Front Page Titles (by Subject) 33.: The Disturbances in Jamaica  31 JULY, 1866 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868
Return to Title Page for The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
33.: The Disturbances in Jamaica  31 JULY, 1866 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868, ed. John M. Robson and Bruce L. Kinzer (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The online edition of the Collected Works is published under licence from the copyright holder, The University of Toronto Press. ©2006 The University of Toronto Press. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form or medium without the permission of The University of Toronto Press.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The Disturbances in Jamaica 
“Mr. Mill’s Speech on Mr. Buxton’s Motion,” in Jamaica Papers, No. III. Statement of the Committee and Other Documents (London: Jamaica Committee, ), 7–18. A manuscript fragment (Yale University Library, John Stuart Mill Papers, Box 2, MS #350) is printed in full in variant note u-u. In PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 184, cols. 1797–1806. Published in The Times, 1 August, p. 7, from which variants and responses are taken. Charles Buxton (1823–71), M.P. for East Surrey, moved the following Resolutions: “1. That this House deplores the excessive punishments which followed the suppression of the disturbances of October last in the parish of St. Thomas, Jamaica, and especially the unnecessary frequency with which the punishment of death was inflicted. / 2. That this House, while approving the course taken by Her Majesty’s Government in dismissing Mr. Eyre from the Governorship of the Island, at the same time concurs in the view expressed by the late Secretary of the Colonies, that ‘while any very minute endeavour to punish acts which may now be the subject of regret would not be expedient, still, that great offences ought to be punished;’ and that grave excesses of severity on the part of any Civil, Military, or Naval Officers ought not to be passed over with impunity. / 3. That, in the opinion of this House, it is the duty of Her Majesty’s Government to award compensation to those whose property was wantonly and cruelly destroyed, and to the families of those who were put to death illegally. / 4. That, since considerably more than 1,000 persons are proved to have been executed or severely flogged on the charge of participating in these disturbances, all further punishment on account of them ought to be remitted.” (Col. 1763.) When Buxton had finished his speech, Adderley replied, and then Mill spoke.
those who seek to obtain an authoritative condemnation of the transactions in Jamaica, whether they take the milder view of my honourable friend the mover of the resolutions, or the severer one of the body which has been so disrespectfully spoken of, the Jamaica committee, could have desired nothing better for their cause than that the speech which has just been delivered*a should go forth to the country as the defence of the Government for not taking any measures to bring those events under the cognisance of a judicial tribunal. I would myself be well content to go to the country on my honourable friend’s speech, and that of the right honourable gentleman, without any further discussion. (Hear, hear.) But since nothing has byetb been said in vindication of the view I take as to the proper course to be pursued, which is different from that recommended by my honourable friend, cI shall state to the house what to my mind justifies that coursec . The honourable mover of the resolution has called upon the house to consider the proceedings of the civil and military authorities in Jamaica, which have been so deservedly but so mildly condemned by her Majesty’s commissioners of inquiry,1 and has invited the house to express an opinion on those proceedings, to the same effect and nearly in the same language as the commissioners. I, also, contend that the acts which have been committed demand the particular attention of the house, not however for the purpose of itself pronouncing any judgment on them, but for the purpose of requiring that they be referred to an authority more competent than this house—the only authority that is competent to pass a binding judgment on such acts—the authority of a judicial tribunal. (Hear, hear.) According to the catalogue furnished by the commissioners, 439 of her Majesty’s subjects, men and women, have been put to death, not in the field, not in armed resistance to the Government, but unarmed, after having fallen into the hands of the authorities, many after having voluntarily surrendered to them. (Hear, hear.) dA partd were executed without any semblance of a trial; the remainder after what were called trials, by what were called courts-martial.2eBesidese those who were put to death, not fewer than 600 men and women were flogged, partly without trial, and partly by sentence of the same courts-martial; and about 1,000 houses, besides other property, were destroyed by military violence. Now, if after due investigation the Government and the country generally had made up their minds that all these lives were justly and properly taken, and all these floggings and burnings justly and properly inflicted, there would have been no ground on which to require the Government to prosecute the agents and authors, though private individuals would