|The Bahamas gained independence on 10 July 1973 ending 325 years of peaceful British rule. This module provides an overview of the key events on The Bahamas's road to independence.
Road to Independence
The Bahamas was one of the few areas in the region in which the Arawak people were not displaced by the more warlike Caribs. When, in 1492, Christopher Columbus made his first landing in the New World in The Bahamas, the people who met him were Arawaks who, he wrote, ‘have opened their hearts to us. We have become great friends.’ Columbus is believed to have landed at Watling’s Island (Amerindian: Guanahani; Columbus’s designation: San Salvador). But within some 20 years, the Spaniards had enslaved or transported the Arawaks; some 40,000 were transported to Hispaniola where they died working in mines. British pirates also used the islands, and in 1629 the islands were given their first constitution as part of the Carolinas (USA). The first British settlers were refugees from religious persecution under Charles I, in Cigatoo in 1648. The island was renamed Eleuthera, meaning freedom. The settlers introduced the plantation economy and African slave labour.
An early form of democratic government, with a bicameral parliament and elected lower house, developed but was abolished in 1717, when the Crown resumed government. Although the other colonial powers did not formally dispute possession, the settlers were at times harassed by the French and Spanish as well as by pirates. Fortunes fluctuated. The population soared in the late 18th century with the arrival from America of Loyalist families and their slaves after the American Revolution. In 1783–84 the population was 4,058; by 1789, it was more than 11,000, with the white settlers forming a significant minority. The abolition of slavery in 1834 caused major economic changes as the islands had been used as a centre of slave-trading.
In 1861–65 the islands enjoyed prosperity as a depot for ships running the blockade against the Confederate States during the American Civil War. Decline followed, however, compounded by a severe hurricane in 1866.
Prosperity returned in the 20th century, when the islands became an entrepot for the American bootlegging trade during prohibition. More conventional industries also developed, supplying sisal, conch shells for cameo brooch-making, pineapples and sponges. The sponge industry reached a peak in 1901 during generally lean years but collapsed in 1939 as a result of fungal diseases. In the early 1950s the islands again prospered; the success of tourism, and later offshore banking, produced phenomenal growth. In 1953, the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) was founded to represent black interests in a system till then still dominated by whites.
In 1964, a new constitution set up a ministerial system of government, and the legislature was reformed to represent majority interests. After the subsequent general election in 1967, the United Bahamian Party (the so-called ‘Bay Street Boys’) was forced into opposition for the first time in the assembly’s history. Lynden Pindling, leader of the PLP, formed a government with the support of the Labour Party. The PLP won the next two general elections outright, and Pindling led The Bahamas to independence under a new constitution on 10 July 1973.
Britain welcomed Bahamian independence when the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) won the election on that platform in September 1972.
The final agreement for independence for the archipelago of 700 islands and about 175,000 people was made in London in December 1972.
Prince Charles was the Queen's representative for the Independence ceremony. Just before midnight on 9 July 1973, he witnessed the final lowering of the Union Jack on hills overlooking Nassau harbour in a ceremony replicated on all 22 of the inhabited Bahamian islands.
Lynden Oscar Pindling became the countries first Prime Minster. Sir Milo Boughton Butler became the first first Governor-General in August 1973.
Meaning of Independence
The Bahamas becoming an independent nation, now meant that Britain, no longer controlled the affairs of the country. It was now the responsibility of the newly elected Prime Minister and the locally elected Cabinet. Independence also meant that a Constitution, symbols, emblems, an army, and passports had to be developed for the country.
As an independent nation, The Bahamas assigns Ambassadors overseas who represent the country. They sign treaties on behalf of The Bahamas and become members of various international organisations. This is important, as it gives the country equal rights on various issues relating to international trade, policies and treaties.