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The British Commonwealth  emerges




  This  evolutionary move to independence in Canada, Australia and New Zealand  had its origins in the fact that the rule of law, and all its benefits, came with the settlers of each new colony at its very foundation. The British Empire  was changing.

It was in Adelaide in 1884 that Lord Rosebery, later the British prime minister, described this trend accurately by stating that the Empire was now a Commonwealth of Nations.In the latter part of the nineteenth century it was even recognised that the colonial governments had some limited right to deal with foreign powers. A half-hearted move to develop an imperial federation went against this trend. It commanded little support.

By 1917, at the Imperial War Conference, it was formally agreed that a readjustment of the constitutional relations in the Empire should be made based on a full recognition of the dominions (as the self-governing colonies came to be called) as "autonomous nations of an Imperial Commonwealth". At the Versailles Conference at the end of the First World War Australia (and the other dominions) signed the Treaty of Versailles, and became a full founding member of the League of Nations.

In 1920 Canada and the United States entered into full and separate diplomatic relations with one another. In 1923 the unfettered right of the dominions to enter into treaties was confirmed. Unlike the British, the dominions did not sign the Treaty of Lausanne with Turkey in 1923. And the substantial obligations Britain agreed to in Europe under the Treaty of Locarno in 1925 did not extend to the dominions.

These developments were not initiated by, but were recognised in, the celebrated Balfour Declaration of 1926, which affirmed that the dominions were "autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate to one another in any respect of their domestic or internal affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the crown and associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations".

And from 1930, governors-general were to be appointed by the sovereign on the advice of the dominion government. They were to continue in their principal role as the constitutional umpire and auditor in the dominion. They had in 1926 already lost their other subordinate role as representatives of the imperial government. This was to go to the high commissioners, who would represent commonwealth governments in other capitals.

The change flowed from an earlier decision in 1926 that a governor-general holds "in all essential respects, the same position in relation to the administration of public affairs" in the dominion concerned "as is held by His Majesty the King in Great Britain, and that he is not the representative or agent" of the British government.

In 1930, the first Australian governor-general, Sir Isaac Isaacs, was appointed on the advice, indeed at the insistence, of the Australian prime minister. The King had earlier suggested that there was an advantage in having a governor-general who had no connections with the local political scene, and who was already personally known to him.

When Britain declared war on Germany in 1939, the reaction of the dominions was not uniform. Eire (now the Republic of Ireland) decided on neutrality. Canada and later South Africa declared war. The Australian Prime Minister, R.G. Menzies, in announcing the declaration by Britain, declared that "as a result. Australia is at war".

It was becoming clear that the old concept of a single indivisible imperial crown was no longer tenable. There were now several crowns. And in 1937 Ireland (Eire) became, or became close to being, a republic, a fact accepted by the other members.

 

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