American Legal History
The paper is written and ready for grading but I still have to scan the following sources:





The Litwack book has gone missing at Butler. They will email me when they find one of the copies.

I am willing to edit several times. -TJ

Rural Code de Boyer Project

Thalia Julme

1. Introduction

The Code Rural de Boyer of 1826 is composed of six laws. The first is entitled “general enactments relative to agriculture,” and it defines the group of people who will be bound to the land by this law.

[T]hose who are not employed in the civil service, or called upon for the military service; those who do not exercise a licensed profession; those who are not working artizans; or employed as servants; those who are not employed in felling timber for exportation; in fine, those who cannot justify their means of existence, shall cultivate the soil.

The Code bounds this group to the soil and to a land owner. It places restrictions on the workers every movement. It restricts travel between the country and the city (article 4). It binds future generations—children of this class must seek special authorization to learn a different trade. All discretion is in the hands of local justices of the peace. Remarkably, there is nothing in the literature about these justices of the peace. Who were they? Who appointed them? What social classes were they from?

Law No. 2 is entitled “General Administration of Agricultural Establishments,” and it places all sorts of restrictions on land use, land transfer, water use, and animal tending. It essentially states that all rural land shall be used for agriculture. Citizens are not permitted to raise cattle or grow gardens unless they seek authorization, and they are taxed for these uses. All products intended for sale are to be inspected by Rural police before being bagged. Rural police and the local Justice of the Peace are charged with enforcing these rules.

Law No. 3 is entitled “Upon the mutual Contracts to be entered into between Proprietors, or Chief Farmers, and Agriculturists, Cultivators, or Labourers, and their reciprocal Obligations.” This section more clearly explains how the group defined in Law No. 1 will be tied to a landed farmer. Article 45 comically states that the workers will be bound to the land and the proprietor “for the security of their common interests.” Workers are to be tied to an owner for two to nine years. This section also delineates how and when profits shall be shared.

Law No. 4, “Establishments and Management of Cattle-Pens,” delineates the rules for those permitted to raise cattle.

Law No. 5, “Upon the care and keeping of Animals, and upon the Damage they may do in the Fields,” concerns the steps cattle ranchers must take to protect agricultural fields. Pigs and goats “found trespassing in fenced gardens or enclosures, may be killed.”

Law No. 6 is entitled “Rural Police” and concerns the powers of the rural police.

2. The Code and Why it was adopted

The Rural Code was adopted in 1826 when Jean Pierre Boyer was President of Haiti. When Boyer took power, Northern Haiti was a monarchy ruled by Henri Christophe. Boyer succeeded Alexandre Petion in ruling the mildly republican Southern Haiti. In the early years of his presidency, 1820, he united Northern and Southern Haiti, deposing Henri Christophe. He also occupied Santo Domingo (Baur 309).

According to John Edward Baur, after the Haitian revolution, Haiti was ruined agriculturally (Baur 307). In fact,

[t]he long wars of liberation (1791-1804) in Haiti had ruined the land far more than had similar conflicts anywhere else in Latin America. The French ruling class, which knew the sciences of optimum cultivation, had been liquidated completely. . . . [I]n northern Haiti, Henri Christophe had used force ruthlessly to control his almost uncontrollable people. As a result, a measure of agriculture prosperity had been restored, but the south had remained in virtual anarchy and poverty. Jean Pierre Boyer inherited the whole sick, idle and poverty-stricken land. (Baur 332).

Baur, seemingly contends that in order to gain a measure of “prosperity” in Haiti, a ruler had to be at least minimally despotic, as Haitians had become used to freedom after the Revolution, and were unwilling to submit to plantation style work hours.

Under Petion, land in Southern Haiti had been redistributed, and the plantation system had been abandoned. The outcome of this mildly less despotic system was not ideal. “The sugar fields were semi-abandoned; coffee, which needs expert care, was poorly tended, or grew wild. Even the president’s estate was described as only half-cultivated, and exhibiting signs of neglect” (Baur 332-33, Lundhal 278 stating that land reform led to a drop in GDP). The literature states that Boyer intended to follow Petion’s model but then he succumbed to various pressures and chose to attempt to restore the plantation system through the Rural Code, a system even his sympathizer Baur termed a form of “neo-slavery” (Baur 333).

Boyer wanted to make Haiti “great and respected” (Baur 332). For Boyer, that necessitated two things: 1. Gaining international acceptance of Haiti’s independence, and 2. Attaining a certain level of economic prosperity. To attain the first goal, Boyer negotiated with France to get the former colonists to recognize Haiti’s independence. France eventually agreed to recognize Haiti but at a cost of one hundred and fifty million francs to be paid over the course of fifty years (Dayan 161). The payment amount was eventually renegotiated but these reparations still represented a huge commitment to a poor country. This commitment made the second goal ever more crucial and led Boyer to attempt to re-adopt the plantation system.

