Cincinnatus Leconte
Jean-Jacques Dessalines Michel Cincinnatus Leconte was President of Haiti from August 15, 1911 until his death on August 8, 1912. He was a great-grandson of Jean-Jacques Dessalines
Jean-Jacques Dessalines
Jean-Jacques Dessalines was a leader of the Haitian Revolution and the first ruler of an independent Haiti under the 1801 constitution. Initially regarded as Governor-General, Dessalines later named himself Emperor Jacques I of Haiti...

—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 RMS Titanic.

Political career

Leconte, a lawyer by trade, had served as minister of the interior to President Pierre Nord Alexis
Pierre Nord Alexis
Pierre Nord Alexis was President of Haiti from December 21, 1902 to December 2, 1908. He was son of Nord Alexis, a high-ranking official in the regime of Henry Christophe, and Blézine Georges, Christophe's illegitimate daughter. Alexis joined the army in the 1830s, serving President Jean-Louis...

. He was forced into exile in Jamaica after a 1908 revolt deposed Alexis and gave François C. Antoine Simon
François C. Antoine Simon
François C. Antoine Simon was President of Haiti from 6 December 1908 to 3 August 1911. He led a rebellion against Pierre Nord Alexis and succeeded him as president.-Biography:...

 the presidency.

Returning from exile in 1911, Leconte gathered a large military force. After leading the revolution that ousted President Simon and brought Leconte back to Port-au-Prince
Port-au-Prince is the capital and largest city of the Caribbean nation of Haiti. The city's population was 704,776 as of the 2003 census, and was officially estimated to have reached 897,859 in 2009....

 in triumph on August 7, 1911, Leconte was unanimously elected president of Haiti by Congress on August 14, 1911, with a seven-year term. His salary was set at $24,000 a year.

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. Collier's Weekly
Collier's Weekly
Collier's Weekly was an American magazine founded by Peter Fenelon Collier and published from 1888 to 1957. With the passage of decades, the title was shortened to Collier's....

argued in August 1912 that it was "generally admitted" that Leconte's administration was "the ablest and the cleanest government Hayti has had in forty years." Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston was an American folklorist, anthropologist, and author during the time of the Harlem Renaissance...

, writing in the 1930s after extensive research in Haiti, pointed out that Leconte was "credited with beginning numerous reforms and generally taking positive steps."

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." Prior to ascending to the presidency, he had promised to rid Haiti of its Syrian population. In 1912 Leconte's foreign minister released a statement stating that it was "necessary to protect nationals against the disloyal competition of the Easterner whose nationality is uncertain." A 1903 law (aimed specifically at Syrians) limiting the immigration levels and commercial activities of foreigners was revived, and the harassment of Syrians that had been prevalent in the first few years of the 1900s was resumed. The Leconte administration did, however, continue to process claims made by Syrians who had been persecuted by the government of Nord Alexis. When Leconte died suddenly in 1912, a number of Syrians celebrated his passing and were imprisoned as a result, while others were deported. His Syrian policy would be continued by his successor Tancrède Auguste
Tancrède Auguste
Jean Antoine Tancrède Auguste was the President of Haiti from August 8, 1912 until his death in office on May 2, 1913. He assumed the presidency the day that Cincinnatus Leconte died in office from a massive explosion that destroyed the presidential palace...



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
National Palace (Haiti)
The National Palace is located in Port-au-Prince—facing Place L'Ouverture near the Champs de Mars—and is the official residence of the Haitian president. It was almost completely destroyed in the 2010 Haiti earthquake...

, killing the president and several hundred soldiers. An Associated Press
Associated Press
The Associated Press is an American news agency. The AP is a cooperative owned by its contributing newspapers, radio and television stations in the United States, which both contribute stories to the AP and use material written by its staff journalists...

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.

A 1912 account of the explosion in Political Science Quarterly
Political Science Quarterly
Political Science Quarterly is an American scholarly journal covering government, politics and policy, published continuously since 1886 by the Academy of Political Science. It is the oldest political science journal in the United States....

reported that an "accidental ignition of ammunition stores caused the death of General Cincinnatus Leconte," while a 1927 article in the same journal deemed his death an "assassination." 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."

Just several months before Leconte died, his nephew, Joseph Philippe Lemercier Laroche
Joseph Philippe Lemercier Laroche
Joseph Philippe Lemercier Laroche was a Paris educated engineer and is best known as being one of the only passengers of Haitian and black ancestry on the final voyage of the RMS Titanic. He was the nephew of Cincinnatus Leconte, a President of Haiti....

, had been one of over 2,200 passengers and crew on board the RMS 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.
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