« PreviousContinue »
It would involve a total sacrifice of consistency if His Majesty were advised to establish a system of government in Trinidad, against the consequences of which, throughout the Antilles, it has been my duty, within the last three months to remonstrate, in terms even yet more explicit than those which my predecessors in office employed on the same subject.
You will not, I am persuaded, so far misunderstand me as to suppose that I doubt the possibility of finding in Trinidad individuals qualified by natural talents, by acquired knowledge, and by personal character, for the arduous office of legislating in a slave colony. The contrary is indeed sufficiently shown by the choice which I have advised His Majesty to make of six resident merchants and proprietors to be members of the legislative council. But had the same powers been delegated to the same individuals by a constituency composed of the proprietary body of Trinidad, they would have proceeded to the exercise of them under an influence from which they are now comparatively exempt. Their conduct must have been in great measure controlled by the prejudices and the passions of the exclusive and privileged class from whom their authority had been derived.
You would entirely misapprehend the motives which dictate the present despatch should you suppose it intended to convey a reproach against any class of society in Trinidad. I advert to the unhappy distinction which alienates the proprietors from the cultivators of the soil, not as matter of censure, but as the subject of deep concern. It deprives the colony of the blessing of free institutions ; and imposes on His Majesty's Government a duty most foreign to their general inclination and policy in refusing them. I know not how to reconcile the full enjoyment of civil freedom with the maintenance of domestic slavery. In a society of which the law or custom recognizes the relation of master and slave, it is necessary that the most effective security should be taken against the abuse, not only of the domestic authority of the owner, but of all those powers with which he may be entrusted, either as a magistrate or a legislator. But experience has demonstrated that a colonial assembly are in reality exempt from all responsibility, and free from all restraint, so long as they fall in with the opinions of the narrow circle to which the choice of members is confined. It is, therefore, not in the spirit of reproach or of suspicion, but in deference to the plain rules of justice, that His Majesty's Government decline to place this irresponsible power into hands where it would be continually liable to be abused at the expense of the great body of the people.
I am not ignorant that very serious objection has been made to the use in my own despatches of language in which the slaves are recognized as “ His Majesty's subjects,” and as forming part of the people at large ; and I observe that throughout the petition transmitted to me by Mr. Marryat, frequent mention is made of “ the Colony," “ the Colonists,” and “the Inhabitants” of Trinidad, as terms exclusively applying to such of the inhabitants as enjoy the blessing of personal freedom. The petition does not mention, or even allude, to the slaves ; nor does it notice in the slightest degree the effect of the proposed change upon them, although they constitute a large numerical majority of the whole population. I fear that this remarkable silence upon so important a topic is to be explained only by the influence of those prejudices of caste to which I have already referred. With the most unaffected solicitude for the interests of the privileged body, I cannot acquiesce in regarding them as the single objects of consideration ; nor forget that the slaves have a peculiar claim on my watchful care, from the helplessness of their condition, and their want of any agent authorized to advocate their interests in this country.
The general conclusion, therefore, to which I arrive on this part of the case is, that it is the duty of His Majesty's Government to prefer the substance of freedom to its forms; and that however imposing may be the sounds of a British Constitution and of a Legislative Assembly, they ought not, under the shelter of those venerable names, to concur in establishing a form of government deficient in that which forms the elementary principle and the peculiar excellence of our own—the equal protection of every class of men living beneath its rule.
There are not wanting other topics upon which the compatibility of a Legislative Assembly in Trinidad, with the prosperity of the island, and even with the general enjoyment of civil liberty itself, might be denied : I refer to the paucity of the inhabitants to whom the elective franchise could upon any scheme be given to the extraordinary influence which a very few individuals would exercise over the whole elective body'; to the inaptitude of the law, customs and privileges of Parliament
to the condition of a small colonial society, in which the few white inhabitants are all connected with, or dissociated from each other, by domestic, commercial or party relations or antipathies; to the absence of any public opinion, in the sense in which that term is understood in Great Britain, to control and prevent the abuse of the unlimited power of an assembly; and to the want of that balance of various interests amongst the constituent and representative bodies which can alone prevent the adoption of partial and oppressive measures. I might readily illustrate, by reference to the recent history of the smaller colonies, the force and practical importance of the objections which I have thus noticed to this form of government, when established amongst a very limited population. So severely has the inconvenience been felt, that it has become necessary to attempt the consolidation of some of the representative assemblies into one united body, in order to secure to the members greater freedom of action, and to their constituents a relief from vexations, for which the enjoyment of the elective franchise, and an independent legislature has not been found an equivalent. These, however, are invidious topics, which I gladly pass over in very general terms, not because they are in themselves unimportant, nor because they are irrelevant to the present discussion, but because the practical decisions which I have announced may be sufficiently vindicated without resorting more directly to the aid of arguments which might give pain to some, towards whom it is at once my inclination and my duty to manifest the utmost possible tenderness and respect.