Suzy Castor’s book, Les Origines de la Structure Agraire en Haiti discusses the destructive nature of the plantation system in Haiti. She explains that colonial plantations were entirely geared towards the metropole. All goods, mainly coffee and sugar, were grown with an eye to France, to Haiti’s detriment. Goods were not produced for internal consumption (Castor 23). She also states that the plantation system required a massive labor force. Since Haitians refused to work on plantations after the Revolution, the reinstitution of the plantation system necessitated quite a bit of brutality (Castor 42-43). In fact, brutality was inherent to the whole system. So, the Rural Code, in attempting to reinstitute this system, could not be anything other than a brutal codification of neo-slavery.

The Rural Code failed, but as Leyburn states it was an impressive demonstration of state control.

Never again in the history of the country was so detailed a scheme worked out. It was an attempt on a grand scale to order the life of all people for common prosperity. In addition to its own broad scope and elaborate detail, it was fortified by almost unanimous support among the aristocracy,[.] . . . Yet it marked the end rather than the beginning of plantation agriculture, for it utterly failed of its purpose. It was the impressive monument over the tomb of state control. (Leyburn 66).

Some say that the Code failed because of its “severity and arbitrary nature” (Baur 335). Baur argues that the Code failed because after the revolution Haitians became used to mild government and mild work, so they were unwilling to resume plantation life (Baur 335). Haitians simply refused to obey the Code. Furthermore, the army failed to enforce the rules. Baur believes it is because the army was “lazy” (Baur 335). It is, however, possible that the members of the army were taken from the class of people now being forced into conditions resembling neo-slavery, so they did not feel comfortable enforcing these rules against their brethren. Many army members fought in the Revolution, so perhaps anti-slavery sentiment played a part in the refusal to enforce. Baur also argues that the crop sharing system was not in the interest of the land owners or the workers, as all workers got equal shares which did not incentivize efficient work. (Baur 335).

3. Why the Code failed and how it foreshadows larger systematic failures of Haitian governance

While the cause of the Code’s failure is rather insignificant, the content of the Code, its implementation, and its aftermath are important because they illustrate certain themes in Haitian history. First, they illustrate the constant over militarization of Haitian society. It is significant that the only attempt at land use regulation in Haiti involved such an overwhelming military presence. Second, the Code reflected and sought to maintain the extreme inequalities of Haitian society. Third, since the Code’s failure, non-intervention has been the theme in Haitian rural law. (Though theorizing about the effects of the lack of land use law in Haiti is outside the scope of this paper, but it should be noted that deforestation has had pretty terrible effects on Haiti).

A. Militarization of society

As explained earlier, the Rural Code was enforced by the Rural police which consisted of military men. The Code regulated all aspects of life for those involved in agriculture, so since the Code delegated all enforcement to the military, the Code militarized all of Haitian society. While the Code itself failed, a legacy of militarization remains (Dayan 161).

Joan Dayan states that

Boyer's Rural Code . . . most contributed to the legacy of militarism and compulsory labor that would continue to undermine Haitian democracy. This code of laws, which figured containment as fundamental to the order of society, reduced most Haitians, especially those who did not occupy positions of rank in the military of civil branches of the state, to essentially slave status. A small fraction of Haiti's population lived off the majority, collecting fees—with the help of the rural chef de section—for the sale, travel, and butchering of animals, and even for the cutting of the trees. (Dayan 161).

This overmilitarization has also affected Haiti’s development policy. Funds that could be used for development work have been funneled into the military. (Lundhal 376 “There was never any money for development . . . nearly all the available resources of the country being consumed, decade after decade, by the still enormous standing army.” (internal citations omitted)). Haitian peasants have thus been doubly victimized by the Rural Code. First through the active and sometimes violent social control mandated by the law and second by the continuing lack of development policy.

B. Inequality and exploitation of the mass of Haitians

The Code reflected and reinforced extreme inequalities in Haitian society, since it essentially mandated that people remain in their current social station. Under the Code, if an individual did not belong to the military, the landed class, or a profession, they had to be a laborer. The Code also mandated that the children of laborers also had to work the fields. The Code thus attempted to freeze Haitian society in a deeply unequal state.

Lundahl also argues that the entire purpose of the Code was to put the mass of Haitians to work for the benefit of those in power. She states that

government came to serve the single purpose of providing those in power with a substitute for the incomes and wealth that were lost with the landed estates and how politics in consequence was made synonymous with a race for the contents of the treasury, devoid of all meaningful purpose. (Lundhal 298).

