The Gold Coast Before 1830 Essay
It would be nearly impossible to look at how the British influenced and changed the legal system of Ghana without going back in history, prior to what we know now as the “famous” treaties and bonds. For this is the place where change began, not at the signing of such pieces, like the Bond of 1844. Bonds and treaties that were signed in the mid 1800’s were the result of what happened in the past. First we must look at the definition and motive behind law.
Every society finds it necessary to regulate the behavior of its members: to make them stop certain acts that, for reasons obvious to them, are crucial to the upholding of the society. At the same time they must control and make the people of the society perform acts that are considered useful for the public. In other words, rules of conduct must be established in order to ensure the stability of a certain society. These rules come into play in two key ways. Social rules may be created and obeyed through habit or usage, thus rules of tradition constitute one form of control.
This would more commonly be seen in an African society. The other way is through jurisdiction and law, a form strongly emphasized within the European society. “The concern of a definition of law is simply to attempt to delineate a legal realm of social control…. the task is to state those characteristics that distinguish laws as a specie of norms from other social norms. ”1 To delineate a legal realm of social control through norms, yet the norms that the European settlers knew were different from what the native Africans knew.
Thus, upon landing on the Gold Coast, the beginning of constant struggle for power, jurisdiction, and rights began between European settlers and the aboriginal rulers. Narratives of travelers from the early 1600’sto the 1700’s show that natives at no time willingly submitted to any oppressive measured placed upon them by the Dutch, Danes, or the English. There were many instances when the natives fought back with power against the settlers. One example would be when the people of Elmina took into confines the Dutch governor and his officers in the castle for ten months.
Twenty or so years later in 1681 the English agent at Cape Coast Castle lost eighteen slaves who had escaped into the town. The townspeople protected the runaways and after being threatened by guns from the castle, they formed an army of over seven hundred people, and charged the officers. These are only two of many examples that display the fight for freedom and rights of the natives. In the late 1600’s the Dutch attempted to execute jurisdiction over criminal and civil matters, and to assume the power of life and death in the coast towns.
Prior to this new fight for jurisdiction things had been congenial, but the English began to increase their trade and sought to build forts and factories. The Dutch became threatened. They began to work against the natives only to weaken trade for the English. This was done by placing harsh punishments on those locals sums of money they owed to the local rulers for rent. Thus they could not wholly prevent the natives from trading with other European traders. Although this is one of the first well documented cases in which settlers tried extremely hard to gain jurisdiction and power.
It was in 1753 that the English and the Dutch finally became so aggravated with the constant fighting between the natives over small debts, that they chose to take matters into their own hands. It was written in the Journal of the African Society that, “The solution of the question of the ultimate control of the Coast was therefore forced on the Europeans by the action of the natives. The existence of these disputes had the further effect of compelling the English to take up the task of adjudication in the general quarrels of the natives.
It was obviously a necessary condition to efficient trading on the coast that these quarrels should be settled equitably, and it was from this point of view, and not from any feeling of duty to the native population, the question of establishing a real government over English settlement was first approached. ”2 Although many may argue that what the settlers saw and felt they needed to do was inaccurate, and that the Gold Coast not being their home ground, were in no position to move forward, they did. The above quote quite clearly shows the reader exactly what the mind set of the Europeans was.
In the year of 1821 under the rule of the King of England, Sir Charles McCarthy was appointed Governor of the Gold Coast settlements. Upon his arrival he held a public meeting making a statement about the new government and laws of the settlements. He then established petty debt courts at Cape Coast Castle and other trading stations. He selected local merchants and officers who were open to help him, as magistrates. The officers readily tried civil and criminal cases brought to them. The natives took this as and opportunity to collect outstanding debts. This will be furthered discussed to Part Two) From this point forward the jurisdiction and creation of laws through treaties and bonds began to increase immensely. It is crucial to take into consideration when reading this history that there are two sides being presented. As seen in the journal article, the European straightforwardly blamed the need for jurisdiction on the natives. They believed that their “barbarous and cruel” practices were beyond help, thus they needed order. The natives on the other hand easily could have made the statement that it was the action of the settlers that caused the disruption.