Major Events in our Constitutional Development – Part 2
Free coloured persons formed a majority in the House of Assembly. They included Joseph Fadelle, L.F. Bellot, A.L. Bellot, Joseph B. Bellot, George Titre, Alexander Richardson and Mytre Giraud.
In order to obstruct the transaction of business, six (6) out of seven (7) white persons elected to the House of Assembly declined to take-up their seats for a period of six months.
(May)A Dominica Police Force was established.
The House of Assembly passed a bill to broaden the franchise, so as to increase the number of voters as well as candidates. But the Colonial Office did not assent to it.
The Dominica Association for the Reform of Abuses in the Administration of Public Affairs was formed under the leadership of Thomas Doyle, Editor of the Colonist, the newspaper of the white colonists. Its main purpose was to secure the "union of the Council and the Assembly in one Chamber."
The qualifications for voting and contesting elections were as follows: Electors (in the parishes) – 10 acres of land in the parish or a house in an outlying town of the same parish worth £4 sterling in rent per year; (In Roseau and Portsmouth) – a house worth £8 sterling in rent per year. Candidates (parishes) – 50 acres of land; (Roseau/Portsmouth) – 50 acres of land or house worth £20 sterling annual rental.
A Bill to abolish the Assembly as a separate Chamber and establish a Single-Chamber Legislature of elected representatives and appointed members of the Council was passed by the Assembly. But the Council rejected it by a majority of one (1) vote.
1863 (September) -
A Single-Chamber Bill passed the Assembly by a vote of 12 to 7. Among its most vocal opponents was Barbados-born Assemblyman, Charles Falconer.
The quorum required to transact business in the Assembly was reduced to 9. And, to pass a measure, no more than a simple majority was required.
(December) The Council passed the Single-Chamber Bill; the Chamber was called the Legislative Council.
The new Constitution went into effect.
William Robinson, the coloured President of Montserrat, a fanatic of Crown Colony Government, was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Dominica.
A Bill to abolish the electoral franchise and Convert the island into a Crown colony administered by a Governor and a Council nominated by him, as in Trinidad and St. Lucia, was introduced in the Legislative Council.
(April)- Instead of voting on the Bill, a compromise was reached, allowing one-half of members of the new Legislative Council to be appointed and, the other one-half, elected.
The Island's Legislative Council comprised 7 nominated members and 7 elected. The Executive Council comprised 9 members, 4 of whom were coloured.
Qualifications for election to the Assembly included (a) an income of £150 per year or tax payment of £3.15 shillings in the year preceding the election.
The Constitution of the Leeward Islands grouping was changed from an administrative union to a Confederation. The Confederation had two law-making bodies: One, an upper Federal Executive Council; and, two, a lower Federal Legislative Council. Members of the Federal Executive Council were nominated by the Federation's Governor. The lower Legislative Council consisted of 20 members of whom 10 were nominated by the Governor and, the remaining 10, by the unofficial members of the legislatures of the participating member-islands; it had a life of 3 years. Further, each island was administered by a "President," thereafter called a "Commissioner" and, then, an "Administrator."
Dominica became part of the Leeward Islands Confederation. Dominicans elected two (2) persons to the Federal Legislative Council. But no Dominican held a position in the Confederation's Executive Council.
The Assembly passed a resolution moved by William Davies to remove the island from the Confederation of the Leeward Islands.
Newly appointed Governor Viscount Gormanston, on instructions from the Secretary of State for the Colonies sought to revise tax legislation. The elected members comprising planter and merchants stood in opposition. In protest, they boycotted the Legislature and held public meetings.
The "Dominica Patriotic League" was formed under the leadership of William Davies.
Three years after Haynes-Smith succeeded Gormanston as the island's Governor, all 7 elected members of the Legislature petitioned the Colonial Office to have him recalled.
The Hamilton Commission was appointed by the Colonial Office to inquire into the condition and affairs of the island. The sole Commissioner, Robert Hamilton, was given specific instructions, including to look into the reasons why the island was "more backward and less developed than any other of the islands".
Hamilton's recommendations included to (1 separate Dominica from the Leeward Islands and provide its own Lieutenant-Governor.(2)re-constitute the Legislature with 7 elected members, and 7 nominated of whom only 3 should be officials.
The Report was not well received at the Colonial Office.
A bill to bring Crown colony rule to the island was defeated in the Legislature by 8 votes to 6. Voting against the measure were all 7 elected members (persons of colour) and 1 nominated coloured member. All 6 members voting for the bill were white.
A Bill to do the same was once again introduced in the Legislature, this time by elected member, James Colin McIntyre; it passed by a vote of 8 to 6. Among those who fought relentlessly against the measure were William Davies, D. O. Riviere, Alex Ramsay Lockhart, Jabez Bellot and Henry Hamilton.
The Crown Colony Act provided for a Legislative Council of 12 members, 6 of whom were officials and six (6) unofficial members nominated by the Governor. The island's Administrator was Chairman of the Legislature, with a casting vote only. While the island's laws were made there, the Governor appointed an advisory "Executive Council" to assist him. Essentially, the Governor's role was to obey instructions sent to him by the Secretary-of-State-for-the-Colonies, and to implement to the letter laws made in Britain and dispatched by Orders-in Council.
(Dr. William E. Riviere is an Historian & Attorney-at-Law)
Copyright © William Para Riviere, September 2014