Law of 20 May 1802

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

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. That law had not taken effect in many of the colonies, with La Réunion hindering 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 England. On 6 February 1794 the English 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 explicitly concerned the territories that had not been applied the 1794 law and was linked to the 1802 Treaty of Amiens which restored Martinique to France. The 1802 law thus did not apply to Guadeloupe and Guyane. Napoleon's position was more characterised by pragmatism than by any 'ideological' inclination.[1] The law had little effect in Saint-Domingue except to re-inflame rebellion and accelerate its march towards independence in 1804 – on 24 July 1802 general Leclerc (commander of the Saint-Domingue expedition) wrote to admiral Denis Decrès inviting him to renounce all attempts to restore slavery to Saint Domingue.

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. ^ Jacques Adélaïde, La Caraïbe et la Guyane au temps de la Révolution et de l'Empire (1992), Ed. Karthala, ISBN 2-86537-342-8