Law of 20 May 1802

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The French Law of 20 May 1802 was passed that day (30 floréal year X), revoking the Law of 4 February 1794 (16 pluviôse) which had abolished slavery in all the French colonies. However, the 1794 decree was only implemented in Saint-Domingue, Guadeloupe and Guyane, and was a dead letter in Senegal, Mauritius, Reunion and Martinique, the last of which had been conquered by the British, who maintained the institution of slavery on that Caribbean island.[1]

Réunion hindered its implementation. Martinique refused to ratify it due to a royalist insurrection there, similar to that in the Vendée, which had been in revolt since 16 September 1793 and had, represented by planter Louis-François Dubuc, signed the Whitehall accord of submission to Britain. On 6 February 1794 the British began their military conquest of Martinique, completed on 21 March 1794, and thus the island avoided the abolition of slavery.

The Law of 20 May 1802 had the express purpose of restoring slavery in Saint-Domingue, Guadeloupe and French Guiana, and was passed when Napoleon turned his attention to the French colonies in the peace that followed the 1802 Treaty of Amiens, which also restored Martinique to France. Napoleon's attempts to restore slavery in Saint-Domingue proved futile.[2][3] This law united opposition to Napoleon's brother-in-law, 1802 general Leclerc (commander of the Saint-Domingue expedition), who failed in his attempts to restore slavery to Saint-Domingue.[4][5]

Joséphine de Beauharnais's intervention in favour of re-establishing slavery is probably a myth, since there is no evidence for it, she had little political influence over Napoleon and her pro-slavery bias has not been clearly demonstrated. The maintenance and re-imposition of slavery was far more influenced by Britain and her allies.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Sue Peabody, French Emancipation Accessed 27 October 2019.
  2. ^ Jacques Adélaïde, La Caraïbe et la Guyane au temps de la Révolution et de l'Empire (1992), Ed. Karthala, ISBN 2-86537-342-8
  3. ^ Perry, James Arrogant Armies Great Military Disasters and the Generals Behind Them, (Edison: Castle Books, 2005) pages 78–79.
  4. ^ Sue Peabody, French Emancipation Accessed 27 October 2019.
  5. ^ C. L. R. James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint Louverture and the San Domingo Revolution, 1st ed. New York: Vintage Books, 1963.