Diplomacy in Black and White: John Adams, Toussaint Louverture, and Their Atlantic World Alliance.

Author:Gaffield, Julia
Position::Book review

Diplomacy in Black and White: John Adams, Toussaint Louverture, and Their Atlantic World Alliance. By Ronald Angelo Johnson. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2014. 216 pp.

In Diplomacy in Black and White, Ronald Angelo Johnson offers an in-depth analysis of a fleeting moment of international cooperation between the fledgling American republic and Saint-Domingue. At the time, the United States was a new country that was trying to establish itself in the Atlantic World, and its economy still depended on enslaved laborers. Saint-Domingue was a semi-independent French colony in the midst of a revolution to topple the French slave regime and racial hierarchy. Johnson explores the contradictions in the United States of a political rhetoric that helped sustain Dominguan emancipation while preserving slavery at home. Under the leadership of President John Adams, Johnson tells us, commercial interests and political maneuverings trumped racial barriers in order to facilitate an international alliance that served the immediate needs of both the United States and Saint-Domingue.

At the core of Johnson's study are the individuals under President Adams who negotiated the political and commercial terrain of Saint-Domingue during the leadership of French Governor General Toussaint Louverture, an emancipated free man of color who became the revolution's most important leader. Secretary of State Thomas Pickering, together with the U.S. consul general to Saint-Domingue, Edward Stevens, and Commodore Silas Talbot of the U.S. Navy, played key roles in shaping the relationship between the two governments. Johnson connects the actions of these important figures to the broader contexts of the United States and Saint-Domingue, as well as to their own personal trajectories. Specific individuals, Johnson tells us, were at the heart of this moment of possibility that generated considerable collaboration. Through these negotiations, the United States participated in a tripartite commercial agreement with Saint-Domingue and Jamaica. The United States benefited from the agreement, despite the fact that Stevens never signed the document--a fact that highlights the complications of engaging with a French colony of former slaves and reveals the limits of American diplomacy in Saint-Domingue between 1799 and 1801.

In addition, Johnson shows the importance of Saint-Domingue as a commercial and diplomatic ally for the United States in its ambition to develop an...

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