Undoubtedly the four territories under the acquisition of Britain comprising the British Windward Islands indeed had a race to endure of which only the fittest of the fittest could survive, and as such did have profound effects on their development. The book entitled, Slavery, Law and Society in the British Windward Islands 1763-1823, a Comparative Study by Bernard Marshall analyses and examines the extent to which these territories were captivated by using the law to protect the rich white minority while simultaneously exploiting and degrading the black majority of the population of the British Windward Islands.
Bernard Marshall in his attempt to scrutinize the economic, social, political and legal framework which bound the lives of the enslaved black populations, free coloureds, and whites in the territories of St. Vincent, Tobago, Dominica, Grenada and the Grenadines, highlights how the law has been used to initiate social engineering of slave society in a significant period of Caribbean history. The book which was first published in 2007 with the ISBN 976-8189-27-4 diverts its focus on the nature of the slave society and its development in the four ceded Islands to Britain by France.
This book is the first attempt to analyse the nature of the slave society in these four communities during sixty critical years of slavery in the Caribbean. It further examines the economic, political, social, religious and legal organisation of society against a background of initial economic decline and shows how it was affected by total dependence upon the institution of Negro Slavery. Focusing on the period 1763 to 1823, Marshall compiles together the history of these Windward Islands to build our understanding of their place in imperial competition for wealth and power between the French and the British by exploiting the poor.
He analyses the social structure of their populations and the relationships among the various groups and discusses the nature of resistance of the enslaved population, particularly the maroons of Jamaica. Even though this is a local case study, it is an important contribution to the history of slavery in the Caribbean and in the New World in general. Bernard crafted this piece of work by pooling both original documents and contemporary secondary sources at repositories in England to aid in the completion of this expose.
Bernard provides irresistible evidence of how the law, far from being an impartial judge of justice, was a tool used by the ruling class to perpetuate the hegemony of the exploitative colonial plantation system and to entrench inequitable power relations in the Caribbean. “In the report of the committee of the Privy Council which investigated the Slave Trade and the condition of the slaves in the British West Indies in 1788, Mr. Reeves, the law clerk of the committee, commented”: “The leading idea in the Negro system of jurisprudence is that which was first in the minds of those most interested in its formation; namely that Negroes were property and a species of property that needed a rigorous and vigilant regulation… ” An examination of the Slave Laws in force in the British Windward Islands indicates that they were no exception to this generalisation. In every one of the Windward Islands all slaves were declared real estate of inheritance and widows were dowable of them as of lands and tenets.
To highlight the plight of the slave society, Marshall examined and explored Roscoe Pound’s concept of social engineering in his analysis to justify his thesis that the law was a tool used by the elites to exploit the poor in these territories. Roscoe Pound has been reserved as the ‘father of sociological jurisprudence. ’ Pound regarded jurisprudence as a technology to social problems. He advocated a new functional approach to law and legal technique directed to social needs in which the judiciary would play a creative role.
Nonetheless, this was not so in the British Windward Islands throughout the period 1763 to 1823 as Bernard highlighted in his work. Instead the perception of the role of law in primitive society was to regulate business and pleasure and was merely mirroring society. The Marxist school of thought elaborates on this widely as Marx posits that the “Economic organization especially land owners, determines the organization of the rest of society, these are usually the elites in. ” He further argues that, law and legal system are designed to regulate and reserve capitalist relations. For the Marxists, law is a method of domination and social control used by the ruling class. Law protects the interests of those in power and serves to maintain distinctions between the dominated and the domineering classes. Consequently, law is seen as a set of rules that arise as a result of the struggle between the ruling class and those who are ruled. The state, which is the organized reflection of the interests of the ruling class, passes laws that serve the interests of this domineering class.
In the British Windward Islands, whites of every rank were able to improve their economic and social position by either purchasing, hiring or supervising the labour of slaves. Again, their opportunities for political enhancement grew, especially during the first two decades of the nineteenth century when because of the decline in numbers of the white population, property qualifications for seats on the Assembly were either ignored or abandoned in an effect to admit as many whites as possible to the ruling since this strengthened white control of the political system.
