Dominion - Historical Development - Responsible Government: The Precursor To Dominion Status

Responsible Government: The Precursor To Dominion Status

The foundation of "Dominion" status followed the achievement of internal self-rule in British Colonies, in the specific form of full responsible government (as distinct from "representative government"). Colonial responsible government began to emerge during the mid-19th century. The legislatures of Colonies with responsible government were able to make laws in all matters other than foreign affairs, defence and international trade, these being powers which remained with the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

Nova Scotia and the Province of Canada (which then included Ontario and Quebec) were the first Colonies to achieve representative government, in 1848. Prince Edward Island followed in 1851, as did New Brunswick and Newfoundland in 1855. All of these self-governing Colonies of British North America – except for Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island – agreed to combine in a new federation, named Canada, from 1867. This was formalised by British Parliament in the British North America Act of 1867. Section 3 of the Act referred to the new entity as a "Dominion": the first such entity to be created. From 1870, the new Dominion also included two vast, neighbouring British territories that did not have any form of self-government: Rupert's Land and the North-Western Territory, parts of which later became the Provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, as well as the separate territories, the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut. In 1871, the separate Crown Colony of British Columbia also became a Canadian province. Prince Edward Island joined in 1873.

The conditions under which four then separate Australian colonies – New South Wales, Tasmania, Western Australia, South Australia – and New Zealand could gain full responsible government were set out by the British government in the Australian Constitutions Act 1850.. The Act also separated the Colony of Victoria (in 1851) from New South Wales. During 1856, responsible government was achieved by New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania, along with New Zealand. The remainder of New South Wales was divided in three in 1859, a change that established: (1) most of the present borders of NSW; (2) the Colony of Queensland, with its own responsible self-government, and; (3) the Northern Territory (which was not granted self-government prior to federation of the Australian Colonies). However, Western Australia did not receive self-government until 1891, mainly because of its continuing financial dependence on the UK Government. After protracted negotiations (that initially included New Zealand), six Australian colonies with responsible government (and their dependent territories) agreed to federate, along Canadian lines, becoming the Commonwealth of Australia, in 1901.

In South Africa, the Cape Colony became the first British self-governing Colony, in 1872. (Until 1893, the Cape Colony also controlled the separate Colony of Natal.) Following the Second Boer War (1899–1902), the British Empire assumed direct control of the Boer Republics, but transferred limited self-government to Transvaal in 1906, and the Orange River Colony in 1907.

The Commonwealth of Australia, the Dominion of New Zealand and the Dominion of Newfoundland were officially given Dominion status in 1907, followed by the Union of South Africa, in 1910.

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