be at liberty to do so if they pleased. The case, however, is far otherwise. Respecting the degree of culpability of these transactions there is a wide difference of opinion, but that there has been serious culpability no one now disputes. (Hear, hear.) The events have undergone a minute inquiry, by commissioners carefully selected, and invested with full power to ascertain the facts, but not, I must remind the right honourable gentleman, empowered to declare what is the character of those facts in the eye of the law. The commissioners have emphatically condemned a large portion of the proceedings.3 They declare that many more persons have been put to death than ought to have been put to death; some of these on evidence which they declare to have been, so far as it appears on record, wholly insufficient to justify the findings: while in other cases, assuming the evidence to be unimpeachable, the sentences were not justified by the facts deposed to. The floggings they pronounce to have been reckless, and some of them positively barbarous; the flogging of women they reprobate under any circumstances, and in that I am sure the house will not differ from them. The burnings they pronounce wanton and cruel. There is no need to go one step beyond the verdict of the commissioners. I am almost ashamed to speak of such acts with the calmness and in the moderate language which the circumstances require. The house has supped full of horrors throughout the speech of my honourable friend. But we need not go beyond the dry facts of the commissioners’ summary. On their showing, the lives of subjects of her Majesty have been wrongfully taken, and the persons of others wrongfully maltreated; and I maintain that when such things have been done, there is a primâ facie demand for legal punishment, and that a court of criminal justice can alone determine whether such punishment has been merited, and if merited, what ought to be its amount. The taking of human lives without justification, which in this case is an admitted fact, cannot be condoned by anything short of a criminal tribunal. Neither the Government, nor this house, nor the whole English nation combined, can exercise a pardoning power without previous trial and sentence. I know not for what more important purpose courts of law exist than for the security of human life. fIt has been the boast off this country gthat officers of Government must answer for their acts to the same laws and before the same tribunals as any private citizen; and if persons in authority cang take the lives of htheir fellowh subjects improperly, ias has been confessedly done in this case,i without being called to a judicial account, and having the excuses they make for it sifted and adjudicated by the tribunal in that case provided, we are giving up altogether the principle of government by law, and resigning ourselves to arbitrary power. (Hear, hear.) jThe most proper course, therefore, which could in my opinion be taken by any memberj of this house, was to attempt to elicit from her Majesty’s Government, before the end of the session, some statement of their intentions respecting what, to me and others, appears the solemn duty of bringing the authors of at least the most flagrant of these universally condemned acts before a criminal tribunal. The house knows that this attempt was made,4 and it knows what was the result. We obtained by it no direct, but a good deal of indirect, information. Since then I have redoubled my efforts to learn, or to divine, what reasons there are against the propriety of a criminal prosecution: and I have arrived at the conclusion that if those I have heard are the best, there will not be much difficulty in resisting any of them. I have been told, for instance (but by whom or on what occasion the rules of the house forbid me to recollect), that to warrant a criminal prosecution for homicide, it is necessary that the act should have been done with malice prepense.5 But the right honourable the Chancellor of the Exchequer cannot make such a mistake as this; for if not a lawyer himself, he has able lawyers for his advisers, and one need not be a lawyer at all to know that there is such an offence as manslaughter k(for example)k which I have hitherto in my ignorance believed to differ from murder precisely by the absence of malice prepense. The wonder which I felt at this singular specimen of legal knowledge would have been still greater than it was, if I had not just before been told by a very eminent person (but it could not be the right honourable gentleman) that I was grossly inconsistent in assuming through nine questions that certain acts were unlawful, and asking in the tenth whether they were unlawful or not?6 Now, since what I asked was, whether they were offences under the criminal law, I must conclude that, in the opinion of this eminent person, no actions are unlawful but those which are offences under the criminal law. Did he ever hear, I wonder, of such a thing as an action for damages? which everybody knows will lie in many cases in which a criminal proceeding could not be sustained. And, again, is he not aware of cases in which the law imposes pecuniary penalties, but leaves them to be enforced by anybody who chooses to sue for them by a civil action? lSince it appears to be the opinion of this high authority that acts which cannot be prosecuted criminally are not unlawful, I presume he thinks that