Alexandre Pétion was born in Port-au-Prince, on April 2nd, 1770, to a mulatto Haitian mother and a wealthy white French man named Pascal Sabès, who refused to legally recognize Pétion, because he found him to be too dark skinned. Although his father did not legally recognize him, he was never a slave since his mother was a free woman.
Petion learned the trade of silversmith from Guiole, a white French man who was good friend with his father. Guiole had great affection for Pétion, and gave him the nickname "Pichoun", (meaning my little one), and taught him how to read and write. As a teen, Pétion became particularly fascinated in artillery and was determined to join the military. Although it was previously believed that his father, Pascal Sabès, had sent him to France to be educated, it was Mr Guiole who sent Alexandre Pétion to study at the Military Academy in Paris, at the age of 18.
After 10 years in Paris, Pétion returned to Haiti, than Saint Domingue, to take part in the expulsion of the British from the colony. During The Battle of Pernier, Petion distinguished himself by his chivalrous spirit when he placed himself in front of the guns of his fellow soldiers, refusing the idea of taking the defeated white British soldiers as prisoners and slaves. Alexandre Pétion did not initially join the former black slaves on their fight against the french colonists, he associated himself with other mulattoes who were fighting for the French Army against Spain and England who were trying to take control of the colony. Alexandre Pétion rose to the rank of commander in chief of the Southern Province Army division, under Benoit André Rigaud the leading mulatto leader.
Benoit André Rigaud was an avid defender of the rights of free people of color in Saint Domingue, but not the rights of the black slaves, which put him at odds with Toussaint L'Ouverture and Jean Jacques Dessalines, who were both for the total abolition of slavery, this profound disagreement led to a bitter civil war, known as La Guerre des Couteaux (War of the Knives) between the mulattoes, Toussaint L'Ouverture and Jean Jacques Dessalines. In June of 1799, under the command of Toussaint and Dessalines, the former black slaves army invaded the town of Jacmel, which Alexandre Petion and Andre Rigaud vigorously defended, but the slaves army defeated them and they were forced into exile in Paris.
On May 20th, 1802, Napoleon Bonaparte reinstitued slavery in Saint Domingue and sent a powerful army of 60.000 soldiers abroad 86 warships, to overthrow Toussaint L'Ouverture and Jean Jacques Dessalines, reclaim the colony and reestablish slavery. Alexandre Pétion was one of the generals among the soldiers sent to the colony to overthrow Toussaint and Dessalines. But the decision of Napoleon Bonaparte to reinstate slavery had a profound impact on Pétion. He came to realize that Toussaint and Dessalines were fighting a noble cause; the rights of every man regardless of color to be free from imposed servitude. A soon as he landed in Haiti, he abandoned his post as a general in the French army, and paid allegiance to the Haitian Slave Army, and joined forces with Dessalines and Henry Christophe to fight for the country's Independence. He became the first Haitian soldier to recognize Dessalines as commander in chief of the slave army, and urged the mulattoes to allied themselves with the slaves under the command of Dessalines to abolish slavery in Haiti.
Alexandre Pétion was a man of impeccable character, in declaring war on France, Pétion distinguished himself by an act of generosity, which the French general Pamphile de la Croix , related with admiration in a letter sent to the french directories.
After winning the Vertières Battle, Jean Jacques Dessalines declared Haiti's independence on January 1st, 1804 in the city of Gonaïves, and became Haïti's President for life and then Emperor with the right to choose his successor. Dessalines despotism and draconian labor policies forced disaffecting members to plot against him; Alexandre Pétion was among those plotting to have the iron-fisted emperor overthrown. After the assassination of Jean Jacques Dessalines, Alexandre Pétion clashed with Henry Christophe on how the country should move forward. Pétion believed that a change in the form of government would result in better direction of public affairs, while Christophe saw no need for the change of government type. Passionate about the ideals of democracy and freedom, Alexandre Pétion refused the establishment of another monarchy and recommended the adoption of a republican form of government where the President would be elected by the people for a 5 years term. Pétion and Christophe disagreement resulted in a civil war in 1806. To stop the bloodshed, they agreed to split the country in two. Henry Christophe proclaimed himself King of Northern Haiti and Alexandre Pétion was elected President of the Republic of Southern Haiti.
President Pétion drafted the Republic's constitution which invested the executive power on the President who is elected by the People for a four years term; the legislative power resided in a senate of 80 members; and a great number of judges were appointed throughout the country for life. The constitution ensured that the three branches of the government were independent from one another.
When Haiti proclaimed independence, the plantations of the colonists were confiscated and became the property of the Haitian state, one of the first act of Alexandre Pétion was to pass a law called "National Gifts" distributing lands to farmers, and former soldiers and officers who fought for Haiti's Independence, thus creating moderate and small rural estates, this generous act boosted his popularity and earned him the nickname of "Papa bon coeur" (good hearted daddy); he understood that the best way of developing national spirit was to attach citizens to the soil, by making them the owners of the land they cultivate. The agrarian problems which at the time was one of the greatest preoccupations of the United States of America and the majority of European countries, was solved by the Black Republic in the most democratic manner under the leadership of Alexandre Pétion.
President Pétion gave education his most solicitous attention. "Education should be the fundamental basis of any program in a true democracy, because education raises man to the dignity of his being", he said. He established in Port-au-Prince a national lycée for boys, a national school of secondary education for girls in Jacmel, the Pensionnat National des Demoiselles in Port-au-Prince and, a national college for the formation of an intellectual elite among Haitian youth.
Alexandre Pétion desires for independence and freedom was not only for Haiti, but also for all those people who were under the burden of slavery by a foreign domination. In 1806 the Spanish Army chased Simon Bolivar and Francisco de Miranda out of Venezuela to New Grenada (now Bolivia) which was also a Spanish colony, he seized control of the Army, but lack of supplies and men, forced him to flee to Jamaica, then British colony. Forced out Jamaica by the British, President Alexandre Pétion granted both him and Francisco de Miranda asylum and protection in the town of Jacmel.
Francisco de Miranda
After residing in Jacmel for a number of months, Simon Bolivar decided to leave Haiti en route to Venezuela, before leaving, President Pétion presented him with an extremely valuable gift that would boost the moral of the man that would later become to be known as the Liberator of Spanish America. President Pétion gave him the sword that Jean Jacques Dessalines used to fight off the french out the country, making Haiti, the first country in the word to abolish slavery,the First Black Republic, and the second independent Nation in the Americas. President Pétion believed that this particular sword had magical power; he took it out of his personal museum and gave it to Simon Bolivar as a sign of admiration and support. Upon receiving such a significant object, Simon Bolivar named it "Sword Liberating" and raised it towards the sky with his right hand and made the following promise to Alexandre Pétion.
" I swear to be faithful and loyal to the free people of South America, independent of Spain, and serve honestly and faithfully against all their enemies and opponents."