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JAMAICA THE GOVERNMENT.
QUEEN, Lords, and Commons, with the full paraphernalia of triple readings, adjournments of the house, and counting out, prevails in Jamaica as it does in Great Britain.
By this it will be understood that there is a Governor, representing the Crown, whose sanction or veto is of course given, as regards important measures, in accordance with instructions from the Colonial Office. The Governor has an Executive Committee, which tallies with our Cabinet. It consists at present of three members, one of whom belongs to the upper House and two to the lower. The Governor may appoint a fourth member if it so please him. The gentlemen are paid for their services, and preside over different departments, as do our Secretaries of State, &c. And there is a Most Honorable Privy Council, just as we have at home. Of this latter, the members may or may not support the Governor, seeing that they are elected for life.
The House of Lords is represented by the Legislative Council. This quasi-peerage is of course not hereditary, but the members sit for life, and are nominated by the Governor. They are seventeen in number.
The Legislative Council can of course put a veto on any
bill. The House of Assembly stands in the place of the House of Commons. It consists of forty-seven members, two being elected by nineteen parishes, and three each
HOUSE OF COMMONS.
by three other parishes, those, namely, which contain the towns of Kingston, Spanish Town, and Port Royal.
In one respect this House of Commons falls short of the privileges and powers of our House at home. It cannot suggest money bills. No honorable member can make a proposition that so much a year shall be paid for such a purpose.
The government did not wish to be driven to exercise the invidious power of putting repeated vetos on repeated suggestions for semi-public expenditure ; and therefore this power has been taken away. But any honorable member can bring before the House a motion to the effect that the Governor be recommended himself to propose, by one of the Executive Committee, such or such a money bill; and then if the Governor decline, the House can refuse to pass his supplies, and can play the “red devil” with his Excellency. So that it seems to come pretty nearly to the same thing.
At home in England, Crown, Lords, and Commons really seem to do very well. Some may think that the system wants a little shove this way, some the other. Reform, may, or may not be, more or less needed. But on the whole we are governed honestly, liberally, and successfully; with at least a greater share of honesty, liberality, and success than has fallen to the lot of most other people. Each of the three estates enjoys the respect of the people at large, and a seat, either among the Lords or Commons, is an object of high ambition. The system may therefore be said to be successful.
But it does not follow that because it answers in England it should answer in Jamaica; that institutions which suit the country which is perhaps in the whole world the furthest advanced in civilization, wealth, and public honesty, should suit equally well an island which is unfortunately very far from being advanced in those good
RIGHT OF SUFFRAGE.
qualities; whose civilization, as regards the bulk of the population, is hardly above that of savages, whose wealth has vanished, and of whose public honesty-I will say nothing Of that I myself will say nothing, but the Jamaicans speak of it in terms which are not flattering to their own land.
I do not think that the system does answer in Jamaica. In the first place, it must be remembered that it is carried on there in a manner very different from that exercised in our other West-Indian colonies. In Jamaica any man may vote who pays either tax or rent; but by a late law he must put in his claim to vote on a ten shilling stamp. There are in round numbers three hundred thousand blacks, seventy thousand colored people, and fifteen thousand white; it may therefore be easily seen in what hands the power of electing must rest. Now in Barbados no colored man votes at all. A colored man or negro is doubtless qualified to vote if he own a freehold ; but then, care is taken that such shall not own freeholds. In Trinidad, the legislative power is almost entirely in the hands of the Crown. In Guiana, which I look upon as the best governed of them all, this is very much the case.
It is not that I would begrudge the black man the right of voting because he is black, or that I would say that he is and must be unfit to vote, or unfit even to sit in a house of assembly; but the amalgamation as at present existing is bad. The objects sought after by a free and open representation of the people are not gained unless those men are as a rule returned who are most respected in the commonwealth, so that the body of which they are the units may be respected also.
This object is not achieved in Jamaica, and consequently the House of Assembly is not respected. It does not contain the men of most weight and condition in the island, and is con
WORKING OF THE SYSTEM.
temptuously spoken of even in Jamaica itself, and even by its own members.
Some there are, some few, who have gotten themselves to be elected, in order that things which are already bad may not, if such can be avoided, become worse. They, no doubt, are they who best do their duty by the country in which their lot lies. But, for the most part, those who should represent Jamaica will not condescend to take part in the debates, nor will they solicit the votes of the negroes.
It would appear from these observations as though I thought that the absolute ascendency of the white man should still be maintained in Jamaica. By no means. Let him be ascendant who can-in Jamaica or elsewhere -who honestly can. I doubt whether such ascendency, the ascendency of Europeans and white Creoles, can be longer maintained in this island. It is not even now maintained; and for that reason chiefly I hold that this system of Lords and Commons is not compatible with the present genius of the place. Let colored men fill the public offices, and enjoy the sweets of official pickings. I would by no means wish to interfere with any good things which fortune may be giving them in this respect. But I think there would be greater probability of their advancing in their new profession honestly and usefully, if they could be made to look more to the Colonial Office at home, and less to the native legislature.
At home, no member of the House of Commons can hold a government contract. The members of the House of Assembly in Jamaica have no such prejudicial embargo attached to the honor of their seats. They can hold the government contracts; and it is astonishing how many of them are in their hands.
"The great point which strikes a stranger is this, that
WORKING OF THE SYSTEM.
the House of Assembly is not respected in the island. Jamaicans themselves have no confidence in it. If the white men could be polled, the majority I think would prefer to be rid of it altogether, and to be governed, as Trinidad is governed, by a Governor with a council ; of course with due power of reference to the Colonial Office.
Let any man fancy what England would be if the House of Commons were ludicrous in the eyes of Englishmen; if men ridiculed or were ashamed of all their debates. Such is the case as regards the Jamaica House of Commons.
In truth, there is not room for a machinery so complicated in this island. The handful of white men can no longer have it all their own way; and as for the negroes
- let any warmest advocate of the “ man and brother position say whether he has come across three or four of the class who are fit to enact laws for their own guidance and the guidance of others.
It pains me to write words which might seem to be opposed to humanity and a wide philanthropy; but a spade is a spade, and it is worse than useless to say that it is something else.
The proof of the truth of what I say with reference to this system of Lords and Commons is to be found in the eating of the pudding. It may not perhaps be fair to adduce the prosperity of Barbados, and to compare it with the adversity of Jamaica, seeing the local circumstances were advantageous to Barbados at the times of emancipation and equalization of the sugar duties. Barbados was always able to command a plentiful supply of labor. But it is quite fair to compare Jamaica with Guiana or Trinidad. In both these colonies the negro was as well able to shirk his work as in Jamaica.