Lundahl’s contention makes sense as the Rural Code did in fact attempt to make Haiti return to the plantation system, a system which at its basis requires the abuse of a massive workforce in order to extract from the land for the benefit of the few. In fact, even the much lauded land redistribution of the Petion and Boyer era often entailed distribution of land to Boyer favorites and members of the military (Trouillot 8).

Henock Trouillot, a Haitian historian wrote in 1963, that many members of the landed class thought that the Rural Code was not severe enough. They faulted the government for not giving them more power over their workers. These quotes are chocking because it is universally acknowledged that the Code was a brutal, arbitrary, and a form of neo-slavery (Trouillot 14). While chocking, the dissatisfaction of the big land owners illustrates the deep and pathological social stratification of Haitian society.

C. Non intervention and refusal to engage in land reform

Another ironic consequence of the Rural Code was the subsequent practice of non intervention in land policy. It is ironic that a Code that mandated such stern social control and that had such a legacy of military control also led to a lack of regulation.

The Rural Code was the last real attempt at land use regulation. It failed because it was brutal, unenforced, and not respected. After the failure of the Code, Boyer stopped intervening in rural policy and land policy. He “chose pure laissez-faire instead of active intervention” (Lundhal 298). Boyer’s non intervention policy was imitated by all the Haitian leaders to follow him (Lundhal 297, Baur 307).

Although this topic is outside the scope of this paper, it should be noted that the lack of land use regulation has had disastrous effects in Haiti. That the only form of regulation that has been undertaken has been so brutal says quite a bit about the leadership Haiti has received. It seems that Haitian leaders found that since over the top brutal regulation is unenforceable no efforts should be made to govern, since they only want to rule Haiti with violence.

4. Comparisons

The Rural Code is not an instance of Haitian exceptionalism. The Rural Code and all its brutality can actually be considered quite typical to capitalism. In fact, post-Civil War era southern states passed similarly brutal Black Codes.

While reasonable people disagree about the major driving force behind the grand narrative of Haitian history, dialectical materialism and the master slave dialectic have been the major contenders, meaning some believe capitalism has been the major driving force while others believe that race has been the leading force (Shilliam 782). It is not, however, the task of this project to engage in this debate. The Rural Code was designed to deal with production and labor. Boyer created the Code to gain acceptance amongst capitalist nations (gaining French recognition of independence through the payment of reparations) and to help Haiti become an economic force amongst capitalist nations. It thus seems fitting to study the Code through the lens of capitalism.

As Eric Williams has said “slavery was an economic institution of firm importance” (Williams 5). Williams explains, in citing Adam Smith, that a successful colony requires plenty of “good land,” but free workers are unlikely to agree to work for others without compulsion when there is plenty of land that could allow them to live independently (Williams 4, 5). The plantation system thus necessitated compulsion (Williams 5). Williams further states that

When slavery is adopted, it is not adopted as the choice over free labor; there is not choice at all. The reasons for slavery, wrote Gobbon Wakefield, “are not moral, but economical circumstances; they relate not to vice and virtue, but to production.” With the limited population of Europe in the sixteenth century, the free laborers necessary to cultivate the staple crops of sugar, tobacco and cotton in the New World could not have been supplied in quantities adequate to permit large-scale production. (Williams 6).

The argument goes that African labor was the cheapest way to satisfy the plantation systems thirst for labor. Williams explains that a “racial twist was thereby been given to what is basically an economic phenomenon.” Racism according to Williams was a rationalization of a particular economic system.

While the Rural Code did not institutionalize slavery (to his credit, Boyer abolished slavery in the Dominican Republic after he annexed the country), the Code is the product of an economic system that necessitated slavery. In attempting to reinstate the plantation system through the Code, Boyer needed to create a Code that would provide large amounts of cheap, immobile labor. He needed to tax or prohibit all independent agriculture and tie people to plantations. No free worker would chose to work on a plantation if other options were available.

The Rural Code thus reflects the brutality and lack of regard for life inherent in the plantation system.

As stated earlier, the Rural Code is not an example of Haitian exceptionalism, Dayan states that the Rural Code borrowed from Jamaica’s slave code and looked forward to the Southern criminal codes (Dayan 161).

Litwack’s work explores the aftermath of Emancipation in the South. The Chapter “Back to Work: The Old Compulsions” shows how the white planter class tried to ensure that the relationship between the former slaves and former masters resembled that of the old days. Once the slaves realized they were indeed legally emancipated, the former slave owners had a difficult time maintaining the status quo. Litwack states that

Whether in the fields or in the house, the most disturbing manifestations of black freedom were the breakdown of the old discipline, the refusal to obey orders promptly if at all, and the disinclination to regard 'massa' and 'missus' with the same  degree of fear, awe, and respect previously  expected of black subordinates. (Litwack 339-40).

