Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies
From May 5, 1494, when Columbus first set foot on what he described as "the fairest isle that eyes have beheld," to its emergence as an independent state on August 6, 1962, Jamaica passed through three main periods. First, it served for nearly 150 years as a Spanish-held way station for galleons en route to and from the Spanish Main. Second, from the mid-1600s until the abolition of slavery in 1834, it was a sugar-producing, slave-worked plantation society. Thereafter it was a largely agricultural, British colony peopled mainly by black peasants and workers.
The Spanish adventurer Juan de Esquivel settled the island in 1509, calling it Santiago, the name given it by Columbus. In the period of Spanish dominance from 1509 to 1655, the Spaniards exploited the island's precious metals and eradicated the Arawaks, who succumbed to imported diseases and harsh slavery (see The Pre- European Population, ch. 1). An English naval force sent by Oliver Cromwell attacked the island in 1655, forcing the small group of Spanish defenders to capitulate in May of that year (see The European Settlements, ch. 1). Within 3 years, the English had occupied the island, whose population was only about 3,000, but it took them many years to bring the rebellious slaves under their control.
Cromwell increased the island's white population by sending indentured servants and prisoners captured in battles with the Irish and Scots, as well as some common criminals. This practice was continued under Charles II, and the white population was also augmented by immigrants from the North American mainland and other islands, as well as by the English buccaneers. But tropical diseases kept the number of whites well under 10,000 until about 1740.
Although the slave population in the 1670s and 1680s never exceeded roughly 9,500, by the end of the seventeenth century imports of slaves increased the black population to at least five times the number of whites. Thereafter, Jamaica's blacks did not increase significantly in number until well into the eighteenth century, in part because the slave ships coming from the west coast of Africa preferred to unload at the islands of the Eastern Caribbean. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the number of slaves in Jamaica did not exceed 45,000, but by 1800 it had increased to over 300,000.
Beginning with the Stuart monarchy's appointment of a civil governor to Jamaica in 1661, political patterns were established that lasted well into the twentieth century. The second governor, Lord Windsor, brought with him in 1662 a proclamation from the king giving Jamaica's nonslave populace the rights of English citizens, including the right to make their own laws. Although he spent only ten weeks in Jamaica, Lord Windsor laid the foundations of a governing system that was to last for two centuries: a crown- appointed governor acting with the advice of a nominated council in the legislature. The legislature consisted of the governor and an elected but highly unrepresentative House of Assembly.
England gained formal possession of Jamaica from Spain in 1670 through the Treaty of Madrid. Removing the pressing need for constant defense against Spanish attack, this change served as an incentive to planting. For years, however, the planter-dominated Jamaica House of Assembly was in continual conflict with the various governors and the Stuart kings; there were also contentious factions within the assembly itself. For much of the 1670s and 1680s, Charles II and James II and the assembly feuded over such matters as the purchase of slaves from ships not run by the royal English trading company. The last Stuart governor, the Duke of Albemarle, who was more interested in treasure-hunting than in planting, turned the planter oligarchy out of office. After the duke's death in 1688, the planters, who had fled Jamaica to London, succeeded in lobbying James II to order a return to the pre- Albemarle political arrangement and the revolution that brought William III and Mary to the throne in 1689 confirmed the local control of Jamaican planters belonging to the assembly. This settlement also improved the supply of slaves and resulted in more protection, including military support, for the planters against foreign competition. This was of particular importance during the Anglo-French War in the Caribbean from 1689 to 1713.
