The Dependent Empire, 1900-1948: Colonies, Protectorates, and the Mandates - Vol. 7

The Dependent Empire, 1900-1948: Colonies, Protectorates, and the Mandates - Vol. 7

The Dependent Empire, 1900-1948: Colonies, Protectorates, and the Mandates - Vol. 7

The Dependent Empire, 1900-1948: Colonies, Protectorates, and the Mandates - Vol. 7

Excerpt

The first half of the twentieth century saw the Dominions securing self-government in the fullest sense including those subjects (defence and foreign policy) previously considered as reserved for the imperial power. It also witnessed India, the first of the non-European dependencies, achieving by a slow but pertinacious process that same independence - the 'precisely similar' status 'to that of . . . Canada' within the 'say 50, say 70 years hence' as prophesied by a founder of the Indian Congress, Allan Hume, in 1888: moreover it retained that full membership of the Commonwealth, as a republic [Vol. VI p. 179]. In the dependent empire of colonies and protectorates, as well as mandates undertaken by Britain under the League of Nations following the first World War, there was indeed some progress in the same direction: but it was perhaps a stately unhurried painstaking procession for the most part [No. 10], for there seemed constantly more to be done in preparation and still endless time to do it. In some colonies, however, there were remarkable advances, even novel experimentation (e.g. Ceylon, Malta) while in a few cases (Malta, Cyprus) there were reverses. Generally the mood was to avoid confrontation and to outflank opposition, and the object was to maintain 'peace, order and good government', with due concern for justice and tranquillity in dependencies, reluctantly assumed as hostages to fortune in that somnambulant kleptomania which Seeley characterised as 'a fit of absence of mind' and which were proving embarrassingly costly and fraught with complex internal and communal problems. In the tropical dependencies there was, in the footsteps of Lugard, something of a fetish for 'indirect rule' - the use of indigenous institutions, chiefs and notables to collaborate with, and bear a share in the responsibilities of, imperial rule. This aspect of colonial government was not new - it had been employed by Sir William Johnston in America [Vol. II, p. 521: III, p. 155): George Maclean in the Gold Coast [Vol. V, pp. 403-6: Sir Arthur Gordon in Fiji [Vol. V, p. 593] and Sir William MacGregor and Sir Hubert Murray in Papua - but it had the twin merit of being economical and convenient for the imperial power, and seeming sympathetic and traditional to the subject peoples.

Amid a growing barrage of criticism - some constructive, much misinformed and often deliberately so - against empire, a good deal of the old imperial self-assurance drained away, to be replaced by doubt whether an alien metropolitan power could spare the effort, money and dedication required to solve seemingly intractable colonial problems. But to liberate the colonies or to withdraw from empire in haste would be seen as a shameless, reckless and selfish surrender of a trust - an act of dishonourable irresponsibility. Nor was there any urgent domestic pressure to dismantle an imperial system . . .

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