Thirdly, we consider how far crown colony government achieved the other aims it set itself. The claim that it would provide impartial government and protect the interests of the poor and ignorant, can be stated as a promise to bring the society into equilibrium. Then when the contending classes were in equipoise crown colony government would come to an end. During the time when the poor were being developed and the rich restrained, the whole society would have learned the style of responsible politics appropriate to a free society.
The British failed to live up to claims made in a moment of hubris. British civil servants temporarily stationed in a foreign society, were supposed, without check, to adequately protect the interests of the poor and ignorant. They did not. This was not because they did not care. But because they should not have been expected to care so much. They were not subjected to pressure on behalf of the poor. The nominated and elected unofficial members effectively lobbied in their own interest. When the early vision had faded, the major concern of crown colony government became to avoid another riot. By rioting in 1938, the poor and ignorant wrote their own epitaph on the system. It did not bring two unequal social groups into equilibrium. It reinforced the dominance of the power of wealth and frustrated the thrust of the power of numbers.
Although the British failed in large measure to be impartial administrators and to protect the interest of the poor and to teach the society responsible politics, even here they achieved a measure of success. What the gain was to the society is difficult to assess, but bits of evidence suggest that some of the poor were persuaded of their impartiality between contending classes.
One bit of evidence comes from a memorandum submitted to the 1882 Royal Commission by a group who claimed to speak on behalf of the “hundreds of the Negro inhabitants of Kingston and its neighbourhood”. They said among other things that they were “fully conscious that without the protection of the Government our fellow colonists would not permit us to enjoy the breath we breathe”. The document is redolent of the belief that their enemy was the white and brown propertied class who controlled the island since slavery. The relevant question is how widespread were these opinions among the black population? The literary sources known to us do not say.
So we now only suggest that the opinions expressed in the document to the 1882 Royal Commission seem to make sense of the campaign and the results of the 1944 election. The party which made the immediate goal bread rather than independence, and which made the enemy the propertied class rather than the British, may have owed its victory in part to an appeal which was in harmony with the beliefs of a large portion of the electorate. The electorate may have been mistaken in identifying the party led by the professional men with the propertied class, but if so it was a natural mistake for them to make in the circumstances of the island’s history. The slogan “self-government is slavery”, whatever it may have meant to those who used it, echoes the voice of 1883, “without the protection of the government, our fellow colonists would not permit us to enjoy the breath we breathe”. And it may well be that those to whom it was addressed took it to mean more than those who used it ever intended.
So at the end of 1944 the upward thrust of the power of numbers which had been stopped at the end of 1865, reasserted itself. It would please us to add that the thrust now took a form which showed the benefits that had accrued to the poor from eighty years of crown colony government. But of that there is no sign. They voted, as they might well have voted in 1866, in their own interest. How much had they learnt of democratic politics and of responsible government in the interval? One test is that they voted into power a party to whom the forms and nuances of parliamentary democracy were alien. The apprenticeship in responsible government may well have started for the society in 1838 or 1866 or 1884. It only began in 1945.