Notes on Joseph-Antenor Firmin

I did a bit of checking around this morning. I've always heard the name Firmin batted around, but know virtually nothing of him. I first consulted The Historical Dictionary of Haiti to orient myself and read:

Firmin, Joseph-Antenor. Journalist, author, lawyer, cabinet minister, rebel and a Haitian exile in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. In 1905, he published a book, M. Roosevelt, president des Etats-Unis, et la Republique d'Haiti. The theme of the book is that Haitian had nothing to fear from the United States unless the Republic fell into anarchy, in which case intervention might be welcome. Haiti could escape that experience through reform, he said.
Firmin had formerly been Minister of Foreign Affairs under President Hyppolite and successfully fought off U.S. efforts to acquire a naval base at Mole-St. Nocholas.
Firmin believed that the executive power should be the servant, not the master of the state, that class divisions should be eliminated, and that the rural masses of Haiti should be brought into Haitian society.

Well, this says he was quite a prophet! Just 10 years after he wrote all that Haiti fell into the anarchy he warned against and the U.S. did invade. And, many of the intellectuals and elite welcomed that occupation, just as Firmin suggests, but here his powers fail him. The occupation became deeply hated.

That was my next lead. I went to Hans Schmidt whose written the definitive book in English on the occupation. Much to my surprise, there was no mention of Firmin at all. Quite a surprise.

That took me to Jacques Antoine's book, JEAN PRICE-MARS AND HAITI. Here there were some references.

Antoine gives the name of the events surrounding Mole St. Nicholas and Firmin as the Gherardi Incident and it involves Frederick Douglass as well, who was then U.S. Ambassador to Haiti. This is an event about which I have been storing up sources for some time, having a great interest in this event. But, to date I've done nothing with this material but make notes of it. However, while Firmin appears to have been instrumental in warding off this imperialist thrust of the U.S., he got himself into political troubles in Haiti for even entertaining it at all.

However, Firmin had alienated some political enemies and was shuttled about, as Minister to France (just to get him out of the country) and finally Alexis Nord, president of Haiti, drove him into exile at St. Thomas.

There were a number of reasons I consulted the Antoine book, and my guess was correct, so here are some thoughts.

So, I don't know the end of that tale. But, if Price-Mars had a manuscript, or even part of a manuscript that was never published -- well, there's a gold mine of a possibility!!!!!! What a find that would be.

Bob Corbett


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