Early in the eighteenth century, the Maroons took a heavy toll on the British troops and local militia sent against them in the interior; their rebellion ended, however, with the signing of peace agreements in 1738. The sugar monoculture and slave-worked plantation society characterized Jamaica throughout the eighteenth century. With the abolition of the slave trade in 1808 and slavery itself in 1834, however, the island's sugar- and slave-based economy faltered (see The Post-Emancipation Societies, ch. 1). The period after emancipation in 1834 initially was marked by a conflict between the plantocracy and elements in the Colonial Office over the extent to which individual freedom should be coupled with political participation for blacks. In 1840 the assembly changed the voting qualifications in a way that enabled a majority of blacks and people of mixed race (browns or mulattos) to vote. But neither change in the political system, nor abolition of slavery changed the planter's chief interest, which lay in the continued profitability of their estates, and they continued to dominate the elitist assembly. Nevertheless, at the end of the eighteenth century and in the early years of the nineteenth century, the crown began to allow some Jamaicans--mostly local merchants, urban professionals, and artisans--into the appointed councils.
In 1846 Jamaican planters, still reeling from the loss of slave labor, suffered a crushing blow when Britain passed the Sugar Duties Act, eliminating Jamaica's traditionally favored status as its primary supplier of sugar. The Jamaica House of Assembly stumbled from one crisis to another until the collapse of the sugar trade, when racial and religious tensions came to a head during the Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865 (see Political Traditions, ch. 1). Although suppressed ruthlessly, the severe rioting so alarmed the planters that the two-centuries-old assembly voted to abolish itself and asked for the establishment of direct British rule.
In 1866 the new crown colony government (see Glossary) consisted of the Legislative Council and the executive Privy Council containing members of both chambers of the House of Assembly, but the Colonial Office exercised effective power through a presiding British governor. The council included a few handpicked prominent Jamaicans for the sake of appearance only. In the late nineteenth century, crown colony rule was modified; representation and limited self-rule were reintroduced gradually into Jamaica after 1884. The colony's legal structure was reformed along the lines of English common law and county courts, and a constabulary force was established.
The smooth working of the crown colony system was dependent on a good understanding and an identity of interests between the governing officials, who were British, and most of the nonofficial, nominated members of the Legislative Council, who were Jamaicans. The elected members of this body were in a permanent minority and without any influence or administrative power. The unstated alliance--based on shared color, attitudes, and interest--between the British officials and the Jamaican upper class was reinforced in London, where the West India Committee lobbied for Jamaican interests. Jamaica's white or near-white propertied class continued to hold the dominant position in every respect; the vast majority of the black population remained poor and unenfranchised.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey, a black activist and labor leader, founded one of Jamaica's first political parties in 1929 and a workers association in the early 1930s. The Ras Taffari brotherhood (commonly called the Rastafarians--see Glossary), which in 1935 hailed Ethiopia's emperor Haile Selassie as its god (Jah), owed its origins to the cultivation of self-confidence and black pride promoted by Garvey and his black nationalist movement. Garvey, a controversial figure, had been the target of a four-year investigation by the United States government. He was convicted of mail fraud in 1923 and had served most of a five-year term in an Atlanta penitentiary when he was deported to Jamaica in 1927. Garvey left the colony in 1935 to live in Britain, where he died heavily in debt five years later. He was proclaimed Jamaica's first national hero in the 1960s after Edward P.G. Seaga, then a government minister, arranged the return of his remains to Jamaica. In 1987 Jamaica petitioned the United States Congress to pardon Garvey on the basis that the federal charges brought against him were unsubstantiated and unjust.
Dissatisfaction with crown colony rule reached its peak during the period between the world wars, as demands for responsible self- government grew. A growing mulatto middle-class with increasingly impressive education, ability, and even property identified with British social and political standards, but white Jamaicans were beginning to feel offended by a perceived British indifference to their economic difficulties and political opinions. They also resented British monopoly of high positions and the many limitations on their own mobility in the colonial civil service, especially if they were of mixed race.
