Saturday, January 23, 2010

Douglass' 1893 World's Fair Haitian Pavilion Speech

TransGriot Note: Frederick Douglass also spoke at the January 2 dedication ceremony for the Haitian pavilion at the 1893 World's Fair that was held in Chicago. Shorter speech than the Quinn Chapel lecture, but no less eloquent.


Ladies and Gentlemen:-- .......... The first part of my mission here to-day is to speak a few words of this pavilion. In taking possession of it and dedicating it to the important purposes for which it has been erected within the grounds of the World's Columbian Exposition, Mr. Charles A. Preston and myself, as the Commissioners, appointed by the government of Haiti, to represent that government in all that belongs to such a mission in connection with the Exposition, wish to express our satisfaction with the work thus far completed. There have been times during the construction of this pavilion, when we were very apprehensive that its completion might be delayed to an inconvenient date. Solicitude on that point is now happily ended. The building which was once a thought is now a fact and speaks for itself. The vigor and punctuality of its builders are entitled to high praise. They were ready to give us possession before we were ready to accept it.

That some pains have been taken to have this pavilion in keeping with the place it occupies and to have it consistent with the character of the young nation it represents, is manifest. It is also equally manifest that it has been placed here at a considerable cost. The theory that the world was made out of nothing does not apply here. Material itself, it has required material aid to bring it into existence and to give it the character and completeness it possesses. It could not have been begun or finished without having behind it, the motive power of money, as well as the influence of an enligtened mind and a liberal spirit. It is no disparagement to other patriotic citizens of Haiti who have taken an interest in the subject of the World's Columbian Exposition, when I say, that we have found these valuable and necessary qualities pre-minently embodied in the President of the Republic of Haiti. His Excellency General Hyppolite, has been the supreme motive power and the main-spring by which this pavilion has found a place in these magnificent grounds. The moment when his attention was called to the importance of having his country well represented in this Exposition he comprehended the significance of the fact and has faithfully and with all diligence endeavored to forward such measures as were necessary to attain this grand result. It is an evidence not only of the high intelligence of President Hyppolite, but also of the confidence reposed in his judgment by his country-men that this building has taken its place here, amid the splendors and architectural wonders which have sprung up here as if by magic to dazzle and astonish the world. Whatever else may be said of President Hyppolite by his detractors he has thoroughly vindicated his sagacity and his patriotism by endeavoring to lead his country in the paths of peace, prosperity and glory. And as for herself, we may well say, that from the beginning of her national career until now, she has been true to herself and has been wisely sensible of her surroundings. No act of hers is more creditable than her presence here. She has never flinched when called by her right name. She has never been ashamed of her cause or of her color. Honored by an invitation from the government of the United States to take her place here, and be represented among the foremost civilized nations of the earth, she did not quail or hesitate. Her presence here to-day is a proof that she has the courage and ability to stand up and be counted in the great procession of our nineteenth century's civilization. [Applause]

Though this pavilion is modest in its dimensions and unpretentious in its architectural style and proportions, though it may not bear favorable comparison with the buildings of the powerful nations by which it is surrounded, I dare say, that it will not counted in any sense unworthy of the high place which it occupies or of the people whose interests it represents. The nations of the Old World can count their years by thousand, their populations by millions and their wealth by mountains of gold. It was not to be expected that Haiti with its limited territory, its slender population and wealth could rival, or would try to rival here the splendors created by those older nations, and yet I will be allowed to say for her, that it was in her power to have erected a building much larger and finer than the one we now occupy. She has however, wisely chosen to put no strain upon her resources and has been perfectly satisfied to erect an edifice, admirably adapted to its uses and entirely respectable in its appearance. In this she has shown her good taste not less than her good sense. [Applause.]

For ourselves as Commissioners under whose supervision and direction this pavilion has been erected, I may say, that we feel sure that Haiti will heartily approve our work and that no citizen of that country shall visit the World's Columbian Exposition will be ashamed of its appearance, or will fail to look upon it and contemplate it with satisfied complacency. Its internal appointments are consistent with its external appearance. They bear the evidence of proper and thoughtful consideration for the taste, comfort and convience of visitors, as well as for the appropriate display of the productions of the country which shall be here exhibited. Happy in these respects it is equally happy in another, Its location and situation are desirable. It is not a candle put under a bushel, but a city set upon a hill. [Applause.] For this we cannot too much commend the liberality of the honorable commissioners and managers of these grounds. They might have easily consulted the customs and prejudices unhappily existing in certain parts of our country, and relegated our little pavilion to an obscure and undesirable corner, but they have acted in the spirit of human brotherhood, and in harmony with the grand idea underlying this Exposition.

