The first abolition of slavery in 1794

The first abolition of slavery in 1794

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  • The abolition of slavery by the Convention, 16 Pluviôse Year II / 4 February 1794.

    MONSIAU Nicolas André (1754 - 1837)

  • Slavery Abolition Decree, 16 Pluviôse Year II / 4 February 1794.

  • Me equal to you, me free too

    BOIZOT Louis Simon (1743 - 1809)

  • Me free too.

To close

Title: The abolition of slavery by the Convention, 16 Pluviôse Year II / 4 February 1794.

Author : MONSIAU Nicolas André (1754 - 1837)

Creation date : 1794

Date shown: 04 February 1794

Dimensions: Height 24 - Width 32

Technique and other indications: Pen drawing enhanced with gouache.

Storage location: Carnavalet Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - Bullozsite web

Picture reference: 04-508306 EE

The abolition of slavery by the Convention, 16 Pluviôse Year II / 4 February 1794.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - Bulloz

To close

Title: Slavery Abolition Decree, 16 Pluviôse Year II / 4 February 1794.

Author :

Creation date : 1794

Date shown: 04 February 1794

Dimensions: Height 31 - Width 20.5

Technique and other indications: Original handwritten and printed shipment, red wax seal.

Storage location: Historic Center of the National Archives website

Contact copyright: © Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

Picture reference: BB 34/158

Slavery Abolition Decree, 16 Pluviôse Year II / 4 February 1794.

© Historic Center of the National Archives - Photography workshop

To close

Title: Me equal to you, me free too

Author : BOIZOT Louis Simon (1743 - 1809)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 22 - Width 15.5

Technique and other indications: Porcelain cookie. Depth: 13.7 cm.

Storage location: New World Museum

Contact copyright: © New World Museum, La Rochelle

Picture reference: 983.4.2

Me equal to you, me free too

© New World Museum, La Rochelle

To close

Title: Me free too.

Author :

Creation date : 1794

Date shown: 1794

Dimensions: Height 9 - Width 9

Technique and other indications: 2 pendant engravings engraved by Louis Darcis, after Simon-Louis Boizot.

Storage location: National Library of France (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo National Library of France

Picture reference: Prints. De Vinck, t. 44.

© Photo National Library of France

Publication date: October 2006

Historical context

The situation of the colonies in 1794

If the humanitarian theories of the philosophers are widely disseminated, especially by the Society of Friends of Blacks in Paris, the Revolution does not immediately take a position in favor of the abolition of slavery. Supporters of the settlers who infiltrated the Jacobins continue to dissuade the assembly from any action that might destabilize the situation in the settlements.

News from the colonies, which war at sea made them more difficult and even rarer, reached Paris only with delays of several weeks, interspersed with long silences. Thus, the proclamation of the abolition of slavery in Santo Domingo on August 29, 1793 was not known in Paris until October.

The arrival of three deputies from Saint-Domingue, Jean-Baptiste Belley, the black, Jean-Baptiste Mills, the mulatto and Louis-Pierre Dufay, the white sent by Sonthonax, commissioner in Saint-Domingue constitutes a spectacular event and a source information for the Convention. Danton declares "Now England is lost".

Image Analysis

Monsiau drawing

The drawing reflects the excitement and jubilation generated by the Convention's decision: the total abolition of slavery, which we thought could only gradually be eliminated, provokes divine surprise. The assembly sits at the Château des Tuileries. The president opens his arms, no doubt to Dufay who has just spoken, followed by Belley and Mills. On the platform sits a black woman, said to be one hundred and fourteen years old. In front of the office crowd many blacks of all ages, we see the high hairstyles of signares, young high-ranking Métis women from Saint-Louis in Senegal. The new citizens of color wear unlikely clothes in the middle of the Parisian winter. For the artist, is it the recognition of a culture "according to Nature" among these men now considered as equals?

The abolition of slavery by the Convention

With conciseness, the decree of 16 Pluviôse Year II / February 4, 1794 abolished the slavery of negroes in all the colonies; it confers the quality of French citizen to all the men, domiciled in the colony, without distinction of color; he affirms that they will enjoy the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Implicitly, trafficking is abolished.

MP Lacroix (from Eure-et-Loir) demanded that the Assembly not dishonor itself by a discussion. The text drafted by him is adopted, unanimously, by acclamation. Danton declares that with this decree the assembly proclaims "universal freedom" but asks that the execution of the decree be entrusted to the committees of public safety and the colonies. The implementing decrees will never be drawn up, but new commissioners are sent to the colonies.

"Me equal to you, me free"

The sculptor Simon-Louis Boizot modeled in 1794, for the Sèvres factory, a free black couple in foot, in bisque, ceramic neither decorated nor enamelled. The man wears the Phrygian cap and the woman wears a pearl necklace from which hangs a carpenter's level, a symbol of Equality. On the base is engraved "Me equal to you, me free". It thus represents the new conception highlighted by the Convention: Freedom and Equality bring blacks and whites together because all must fight against the oppressor.

Engravings by Darcis

Two stipple engravings, printed in color by Louis Darcis after Boizot in a round border, use the same symbols of the Phrygian cap for freedom and of the level of carpenter, for Equality; they are marked "Me free too".

This representation is taken up by many popular and inexpensive prints, which suggest a strong demand from the public.


A failure ?

In the winter of Year II, the Revolution grappling with foreign and internal war and the crisis of subsistence can only confirm the decision of abolition taken by its representative in Santo Domingo. The decree of 16 Pluviôse Year II appears to historians as a "smokescreen" which has abused only a few philanthropic sans-culottes. In the colonies, the toll of abolition is slim.

Santo Domingo, in the hands of slaves, sinks in carnage and anarchy. Ten thousand whites left the island with their slaves to settle in the English islands or in Louisiana.

In the West Indies, the new commissioner Victor Hugues, installed in Guadeloupe reconquered from the English, proclaims the abolition but without applying a real liberation of the slaves who must continue to perform "forced" labor on the plantations. He leads a racing war without succeeding in retaking the other islands. Martinique, taken by the English, remains on the sidelines.

In Guyana, however, the lack of implementing instructions forced the authorities to innovate to put in place the start of economic and social reorganization.

In the Mascarenes, where slavery was never seriously contested, the decree was not sent until 1796. The colonists rose up against the agents of the Directory, Baco and Brunel, when they arrived on the island, in July 1796, and force them to re-embark without delay. The abolition is not applied.

  • abolition of slavery
  • Convention
  • human rights
  • revolutionary days
  • Abbot Gregory
  • West Indies


Yves BENOT and Marcel DORIGNYGregory and the cause of blacksAPECE, French Society of Overseas History, Paris, 2000. Marcel DORIGNY (Dir.)Slavery, resistance and abolitionParis, Editions du C.T.H.S., 1999. Marcel DORIGNY (Dir.) The abolition of slaveryPresses Universitaires de Vincennes / UNESCO, 1995.Guide to the sources of the slave trade, slavery and their abolitionDirectorate of Archives de France, La documentation française, Paris, 2007.

To cite this article

Luce-Marie ALBIGÈS, "The first abolition of slavery in 1794"

Video: What are the legacies of the French Revolution?


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