The Old Regime and the Haitian Revolution

The Old Regime and the Haitian Revolution (Cambridge University Press, 2012)

Posted: 14 Jun 2012

See all articles by Malick W. Ghachem

Malick W. Ghachem

Massachusetts Institute of Technology; University of Maine School of Law

Date Written: 2012


The Haitian Revolution (1789-1804) was an epochal event that galvanized slaves and terrified planters throughout the Atlantic world. Rather than view this tumultuous period solely as a radical rupture with slavery, Malick W. Ghachem’s innovative and critically acclaimed study shows that emancipation in Haiti was also a long-term product of its colonial legal history. The key to this interpretation lies in the Code Noir, the law that regulated master-slave relations in the French empire. The Code’s rules for the freeing and punishment of slaves were at the center of intense eighteenth-century debates over the threats that masters – not just freedmen and slaves – posed to the plantation order. "The Old Regime and the Haitian Revolution" takes us deep into this volatile colonial past, digging beyond the letter of the law and vividly reenacting such episodes as the extraordinary prosecution of a master for torturing and killing his slaves. Ghachem brings us face to face with the revolutionary invocation of Old Regime law by administrators seeking stability, but also by free people of color and slaves demanding citizenship and an end to brutality. The result is a subtle yet dramatic portrait of the strategic stakes of colonial governance in the land that would become Haiti.

Keywords: slavery, colonialism, empire, revolution, torture, freedom, emancipation, law of slavery, punishment, race, human rights

Suggested Citation

Ghachem, Malick W., The Old Regime and the Haitian Revolution (2012). The Old Regime and the Haitian Revolution (Cambridge University Press, 2012), Available at SSRN:

Malick W. Ghachem (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology ( email )

United States
617-324-7284 (Phone)


University of Maine School of Law ( email )

246 Deering Avenue
Portland, ME 04102
United States


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