Political changes (1891-1917)
In 1891, after a strong petition by the Reform Association (then known as the British Guiana Reform Association), the colonial authorities finally abolished the College of Keizers. In the constitutional reforms which were enacted, the Court of Policy was also expanded to include six additional elected members, three of whom were to be elected and three appointed by the Governor. Qualifications for membership to the Court of Policy were also expanded to include anyone with immovable property exceeding a value of $7,500. An Executive Council under the chairmanship of the Governor was also created.
Under this new constitutional arrangement of 1891, elections were held to fill the three newly created seats in the Court of Policy. One of the contestants was Patrick Dargan, a "Coloured" lawyer who based his campaign on a free and liberal education for all. He was among those who had consistently argued since 1886 that entrants to the civil service should be selected based on a competitive examination. However, the Government refused to accede to this demand claiming that it would lead to the selection of socially inferior persons who would be "good clerks but bad administrators". Dargan felt that the refusal to allow a competitive examination was denying young African men jobs in the civil service. He was very vocal in expressing this view in a number of newspaper articles.
Despite waging a vibrant election campaign, Dargan was defeated. Two other African lawyers, J. A. Murdock and W.E. Lewis who contested the other two seats also lost their election bid.
Before the 1891 election, there were 18 representatives in the two Colleges of the Court of Policy. They included 13 Europeans, 4 Coloureds and only one African, William Smith, a Georgetown merchant who was also the first African to become a member of the Guyana legislature. In the 1891 elections, no African was elected, and only two Coloureds won seats.
The 1897 elections saw a stronger campaign by the non-White segment of the population to win representation in the Court of Policy. Dargan contested a seat and so did Andrew Benjamin Brown, an African. The Progressive Association, which had absorbed the Reform Association, was divided as to whether or not it should support Brown. However, when the White-owned paper, The Echo, launched personal attacks on Brown because of his ethnic background, the Association came out in full support of him.
Associated in the attacks on Brown were some Anglican clergymen who openly made anti-Black statements, including a suggestion that Africans should be given special legal status which amounted to an early promotion of a form of racial separation. The Anglican Church was openly involved in politics and its leadership openly sided and campaigned for particular candidates.
Almost all the candidates backed by the Progressive Association were elected. They included Dargan and Brown whose campaigns were ably supported by the educator A. A. Thorne.
Thorne himself did not stand as a candidate. He involved himself in education and established the Middle School in which many African boys and girls received an education equivalent to that provided at Queen's College and Bishop's High School. In 1902 he was elected to the Georgetown City Council and actively promoted a number of reforms in that body. In 1904 he was involved in a celebrated court case after he wrote an article in a Boston newspaper while on a visit to the United States. His article described how the sugar industry was dominating all sectors of Guyanese society. The Argosy newspaper in Georgetown wrote a sharp criticism of Thorne's article and he sued for libel. Ironically, his friend Dargan was the legal representative of the Argosy, but in the end, the judge ruled that a libel was committed and Thorne was awarded $500 in damages.
Thorne entered national politics in 1906 when he was elected as a Financial Representative but he lost his seat in a subsequent election. He was re-elected in 1916 as a member of the Court of Policy.
The 1906 elections saw more Guyanese from the non-White establishment winning seats into the legislative body. They included P.N. Brown, an African lawyer, and two Portuguese, Francis Dias, a solicitor, and J. P Santos, a merchant.
During the next five years, further amendments were made to the constitution including a reduction on the property qualifications for membership to the Court of Policy from $7,500 to $5,000. The franchise was also reduced from an earning of $40 a month to $25 a month.
Despite the lowering of the franchise qualifications, very few Indians registered as voters. In 1911, of a total Indian population of 126,517, only 251 were on the voters' list. The situation did not improve very much two years later when just about six percent of adult Indians were registered as voters. The cause of this was generally an ignorance of the English language in which the registration papers were printed.
In 1916, a few prominent Indians presented themselves as candidates for elections. They were Thomas Flood, a merchant and Government contractor who was a candidate for the Court of Policy for West Demerara and Joseph Alexander Luckhoo, a lawyer, who contested as a representative for South West Essequibo. Edward. A. Luckhoo, mayor of New Amsterdam, and J. A. Veersawmy, both members of the legal profession, and Ashraf Ally, a merchant, contested for the positions as Financial Representatives. However, only Joseph Alexander Luckhoo was successful, and he became the first East Indian to be elected to the national legislature, the Court of Policy.