The central theme of Volume III of these documents was that during a period of 'imperial reconstruction' between 1763 and 1840 a division emerged for the first time in the constitutional structure of the British empire. Due to a number of factors which had no necessary connection -- the loss of the American continental colonies, the survival of colonies of white settlement in British North America, the establishment of comparable colonies in Australasia, and the acquisition of a considerable number of colonies from France, Spain and the Netherlands during the wars from 1776 to 1815 -- the British empire as it emerged by about 1840 was both vast and diverse. In constitutional terms no single pattern of government or laws could be applied to possessions as different as, say, New Brunswick and Ceylon. There was no formal British recognition of this fact; no statute defining different categories of colonies. But in practice two broad species were emerging by 1840: colonies which must be dominated by their white settlers because it would have been too inconvenient to sustain the more or less authoritarian regimes thought essential during the period of Tory reaction to French revolutionary libertarianism after 1793; and all the other possessions where, for one reason or another, such imperatives were temporarily thought necessary. It was for this reason that Volume IV was devoted entirely to the evolutions within the first of these categories to the point at which they were well on the road to becoming sovereign states; while this present Volume is concerned with the remainder of the empire -- Crown colonies, protectorates, 'spheres of influence', and other dependencies, and to Ireland, though in future to be classed briefly and inappropriately as a 'Dominion', included because there is no logical alternative niche for a neighbouring island- part settled, part conquered --ostensibly integrated by the Union Act [Vol. III No. 65] into the metropolis itself, as, indeed, both the U.S. and Russia also did with their 'colonies'.
In the context of the 'settlement colonies' [Vol. IV] the processes of decolonisation -- inevitably present within empire from its very beginnings, for distant colonies or regions [e.g. Durham, Vol. I Nos. 99-112] could not be directly governed in all detail by the metropolis -- were moving apace and indeed were far advanced by 1900. In the rest of the dependent empire and in India such developments, though not non-existent, were more gradual, erratic and unpredictable. The nature of the empire was of course changing: indeed, though very few contemporaries realised it, it was slowly disintegrating, as it became wider and more complex. The metropolis still sought respect for 'due process' -- for legitimacy rather than authority; but the imperial fiat still required some, if variable, provenance, respect and bite, some recognition, even though (as these documents show) there could be considerable evasion on the frontier. The empire was becoming a figment -- a bluff used by governors to assert order and perpetuate rule, and by the governed . . .