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  • from Inward Hunger: The Education of a Prime Minister *
  • Eric Williams

Chapter 1. Portrait of a Colonial Society: Trinidad in 1911

The religious outlook which had prompted Christopher Columbus to baptize the territories he discovered with such names as San Salvador, Navidad, Santa Maria de la Concepcion, led him to bequeath the name Trinidad, the Trinity, to the first land he sighted in his third voyage to the New World in 1498. In 1911 Trinidad’s trinity connoted the mundane rather than the religious. This was a government unrepresentative of the people and not responsible to it; an economy almost exclusively in non-native hands; and a native population which were hewers of wood and drawers of water for its foreign overlords.

The centre of gravity was Sir George Ruthven le Hunte, K.C.M.G., Governor of the Island and Commander-in-Chief. Himself a trinity, King’s representative, head of the Government and president of the Legislative Council, he joined together the executive, administrative and legislative functions which the eighteenth-century democrats had put asunder. The King of England reigned but did not govern; the President of the United States of America governed but did not reign; the President of the French Republic before de Gaulle neither reigned nor governed; it was left for the Governor of Trinidad both to reign and to govern. He united in himself the prestige of the King of England and the power of the President of the United States of America. His decisive advantage over both was his relationship with the legislature.

Legislation passed by Parliament, elected on the basis of adult male suffrage, required, even though a pure formality, a constitutional convention, the assent of the King of England. The Congress of the United States, elected by universal adult suffrage, could override the President’s veto. The Governor of Trinidad, on the contrary, could withhold assent from legislation, his veto could be overridden only by the Secretary of State for the Colonies in England, to whom he was solely responsible, and he controlled his legislature as neither the King nor the President could ever hope to do. Trinidad’s Legislative Council was wholly nominated by the Secretary of State for the Colonies on the recommendation of the Governor.

Under the crown colony system Trinidad’s 190,000 inhabitants of voting age, irrespective of color, were unrepresented in the legislature, and even at the municipal [End Page 703] level the representative principle and elections were more honored in the breach than the observance. The nominated legislative council was the symbol of the island’s arrested development. Its composition was the antithesis of democratic theory, its impotence the negation of democratic practice.

The Council comprised two types of members—official and “unofficial.” The Governor’s top civil servants were ex officio members; in the absence of any one on leave, his deputy replaced him. There was an equal number of “unofficial” members, three of whom in 1911 represented the sugar industry, two the cocoa industry and three commerce; three were lawyers, two physicians.

The Council was no more a legislature (in the democratic sense of the word) dejure than it was defacto. It was impotent before its two masters: the Governor, locally, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, abroad. The Governor was required to withhold his assent from specified bills, and could do so of his own accord in the case of all others; the former were reserved for His Majesty’s signification, the latter were simply inoperative. To make assurance doubly sure, the Governor was entrusted with a dual vote—an original deliberative vote as a member of the Council, and a casting vote as President in case of a tie.

“Be British,” urged the Senior Unofficial Member, himself an Englishman, quoting the captain of the Titanic in support of his arguments for reciprocal trade relations with Canada. Legislation in Trinidad had a local habitation—the Council Chamber in the Red House, the Government Buildings—and a name—the Honorable the Legislative Council of Trinidad and Tobago. The unofficial Trinidadian members were airy nothing. But, for the rest, the Council was British. The predominance of Englishmen gave a pronounced English tone...

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