The rise of nationalism, as distinct from island identification or desire for self-determination, is generally dated to the 1938 labor riots that affected both Jamaica and the islands of the Eastern Caribbean. William Alexander Bustamante, a moneylender in the capital city of Kingston who had formed the Jamaica Trade Workers and Tradesmen Union (JTWTU) three years earlier, captured the imagination of the black masses with his messianic personality, even though he himself was light-skinned, affluent, and aristocratic (see Growth and Structure of the Economy, this ch.). Bustamante emerged from the 1938 strikes and other disturbances as a populist leader and the principal spokesperson for the militant urban working class, and in that year, using the JTWTU as a stepping stone, he founded the Bustamante Industrial Trade Unions (BITU), which inaugurated Jamaica's workers movement.
A distant cousin of Bustamante's, Norman W. Manley, concluded as a result of the 1938 riots that the real basis for national unity in Jamaica lay in the masses. Unlike the union-oriented Bustamante, however, Manley was more interested in access to control over state power and political rights for the masses. On September 18, 1938, he inaugurated the People's National Party (PNP), which had begun as a nationalist movement supported by the mixed-race middle class and the liberal sector of the business community with leaders who were highly educated members of the upper-middle class. The 1938 riots spurred the PNP to unionize labor, although it would be several years before the PNP formed major labor unions. The party concentrated its earliest efforts on establishing a network both in urban areas and in banana-growing rural parishes, later working on building support among small farmers and in areas of bauxite mining.
The PNP adopted a socialist ideology in 1940 and later joined the Socialist International, allying itself formally with the social democratic parties of Western Europe. Guided by socialist principles, Manley was not a doctrinaire socialist. PNP socialism during the 1940s was similar to British Labour Party ideas on state control of the factors of production, equality of opportunity, and a welfare state, although a leftwing element in the PNP held more orthodox Marxist views and worked for the internationalization of the trade union movement through the Caribbean Labour Congress. In those formative years of Jamaican political and union activity, relations between Manley and Bustamante were cordial. Manley defended Bustamante in court against charges brought by the British for his labor activism in the 1938 riots and looked after the BITU during Bustamante's imprisonment.
Bustamante had political ambitions of his own, however. In 1942, while still incarcerated, he founded a political party to rival the PNP, called the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). The new party, whose leaders were of a lower class than those of the PNP, was supported by conservative businessmen and 60,000 dues-paying BITU members, who encompassed dock and sugar plantation workers and other unskilled urban laborers. On his release in 1943, Bustamante began building up the JLP. Meanwhile, several PNP leaders organized the leftist-oriented Trade Union Congress (TUC). Thus, from an early stage in modern Jamaica, unionized labor was an integral part of organized political life.
For the next quarter century, Bustamante and Manley competed for center stage in Jamaican political affairs, the former espousing the cause of the "barefoot man"; the latter, "democratic socialism," a loosely defined political and economic theory aimed at achieving a classless system of government. Jamaica's two founding fathers projected quite different popular images. Bustamante, lacking even a high school diploma, was an autocratic, charismatic, and highly adept politician; Manley was an athletic, Oxford-trained lawyer, Rhodes scholar, humanist, and liberal intellectual. Although considerably more reserved than Bustamante, Manley was well liked and widely respected. He was also a visionary nationalist who became the driving force behind the crown colony's quest for independence.
Following the 1938 disturbances in the West Indies, London sent the Moyne Commission to study conditions in the British Caribbean territories. Its findings led in the early 1940s to better wages and a new constitution (see Labor Organizations, ch. 1). Issued on November 20, 1944, the Constitution modified the crown colony system and inaugurated limited self-government based on the Westminster model of government and universal adult suffrage. It also embodied the island's principles of ministerial responsibility and the rule of law. Thirty-one percent of the population participated in the 1944 elections. The JPL--helped by its promises to create jobs, its practice of dispensing public funds in pro-JLP parishes, and the PNP's relatively radical platform--won an 18- percent majority of the votes over the PNP, as well as 22 seats in the 32-member House of Representatives, with 5 going to the PNP and 5 to other short-lived parties. In 1945 Bustamante took office as Jamaica's first premier (the pre-independence title for head of government).
