We now discuss some of the consequences of crown colony government What benefits did the society gain from passing political authority over to the British? And what price did it pay for the benefits? We may draw up a crude balance sheet by assessing how the British used the political authority they had acquired in 1866. They had claimed that their presence in the society was justified because only they would be able to do three things, all of which the society badly needed. First, they would tidy the public service and administration and make them more efficient; secondly, they would provide impartial government between conflicting classes; thirdly, they would look after the interests of the blacks, protect them from the whites and from themselves. These statements do not add up to a programme of politics. They were statements of principles to guide the administrators who would make, in each case, their own political programme. The British said from time to time that crown colony government was temporary; that it worked towards its own death; that as soon as the society had learnt the arts of responsible politics, it would again govern itself.
The constitution of 1866 gave the British political authority in an autocratic form. The governor was sure of his majority and the society was represented only by his nominees. The Order-in-Council of 1884 set some limits to the extent that any governor could play the autocrat by permitting the elected members, when acting in concert, to veto his bills and resolutions. But it did not modify the essentially autocratic character of the crown colony constitution. For the next sixty years, this was the constitution of Jamaica.
We begin our assessment of the use the British made of their political authority in Jamaica by distinguishing between the constitution as written and politics as practised by the functionaries of the crown colony constitution. The theory of the constitution asserted autocracy. The practice of politics assumed an oligarchy.
The autocratic power was not in general use. It was conceived for a form of opposition which died with the old constitution. The Colonial Office likened the governor’s permanent majority to a phalanx. If any group was unreasonable enough to block the road to progress, the governor had the powers with which to scatter them. But after 1865, the mercantile and planter classes had no need for such crude tactics. And so, the autocratic power which originally was to have been the instrument for transforming the society, became merely the instrument for asserting the imperial interest, even when that was as crassly conceived as it was in the “Florence” case; and later still, the autocratic power was used principally to protect the salaries of civil servants from the attacks of the elected members. On such occasions, it appeared only after the governor had uttered the formula “of paramount importance to the public interest.”
To say that crown colony government was in practice an oligarchy, is to gloss over the differences in style and in substance, which distinguished the administrations of different governors. But, with one exception, it is not to distort significantly. Grant was the exception. He was the only autocrat.