little today about Stoddard, the main English-language historian of black nationalism on the island.

Whereas the prevailing civic regime fulsomely encourages celebration of "minority" achievement, it actively censures accounts of non-European wickedness, even in remote places more than two centuries ago. In describing one of the most ferocious instances of ethnic cleansing ever perpetrated, Stoddard preemptively violated a standing injunction.

One might justifiably see in Stoddard's book an early study of the metastatic character of insurrectionary fervor. This alone recommends its pages to critical attention. When Stoddard ascribes to Revolutionary France an "imperious will which was to cause the Vendée at home, and the ruin of San Domingo overseas," he means to say also that militant Jacobin righteousness would conjure intransigence equal to its own in places like Cap Français and Port-au-Prince and, indeed, would inspire fierce imitation of its own bloodthirsty aversion to being gainsaid. Stoddard coins the phrase "the Gospel of violent measures" to convey the demonic polarization that radical homiletic aims to foster, as the necessary precursor-phase to its utopia-generating débordement du sang. Add to the toxic situation what a zealous Jacobin commissionaire, Leger Félix Sonthonax, would celebrate as "the holy law of equality" and the formula was complete for a descent into genocidal massacre.

In Stoddard's judgment, the orgiastic bloodletting, when its demon got loose, fulfilled the logic of French Dominican foundations, as they entered into dialectic with revolutionary republicanism. As the first sentence of Chapter V sets down: "African slavery was the curse of San Domingo."

Considering the geographical smallness of la partie française de Saint Domingue, the events there following 1789 display surprising complexity and fluidity, always reflecting the political turbulence in France. Stoddard helpfully keeps the details in their order, assigning cause and effect with notable clarity. Race and caste largely propelled the 15-year internecine conflict: Island society was divided into a massive slave population, a slave-holding planter population one tenth as large, and a bourgeoisie of about the same size. The racial arrangement was not dual, however, but triple: black, mulatto, and white. Each of these racial groups showed further social subdivisions. There were a few "free blacks" and a few chattel mulattos; there were also "poor whites" although none enslaved. Planter and bourgeois alike feared and loathed the slaves, but they managed at the same time to despise the mulattos; the mulattos despised the slaves and deeply resented the whites.

The jigsaw of racial tensions found enshrinement in law, which deprived mulattos of the franchise, forbade intermarriage, and otherwise ensured humiliating subordination. A small populace of slave-refugees living in the inland mountains and occasionally raiding the North indicated the mute but sullen attitude of black thralldom. When categories such as républicain and royaliste imposed themselves on the existing pattern each faction tended to split inwardly in bewildering ways until in convulsive response the simplification of militant black exclusivity prevailed.

With the first intelligence of insurgent success in the home country, San Domingo's whites felt embroiled in the action, but ambiguously. For decades the colonists had chafed at Le pacte colonial, by which, as the planters in particular saw things, France took from the island's economy more than it gave back. The whites of the planter hegemony saw a chance, through electing a provincial Committée of their own after the pattern of the Paris Comittée, to bypass the frustrations of royal governance. On the other hand, the radicalism of the insurgents -- especially the new fanaticism for égalité -- worried many whites. Would new legal instructions from Paris abolish the "color line" or, worse, enfranchise the mulattos and liberate the slaves? Mulattos hoped for part of what whites feared and immediately appealed to Paris to abolish exclusion. The perceived reluctance of Paris to act on that appeal inclined mulattos into the pro-royalist camp, as allies of the king's by now harassed representatives. In the Decree of 15 May 1791, the Assemblée Nationale undertook to leave questions of the "color line" and slavery to the Assemblée Provinciale, while equalizing a small number of mulattos under special qualifications and condemning slavery in principle. Within days, in reaction, the blacks of the North and the mulattos of the West had, in Stoddard's words, "lighted a conflagration never to be put out."

The "conflagration" in Port-au-Prince, capital of the West, was not metaphorical. For the first of four or five times in the ensuing decade, arsonists fired the main streets and burned down a good part of the town; the troubles would see all the towns of the island, North and West and South, burned out repeatedly. So, too, in the North, risen slaves fired the plantations, murdered, and raped, taking a toll of twelve hundred families; white refugees corralled themselves in camps, where marauders all the more easily slaughtered them, or fled for the asylum of Le Cap.

A second Decree from Paris, appearing to rescind the first, imparted renewed impetus to mulatto militancy. Stoddard writes: "The horror of the race war in the West now almost surpassed that of the North. The mulatto Confederates, in hideous token of their Royalist sentiments, fashioned white cockades from the ears of their dead enemies. The atrocities perpetrated upon white women and children are past belief."