Marshall gives an extensive and very meticulous description of the conditions which the slaves operated under, working with insufficient food attributable to the rising costs and falling prices of the sugar industry. This too was brought about by the breaking of ties with the United States of America. “There is no law unless it be just. ” -St Thomas Aquinas Therefore the validity of the law depends on its justice. Who determines which law is just or who really enforces law?
Marshall in his comparative study failed to concede and name the authority or authorities that enforced the law in these territories being surveyed. While Bernard Marshall ensure to give a very exhaustive reporting of how the enslaved populations were captivated and the punishment they meted, he should have in the same breath evaluate the possibility of a white person breaking the law. Would such a person be punished accordingly or would a slave be punished for the crime (s) of that white individual? Now tell me where the justice is in such a law.
This is what Marshall should have redirected his focus into, which would have been more substantive than merely stating the punishment and conditions of the slave society in the British Windward Islands. This is not to say that a clear image of what Marshall in his attempt to communicate was not apparent in the mind of the reader. In the powerful words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1881:5), “The law embodies the story of a nation’s development through many centuries” and every legal system stands in close correlation to the ideas, aims and purposes of society.
Marshall’s rationalization of how the ‘slave’ laws were used to contrive and have power over the lives of the slaves was clearly a deliberate accomplishment, as it speaks frankly to the laws which dictated the lives of the slaves and was essentially highlighted and covered in the legal aspect of the book. Nonetheless the development of the British Windward Islands was diluted due to the unremitting ill-treatment of the slaves and the inequitable arbitration of the justice system.
Even though the law is said to reflect the intellectual, social, economic, and political climate of its time, it is inseparable from the interests, goals, and understandings that deeply shape or compromise social and economic life. Thus it was imperative for Bernard Marshall to embrace in his study the organization of the legal systems in the ceded Islands as it endow with the legal development of that society. It is therefore said that the law and society literature suggests that the more complex the society, the more differentiated the legal system.
Underlying this proposition is the notion that legal development is conditioned by a series of integrative demands stemming from society’s economic, political, educational, and religious institutions. In addition, Marshall confers details on the various court systems that were current in the islands of St. Vincent, Tobago, Dominica, Grenada and the Grenadines in an effort to draw attention to the separation of courts and its impetus on the development of the slave society by including the wiles between the Executive and Judiciary body.
Nonetheless, corruption and discrimination was still unbridled due to the fact that the court was consisted chiefly of the white minority class jurors as slaves were not eligible. With this being said, it is safe and sound to say that the law then was not only used as a tool to exploit the black population and other enslaved individuals but was also used as a tool to ‘brain wash’ them into thinking that they were inferior and it was manifested to be so.
If this not being the case why then were the whites admitted to sit as jurors in the court even though they were not educated in the legal profession. Thus the reason for the laws being codified and not written; they were permeated by customs, tradition, religious dogmas, and values. In addition, “By codifying, preserving and enforcing certain key kinship rules (usually descent and authority), religious rituals and dogmas, and the chief’s right to enact laws, differences in power and privilege are preserved and made to seem appropriate” (Turner, 1972:220).
In primitive societies as Bernard conceded his comparative study on, legislators are political bodies and by themselves do not formally exist. In such societies, judges and political leaders (elder, and the like) are one and the same. As it regards to the development of legal system Marshall should have indicated the development from the primitive stage of society to the transitional and the modern stage within the legal system.
By doing this he would have enlighten the readers of the harsh and brutal treatment bestowed on the slaves, since they were merely seen as property rather than humans in comparison to how individuals are treated now when they appear before due the Bill of rights. Bernard Marshall in his comparative study covered an extensive range of topics by highlighting the plight of the enslaved population of the British Windward Islands during the period of 1763-1823. The book was very much informative but was vastly consumed with facts rather than an analytical piece.
It is quite evident that Marshall presented little or no substance on what he gathered and thus was no poles apart from previous studies. This inability to analyse the facets of the slave society and how they intertwined with each other made the book a very mind-numbing and monotonous one to read. Conceivably if Marshall had compared the similarities and differences between the slave society and modern society he would’ve been able to boost the interest of the reader and make the book more fascinating and out of the ordinary.