BEFORE AND AFTER 1865

II

Notice first that crown colony government strengthened a relationship which already existed. This change in the intensity of the relationship between the society in Jamaica and the Government of Great Britain had this effect, among others: it made the society as a whole more dependent, less responsible, less self-directing than it had been. But the society in Jamaica had always been a colonial society. That is to say, it had always been dependent on a metropolitan society and its government.

To say that the society had always been dependent, is not to say that early in the life of the society the white settlers wished it so. They appreciated the advantages, particularly the economic advantages, of independence, but they also understood its hazards. Nor, we may be allowed to guess, did the slaves wish it so. Rebellious slaves surely appreciated that the dependent status of the society was a disadvantage to them.

It was a relationship imposed by superior power, and one to which the white settlers accommodated themselves. Within the bounds set by this power, white property-holders made their lives and fortunes. Foreigners were kept at sea and slaves on the estates. The white community was dependent on the imperial power for its trade and its protection. This was the basis of the accommodation: the white community had an exclusive market for its produce and was protected from slaves and foreigners.

The accommodation of inferior to superior power was made palatable by a concession which the white community had risked much to achieve. In matters which concerned exclusively the ordering of their society, they were allowed to be their own masters. In general, this meant that taxes were not imposed on them by the English Crown in order to pay its servants in the colony. The white settlers taxed themselves and so would keep the arrogance of the King’s servants within some bounds by withholding public money from them. It meant also that they were left to police the slaves and repress the free black and brown inhabitants without English interference. Finally, it meant that they could tax themselves for the few services such as roads, forts, harbours and public buildings which they required in common.

As if to make up for the realisation that the important decisions governing the life of their society were taken outside of it, the white community vehemently defended the political jurisdiction they had gained, and even sought to encroach upon what the Crown bad marked out for itself.

Fighting with governors, complaining to the Crown and Parliament about the condition of trade and repressing the lower orders is not high politics. But it left its mark on the society. It gave the community a political style which survived at least to the nineteen-thirties. Long after emancipation, it was the chief substance of our politics. And it gave to succeeding generations the rhetoric of liberty which has recently been put to more substantial use. The seriousness with which the whites conducted their limited politics gave them a cohesion which justifies us in describing them as a community. It was of course the politics of a minority, male, white, propertied and Anglican.

For most of the eighteenth century this accommodation was, on balance, to the advantage of the white community. Gradually it became less so. But by then both the sugar economy based on an exclusive market and the social structure erected to support that economy, the slave society, had become to the white community the natural order of the universe. What had begun as a convenience had become a necessity. Sugar and slavery bound them to Great Britain.

But even in Great Britain the natural order changes. In that country, critics of the old imperial economy and critics of the slave society that went with it became sufficiently powerful to abolish both.

Emancipation did not shock the white community into a posture of independence. To adopt such a stance, they would have had to embrace the doctrine of social equality of all men. What they chose to do, once they had stopped their trans-Atlantic debate with Great Britain about its invasion of their constitutional rights, was to use their political power to make of emancipation a mere word, without economic and social reality.

They were tempted to play this game because although emancipation had conferred civil rights on all slaves, political rights accrued only to those who possessed property to the value required by the laws then in force. By the eighteen-forties, their game had been stopped. But unfortunately for the society, it had not been stopped by the ex-slaves swarming over the field. It had been whistled off by Great Britain in its role as referee. The white community had been stopped; the black community had been protected by the British Government using its imperial authority to declare null and void any colonial law which offended it.