1945-1962: A History of Hard Work Leads to Jamaica's Independence

Jamaica sought its independence from Britain since its earliest days; throughout its history it was fighting against the laws passed down by the Crown. The island made the final transition in the 20th century.

Continuing Political Change

The weakness of the 1944 constitution lie in the relative lack of power of the ministers. They were meant to deal with both the Executive Council and the House of Representatives, but had no responsibility to them. In 1951 discussions of future modifications arose when Sir Hugh Foot arrived as Governor. By 1953 a new constitution with more changes was set forth.

A Chief Minister and seven other Ministers would be appointed, and these men would be drawn from the House of Representative. The number of House members on the Executive Council was increased from five to eight (a majority vote). Furthermore, the Colonial Secretary and Attorney-General would retain control of security matters effecting the Civil Service.

With this new system in place, Bustamante became Jamaica's first Chief Minister. However, an election in 1955 brought a change of power when the PNP took the majority and Manley took the position of Chief Minister.

During the next two years even more constitutional changes were made, and by the end, the government was a Cabinet Government with almost complete internal self-rule. The changes included the following:

  • The Executive Council was replaced by a Cabinet, the Council of Ministers.
    • The Chief Minister led the Cabinet.
    • The Executive Council was composed of eight to nine members from the House of Representatives and two to three from the Legislative Council.
    • Members were appointed by the Governor and recommended by the Chief Minister.
  • The Colonial Secretary and Financial Secretary were no longer on the Legislative Council.
  • The Governor became almost entirely a figurehead.
  • The office of the Minister of Home Affairs was created to take over from the Colonial Secretary and Attorney-General.
  • Security and justice became local responsibilities completely.

A few smaller constitutional changes took place in the intervening years: the Legislative Council was enlarged from 15 to 21 members, and members were no longer allowed to be a part of the Council of Ministers. However, the Governor's veto powers were left intact. In 1959 the PNP won decisively under the new, self-governing constitution, though this would not be the last political change for Jamaica.


For a long time, Britain wished to unite its Caribbean territories. Though many larger territories, including Jamaica, had objections, the group was joined together with the capital on Trinidad in 1958. The new group became the Federation of the West Indies.

The Federation was created in January of that year, and elections were set for March. Perhaps not surprisingly, Jamaica's Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante created the two main political parties involved in this election, as well. Bustamante led both the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the Democratic Labour Party of the West Indies (DLPWI). Manley led his People's National Party (PNP) and the West Indies Federal Labour Party (WIFLP).

The WIFLP took the majority of the Federation's seats, but Sir Grantley Adams from Barbados became the first Prime Minister. Though much work was done to make the Federation work, by 1961 Jamaica had put forth a referendum for its removal from the Federation. The removal was granted and the British Government agreed to discuss Jamaica's independence. The Federation fell apart the following year.

Independence At Last

With Britain's willingness to discuss Jamaica's independence and dominion within the British Commonwealth of Nations, things proceeded quickly. Within a year a new constitution had been drafted, strongly based on Jamaica's current design, but with a number of changes reflective of other British dominion nations.

The date for Jamaica's independence was set as August 6, 1962, and the political parties on the island quickly went into full force. A new party, the People's Political Party (PPP) also came into being at this time.

On election day, more than 71 percent of the electorate turned out to vote, and the JLP earned a definitive majority once again. JLP filled 26 seats, and the PNP held 19. Though Jamaica's final Governor, Sir Kenneth Blackburne, took office as the first Governor-General, he was replaced just months later by Sir Clifford Campbell.

Jamaica celebrated its independence with large celebrations. On August 7, Princess Margaret of England opened the island's first session of Parliament on behalf of the Queen, completing the transfer of independence to Jamaica.

Jamaica has been free to make its own decisions since the early 1960s. Both Bustamante and Manley led Jamaica's people throughout much of modern history.

Back to Jamaica History Overview

History Resources, References, and Further Reading


Help us improve! We welcome your corrections and suggestions.