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Cincinnatus Leconte

President of Haiti
In office
August 15, 1911 – August 8, 1912
Preceded by François C. Antoine Simon
Succeeded by Tancrède Auguste

Born September 29, 1854
Died August 8, 1912

Jean-Jacques Dessalines Michel Cincinnatus Leconte was President of Haiti from August 15, 1911 until his death on August 8, 1912.[1] He was a great-grandson of Jean-Jacques Dessalines—a former African slave who briefly held power as Emperor of Haiti—and an uncle of Joseph Laroche, the only black passenger to perish on the Titanic.[2][3][4]

Political career

Leconte, a lawyer by trade, had served as minister of the interior to President Pierre Nord Alexis. He was forced into exile in Jamaica after a 1908 revolt deposed Alexis and gave François C. Antoine Simon the presidency.[5]

Returning from exile in 1911, Leconte gathered a large military force.[6] After leading the revolution that ousted President Simon and brought Leconte back to Port-au-Prince in triumph on August 7, 1911, Leconte was unanimously elected president of Haiti by Congress on August 14, 1911, with a seven-year term.[7][8][6] His salary was set at $24,000 a year.[9]

Upon attaining the presidency he instituted a number of reforms: paving streets, increasing teacher pay, installing telephone lines, and decreasing the size of the army.[10] Collier's Weekly argued in August of 1912 that it was "generally admitted" that Leconte's administration was "the ablest and the cleanest government Hayti [sic] has had in forty years."[5] Zora Neale Hurston, writing in the 1930s after extensive research in Haiti, pointed out that Leconte was "credited with beginning numerous reforms and generally taking positive steps."[11]

Leconte pursued a discriminatory policy toward what was referred to as the "Syrian" population (most were actually Lebanese Christians), an already persecuted minority group which one historian described as constituting the "opening wedge of the American economic conquest of Haiti in the early 1900s."[12] Prior to ascending to the presidency, he had promised to rid Haiti of Syrian immigrants and to enforce already established laws limiting this large ethnic group's immigration levels as well as their commercial and banking activities, whose success had plagued Haitian shopkeepers and merchants since the late 19th century. Leconte's foreign minister released a statement in 1912 stating, "It is necessary to protect nationals against the disloyal competition of the Easterner whose nationality is uncertain."[13][14][15][16]


Despite being elected to a seven year term, Leconte's time in office was short lived. On August 8, 1912 a violent explosion destroyed the National Palace, killing the president and several hundred soldiers.[17][18] An Associated Press report at the time noted:

So great was the force of the explosion, that a number of small cannon, fragments of iron and shell were thrown long distances in all directions, and many of the palace attendants were killed. Every house in the city was shaken violently and the entire population, greatly alarmed, rushed into the street.[5]

A 1912 account of the explosion in Political Science Quarterly reported that an "accidental ignition of ammunition stores caused the death of General Cincinnatus Leconte,"[19] while a 1927 article in the same journal deemed his death an "assassination."[1] Oral histories circulating in Haiti—some of which were chronicled by Hurston in the 1930s in her book Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica—differed significantly from most written accounts. As Hurston explained, "The history books all say Cincinnatus Leconte died in the explosion that destroyed the palace, but the people do not tell it that way. Not one person, high or low, ever told me that Leconte was killed by the explosion. It is generally accepted that the destruction of the palace was to cover up the fact that the President was already dead by violence." According to Hurston there were "many reasons given for the alleged assassination," but the main actors in the supposed plot were men who "were ambitious and stood to gain political the death of President Leconte."[20]

Just several months before Leconte died, his nephew, Joseph Phillippe Lemercier Laroche, had been one of over 2,200 passengers on board the Titanic for its maiden voyage. While Laroche's wife and daughters survived the sinking of the ocean liner, Laroche himself perished, becoming the only man of African descent to lose his life in the disaster.[4]


  1. ^ a b Douglas, Paul H. (1927-06). "The American Occupation of Haiti I". Political Science Quarterly 42 (2): 232.  
  2. ^ Jacques Carmeleau, Jean Price-Mars and Haiti (Three Continents Press, 1981), page 77
  3. ^ Dantès Bellegarde, "Histoire de du peuple haïtien, 1492-1952 (Held, 1953), page 233
  4. ^ a b Hughes, Zondra (2000-06). "What Happened To The Only Black Family On The Titanic". Ebony. Retrieved 2010-01-13.  
  5. ^ a b c Ferris, William Henry (1913). The African Abroad,: Or, His Evolution in Western Civilization, Tracing His Development Under Caucasian Milieu, V. 2. The Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor press. pp. 624-625.  
  6. ^ a b Chisholm, Hugh (1913). The Britannica year book. The Encyclopœdia Britannica Company. pp. 1086.  
  7. ^ "LECONTE IN HAITI'S CAPITAL.; Revolutionary Leader Takes Possession of National Palace". The New York Times: pp. 4. 1911-08-08. Retrieved 2010-01-13.  
  8. ^ Ferris 623.
  9. ^ Horace Greeley, The Tribune Almanac and Political Register (The Tribune Association, 1912), page 502
  10. ^ Reading, Andrew. "Democracy and Human Rights in Haiti". World Policy Reports: 13. Retrieved 2010-01-13.  
  11. ^ Hurston, Zora Neale (1990). Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica. New York, New York: Harper & Row. pp. 104.  
  12. ^ Plummer, Brenda Gayle (1981-10). "Race, Nationality, and Trade in the Caribbean: The Syrians in Haiti, 1903-1934". The International History Review 3 (4): 517-518.  
  13. ^ Plummer 533.
  14. ^ Charles Arthur and J. Michael Dash, A Haiti Anthology: Libète (Markus Wiener Publishers, 1999), page 219
  15. ^ Caribbean Societies, Volume 2 (University of London, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, 1985), page 115
  16. ^ In 1905 the Syrian population of Haiti was estimated to be 15,000.
  17. ^ Plummer 536.
  18. ^ Danner, Mark (1991-08-11). "To Haiti, With Love and Squalor". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-01-13.  
  19. ^ Hayes, Carlton H.; Edward M. Sait (1912-12). "Record of Political Events". Political Science Quarterly 27 (4): 752.  
  20. ^ Hurston 103.


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