Courtesy Reuters

From Empire to Commonwealth

DURING the past twenty years a very marked change has taken place in the character and constitutional system of what is known as the British Empire. The old view was described in 1911 in The Round Table, a quarterly devoted to discussion of the political problems of the Empire, as follows:

"Forty years ago the British Empire was regarded as a failure. Contemporary judgment, conscious of the difficulties and burdens of the day and of the doleful lessons of the past, could see no future before it . . . As Seeley said, 'We had not learnt from experience wisdom, but only despair.' History, indeed, seemed to prove that human beings failed of the capacity to rise above a certain territorial nationalism. In Turgot's phrase, colonies had always been 'like ripe fruits which cling till they ripen.' Was it not the manifest destiny of the British colonies also to declare their independence so soon as they could stand alone? Gladstone, indeed, went so far as to suggest that we should anticipate the inevitable end and settle the difficulties between England and America over the Civil War by an immediate transfer to America of British territory in Canada.

"There was much the same feeling about the dependencies. India and the West Indies were England's chief possessions--an empire she had gained by no deliberate policy, but which had been forced upon her in her struggles with France and Spain, and by the restless enterprise of traders and adventurers. Her own political traditions--especially as embodied in the phrase 'no taxation without representation'--compelled her to abandon the methods of earlier empires and refrain from levying tribute from subject peoples. There was, therefore, no great enthusiasm for the dependencies. The trade with them was considerable, but it affected only a small portion of the British population, while the burdens for their defence all had to bear. . . . In fact, to use a phrase of Mr. Asquith's, the Empire 'was regarded as a regrettable necessity, to be apologized for as

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