If you’re like me, you may experience a visceral sense of humility as you scroll through history, uncovering legends of greatness you once were completely blind to. Here is what T. Mistlberger had to say qualified a man to be on the list:
“What matters more to me is quality combined with impact and especially, legacy”
“The following men embody various qualities such as courage, mastery, creativity, inventiveness, and the best qualities of the benevolent king, warriors, and magicians”
“The main quality of “great”, in the context meant here, is a legacy of influence that involves waking up the human race to its greater possibilities, and in a fashion that has lasting impact”
Well said. There was one man not on the list that stuck with me. A man that I consider my hero. A man that would earn my answer if I was ever asked, “dead or alive, if you could take any person to dinner, who would you take?”
In honor of the Fifteen Great Men before, I offer a sixteenth man for consideration.
Governor-General, Toussaint Louverture (1743-1803)
Toussaint can be considered one of the most important historical figures in the last 400 years that you’ve never heard about. Born a slave in the French colony of Saint Domingue, now modern day Haiti, he led the first successful slave revolution in human history that achieved national independence. As the founding father of Haiti, Toussaint’s true greatness transcended his military prowess, diplomatic cunning, and agricultural innovativeness – he was a master of culture.
Before the slave revolution that led to Saint Domingue independence, Toussaint’s reputation was that of a devout Catholic, master herb doctor and unrivaled horseman. He was godfather to the arriving slaves on his plantation, teaching them how to read and write; an honor that cemented his legacy long before the opportunity for national emancipation manifested.
When war began between the Europeans and the slaves of Saint Domingue, Toussaint ascended the ranks quickly despite no formal military training. His secret: building culture. Toussaint did not massacre enemies he defeated on the battlefield like his European and Haitian counterparts; he compelled European soldiers to train his men and join his ranks, a decision that produced the most elite military force on the island. Toussaint’s bravery during battle, and his mercy once it had ended, earned him genuine respect from his European captures, which nurtured seeds of cultural cohesion. Toussaint’s ability to inspire enemies, calm civilians, and embolden his troops demonstrates a wholeness of spirit that would lead the country out of slavery, through war, and into liberation.
After the initial victories, Toussaint’s biggest threats were not European colonizers, but the psychic trauma inflicted on the inhabitants of Saint-Domingue from 150 years of slavery. Toussaint understood that for peace to sustain in Haiti, a shared culture must be born to mend the wounds inflicted by racism and classism. Religious tolerance, universal medicine and free markets coalesced around Toussaint’s leadership. Catholicism and Vodou were practiced freely, European and Indigenous medicine was administered holistically, and trade vessels filled every port. These policies pacified generational resentment, leading to an accepted status quo amongst the differing races and classes. Toussaint’s cultural intuition and economic equality created a thriving nation.
War resumed when Napoleon Bonaparte sent French troops to restore slavery on Saint Domingue to fund his conquest of Europe. In the end, Toussaint was captured and deported to a French prison where he died alone from illness and neglect, and was later buried in an unmarked grave. However, Toussaint’s capture was orchestrated by his own hand. By creating a power vacuum on the island, he helped complete the psychic emergence of black manifest destiny in the pursuit of liberation. The French losses mounted as the will of the people for freedom could not be halted, eventually leading to an armistice and a European acceptance of Haitian Independence.
Toussaint Louverture’s historical and cultural impact led to the formation of the democratic world as we know it. Due to the losses sustained in Saint Domingue, Napoleon was forced to sell the Louisiana Purchase to the North American Republic, unifying the democratic power of the Northern Hemisphere. Following, the French Empire collapsed, which allowed for democracy to grow and take root in Europe. Toussaint held in check the prevailing European colonization strategy and challenged the current paradigm of racial and class consciousness. Toussaint materially proved that a slave could become a Freeman, build a nation, and lead people of all races; no doubt offering the psychic precedent that assisted in ending slavery in the United States of America.