A Strange Fact about the British Commonwealth

Churchill with the prime ministers of the British dominions, 1944.

Churchill with the prime ministers of the British dominions, 1944.

Some well-informed people find the fact hard to grasp:  that three former British dominions, once known as the “white dominions” and widely considered today as three of the world’s most successful nations, did not gain full national sovereignty from Great Britain until the 1980s.

Yes, as remarkable as it seems — Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, three of the most successful nations on the planet — are comparative latecomers to independence.

Canada secured its full measure of independence from Britain through the passage of The Canada Act of 1982, Australia through The Australia Act of 1986, and New Zealand through the Constitution Act of 1986.

Needless to say, there is a fascinating history behind each of these landmark acts. Each of these countries theoretically gained the right to exercise independence from Britain with the passage of the Statute of Westminster of 1931.  In fact some constitutional scholars contend that these countries essentially became independent once this right was granted.  Even so, none of the three dominions chose to exercise the full measure of sovereignty at the time,

Only until the passage of these acts, which severed the last constitutional ties with the mother country, Britain – at least, in theory – still retained a measure of legislative oversight over each of these countries.

But it has been the history of most British commonwealth nations to evolve rather than to strike for independence, as our American Founding Fathers did.  Another fascinating fact: In the entire history of the British empire, the only British-derived entity besides the United States that declared its independence from Great Britain was Southern Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe.

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About Jim Langcuster

A Southern late-Baby Boomer whose post-retirement focus is on building a post-racial, post-Confederate Southern regional identity. If the election of 2016 underscored one thing, it is that this country is intractably divided and that radical devolution of power to localities and states is the only way to save the American Union.
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