the courts give damages, and the law imposesl penalties, for lawful acts. (Hear, hear.) mI hope the right honourable gentleman will tell us this evening that he disclaims all participation inm these peculiar views. I am nwilling to defer to himn as an authority on omanyo subjects, but I shall be quite unable to accept his guidance in any matter of criminal law (hear), unless he entirely throws over that other great luminary to whom I have been referring. Then, again, it is asked, how can we think of prosecuting anybody for putting people to death, when we cannot possibly suppose that those who did it believed them to be innocent? Well, very probably they did not, though even this is by no means a thing which it is permissible to take for granted. But admitting the fact, it is an excuse that may be made for actions of still greater atrocity than I claim any right to attribute to these. Did the perpetrators of the massacre of St. Bartholomew think their victims innocent?7pDidp they not firmly believe them to be hateful to God and to all good men? qDidq the authors of the September massacres—did the French revolutionary tribunals and the Terrorist Government, believe in the innocence of those whom they put to death?8 Were they not fully persuaded that they were traitors and enemies of their country? I do not want to compare Governor Eyre and his subordinates to Robespierre and Fouquier Tinville, though I confess that their modes of proceeding sometimes remind me very forcibly of some of the minor actors in that great tragedy: but the same sort of excuse may be made for Robespierre and Fouquier Tinville as for them. I dare say that if gentlemen on the other side of the house, and I am afraid some on this side, had had the duty of sitting in judgment on those very vigorous rulers, they would have thought it quite enough to visit them with the penalty with which, for example, Governor Darling has been visited for following his constitutional advisers in an erroneous interpretation of the constitution of Victoria.9 We should perhaps have been told that the case as respects Robespierre was closed by dismissal from his office as a member of the Committee of Public Safety. As for Fouquier Tinville, it probably would not have been thought advisable, after so many errors of judgment, to re-appoint him to the responsible situation of public prosecutor. We might have been told, in words with which the house is probably familiar, that it would be desirable “to entrust that arduous task to some other person, who may approach it free from all the difficulties inseparable from a participation in the questions raised by the recent troubles,” and that by placing the office “in new hands,” Government were “taking the course best calculated to allay animosities, to conciliate general confidence, and to establish on firm and solid grounds the future welfare of” France.10 Again, we are told that in proposing to make the authors of those acts criminally responsible for them, we forget that those acts were done under martial law. Sir, we are not at all likely to forget that (hear, hear); we remember it but too well: and we shall remember as long, what it has been declared by the leading member of the Government that martial law is—the total suspension of all law.11 The right honourable gentleman r(Mr. Adderley)r will admit that this is something worth remembering. Well; martial law while it lasts, is the negation of all law; and therefore (such is the conclusion of the right honourable gentleman)12 it is the negation of all responsibility. Not only, as soon as martial law is proclaimed, the civil and military authorities and their agents may run amuck, if such is their pleasure—may do, as far as any legal restraint is concerned, anything they please; but, if they please to do what is wrong, they cannot be made to account for it afterwards, except to their official superiors, nor to suffer any but the official penalties which those superiors can inflict. If that is our condition, and if any Government or any local administrator that chooses to proclaim martial law can place us under this regimen, we have gained little by our historical struggles, and the blood that has been shed for English liberties has been shed to little purpose. (Hear, hear.) But it is not so, sir; it is not so. I do not deny that there is good authority, legal as well as military, for saying that the proclamation of martial law suspends all law so long as it lasts; but I defy any one to produce any respectable authority for the doctrine that persons are not responsible to the laws of their country, both civil and criminal, after martial law has ceased, for acts done under it. The legal opinions, which the right honourable gentleman misunderstands, affirm only this, that martial law is another word for the law of necessity, and that the justification of acts done under that law consists in their necessity. Well, then, we have a right to dispute the necessity. If the right honourable gentleman will consult his legal advisers, he will find that the law is perfectly settled on this point. With the permission of the house I will read a short extract from a law opinion given specifically on the point by two gentlemen, both of them ornaments of their profession, and one of them a member of this house:13