They have given us one of the very best sites which could have been selected. We cannot complain either of obscurity or isolation. We are situated upon one of the finest avenues of these grounds, standing upon our verandah we may view one of the largest of our inland seas, we may inhale its pure and refreshing breezes, we can contemplate its tranquil beauty in its calm and its awful sublimity and power when its crested billows are swept by the storm. The neighboring pavilions which surround us are the works and exponents of the wealth and genius of the greatest nations on the earth. Here upon this grand high way thus located, thus elevated and thus surrounded, our unpretentious pavilion will be sure to attract the attention of multitudes from all the civilized countries on the globe, and no one of all of them who shall know the remarkable and thrilling events in the history of the brave people here represented, will view it with other than sympathy, respect and esteem. [Applause.]

Finally, Haiti, will be happy to meet and welcome her friends here. While the gates of the World's Columbian Exposition shall be open, the doors of this pavilion shall be open and a warm welcome shall be given to all who shall see fit to honor us with their presence. Our emblems of welcome will be neither brandy nor wine. No intoxicants will be served here, but we shall give all comers a generous taste of our Haitian coffee, made in the best manner by Haitian hands. They shall find it pleasant in flavor and delightful in aroma. Here, as in the sunny climes of Haiti, we shall do honor to that country's hospitality which permits no weary traveler to set foot upon her rich soil and go away hungry or thirsty. [Applause.] Whether upon her fertile plains or on the verdant sides of her incomparable mountains, whether in the mansions of the rich or in the cottages of the poor, the stranger is ever made welcome there to taste her wholesome bread, her fragrant fruits and her delicious coffee. [Applause.] It is proposed that this generous spirit of Haiti shall pervade and characterize this pavilion during all the day that Haiti shall be represented upon these ample grounds.

But gentlemen, I am reminded that on this occasion we have another important topic which should not be passed over in silence. We meet to-day on the anniversary of the independence of Haiti and it would be an unpardonable omission not to remember it with all honor, at this time and in this place [Applause.]

Considering what the environments of Haiti were ninety years ago; considering the antecedents of her people, both at home and in Africa; considering their ignorance, their weakness, their want of military training; considering their destitution of the munitions of war, and measuring the tremendous moral and material forces that confronted and opposed them, the achievement of their independence, is one of the most remarkable and one of the most wonderful events in the history of this eventful century, and I may almost say, in the history of mankind. Our American Independence was a task of tremendous proportions. In contemplation of it the boldest held their breath and many brave men shrank from it appalled. But as herculean, as was that task and dreadful as were the hardships and sufferings is imposed, it was nothing in its terribleness when compared with the appalling nature of the war which Haiti dared to wage for her freedom and her independence. Her success was a surprise and a startling astonishment to the world. [Applause.] Our war of the Revolution had a thousand years of civilization behind it. The men who led it were descended from statement and heroes. Their ancestry, were the men who had defied the powers of royalty and wrested from an armed and reluctant king the grandest declaration of human rights ever given to the world. [Applause.] They had the knowledge and character naturally inherited from long years of personal and political freedom. They belonged to the ruling race of this world and the sympathy of the world was with them. But far different was it with the men of Haiti. The world was all against them. They were slaves accustomed to stand and tremble in the presence of haughty masters. Their education was obedience to the will of others, and their religion was patience and resignation to the rule of pride and cruelty. As a race they stood before the world as the most abject, helpless and degraded of mankind. Yet from these men of the negro race, came brave men, men who loved liberty more than life [Applause]; wisemen, statesmen, warriorsand heroes, men whose deeds stamp them as worthy to rank with the greatest and noblest of mankind; men who have gained their freedom and independence against odds as formidable as ever confronted a righteous cause or its advocates. Aye, and they not only gained their liberty and independence, but they have never surrendered what they gained to any power on earth. [Applause.] This precious inheritance they hold to-day, and I venture to say here in the ear of all the world that they never will surrender that inheritance. [Prolonged Applause.]

Much has been said of the savage and sangninary character of the warfare waged by the Haitians against their masters and against the invaders sent from France by Bonaparte with the purpose to enslave them; but impartial history records the fact, that every act of blood and torture committed by the Haitians during that war was more than duplicated by the French. The revolutionists did only what was essential to success in gaining their freedom and independence and what any other people assailed by such an enemy for such a purpose would have done. [Applause.]

They met deception with deception, arms with arms, harassing warfare with harassing warfare, fire with fire, blood with blood, and they never would have gained their freedom and independence if they had not thus matched the French at all points.

History will be searched in vain for a warrior, more humane, more free from the spirit of revenge, more disposed to protect him enemies, and less disposed to practice retaliation for acts of cruelty than General Toussaint L'Ouverture. [Prolonged Applause.] His motto from the beginning of war to the end of his participation in it, was protection to the white colonists and no retaliation of injuries. [Applause.] No man in the island had been more loyal to France, to the French Republic and to Bonaparte was fitting out a large fleet and was about to send a large army to Haiti to conquer and reduce his people to slavery he, like a true patriot and a true man determined to defeat his infernal intention by preparing for defense. [Applause.]

