What did the riots do to these attitudes? So far as one can tell, nothing. What it did do was to provide the abolitionists with a broker; or to use the metaphor of a contemporary, a midwife. It is of course possible to combine the explanation which adduces panic with the broker-midwife description of Eyre’s role; though the description does modify the notion that the constitution was surrendered in a moment of intense panic out of fear of the blacks. But it is best for us to treat the two matters, the attitudes of the members of the Assembly and the role of Eyre in changing the constitution separately.
The attitude pre-1865 of those who wished to keep the blacks outside of politics was not to surrender power to Great Britain, but to raise the property qualification both for membership of the House of Assembly and for voting. The attitudes of those who thought the society could not produce forty-seven members of the House and seventeen members of the Legislative Council was manifest in their proposals to consolidate both houses into a single chamber legislature. There were a few voices raised before 1865 for “strong government”, by which was meant government by Englishmen. We do not know the evidence which shows panic. Because panic would have meant a wholesale conversion of the first two groups to the position of the third, government by Englishmen. This obviously did not happen.
What happened was that the various groups, none of which before or after the riots were large enough to get its own way, were kept talking long enough to produce a law, the first act amending the constitution. This was the product of horse-trading; it was untidy, contained tidbits for everybody, and was certainly not what any of the parties wanted, least of all Eyre. Did the riots put the various groups in a mood for horse-trading which would have been absent without the riots? Almost certainly, but they would not have continued talking but for Eyre.
The riots gave Eyre the opportunity to propose a change of constitution which without them, he would not have been able to do. That is, in the interval between the riots and the meeting of the legislature, Eyre felt able to prepare a draft bill and introduce it to the House through the Executive Committee. An act which in normal times would have been difficult, since Westmoreland for instance, would not have introduced such a bill. Even so, Eyre understood from the start that although what he wished was crown colony government, if he drafted such a bill, it would never pass the Assembly. So he drafted a bill to establish a single chamber, with half its members elected and half nominated, and the Crown in control through the casting vote of the governor. But even this bill the Assembly mauled according to its own prejudices and interests.
Whatever it was that kept them talking, the magnet, the force that held them together was spent by the time the deed was done. Badly mauled, as was the first amending act, particularly where it sought to give control to the Crown, Eyre urged the Colonial Office to accept it rather than send it back to the floor of the House, for then it was sure to be entirely lost.
If this was the mood of the Assembly, why was Eyre able to get the second act passed? Briefly, he took advantage of two things. One was that the House had thinned towards the end of the session as the country members went home for Christmas. Secondly, he made brilliant use of the general disagreement over what sort of constitution should replace the old. He had told the Secretary of State that there were almost as many opinions on that as there were members. Yet, even in the reduced House, Eyre could not have got a positive bill written. He was able to let each group feel that if they merely repealed the first amending act and left it to the Crown to enact a new constitution, they would get the constitution they wished for. Hence the consternation with which the crown colony government constitution was greeted in 1866.