Passing from the consideration of the general question, I shall next advert to the specific complaints which the Petitioners have preferred.
They allege that the delegation of all powers, legislative and financial, into the hands of the successive governors, from the time of the cession of the island, has been the cause of much bad government and oppressive taxation. Assuming this to be the fact, it is satisfactory to me know, that the commission and instruetions issued to yourself have taken away any power, or supposed power, of legislation formerly vested in the governor of the colony alone, and have committed that power to those who are most conversant with the public affairs of the colony, assisted by an equal number of those who have the deepest interest in its prosperity.
But is is observed, that the inhabitants would “prefer to continue, as at present, under the arbitrary government of a responsible officer of the crown, checked as it is by the superintendence of His Majesty's Secretary of State, rather than to allow the responsibility of that officer to be destroyed by the nominal interposition of a legislative council.” This statement involves, of course unintentionally, a misrepresentation of fact. It is assumed that the governor formerly exercised on his own responsibility the powers which he is henceforth to exercise with the sanction of the legislative council : this, however, is very remote from the truth. The governors of Trinidad had either no legislative authority, or an authority so restricted as to be inadequate to all the more considerable exigencies of society. The powers contained in your commission and instructions are not transferred from the governor to the governor in council, but constitute a trust entirely new,
The statement which I have quoted is further erroneous in supposing that your commission and instructions exempt you from responsibility for the measures which you may adopt with the advice of the council. His Majesty's government were neither so ignorant nor so heedless of the great principles of civil government as to constitute a body of this nature, without imposing upon its members an effectual responsibility for the faithful discharge of their duties. Thus, to the governor
is given the initiative of all laws, in order that he may bear whatever censure may be due for the enactment of any law which is either unjust or unwise : persons holding office at the pleasure of the crown are also placed in the council, not merely to assist its deliberations by their official knowledge, but in order that an adequate pledge may be given, in the value of their offices, against any breach of their legislative duty: for a similar reason, even the un-official members are declared liable to removal. I fully concur with the Petitioners that a colonial legislature should act under an effective responsibility. It is on that precise ground, amongst others, that in a small slave colony I object to a legislative assembly, whose responsibility is altogether nominal, and prefer a legislative council, who, as I have shown, are really responsible for their conduct.
It is objected to the official members that the majority of them are disqualified by the tenure of their offices from holding any property in the colony:
The answer is, that there is only one species of property, viz. that of slaves, which any public officer is forbidden to hold; nor can I scruple to avow my opinion,
that it is on this disqualification that their fitness to occupy seats in the council mainly depends.
It is then objected that the official members are not persons of such a rank and place in the community as to entitle them to the privilege of legislating for the rest of their fellow colonists. The petitioners seem not to perceive that their own plan of a representative assembly would be obnoxious to the very same remark. The legislative council, which is an invariable part of that form of government, would also legislate for the colony, would also be nominees of the Crown, and would also be for the most part public officers. I cannot admit that this question is to be considered upon any other than monarchical principles ; and the right of nominating members of the legislature is inherent in His Majesty, and has been exercised by himself and his Royal Predecessors in every part of the British dominions.
The unofficial members, though approved individually, seem to be objected to because they have not what is termed “ a property qualification.” If this be true of any unofficial member of the council I must indeed have been greatly misled. They were selected as being six of the most considerable merchants and planters in the
island, and such I still apprehend them to be.
