Faustin-Élie Soulouque was a career officer and general in the Haitian Army when he was elected President of Haiti in 1847. In 1849 he was proclaimed Emperor of Haiti under the name Faustin I. He soon purged the army of the ruling elite, installed black loyalists in administrative positions, and created a secret police and a personal army. In 1849 he created a black nobility in the country. An enthusiastic vodouisant, Soulouque kept among his Place staff several bocors and mambos, and vodou was openly practiced in the capital during his reign, marking perhaps the first time in Haiti's history when a governing ruler gave the much-maligned religion semi-official status.
The spirits however were not enough to ward off a series of Dominican navy reprisal raids along Haiti's south coast. His unsuccessful attempts to conquer the neighbouring Dominican Republic undermined his control and a conspiracy led by General Fabre Nicolas Geffrard forced him to abdicate in 1859. He was the last Haitian head of state to have been born prior to independence, the last ex-slave to ascend to the head of state, and the last to have participated in the Haitian Revolution.