Standing on the heights of Cape Samana he with his trusted generals watched and waited for the arrival of one of the best equipped and most formidable armies ever sent against a foe so comparatively weak and helpless as Haiti then appeared to be. It was composed of veteran troops, troops that had seen service on the Rhine, troops that had carried French arms in glory to Egypt and under the shadow of the eternal pyramids. He had at last seen the ships of this powerful army one after another to the number of fifty-four vessels come within the waters of his beloved country.

Who will ever be able to measure the mental agony of this man, as he stood on those heights and watched and waited for this enemy to arrive, coming with fetters and chains for the limbs and slave whips for the backs of his people. What heart does not ache even in the contemplation of his misery.

It is not for me here to trace the course and particulars of the then impending conflict and tell of the various features of this terrible war; a conflict that must ever be contemplated with a shudder. That must be left to history, left to the quiet and patience of the study.

Like all such prolonged conflicts, the tide of battle did not always set in the favor of the right. Crushing disaster, bitter disappointment, intense suffering, grievous defections and blasted hopes were often the lot of the defenders of liberty and independence. The patience, courage and fortitude with which these were borne, fully equals the same qualities exhibited by the armies of William the Silent, when contending for religious liberty against the superior armies of the Spanish Inquisition under Philip of Spain. It was more heroic in the brave Dutch people to defend themselves by the water of their dykes, than for the dusky sons of Haiti to defend their liberties by famine on their plains and fire on their mountains. The difference was simply the difference in color. True heroism is the same whether under one color or another, though men are not always sufficiently impartial to admit it. [Applause.]

The world will never cease to wonder at the failure of the French and the success of the blacks. Never did there appear a more unequal contest. The greatest military captain of the age backed by the most warlike nation in the world, had set his heart upon the subjugation of the despised sons of Haiti; he spared no pains and hesitated to employ no means however revolting to compass this purpose. Though he availed himself of bloodhounds from Cuba to hunt down and devour women and children; though he practiced fraud, duplicity and murder; though he scorned to observe the rules of civilized warfare; though he sent against poor Haiti his well-equipped and skillfully commanded army of fifty thousand men; though the people against whom his army came were unskilled in the arts of war; though by a treachery the most dishonorable and revolting the invaders captured and sent Toussaint L' Ouverture in chains to France to perish in an icy prison; though his swords were met with barrel hoops; though wasting war defaced and desolated the country for a dozen years--Haiti was still free! Her spirit was unbroken and her brave sons were still at large in her mountains ready to continue the war, if need be, for a century. [Applause.]

When Bonaparte had done his worst and the bones of his unfortunate soldiers whitened upon a soil made rich with patriot blood, and the shattered remnant of his army was glad to escape with its life, the heroic chiefs of Haiti in the year 1803 declared her INDEPENDENCE and she has made good that declaration down to 1893. [Prolonged applause] Her presence here to-day in the grounds of this World's Columbian Exposition at the end of the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of the American Continent, it is ar re-affirmation of her existence and independence as a nation, and of her place among the sisterhood of nations. [Applause.] Col. Davis Speaks. When Mr. Douglas has finished, Director-General Davis was called upon. He said among other things:

I am here to signify by my presence the appreciation of Exposition management of the gallant little republic which thus leads all the foreign nations in the matter of completing its stately pavillion as a general rendezvous on these grounds for its visiting citizens. It is not in this handsome building alone that Haiti will be fittingly represented at the Fair. Allotments have been made to it in the Departments of Agriculture, Mines and Mining, Forestry, and others. With a sagacity that is full of promise for the future, Haiti, is preparing to give an object lesson, teaching the abundance and variety of its natural resources that are only awaiting development.

Had we the time there is much in the past as well as in the future of Haiti that would be pleasant food for thought and speculation. We do not forget that to Haiti Columbus gave the name of Hispaniola, because it was looked on by him as the choicest fruit his discovery, as well for the beauty of its mountains, valleys, rivers and plains as for the superiority of its inhabitants. Its natives were a well-formed and spirited race of a gentle and peaceable disposition, "fairer and handsomer than the natives of the other islands." They were hospitable to a fault as the people are there to-day. "There is not in the world," wrote Columbus, "a better nation nor a better land."

But the fairest of lands may be made, as Columbus himself came to learn to his sorrow, a theatre for treachery and malevolent aspersion. The very men whom he had lead into this veritable Utopia conspired to destroy him in order that they might reap the fruits of his genius and build their fame and fortunes upon the ruins of his own; and they actually succeeded in sending him home in chains from a port of this beautiful island. But now, after four centuries have passed, his fame is secure while the names of his maligners are lost in merited oblivion.

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