Posted: Saturday, January 21, 2012 12:00 am
Why do we put such stock in objects, especially relics? After all, aren’t the ideas that these pieces embody what we should truly be celebrating? The problem with this is that ideas are ephemeral but objects can be lost and found again-and the ideas they embody along with them.
One such object has recently resurfaced and is now on display at the New-York Historical Society. The only surviving copy of Haiti’s original declaration of independence from France was thought to be lost to time but was uncovered in 2009 at the National Archives in London by Julia Gaffield, a graduate student at Duke University.
While all of Haiti’s copies of the declaration have disappeared in that nation’s turbulent recent history, this copy, which was discovered in the records of the British governor of Jamaica, remains a testament to those brave former slaves and freed men who overthrew a colonial superpower.
The Haitian revolution was profoundly disturbing to the colonial powers, as it heralded an age where their subjects increasingly challenged their power. White Americans, especially those of the slave-owning variety, were also terrified, fearing that the news of a massive slave revolt would give American Blacks untoward ideas of their own.
The document, now on display through April 15 as part of the Historical Society’s exhibition “Revolution! The Atlantic World Reborn,” is a powerful testament to the power of an idea, namely that of freedom. As the only copy left in existence, New Yorkers of all backgrounds should flock to see this important symbol.