Under the new charter, the British governor, assisted by the six-member Privy Council and ten-member Executive Council, remained responsible solely to the crown. The Jamaican Legislative Council became the upper house, or Senate, of the bicameral Parliament. House members were elected by adult suffrage from single-member electoral districts called constituencies. Despite these changes, ultimate power remained concentrated in the hands of the governor and other high officials.
After World War II, Jamaica began a relatively long transition to full political independence. Jamaicans preferred British culture over American, but they had a love-hate relationship with the British and resented British domination, racism, and the dictatorial Colonial Office. Britain gradually granted the colony more self-government under periodic constitutional changes. Jamaica's political patterns and governmental structure were shaped during two decades of what was called "constitutional decolonization," the period between 1944 and independence in 1962.
Having seen how little popular appeal the PNP's 1944 campaign position had, the party shifted toward the center in 1949 and remained there until 1974. The PNP actually won a 0.8-percent majority of the votes over the JLP in the 1949 election, although the JLP won a majority of the House seats. In the 1950s, the PNP and JLP became increasingly similar in their sociological composition and ideological outlook. During the cold war years, socialism became an explosive domestic issue. The JLP exploited it among property owners and churchgoers, attracting more middle-class support. As a result, PNP leaders diluted their socialist rhetoric, and in 1952 the PNP moderated its image by expelling four prominent leftists who had controlled the TUC. The PNP then formed the more conservative National Workers Union (NWU). Henceforth, PNP socialism meant little more than national planning within a framework of private property and foreign capital. The PNP retained, however, a basic commitment to socialist precepts, such as public control of resources and a more equitable income distribution. Manley's PNP came to office for the first time after winning the 1955 elections with an 11-percent majority over the JLP and 50.5 percent of the popular vote.
Amendments to the constitution that took effect in May 1953 reconstituted the Executive Council and provided for eight ministers to be selected from among House members. The first ministries were subsequently established. These amendments also enlarged the limited powers of the House of Representatives and made elected members of the governor's executive council responsible to the legislature. Manley, elected chief minister beginning in January 1955, accelerated the process of decolonization during his able stewardship. Further progress toward self-government was achieved under constitutional amendments in 1955 and 1956, and cabinet government was established on November 11, 1957.
Assured by British declarations that independence would be granted to a collective West Indian state rather than to individual colonies, Manley supported Jamaica's joining nine other British territories in the West Indies Federation, established on January 3, 1958, (see The West Indies Federation, 1957-62, ch. 1). Manley became the island's premier after the PNP again won a decisive victory in the general election in July 1959, securing thirty of forty-five House seats.
Membership in the federation remained an issue in Jamaican politics. Bustamante, reversing his previously supportive position on the issue, warned of the financial implications of membership-- Jamaica was responsible for 43 percent of its own financing--and an inequity in Jamaica's proportional representation in the federation's House of Assembly. Manley's PNP favored staying in the federation, but he agreed to hold a referendum in September 1961 to decide on the issue. When 54 percent of the electorate voted to withdraw, Jamaica left the federation, which dissolved in 1962 after Trinidad and Tobago also pulled out. Manley believed that the rejection of his profederation policy in the 1961 referendum called for a renewed mandate from the electorate, but the JLP won the election of early 1962 by a fraction. Bustamante assumed the premiership that April, and Manley spent his remaining few years in politics as leader of the opposition.
Jamaica received its independence on August 6, 1962. The new nation retained, however, its membership in the Commonwealth of Nations and adopted a Westminster style parliamentary system (see Appendix B). Bustamante, at age seventy-eight, became the new nation's first prime minister and also assumed responsibility for the new ministries of defence and foreign affairs. Jamaicans welcomed independence, but they had already spent their nationalistic passion over the emotional issue of federation. The general feeling was that independence would not make much difference in their lives.
Data as of November 1987
NOTE: The information regarding Jamaica on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Jamaica Section information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Jamaica Section should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.