The arrival of a Civil Commission in November 1791 temporarily calmed the situation until, in the Law of 4 April 1792, the Assemblée Nationale mandated mulatto and "free negro" enfranchisement. The whites now made a volte-face of allegiance and opposed the Revolution; of course, events elsewhere had obviated the idea that such opposition was meaningfully Royaliste even though a Governor of the King still nominally held office.1

Into this mess stepped the Second Civil Commission, sent out under instruction to impose the Law of 4 April by force, and backed up by French troops. Stoddard describes the dominant Commissioner of three, Citizen Sonthonax, as "a sinister figure," in whom "all the worst traits of the Jacobin type stood revealed." Stoddard quotes from an article that Sonthonax had contributed to "one of the ultra radical sheets":

The ownership of land both at San Domingo and the other colonies... belongs in reality to the negroes. It is they who have earned it by the sweat of their brows, and only by usurpation do others now enjoy it.

More than anyone else, Sonthonax tilted San Domingue in the direction of an all-out conflict of color, which would draw its thick line between blacks and everyone else. Toussaint Louverture and his collaborator-betrayer-successor Jean-Jacques Dessalines might be said to have leapt from the very forehead of Sonthonax.


In rehearsing the story of San Domingo's protracted agony, Stoddard editorializes minimally and with noticeable restraint. In terse lines here and there, however, he asserts the judgment that what happened in the stricken colony happened consistently with the Jacobin penchant for seeing in apocalyptic destruction the necessary means of revolutionary transformation. The yearned-for "universal triumph of the French Revolution and ... regeneration of the world" required, in the minds of radicals like Sonthonax, the aforementioned "Gospel of violent measures."

Given control of the North, Sonthonax immediately demonstrated his ideological zealousness by prosecuting an army officer of good reputation, Sieur Théron, not for any hindrance of law, but for harboring "prejudice" intolerable to Jacobin sensibility. Théron had quarreled privately with Monsieur Candy, a mulatto appointed by Sonthonax to the farcical Commission Intermédiaire. This Candy had previously insinuated his services as an organizer in the Northern slave-revolt, whose ferocity he increased by his sadistic license. Candy made public the private quarrel with the officer.

Sonthonax charged Théron with having "increased race hostility" by "incivism." Théron argued that penalties of law could not be applied to "feelings of the heart," which he sustained for understandable reasons. The prosecutor of hate crimes had preordained the conviction. Stoddard adds:

When we remember that this same Candy had [during the first black uprising] torn out the eyes of his wretched prisoners with a corkscrew and had been guilty of unspeakable outrages upon white women, it is easy to understand the wild despair that settled down upon white San Domingo.

Jacobin law did, in fact, "command the feelings of the heart."

Late in December 1792 Sonthonax used a newly recruited mulatto battalion to terrorize both the white shopkeeper-class and the poor whites of Le Cap, whom the commissioner condemned as "Aristocrates de la Peau." Stoddard writes, "The violence of Sonthonax seemed but to increase with time." He wrote up proscription lists and bundled off to France hundreds of "suspects" for trial under the Convention, now in power. When Sonthonax declared emancipation, even the slaves of the South, hitherto inactive, broke into open revolt. By 1798, San Domingo had descended into perpetual fluctuating combat with regular massacres. The usual victims by this time were the remaining whites, always fewer, and the mulattos. The British intervened, occupying the coastal towns. The Directoire dispatched military forces to drive out the British and pacify the island. Charismatic black leaders emerged, chief among them Toussaint, who quickly became the main military force on the island and the de facto political power.

Toussaint, having seen the British withdraw, marched against Spain, to become the sole ruler of the island domain. Only Bonaparte's much belated expedition under General Leclerc in 1802 and 1803 reversed Toussaint, ending in Toussaint's heavily suborned agreement to an armistice, followed by his arrest and deportation to France, where he died a prisoner. When persistent acute yellow fever killed off sixth-tenths of the French expedition in a few months, Dessalines saw his chance. He reassembled the black army that Leclerc had checked in the field but never disarmed.

It was Dessalines and not -- as some casually suppose -- Toussaint who became the founder of Haiti. "Frankly a race war," writes Stoddard, "the struggle which now ensued acquired a most ferocious character." Leclerc, just before his death, had written to Bonaparte that only a campaign of pitiless extermination, "frightful but necessary," would return San Domingo to France, a sentiment with which Leclerc's successor General Rochambeau fully agreed. Rochambeau's sanguine tactics so cowed the blacks that he believed he would regain control. At that moment, war between France and England resumed; the English blockaded, and bereft of supply and replacement Rochambeau retreated to Le Cap. He surrendered on 10 November 1803. In Stoddard's words, "the destruction of French authority was but the prelude to the complete extermination of the white race in 'la partie française de Saint-Domingue.'"

Dessalines made a show of encouraging exiled whites to come home and resume life, which many did. In December 1803 Dessalines promulgated the independence of Haiti, whereupon, "the orders went forth to massacre the white population."

Stoddard quotes from the letter of a French officer who escaped to Jamaica at this time:

The murder of the whites in detail ... began at Port-au-Prince in the first days of January, but on the 17th and 18th March they were finished off en masse. All, without exception, have been massacred down to the very women and children.

