Countries can form many different types of bonds and alliances with one another, and a dominion is one such relationship. In the past, the word “dominion” was used to describe the territories of Wales (from 1535 to 1801) and New England (from 1686 and 1689). But in more modern times, the meaning of the term changed a bit. So, what is a dominion and what are some examples?
What Is a Dominion?
Dominions were semi-autonomous countries under the British Crown, making up part of the British Empire. Modern dominions began with the Canadian Confederation, which united British colonies in Canada into one Dominion of Canada. Other dominions thereafter included Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland, South Africa, the Irish Free State, and later, India, Pakistan, and Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
In 1926, the Balfour Declaration recognized the British Dominions as autonomous communities within the British Empire. The 1931 Statute of Westminster secured their legislative independence.
Ceylon was the last country to be made a dominion in 1948. Shortly after, the term “dominion” gradually fell out of use. To some, it felt a bit derogatory, like it was a form of subordination. The phrase “members of the Commonwealth” came to be used in its place.
1949 singled the end of the British Dominions, when it was decided that these countries should enjoy full membership of the Commonwealth, but should not necessarily be forced to recognize the British monarch as their sovereign.
The Statute of Westminster not only gave dominions legislative authority, but it also allowed dominion ministers to have access to the sovereign. This meant that dominion leaders could converse directly with the king or queen to discuss dominion issues.
A country also had to have achieved self-rule before becoming a dominion. Dominions may have had ties to Britain, but they exercised a great deal of autonomy. They could develop their own trade policies, have limited foreign relations, and create an autonomous armed forces. The British government had the exclusive power to declare wars.
What is the Commonwealth?
The British Commonwealth was created after the Balfour Declaration and formalized by the Statute of Westminster. The London Declaration of 1949 modernized the Commonwealth of Nations into its more current form. This declaration established all member states as “free and equal”. Queen Elizabeth II is the symbol of this group of countries, and she also holds the title Head of the Commonwealth.
Today, there are 53 countries who are members of the Commonwealth, and they subscribe and agree to the principles and values that are outlined in the Commonwealth Charter. They meet every 2 years to talk about issues that may affect or are affecting the Commonwealth and the rest of the world. Every member of the organization has an equal say, without regard to their economic stature or size.
While these countries come together as members of the Commonwealth, they are not legally or formally obligated to one another in any shape or form. They work together because they have a shared interest in the same experiences, institutions, and traditions, in addition to economic self-interest.
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