The officers of the crown are justified in any exertion of physical force extending to the destruction of life and property to any extent, and in any manner, that may be required for this purpose. They are not justified in the use of excessive or cruel means, but are liable civilly or criminally for such excess. They are not justified in inflicting punishment after resistance is suppressed, and after the ordinary courts of justice can be reopened. The principle by which their responsibility is measured is well expressed in the case of Wright v. Fitzgerald. Mr. Wright was a French master, of Clonmel, who, after the suppression of the Irish rebellion in 1798, brought an action against Mr. Fitzgerald, the sheriff of Tipperary, for having cruelly flogged him without due inquiry. Martial law was in full force at that time, and an act of indemnity had been passed to excuse all breaches of the law committed in the suppression of the rebellion. In summing-up, Justice Chamberlain, with whom Lord Yelverton agreed, said: “The jury were not to imagine that the legislature, by enabling magistrates to justify under the indemnity bill,14 had released them from the feelings of humanity, or permitted them wantonly to exercise power, even though it were to put down rebellion. They expected that in all cases there should be a grave and serious examination into the conduct of the supposed criminal, and every act should show a mind intent to discover guilt, not to inflict torture. By examination or trial he did not mean that sort of examination and trial which they were now engaged in, but such examination and trial the best the nature of the case and existing circumstances would allow of. That this must have been the intention of the legislature was manifest from the expression ‘magistrates and all other persons,’ which provides that as every man, whether magistrate or not, was authorised to suppress rebellion, and was to be justified by that law for his acts, it is required that he should not exceed the necessity which gave him the power, and that he should show in his justification that he had used every possible means to ascertain the guilt which he had punished; and, above all, no deviation from the common principles of humanity should appear in his conduct.” Mr. Wright recovered £500 damages; and when Mr. Fitzgerald applied to the Irish parliament for an indemnity, he could not get one.15
In the year 1866, thirty-four years after the passing of the Reform Act, we have to reaffirm the principle of this judgment, and reassert the responsibility of all officers of the executive to the tribunals, in order that in our regard for law and liberty we may be on a level with the Orange Government and the Orange Parliament of Ireland in the most tyrannical period of modern Irish history, the rebellion of 1798. (Hear, hear.) And great cause is there why we should assert this responsibility. If martial law indeed is what it is asserted to be, arbitrary power—the rule of force, subject to no legal limits—then, indeed, the legal responsibility of those who administer it, instead of being lightened, requires to be enormously aggravated. So long as the power of inflicting death is restricted by laws, by rules, by forms devised for the security of innocence, by settled usage, by a long series of precedents—these laws, these forms, these usages and precedents, are a protection to those who are judged; but they are also eminently a protection to those who judge. If a law is prescribed for their observance, and they observe the law, they are, in general, safe from sfurthers responsibility. The less we leave to their discretion, the less necessity is there, in the interest of the general safety, for making them personally accountable. But if men are let loose from all law, from all precedents, from all forms—are left to try people for their lives in any way they please, take evidence as they please, refuse evidence as they please, give facilities to the defence or withhold those facilities as they think fit, and after that pass any sentences they please, and irrevocably execute those sentences, with no bounds to their discretion but their own judgment of what is necessary for the suppression of a rebellion—a judgment which not only may be, but in a vast proportion of cases is sure to be, an exasperated man’s judgment, or a frightened man’s judgment of necessity (hear, hear); when there is absolutely no guarantee against any extremity of tyrannical violence, but the responsibility which can be afterwards exacted from the tyrant—then, sir, it is indeed indispensable that he who takes the lives of others under this discretion should know that he risks his own. (Cheers.) I do not wonder that there are conscientious military men who shrink from so vast a responsibility, and prefer any view whatever of martial law to that which we are given to understand is the true one. I hold in my hand a letter written to me by a retired general officer,16 which, after saying that the intelligent officers of the army feel bewildered at the very idea of martial law, from the absence of all precise instructions on the subject, goes on to say,
I had fully made up my mind how I should act if ever called upon to enforce martial law. I had resolved, as the only safe and prudent plan, to consider martial law as simply military law extended to civilians, feeling convinced that a fixed or written code was indispensable, and that what was sufficient to curb soldiers in war was surely sufficient to restrain civilians in revolt.
