Jamaica gained its independence from the United Kingdom on August 6, 1962. This year Diana Paton and Matthew J. Smith, the editors of The Jamaica Reader, invite us to look back on how the nation has conceived of its self-governance with this speech from former Jamaican premier Norman Washington Manley.
If independence meant a triumph for the struggle for self-government that began in the 1930s, for its architects it was also an occasion for reflection on that journey and the path ahead. Norman Manley offers such a rumination in his September 1962 address to the People’s National Party (PNP)’s national conference. Manley led Jamaica through the federation years and shepherded the discussions with the British government on the terms and timing of constitutional decolonization. As premier of Jamaica—a post that ceased to exist after 1959—Manley introduced several far-reaching policies intended to improve Jamaica’s institutions. His strong support for federation suffered a blow with the referendum he called in September 1961. In the wake of that loss, and with the discussions for independence well underway, Manley called a general election for April 1962. He was defeated by Alexander Bustamante, his cousin and opposition leader. Manley continued to lead the PNP, which was again defeated in 1967. The 1962 loss was most upsetting for him and his followers. As he implies in the speech, it denied Manley the “privilege” of being the first prime minister of an independent Jamaica.
Nevertheless, amid the excitement over independence, Manley accepted that the legacies of three centuries of colonial rule would take time to dismantle. The way ahead would depend less on him and the party’s founders. The generatino of independence had to accept the charge of making Jamaica a truly free nation defined by greater levels of social equality and economic sustainability. Manley’s inspiring words in the face of two major defeats reflect his insistence that nationalism be placed above party political victory.
Comrades, I thank God that I have lived to see twenty-four years of the work of the party crowned with the achievement of independence for our blessed and beloved country (applause).
I look back on the long years of our struggle. I look back to the days of our early beginning when we first began to rouse Jamaica to her destiny as a nation in the world. I remember the hard and bitter struggles of the past. I remember the small handful of comrades that joined us. I remember the sacrifices they made. I remember the mockery they endured. I remember the suffering they withstood. I remember how some of them, nameless today and unsung, gave their lives that Jamaica might throw off 300 years of colonial bondage, might lift up their hearts to aspire to all that independence means and freedom for a people.
It is true that we have been denied the privilege of achieving power at this moment, but no one can deny us the accomplishment of our work in this country (applause). And many marveled how it was that we who were not in the seats of power acknowledged as the authors of the greatest of our land at this time (applause).
And now I am going to speak to you about the challenge of this time as we close one book of our history, a book which from the beginning could foresee its own end, and open another book in our history, the end of which no man can foresee, but it will roll on from generation to generation as we seek to build a nation worthy of our sons and daughters in this land.
Comrades, it is one thing to become free; it is another thing to build a real nation of your country (applause).
But, comrades, we start our nationhood with some great assets. One of the good things is the long time that it has taken us to evolve our life into freedom as a people. We have learned much over the past half a century. We have learned most of all over the last twenty-four years in this country; and we have only got to remember the lessons we have learned to make sure that we can find the right way for the future.
We gave this country for seven and a half years a Government that knew how to use power with restraint and respect for human decencies in the land. We gave this country for seven and a half years a Government which believed in the realities of democracy, which allowed all men to walk the land free from fear and free from oppression.
We have one third great asset in this country, moving into nationhood, and this is the quality of the people of the land, a people tough and resilient, taught by adversity to endure hardship with patience, given some special spirit of loyalty to inspire them in their devotion to the causes they espoused, a people well understanding right from wrong, well understanding decency in government, well understanding justice and the rule of law. And those are great assets for a country to start with. And I say what I have so often said, if Jamaica fails it is Jamaica’s leaders that have failed, not Jamaica’s people.
Comrades, we must never forget that we start with all the legacies of 300 years of colonial rule. We would be foolish if we did not understand that you don’t throw off all the patterns of behaviour and thought that colonialism brings upon a people merely by becoming free. We have tried hard in this country to overcome them, but they are not yet overcome. In the old days each man sought his own good in the country and each man that made his way up turned his back on where he came from, and each man who achieved a high place on the ladder went steadily striving to bow the knee to wherever power was to be found in the Colonial Empire. Those patterns prevail in this country today and there are still men who in true colonial style serve one party only, the party in power—the pips who bow the knee and scrape and cringe and deny and falsify principles so as to protect themselves and their positions. Maybe it is common all over the world, but it is particularly common in societies that have known colonial rule for generations.
And I say one last thing. When I look into the future of Jamaica, I ask you to remember the three great tasks that confront us at this time as people. First, foremost and above all, to make come true this great motto that I am proud of having played a part in formulating when I was Premier of Jamaica: “Out of many, one people.” We are not one people today. We are many. That is history. That is colonialism. That is our particular history. That is the problem before all Jamaica today—how to make “out of many, one people.” That is a problem that we have understood for many years and that is something that our party must dedicate itself to achieving in this country.
We have another basic, fundamental problem, and that is how to continue to build our economy so as to create a society which offers the reality of equal opportunity to all people and offers the opportunity of decent Christian lives to every man, woman and child in the land.
As a nation our third great problem, and it would mean so much to us, is to present ourselves to the world so that we can mean something in the world of free peoples and free nations. In other words we want a meaningful foreign policy in Jamaica as a nation.
History now gives us the role to create the new things which will make that nation live and endure in the world to come. So let no man quarrel with history or question the judgments of the Architect of the universe.