The letter-writer describes one agent of the holocaust who "ranged the town like a madman searching the houses to kill the little children." He describes victims "disemboweled" and "stuck like pigs." What the savagery accomplished in Port-au-Prince it accomplished likewise in the North and South, until, in Stoddard's coda, "the white race had perished utterly out of the land."2

Yet The French Revolution in San Domingo never spares the whites. In an early chapter describing the planter-class, Stoddard paints the unflattering picture of recklessness, frivolity, and passion "often cruel," and elsewhere of "languorous apathy" -- qualities that he derives from "two main causes... climate and slavery." Slavery is the "evil institution" that from the beginning portended nothing but sorrow for the island. The mulattos, who suffered from "discriminations... many and severe," nevertheless appear in Stoddard's account as no more sympathetic than the planter-whites. In summary, writes Stoddard, "the mulatto's character was not of a high order"; the mixed-race people lacked "striking talents [and] eminent ability." In a laconic assessment: "There is no mulatto Toussaint Louverture."3

One struggles to pin down Stoddard using contemporary political designations. It is not so much that in rehearsing the facts he chooses what, in contemporary terms, would be unmentionable; it is that he steadfastly refuses to choose sides, telling a story in which angels and devils play no role, but merely men of every hue prone to wickedness. Political correctness mandates angels and devils. But even to call Stoddard "politically incorrect" on the grounds of his analytical neutrality falls short of adequacy because, in some matters, such as his Pacifism and advocacy of birth control, he pioneered liberal principles. In searching for a label to typify Stoddard, it strikes me that the designation of reactionary progressive might fit despite or rather because of its internal contradiction.

Continued in part II



1 -- The crisis in San Domingo was, as Stoddard makes clear, mishandled in every possible way by every imaginable party; Paris bears much responsibility, issuing in revolutionary fervor one incoherent decree after another, the latest always contradicting the last. The English seem to have acted as though their plan entailed exacerbating conditions by doing the least advised thing at any particular moment.

2 -- By a twist of irony, the edition of The French Revolution in San Domingo that I have consulted is a reprint issued in 1970 by the Negro Universities Press, Westport, Connecticut. It is difficult to imagine Stoddard's book figuring in any current "Black Studies" curriculum precisely because it so unsparingly, yet with impressive documentation, records what Stoddard calls "the final phase." The image of a black polity based euphemistically on "white exclusion" is certainly entertained by some contemporary individuals but it can have no acknowledged place in the smiling discourse of multiculturalism and diversity.

3 -- I trace my own ancestry to the mulattos of San Domingo, specifically to those who fled the island in the last genocidal phase that culminated in Dessalines' proclamation of Haiti. The Bertonneau refugees along with many others settled in what was, at the time, the French territory that would become New Orleans. They were already there - competently ensconced as the bourgeois or mercantile class - when Colonel (later General and later President) Andrew Jackson arrived to fight the British in 1814. The creoles, as they then called themselves, materially aided him, in gratitude for which he signed letters pledging that when Louisiana came into the Union "Jackson's Whites" would enjoy full Constitutional rights - a promise never kept. By the 1830s, the creoles had become, in New Orleans, where the "French Quarter" was their domicile, Les gens de couleur libres, or Free People of Color. They maintained their status as merchants.

My great-grandfather, Albert Bertonneau (1838 - 1914) and his elder brother Arnold Bertonneau (1832 - 1912) had the distinction to serve as officers in the Second Louisiana Native Guards, Confederate "colored infantry," during the defense of New Orleans in 1862; General Butler, who took the city, made a unique offer to the Native Guards, permitting them to re-enlist with rank as Federal troops in the Corps d'Afrique. This was the first "colored" regiment in the Union Army, before Colonel Shaw's Boston Regulars. After the Civil War, Arnold Bertonneau served as a tax collector for the State of Louisiana and continued in various businesses, most successfully as a haberdasher. Arnold was active in politics, as a Republican, urging universal franchise directly to president Lincoln and suing the School Board of New Orleans for the right of his children to attend school nearby rather than in a segregated academy several neighborhoods away. He lost his case, but Bertonneau v. School Board is one of the citations in both Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education. The text of Arnold Bertonneau's eloquent 1864 speech to the Massachusetts Legislature, "All Men Should Stand Equal Under the Law," may be read here.

In the 1890s, about half of the Orleans-Parish Bertonneaus moved to Southern California, where they again became shopkeepers and businessmen, prominent in their community, Pasadena, where they "passed" as white. The famous cross-town football game associated with Pasadena's annual Rose Pageant was an innovation of my great-uncle Arnold-Louis, son of Arnold Bertonneau. My great-grandfather Albert's widow spent several decades suing the Federal Government and the Department of the Army for pension money owed from Albert's service in the Corps d'Afrique, a dispute not resolved until shortly before her death.