Eric Williams looked forward to August 31, 1962, notwithstanding his comment in 1960 that those who wanted "independence alone" were "victims of a heritage left by colonialism, persons who were unable to see beyond the confines of our puny territories and their obsession with ancient traditions of West Indian glory and importance". He too had now become parochial.
As is occurring during this and other weeks, preparations had been in process to put in place the symbolic paraphernalia of independence — a national flag, an anthem, a defence force that Williams said he was not eager to have but that the British had insisted upon, an order of precedence for state office, arrangements for the formal hand-over of power by the Crown, and much else. He also had to decide and compose what he was going to say to the nation on the historic occasion of the first speech as Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago.
One of the most important of the pre-independence events was his "conversation" with schoolchildren at a rally held in Port of Spain on the day preceding independence. Williams told the children that they must practise what they were affirming in the national anthem, "Let every creed and race find an equal place."
He also advised them that on their young shoulders would rest the future of the nation, and that each and every one of them "carried the future of the country in their school bags". One is told that other things are being carried in those bags.
The night of August 30 was another important milestone for Williams. As he recalled in Inward Hunger, at midnight the Union Jack was lowered in dead silence, and our red, white and Black flag went up to the deafening roar of the thousands who had assembled to witness the historic ceremony. At the formal opening of the first Independence Parliament, the Princess Royal read the Queen's speech which marked the Independence Conference in London, it will seek the co-operation and invite the participation of all groups in the country in its approach to National questions.
Independence Day found Williams lecturing to the population as to what the day meant then and what it could mean five years hence. He was painfully aware of the risks associated with independence. The people were now masters "chez nous", but as he asked them with a perceptible sense of lurking danger, "What use will you make of your independence? What will you transmit to your children five years from today?" He observed that "other countries had ceased to exist in that period. Some, in much less time, had became totally disorganised, a prey to anarchy and civil war." Williams proceeded to lecture the population as to what democracy meant and did not mean. It involved, at a minimum, the right to vote, recognition of the rights of others, equality of opportunity in education, employment in the public service and in the private sector ( the latter was emphasised). Pointedly, it also meant the obligation of the government to protect the rights of citizens from arbitrary power and other conventional abuses.
But just as the state was obligated to its citizens, so too citizens had to recognise their obligations to the state and to the national community. Citizens were thus called upon to heed the watchwords that he gave to the nation "for all times" Discipline, Production and Tolerance. Without these, the new state and its economy were at grave risk of anarchy, impoverishment and ethnic conflict. Williams also recommitted himself and the PNM to inclusive parliamentary democracy. As he told his national audience. "The Constitution recognises (that) the position of the leaders of the Opposition and the normal parliamentary conventions of consultation between Government and Opposition are being steadily develop and expanded. The Constitution itself, Independence itself, represent the agreement of the two political parties on the fundamental question of national unity. The ordinary citizen must recognise the role of the Parliament, whom he may like or dislike and the respect that must be accorded to the same Member of Parliament ex-officio.
"In the final analysis, however, democracy would only flourish and be sustained if it was buttressed by an informed civil society, which Williams himself had done so much to empower. As he perorated, "Democracy, finally, rests on a higher power than Parliament. It rests on an informed and cultivated and alert public opinion. The Members of Parliament are only the representatives of the citizens. They cannot represent apathy and indifference. They can play the part allotted to them only if they represent intelligence and public spiritness."
Everone was not in an exultant mood, however. CLR James remarked that the population marched to independence "as if they were going to a funeral", so disappointed were they about the collapse of federation and the retreat from confrontation with America over Chaguaramas. Some were no doubt disillusioned, especially over federation. Some were fearful of the future now that the Colonial Office and the "Queen" were no longer there to serve as political long stops. This was particularly true of the French- Creole and the Indo-Trinidadian communities, as well as the other ethnic minorities. Williams sought to reassure them in his Independence Day address, but many remained doubtful, watchful, but nevertheless hopeful that the era of good feeling that had develop following the Marlborough House compromise would last. Bhadase Maraj spoke for many of his co-ethnics when the telephoned "Bill" in London to tell him that he always maintained that "you had more brains than the rest of those fellows put together".
The Afro-creole majority, for their part, were satisfied and thankful that the long journey to independence had come to an end and that the "Port" and not the "Plantation" had emerged as victors in the struggle for succession to the imperial power. "Williams the Conqueror" had prevailed, and most had confidence in his capacity to steer the ship of state into the new dispensation. William's self-appointed task was to control and transform what he called "Negro Nationalism", which he insisted was "defensive rather than aggressive", into a movement seeking well-defined political and social aims designed for the common good. He warned that Trinidadian identity must now displace and prevail over other ethnic identities. As he told the nation in his annual address on the eve of independence,
"There can be no Mother India for those whose ancestors came from India....there can be no Mother Africa for those of African origin ...there can be no Mother England and no dual loyalties... there can be no Mother China even if one could agree as to which China is the Mother ; and there can be no Mother Syria or no Mother Lebanon. A nation, like an individual, can have one Mother. The only Mother we recognise is Mother Trinidad and Tobago, and Mother cannot discriminate between her children."
Williams would have to be reminded that one was not limited to one identity, and that one could have as many as one wished.