The Annual Abram Kartch and Thomas Jefferson Lecture Series

Courtesy of William Paterson University

David Hunter, Staff Writer

The 33rd Annual Abram Kartch/Thomas Jefferson Lecture Series occurred on Wednesday, Nov. 1 2017, to an audience of university and high school students in the University Commons Ballrooms.

Although every American is familiar with Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States and author of the Declaration of Independence, it would be surprising if people are aware of Abram Kartch, an attorney and Jefferson scholar. The reason that the lecture series bears his name is because he gave an endowment to the university to establish it. Each year, the WPU “presents a lecture examining a particular aspect of the thought of this great American.”

This year’s featured speaker was Dr. James Alexander Dun, an early American historian and an assistant professor of history at Princeton University, whose lecture “Second Revolutions: Thomas Jefferson and Haiti,” was very illuminating about an aspect of Jefferson not noted in history textbooks.

As the author of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson’s famous notion that all men are created equal created a catalyst for revolutions to occur. Dun looked at Jefferson’s reaction to the French Revolution and the Haitian Revolution.

Beginning his speech with the question of how the term revolution is used, Dun set the stage for a characterization of the Haitian Revolution. He argued that using revolution as a noun is too vague and that it had to be an adjective, to describe and characterize a series of events. For whatever reason, the word revolutionary was not discussed even though it can be used as both an adjective and a noun. Besides that, the important point he tried to make was that we should look at the term ‘revolution’ and see ‘revolutionary,’ with all the descriptiveness and adaptability that term has.

Jefferson was very enthusiastic about the French Revolution, seeing it as the common people asserting their rights against a tyrannical monarchy. To him, it was a battle of the people versus the privileged aristocracy. Jefferson issued positive statements about the violence of the French Revolution, believing that the bloodletting would create a free France.

However, the events occurring in Haiti, known at the time as the French colony of Saint-Dominque, were radically different. This was a slave revolt, led by Toussaint Louverture. To Jefferson, this undercut his notion of revolution. As a large plantation owner, holding hundreds of blacks in bondage, the idea of a slave revolt was threatening to him. Jefferson held the belief, held by many other Americans as well, that the events in Haiti were violent and destructive.

When John Adams attempted to have commercial treaties with Haiti, Jefferson was ardently against it. Southerners were afraid that any attempt to legitimize Haiti, even one that would allow the United States to dominate the country, was going too far. The idea of a multiracial society was not imaginable at the time due to social constructs.

How is the Haitian Revolution characterized? It was associated with disease, disorder, and political unrest in the late eighteenth and nineteenth century by reactionaries who attempted to undermine it, but the events that took place were an unavoidably revolutionary series of changes.