Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Jeremy Popkin


This project studies the historical development of racialist language during the French Revolution as politicians, free people of color, and colonial whites debated the political status of France’s free people of color population. It examines the negotiation of a racialist language that bolstered colonial racial hierarchies with an egalitarian language that sought to level the corporate structures of the Old Regime. I look especially at the ways that language served as a management device to articulate and legitimize new relationships of power in the political culture of the French Revolution. I connect developments in France to the colonies by showing how free men of color were able to impose their own egalitarian, color-blind language on colonial public discourse through armed force and by leveraging the white population’s need for their support after the August 1791 slave insurrection in Saint-Domingue. I also highlight how whites in the colony attempted to maintain racialist power structures while publicly adopting the revolutionary language of race. I argue that a disavowal of race in public discourse occurred after the French government enfranchised free men of color in 1792 that attempted to reconcile colonial power structures with republican values. However, the continuation of racial violence in Saint-Domingue, culminating in the destruction of Cap Français on June 20, 1793, indicate the limits of revolutionary idealism and the persistence of a racialist worldview despite the revolutionary attempt to transform colonial society by deracializing the public sphere.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)