What caused the Morant Bay Rebellion in Jamaica in 1865?

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Jamaica ended slavery through the British Emancipation Act, and all slaves were freed as of 1st August 1838. The former slaves gained the right to choose their employer and type of employment. Additionally, they were allowed to participate as voters in the country’s electoral process. However, exorbitant poll taxes made it impossible for many freed slaves to participate in electing their leaders. Thus, in effect, the elected leaders were imposed on the majority Black Jamaicans.

Economic and social hardships in the country threatened the freedom of the freed slaves. The people suffered a spate of harsh weather conditions, poverty, and diseases. White farmers suffered economic consequences of the harsh conditions and rumors surrounding the reversal of the Emancipation Act began to spread. In attempts to secure their freedom, the Blacks communicated their grievances to Queen Victoria but they did not receive a favorable resolution. They tried to engage the local administration in seeking a resolution, but their attempts were resisted. The situation forced them to march to Morant Bay in protest, sparking off the rebellion.

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The basic causes of the Morant Bay Rebellion in 1865 were the unrepresentative nature of the Jamaican government and the economic problems that Jamaica was suffering from during this time.

The government of Jamaica was controlled by a very few white people.  The black Jamaicans had essentially no voice in government.  Out of the 436,000 people on the island, fewer than 2,000 were allowed to vote (see miami.edu link).  This meant that the mass of black Jamaicans had no feeling of being represented by their government.

At the same time, Jamaica was undergoing serious economic difficulties.  Taxes were high, prices were high, unemployment was high.  In these conditions, many black Jamaicans were living in very impoverished circumstances.

Because their material lives were very difficult, and because they had no voice in government, black Jamaicans were primed to rebel if the occasion arose as it did when Paul Bogle and his fellow protestors were arrested.

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