Once in power, the Jeffersonians tried mightily to destroy the black republic. In 1805 and 1806, Congress debated an absolute embargo on trade with the island. During this period, Republicans raved about the need to undermine Haiti. Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin believed that any American trade with Haiti was “illicit” and “contrary to the law of nations.” Senator James Jackson of Georgia argued that the black government “must be destroyed.” Virginia Congressman John Wayles Eppes, Jefferson’s son-in-law, denied that Haiti was free and declared that he would “pledge the Treasury of the United States that the Negro government should be destroyed.” By this time, even the French had written off the island. The United States could gain nothing from the embargo, except to harm its own economic interests. Nevertheless, Jefferson insisted on the embargo.
Senator Samuel White, a Federalist from the slave state of Delaware, spoke against the embargo bill, which he called a “disgrace.” White discussed at great length the fact that the Haitian slaves were free under French law and that they were “de facto the governors of the country, and in every respect act as an independent people.” The Senate voted twenty-one to eight in favor of the embargo against Haiti. All the opposition came from Federalists. In the House, Congressman Eppes was so anxious to embargo Haiti that he “violently opposed” a motion to delay consideration of the bill by even a day. On the final vote, almost all of the opponents of the measure were Federalists. Some Southern Federalists, like Joseph Lewis of Virginia, who dared not vote against the measure because they might be labeled as supporters of the Haitian Revolution, managed to be absent and thus avoided the roll call.
In this debate, the Republicans could not countenance the possibility of free black people having their own country and trading with the United States. The Federalists, while certainly not racial egalitarians, were willing to accept the reality of Haiti, recognize the nation, and trade with the black republic. As Michael Zuckerman has observed about Haiti, “In the realm of race, the Federalists clung to the ideological inheritance of the Revolution far more than the Jeffersonians.”