Taken fighting with arms in their hands should alone justify the summary execution of rebels; whilst the composition and powers of the courts-martial on rebels should follow the articles of war, which are amply sufficient to cover all cases that could ever arise under martial law. (Hear, hear.)
We are now informed that neither the Articles of War nor the Mutiny Act17 are in force at all during the proclamation of a martial law, and that the courts-martial are not bound by their provisions. But the oath which is administered to the members of every court-martial, and which was taken by all the members of the courts-martial in Jamaica, begins with these words: “You shall duly administer justice according to the rules and articles for the better government of her Majesty’s forces, and according to an act now in force for the punishment of mutiny and desertion.”18 This is what they swore to do: nobody pretends that they did it; and tthe Government now justifies themt by saying that they were not bound by their oath. Sir, I have stated to the house the principles on which I am acting, and on which those act with whom on this subject I am co-operating. We want to know—as the noble lord, the secretary for India, said on a not more important occasion19 —we want to know who are to be our masters: her Majesty’s judges and a jury of our countrymen, administering the laws of England, or three naval and military officers, two of them boys, administering, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer tells us, no law at all.20 This we want to know; and this, if it be humanly possible, we mean to uknow. It remains to be seen whether the people ofvthis country will sustainv us in the attempt to wprocure au solemn reassertion of the principle, that whoever takes human life without justification must account for it to the laww . This great public duty may be discharged without help from the Government, but without help from the people it cannot. It is their cause; and we will not be wanting to them if they are not wanting to us. (Hear, hear.)
[Eventually the first resolution was accepted, and the others were withdrawn following Governmental concessions (cols. 1839–40).]
[* ][JP] By Mr. Adderley. [Charles Bowyer Adderley (1814–1905), Under-Secretary for the Colonies, M.P. for Staffordshire North, Speech on the Disturbances in Jamaica (31 July), PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 184, cols. 1785–97, esp. 1788–9.]
[a]PD,TT by the right honourable Gentleman
[c-c]TT therefore he should embody it in an amendment
[1 ]“Report of the Jamaica Royal Commission,” PP, 1866, XXX, 489–531.
[d-d]PD,TT Some of these
[2 ]Ibid., p. 515.
[e-e]PD,TT In addition to
[3 ]Ibid., p. 531.
[f-f]PD,TT Hitherto in
[g-g]PD,TT the agents of the executive Government have had to answer for themselves in the same Courts of Law as the rest of Her Majesty’s subjects. (Hear.) But if officers of the Government are to be allowed to [TT in past tense]
[h-h]PD,TT the Queen’s
[i-i]+PD,TT [TT in past tense]
[j-j]PD,TT Under these circumstances, it appears to me that the proper course to be adopted by Members [TT in third person, past tense]
[4 ]By Mill on 19 July; see No. 26.
[5 ]By Disraeli, in his Speech on the Outbreak in Jamaica (19 July, 1866), PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 184, col. 1069. The act governing this issue is 24 & 25 Victoria, c. 100 (1861). For the rule of the House discouraging references to prior debates, see Thomas Erskine May, A Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament (1844), 14th ed., ed. Gilbert Campion (London: Butterworth, 1946), p. 426.
