BEFORE AND AFTER 1865

He had the will, and he had the advantage of inaugurating the new constitution. The export economy was buoyant, and it was too soon after Morant Bay for the old politicians to engage in unrestrained protests. Towards the end of his regime, they did protest over his failure to consult them, but their voices were still muted. After he had retired, they attacked his policies in earnest, particularly the Rio Cobre irrigation works.

Grant’s practice may have been true to the letter of the constitution, it was not true to the spirit in which the Colonial Office expected crown colony government to work. Sir Henry Taylor was against governor-autocrats on practical grounds. He feared that they would inflame the local populations and bring down crown colony government in a very short time. The nominated unofficial members of the Legislative Councils, were not for him mere window-dressing. He justified their nomination on two grounds. First they embodied the principle of no taxation without representation. As the owners of the largest properties, agricultural and commercial, Taylor presumed them the mainstay of the revenue, and so the most appropriate local voices. He was wrong; but the despatches on the incidence of taxation did not perceptibly shake his belief in this argument. Secondly, he wished for an opposition to the governor, and through the protests of that opposition, for local criticism of schemes sent up by governors for his approval.

Yet Taylor did not expect the governors to become the creatures of the local oligarchies. He expected career officials to resist the influence of the larger commercial and agricultural interests. It was asking too much of them. By choosing the unofficial members to represent interests in the Council, by expecting them to be consulted, Taylor created within the system itself the opportunities for the large property holders to influence the decisions of the crown colony administrators. When one also takes into account that these men, for the most part, could be expected to share the general opinions which the local oligarchies had about the society, it is not surprising that crown colony government failed to live up to the large claims Taylor made on its behalf in 1865.

It was easier to establish a relatively efficient administration than to be both an impartial administrator and the protector of the blacks. It was impossible to prepare a people for responsible government and democratic politics by surrounding foreign administrators with propertied men, elected on a restricted franchise, and able to exercise a veto on expenditure. That was the way to teach sterile and irresponsible politics.

There is no doubt about the accomplishments of crown colony government. It came as close as was humanly possible to fulfilling the first of the three claims made on its behalf. Grant established the administrative apparatus of a modem state. Old departments were made more efficient, new ones were created. Rational procedures for the administration of the country’s finances were introduced; detailed estimates of revenue were prepared, debts funded, taxes collected. New courts were established to dispense justice to the poor. Abandoned land was declared forfeited to the Crown, and squatters were given titles. The public system of elementary education was started. So too was the public medical service. Roads and bridges were built.

This list tells us that in seven years, Grant did most of the things which the society needed since 1838, but had not done for itself. It is perhaps an exaggeration to say that emancipation created the state. But it may serve to emphasise the limited nature of public responsibilities before emancipation. The sessions of the House of Assembly during the period of slavery were the occasions when the slave-masters met to treat with the King and to settle a few matters of mutual concern. Whatever else was needed, each master provided within his own domain. At emancipation, one function was formally taken from him; that of judging and punishing the labourers on his estate. The Act of Emancipation specifically enjoined him to his other functions. He was to continue to provide the apprentices with the traditional services. He successfully flouted the act He found ways to judge and to punish, and to withdraw the services he had provided.

The British at first paid for justice and education. In neither case was the service adequate, but that it was provided at all was a great boon to the newly emancipated population. When the British stopped paying, the masters, still in control of the public purse, left the services to volunteers: education to the churches and justice to themselves. The cholera epidemics forced them to spend large sums of money, but when it was over Jamaica was still without a public health service. So up to 1865, the state had bare! acknowledged its responsibility to provide services for the whole society.

The British Government lectured the Assembly on its duties to the society. The Assembly invariably replied that the economy ruined by emancipation and free trade could not afford public services. Is it then to the lack of means rather than to the absence of will that we must look for an explanation? The state of the economy may well have explained wide disparities in the public expenditure for services, between one year and the next. But what has to be explained is not uneven expenditure from year to year, for it was not the case, but the pittance spent on some things and the large sums spent on others, between 1838 and 1865. Compare for instance the total sum spent on education to that spent on immigration.

The explanation lies in the belief of the planters that widespread education was against their interest since it would quickly reduce the numbers of those willing to labour on estates. Moreover, they were convinced that the state had one responsibility above all others. And that was to keep the sugar estates in existence. The priority thus accorded sugar over welfare services was justified by equating the private interests of estate owners with the public interests of the state. Sugar was the revenue and the revenue was sugar. No sugar, no revenue, no public services.

It is to Grant’s credit that he challenged the assumptions which made this reasoning plausible. The failure of his successors in office and of their superiors in the Colonial Office to construct alternative bases for economic development was in great measure due to their acceptance of this reasoning as correct. The most important economic event of the last century, the export trade in bananas owed nothing to crown colony government. But the country was fortunate that the trade was so firmly established by the eighteen-nineties when sugar prices steeply declined.