A bare list of the events which followed the riots at Morant Bay provokes no argument. But whether these events are, or are not, the consequences of that affray, is a matter of debate. We offer the remarks which follow as a contribution to this debate.
If we interpret the events at Stony Gut and at the Court House in Morant Bay correctly as a statement, uttered in blood, about the unjust relations between men who belonged to different economic classes and also to different ethnic groups, then the direct effects of the riots must be sought in the subsequent attitudes of social groups towards one another. That is we have to answer such questions as, to what extent did the riots change the attitudes of blacks, browns and whites towards one another? Did such changes take place in St. Thomas alone, or over the whole island, or nowhere? Did the riots change the conception each ethnic group had of itself? Did it stiffen the spine of the one and make the other more accommodating? How did it affect the relations between planter and labourer? Did it alter the balance of political power between economic classes?
We cannot give satisfactory answers to most of these questions for three reasons. Firstly, we are limited in what we write here by the kind of historical documents we have used. The information we possess does not allow us to discuss the direct consequences of the riots on social attitudes. But we do have enough information to discuss the effect of the riots on politics.
Secondly, to answer questions of the kind which we have instanced, it is not enough to know what social attitudes were after the riots; it is also necessary to know with some precision what they were before that social disturbance. And this we do not know.
Thirdly, two events intervened between the riots and some of their possible consequences. The intrusion into the society of an alien military force which found no riot to suppress but remained to terrorise a part of that society. And following closely, the imposition of political authority from outside.
So although it is possible to sketch answers to some questions, such as the attitudes of employers to labourers, or the attitudes of ethnic groups to one another for the years before and after 1865, and although we know in general what the society was like before 1865, and what it was like afterwards, it remains difficult to assess the direct consequences of the riots on relationships within the society, because the British interposed themselves in ways which were bound to influence the relations of social groups one to another.
If this is so, it is not the riots which make 1865 a watershed in Jamaican history, but the abdication in that year of political authority by the Jamaicans who possessed it. Later, we shall discuss the relationship between the riots and the passing of responsibility for the society over to foreigners. Now we wish to notice that both the riots and the events which followed them were the working out of tendencies already existing in the society. Since the society survived the riots without alteration of its social and economic structures, the history of Jamaica after 1865 may be read as a record of the extent to which these tendencies were assisted or frustrated by crown colony government.