[6 ]See No. 26.
[l-l]PD Now, as the authority to whom I allude said that no act that could not be the subject of a criminal prosecution is illegal, it follows that, in his opinion, the law awards] TT as PD . . . follows that the law awards [in third person, past tense]
[m-m]PD,TT The right honourable Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer is just now absent from the House, but I trust that in the course of the evening he will utterly repudiate [TT in third person, past tense]
[n-n]PD,TT ready to accept the right honourable Gentleman
[7 ]The persecution of the Huguenots in France was marked especially by the massacre beginning on St. Bartholomew’s Day, 24 August, 1572.
[p-p]PD,TT On the contrary, did
[q-q]PD,TT Again, did
[8 ]Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre (1758–94) and Antoine Quentin Fouquier-Tinville (1747–95) were leading prosecutors on behalf of the Committee of Public Safety during the Reign of Terror (1793) in the French Revolution.
[9 ]Charles Henry Darling (1809–70), Governor of Victoria, 1863–66, was recalled in February 1866 for injudicious comments on petitioners against practices he had permitted; he then resigned from the Colonial Service.
[10 ]Mill is adapting the words of Edward Cardwell (1813–86), Secretary of State for the Colonies, M.P. for Oxford, concerning Governor Eyre, from “Despatch from the Right Hon. Edward Cardwell, M.P., to Lieut.-Gen. Sir H.K. Storks, G.C.B., G.C.M.G.,” PP, 1866, LI, 143.
[11 ]Disraeli, speech of 19 July, col. 1067.
[12 ]Adderley, speech of 31 July, col. 1789.
[13 ]James Fitzjames Stephen (1829–94), barrister, and Edward James (1807–67), M.P. for Manchester.
[14 ]38 George III, c. 19 (1798), Irish Statutes.
[15 ]Mill is quoting from the legal opinion obtained for the Jamaica Committee; cf. “The Jamaica Committee,” The Times, 16 Jan., 1866, p. 3, where much of the material appears. The quoted judgment is found in Thomas Bayley Howell, A Complete Collection of State Trials, 34 vols. (London: Longman, et al., 1809–28), Vol. XXVII, col. 765.
[s-s]TT all penal
[16 ]Not identified.
[17 ]The Articles of War, published annually, codify the military law for governing and disciplining troops for lesser offences. Offences punishable by death are covered by Mutiny Acts; the one here referred to is 28 Victoria, c. 11 (1865).
[18 ]The oath, still in use, was included in the Mutiny Acts up to 1858; see, e.g., 19 Victoria, c. 10 (1856).
[t-t]PD they are now justified
[19 ]Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne Cecil (1830–1903), Lord Cranborne, M.P. for Stamford, Speech on Electoral Statistics (23 Mar., 1866), PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 182, col. 876.
[20 ]Disraeli, speech of 19 July, col. 1067.
[u-u]Manuscript know. We stand here to assert the authority and majesty of law. That cause we will not desert or compromise, neither from a weak pity for Governor Eyre because he is a public functionary and a gentleman while those whom he hanged and shot were coloured people and peasants—nor from an idle fear of being called vindictive. It would be well, perhaps, if people were a little more vindictive, for other people’s wrongs, than they are. Vindictiveness of that kind had formerly another name, it was called the love of justice—and used to be strong in Englishmen. I wish I did not think that while we have improved in so many other respects, we have gone back somewhat in this; but I hope there is enough of it left to give us the support without which our efforts must be unavailing. It now remains to be seen whether the British people will sustain us in the attempt to procure a [the manuscript fragment contains only this passage]
[v-v]PD,TT England will support [TT in past tense]
[w-w]PD,TT assert the great principle of the responsibility of all agents of the Executive to the laws, civil and criminal, for taking human life without justification