‘A monster in politics’
Corruption and economical reform in Jamaica, 1783–91
in The many lives of corruption
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Between 1781 and 1793 the British government embarked on a programme of what contemporaries called ‘economical reform’, which aimed to address problems of political and administrative corruption revealed by successive defeats in the American Revolutionary War. It triggered a process that would, arguably, root out entrenched or Old Corruption from the British political system by the mid-nineteenth century. The underlying factors for its success have been debated, and one of the suggestions is that the campaign was no mere bureaucratic exercise but involved a series of dialogues between popular demands, political practicalities and administrative realities that made for effective, long-term change. Focusing on a comparable process of economical reform undertaken at the same time but on a smaller scale in Jamaica during the 1780s, this chapter shines some much needed light on the experience of anticorruption initiatives in colonial settings, and contributes to the wider literature by reinforcing the importance of the interplay between political support and administrative direction. It argues that reforms in Jamaica lacking such support failed, but where that support existed, it had to be channelled in productive directions, since the political ideology – Old or Country Whig – that gave the movement its edge could work both for and against effective change. The experience of Jamaica, for all the differences from Britain in its society and economy, also shared some important similarities and helps to clarify what enabled and inhibited successful programmes of anticorruption reform at this critical juncture for the British imperial state.

The many lives of corruption

The reform of public life in modern Britain, 1750–1950

Editors: Ian Cawood and Tom Crook

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