George Washington formed America’s first army in 1775 and kept it together through many hardships and setbacks during the next eight years. He defeated one of the most powerful armies in the world. He became the most admired and powerful man in America. However, this painting depicts George Washington’s greatest achievement and service to America. When the war with England was over, George Washington resigned as commander of the Continental Army and went home. No other military leader who had won so much success, power, and popularity had done this before.
Haiti’s 11.4 million people are among the poorest in the world. Twenty-five percent live in “extreme poverty”. They also live with violent crime, deadly gangs, drug-trafficking, and corrupt, non-functioning government. Corruption in Haiti – Wikipedia
All this became headline news in early July. A professional hit squad of at least 28 men brazenly murdered Haiti’s President, Jovenal Moise in his home which was supposed to be heavily guarded.
Haiti, the western half of the second largest island in the Caribbean, was a colony of France from 1625 to 1804. It became an independent country in 1804. That was when its army of escaped black slaves defeated a much larger force of Napoleon’s best soldiers after thirteen years of war. Roughly 98% of Haiti’s people today are descended from those slaves.
The much larger United States won independence from England in 1783 after defeating a smaller British army in a much shorter and less brutal war.
When the United States won its independence, roughly 18% of our people were free or enslaved blacks. Today, they and descendants of later immigrants from Africa and Haiti are roughly 12.5% of Americans. Roughly 18.5% are Hispanics from Mexico, the Caribbean, or Central America. Roughly 6% are Asian. Roughly 60% trace their ancestry to various European countries. Although only the ancestors. Of most African-Americans were legally slaves, the ancestors of many Americans of other races were victims of similar oppression, brutality, violence, and persecution in their home countries.
Most of the big differences between Haiti and the United States today can be explained by three basic historical facts.
First, the United States had George Washington. Haiti, like most countries in the world, was not as lucky. We are lucky that a man with such exceptional talent and character was chosen to command our army when we rebelled against the British. for that job. We are lucky that George Washington did not get killed during the many times when he led his soldiers on the battlefield. However, our greatest luck is that George Washington stepped down and refused to take control of America after the war. That helped create our exceptional political culture of free elections, limited terms of office, respect and tolerance for political opponents, and peaceful transitions of power.
After years of fighting, Jean-Jacques Dessalines drove the last French army out of Haiti in 1803. When the war was over, Dessalines took total control of the government and became Emperor. Two years later, he was overthrown and killed by his two top generals, Henry Christophe and Alexandre Sabes Petion.
The commanders of Haiti’s army during its revolution were just as brilliant and brave as George Washington. However, each of them demanded and got absolute power to run the country when the war was over. In 1801, Haiti’s first military leader, Toussaint Louverture also ran the whole government as “Governor General for Life”. One year later, he was captured by the French and died in a French prison. His three top generals, Jean Jacques Dessalines, Henry Christophe, and Alexandre Sabes Petion were also brilliant military leaders. However, when the war against France was over in 1804, Dessalines made himself Emperor for life. Two years later, he was overthrown and killed by his two top generals, Christophe and Petion. In 1811, Christophe became “King” in northern Haiti and his son was made a “Prince” to rule after him. However, both Christophe and his son were overthrown and killed nine years later. Meanwhile Petion became “President for Life” in the south. Petion, died of yellow fever in 1818. He was the first leader of Haiti to die a natural death. These first four leaders shaped the political culture of Haiti, just as George Washington shaped the political culture of the United States.
Second, America inherited a political culture of “liberty” from England after its Civil War of 1640. The governments of each of the thirteen American colonies had very limited powers that were defined by written contracts with settlers called charters. These charters protected guaranteed the basic rights of each citizen to work, and buy, sell, and own property. Because only landowners who paid taxes could vote, colonial governments had few employees, did little, spent little money and had almost no taxes. In 1776, New Jersey adopted the motto “Liberty and Prosperity” to describe how liberty had brought prosperity to our country.
Haiti inherited a far different political culture from France. After its Revolution of 1789, the French government had almost unlimited power to do whatever its leaders said was best for “the people” This was said to be the “general” will, “national will” or “common good”. Any individual who opposed the government was said to be selfish and an “enemy of the people”. Years later, this idea of government serving the needs of “society” rather than protecting the rights of each individual was called “socialism”. The United States was “conceived in liberty”. That liberty brought prosperity. Haiti was conceived in socialism.
Finally, most Americans embraced Christianity and the Bible. Even outspoken skeptics like Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson accepted the basic truths and morality of the Bible. Most Americans identified with the ancient Hebrews who left slavery in Egypt, and accepted the Ten Commandments and “Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself” at Mount Sinai. They knew of the “Law of Jubilee” which declared that all slaves should be set free after fifty years. They inscribed part of that law on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. Most Americans believed America would also be a “Promised Land” of “milk and honey” if we lived by those values.
Haiti inherited a French culture that had eradicated Christianity and the Bible. In 1793, while Haiti was still a French colony, the French government made it a crime to teach or support Christianity in any way. Christian priests and anyone else caught holding services or reading Bibles was tortured and killed. Churches were closed, crosses and church bells were destroyed, and Bibles were burned. The new French government even adopted a new calendar with a ten day week to completely obliterate Sunday, Sabbath, and all Christian holidays. When Christianity disappeared from French Haiti, “Vodou” (“voodoo”) was the only religion that remained.
For some two hundred years, respect for George Washington, English ideas of individual liberty, written constitutions to define and limit government power, and Bible values brought success to America. Since 1965, our schools, media, and Hollywood and TV pop culture systematically attacked and ridiculed all of them. Since then, more and more parts of the United States are having many of the same problems as Haiti.
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Seth Grossman, Executive Director