The petitioners state, that in the year 1808 a constitution was proposed by His Majesty's Ministers, by which a legislative assembly of seventeen members would have been formed; and that, during the administration of Mr. Perceval, a colonial government similar to that of Canada was freely offered by His Majesty to the inhabitants of Trinidad. In proof of these assertions they quote part of a letter from the late General Picton to Mr. Begorrat; and a letter from Mr. Begorrat of the 3d of November last. General Picton's authority for his statements does not appear. Mr. Begorrat refers to some communication, which he states “as far as he can recollect” to have been made in the year 1805 or 1806, from Lord Hobart, or Lord Camden, to General Hislop. It seems, however, from Mr. Begorrat's letter, that the boon was refused ; and he states, that the colonists “ were allured, by the late Mr. Joseph Marryat's letters,” to expect English laws and an English constitution, which he adds, “ we could not obtain from the obstinacy of the prime minister, Mr. Perceval, who was ready to allow the English laws immediately, but by no means the constitution.” Mr. Begorrat proceeds to relate, that in the year 1810, a deputy was sent to London, who returned to the island " with a positive refusal of the English constitution.'
From these statements it may be safely inferred that the faith of Government has never been pledged on this subject, and therefore has never been violated.
Mr. Perceval, it seems, was even “obstinate in his refusal” of the demands; and the Administration of 1810 were equally firm in the same opinion. Admitting, for the sake of argument, that the scheme of transferring to Trinidad the constitution of the Canadas may have been agitated shortly after the cession of the island, it cannot with any accuracy be inferred that, with the additional knowledge which has since been acquired, and under the altered circumstances of the case, His Majesty's government are bound to adopt, or to give effect, to those contemplated, but incomplete, arrangements.
It is said that the removal of the checks by which the taxation and expenditure of the colony have hitherto been controlled, would be to strengthen and increase existing abuses. I most fully subscribe to this opinion, but as distinctly deny that any check has been removed. You will still remain responsible to His Majesty's government, as formerly, for the proper expenditure of the colonial revenue ; but against a wasteful expenditure of those funds an additional security will be found in the necessity under which you are placed of obtaining the consent of the council to every expense which may be incurred, without the previous sanction of the Lord's Commissioners of the Treasury. Reductions in the various establishments of the island will be carried into effect by their lordships as opportunity may nor is that a duty which has been, or which ought to be, delegated either to the legislative or to the executive council.
The letter addressed by Viscount Howick to Mr. Marryat and Mr. Hume, on the 30th of June last, is quoted as though His Majesty's Government had forgotten or violated the assurance given in that letter, that they had in view the same end as that proposed by the petitioners, the augmenting the efficiency and reducing the expense of the political and judicial administration. On what ground any such inference is founded I am at a loss to understand. I am able to state with confidence, that these objects have never been lost sight of, but have engaged and still
occupy the anxious attention of this Department, and of the Lord's Commissioners
You will communicate to the petitioners a copy of this despatch, as the only
I have, &c.
remark. I rnment, and and would
is to be con of nominen 1 exercise
- No. 4.
. De objected f this be
LETTER from Joseph Marryat, Esq. M. P. to the Right Honourable Lord
Viscount Goderich, &c. &c. &c.
Richmond Terrace, Whitehall,
31st December 1831.
I beg most earnestly to recommend these papers to your Lordship’s consideration,
(signed) Jos. Marryat.
STATEMENT showing Amount of the REVENUE and EXPENDITURE of the Island of Trinidad,
for the Years 1824, 1825, 1826, 1827, 1828 and 1829, with the excess of Revenue over Expenditure, or the contrary.
£. s. d. £.
£. 36,280 13 4 44,332 13 2 54,921 11 8 50,080 3 3 49,308 4 8 43,196 76 278,118 14 37,587 11 5 35,958 7 2 44,589 19 4 54,015 18 9 40,943 17 6 36,584 13 21 249,680 7 4
STATEMENT showing the EXPORTS and IMPORTS of the Island of Trinidad,
for the Years 1824, 1825, 1826, 1827, 1828 and 1829.
STATEMENT showing the POPULATION of the Island of Trinidad,
for the Years 1824, 1825, 1826, 1827, 1828 and 1829.
AN ACCOUNT of the whole Revenue of the Island of Trinidad, for the
Years 1828 and 1829.
Arrears of quit-rent
Crown lands, fines, quit-rents, and
redemption of quit-rents.
proportion of the late Provost-Mar
shall's retired allowance.
win, indented Smith, at his death.
year for the services of master arti-
the accounts of the Colony, for the
ditto for the year 1827
In all Incidental