The white planters noticed with “near unanimity” a decrease in production after Emancipation (Litwack 340). There was also a labor shortage (Litwack 340).

Post-Emancipation South thus found itself in a situation resembling post-Revolution Haiti. The plantation system was falling apart because workers were unwilling to work the way they did under slavery. To deal with this “problem” Boyer penned the Rural Code. According to Litwack, Southern whites came up with two “solutions.” First they sought to replace slave labor with white labor. This endeavor was not very successful (Litwack 353). Second, they devised so-called Black Codes. Black codes varied from state to state but they essentially sought to tie former slaves to the land. They did not leave former slaves with many choices outside of work in agriculture and they included strict vagrancy rules (Litwack 367-68). In Mississippi for instance, the law

required special licenses of any black wishing to engage in 'irregular or job work.' To discourage freedmen who aspired to raise their own crops, Mississippi barred them from renting or leasing any land outside towns or cities, leaving to local authorities any restrictions they might want to place on black ownership of real estate. . . . Any freedmen who refused to work at the prevailing wage in a particular area could be defined a vagrant. (Litwack 367-68).

The Black Codes and the Rural Code were essentially identical, and they were both the short-lived failures (Litwack 370). The similarity between these two post-slavery Codes lends further credence to the argument that these measures were founded more in the nature of the economic system then in racism. The Rural Code was enacted by blacks for blacks so it is difficult to say that these measures are completely and deeply rooted in racism (though the relationship between mulatto Haitians, like Boyer, and black Haitians adds a wrinkle to this thesis).

5. Works Cited

John Edward Baur, Mulatto Machiavelli, Jean Pierre Boyer, and The Haiti of His Day, 32 J. OF NEGRO HIST. 307 (1947).


Joan Dayan, A Few Stories about Haiti, or, Stigma Revisited, 35 RES. IN AFR. LITERATURES 157 (2004).




Robert Shilliam, What the Haitian Revolution Might Tell Us about Development, Security, and the Politics of Race, 50 COMP. STUD. IN SOC’Y & HIST. 778 (2008).



-- ThaliaJulme - 25 Mar 2010

This is an excellent start. You have collected well. The first place to begin revising is with a pass through the draft to reduce the tendency to repetition. When you see where you repeat, you will see that your structure could also use a little tightening.

In addition to the problem of repetition, there is also an unfortunate gap in the narrative when it comes to the actual experience under the Rural Code. You basically paraphrase or quote briefly from Castor, and after that "the failure of the Rural Code" becomes a local cliche. The speculative positions of historians are noted, and the opinions of landowners who wanted stricter labor discipline than they got, but no actual facts that we can use to understand what did and didn't happen, or how.

I recognize that the absence of real records with meaningful data in them is the bane of Haitian history in every epoch. There may simply be nothing available. But in that case you should be clear about it.



Webs Webs

Attachments Attachments

  Attachment Action Size Date Who Comment
pdf A_Few_Stories_of_Stigma,_Joan_Dayan.pdf props, move 523.9 K 25 Mar 2010 - 20:06 ThaliaJulme A Few Stories about Haiti, Joan Dayan
pdf Excerpts,_Peasants_and_Poverty,_Lundhal.pdf props, move 231.4 K 25 Mar 2010 - 20:09 ThaliaJulme MATS LUNDHAL, PEASANTS AND POVERTY: A STUDY OF HAITI
pdf Haiti_et_ses_elites,_Jean_Casimir.pdf props, move 1091.3 K 25 Mar 2010 - 20:08 ThaliaJulme Haiti et ses elites
pdf Les_Ancinnes_sucreries_coloniales,_Henock_Trouillot.pdf props, move 141.3 K 25 Mar 2010 - 20:10 ThaliaJulme HENOCK TROUILLOT, LES ANCIENNES SUCRERIES COLONIALES ET LE MARCHE HAITIEN (SOUS BOYER)
pdf Mulatto_Machiavelli,_Edward_Baur.pdf props, move 1096.0 K 25 Mar 2010 - 20:09 ThaliaJulme John Edward Baur, Mulatto Machiavelli, Jean Pierre Boyer, and The Haiti of His Day
pdf Rural_Code_Text.pdf props, move 3552.7 K 25 Mar 2010 - 20:04 ThaliaJulme Rural Code the Boyer in English
pdf What_the_Haitian_Revolution_Might_Tell_Us,_Robert_Shilliam.pdf props, move 926.2 K 25 Mar 2010 - 20:07 ThaliaJulme Robert Shilliam, What the Haitian Revolution Might Tell Us about Development, Security, and the Politics of Race
r3 - 07 Sep 2011 - 00:11:24 - IanSullivan
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