AskDefine | Define dominion

Dictionary Definition



1 dominance or power through legal authority; "France held undisputed dominion over vast areas of Africa"; "the rule of Caesar" [syn: rule]
2 a region marked off for administrative or other purposes [syn: district, territory, territorial dominion]
3 one of the self-governing nations in the British Commonwealth

User Contributed Dictionary

see Dominion



From dominion, from dominionem.


  1. power or the use of power; sovereignty over something.
  2. a kingdom, nation, or other sphere of influence.


power or the use of power; sovereignty over something
a kingdom, nation, or other sphere of influence




Extensive Definition

A dominion, often Dominion, is a term that particularly referred to an autonomous polity under sovereign authority within the British Empire and British Commonwealth from the late 19th century. These states included (at varying times) Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland, South Africa, and the Irish Free State. After 1948, the term was used to note independent nations that retained the British monarch as head of state, roughly synonymous with Commonwealth realm. These nations included India, Pakistan, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and Kenya.
Use of the word dominion, as a general term for any British overseas territory, dates back to the 17th century. Dominion, as an official title, was first conferred on Virginia, circa 1660 and the Dominion of New England in 1686. These dominions never had semi-autonomous or self-governing status. Canada received the title upon Confederation in 1867 of several British colonies in North America. The title would continue to be used to refer to possessions of the British monarch until well into the 20th century. The Imperial Conference of 1907 was the first time the self-governing colonies of Canada and Australia would be referred to together as "Dominions". Two other self-governing colonies, New Zealand and Newfoundland, were also granted the title that year. They were followed by South Africa (1910) and the Irish Free State (1922).
Dominion status was officially defined in the Balfour Declaration (1926) and in the Statute of Westminster (1931), which recognized these territories as "autonomous Communities within the British Empire," establishing these states as equals to the United Kingdom, making them essentially independent members of the Commonwealth of Nations. Following the Second World War, the decline of British colonialism led to Dominions generally being referred to as Commonwealth realms, the use of the word gradually diminished within these countries after this time; nonetheless, though disused, it remains Canada's legal title.

Historical development

Overseas dominions

Dominions originally referred to any overseas possession of the British Empire. Oliver Cromwell's full title in the 1650s was "Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland, and the dominions thereto belonging". In 1660, King Charles II gave the Colony of Virginia the title "Dominion" in gratitude for Virginia's loyalty to the Crown during the English Civil War; the state still retains "Old Dominion" as its nickname. The name also occurred in the short-lived Dominion of New England (1686-1689). In all of these cases, dominion implied being a subject of the Empire.

Responsible Government

The next application of dominion was to Canada in 1867. All the colonies of British North America had attained limited self-governance between 1848 and 1855, except the colony of Vancouver Island. Nova Scotia was the first colony to achieve responsible government in January–February 1848, through the efforts of Joseph Howe, and by the Province of Canada later that year. They were followed by Prince Edward Island in 1851, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland in 1855 under Philip Francis Little.
Australia and New Zealand were designated dominions in 1907. The Australian Constitutions Act 1850 established the machinery for the four then existing Australian colonies (namely New South Wales, Tasmania, Western Australia and South Australia) to establish Parliaments and responsible government once certain conditions had been met; it also provided for the separation of Victoria from New South Wales and its establishment as a separate colony (which occurred in 1851) with similar capacity to attain self-government. New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania, along with New Zealand, attained responsible government soon after in 1856; self-government for Western Australia was delayed until 1891, mainly because of continuing financial dependence on Britain. Queensland was separated from New South Wales and established as a separate colony in 1859. This left a large piece of territory in northern Australia still technically part of NSW though physically separated from it. This territory was transferred in part to Queensland and the remainder to South Australia in 1863 -- the South Australian section being eventually transferred to the Commonwealth of Australia as the federal Northern Territory in 1911.
South Africa became a dominion in 1910. Its colonies had become self-governing earlier, with the Cape Colony being the first in 1872; this was followed by Natal (1893), Transvaal (1906), and the Orange River Colony (1907).

Canada and Confederation

The 20th century usage of the term "Dominion" can be traced to 1867 with the confederation of the British North American colonies of Canada (subsequently the provinces of Ontario and Quebec), New Brunswick and Nova Scotia into "One Dominion under the Name of Canada", the first federation in the British Empire. The new Canadian government subsequently used "Dominion of Canada" to designate the new, larger colony. Neither Confederation nor the adoption of the Dominion title, however, granted extra autonomy or new powers to the new federal level of government.
Constitutional scholar Andrew Heard clearly establishes that Confederation in no way changed Canada's colonial status to anything approaching its later dominion status.
At its inception in 1867, Canada's colonial status was marked by political and legal subjugation to British Imperial supremacy in all aspects of government - legislative, judicial, and executive. The Imperial Parliament at Westminster could legislate on any matter to do with Canada and could override any local legislation, the final court of appeal for Canadian litigation lay with the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London, the Governor General had a substantive role as a representative of the British government, and ultimate executive power was vested in the British Monarch - who was advised only by British Ministers in its exercise. Canada's independence came about as each of these sub-ordinations was eventually removed.
Heard goes on to document the sizable body of legislation passed by the British Parliament in the latter part of the 19th century that would uphold and expand its Imperial supremacy to constrain its colonies, including the new Dominion government.
When the Dominion of Canada was created in 1867 it was granted powers of self-government to deal with all internal matters, but Britain still retained overall legislative supremacy. This imperial supremacy could be exercised through several statutory measures. In the first place, the Constitution Act of 1867 provides in s.55 that the Governor General may reserve any legislation passed by the two Houses of Parliament for "the signification of Her Majesty's pleasure", which is determined according to s.57 by the (British) Queen in Council. Secondly, s.56 provides that the Governor General must forward to "one of Her Majesty's Principal Secretary's of State" in London a copy of any federal legislation that has been assented to; within two years after the receipt of this copy, the (British) Queen in Council can disallow an Act. Thirdly, four pieces of Imperial legislation constrained the Canadian legislatures. The Colonial Laws Validity Act of 1865 provided that no colonial law could validly conflict with, amend or repeal Imperial legislation which explicitly or by necessary implication applied directly to that colony; the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894 as well as the Colonial Courts of Admiralty Act, 1890 required reservation of Dominion legislation on those topics for approval by the British Government; and, the Colonial Stock Act of 1900 provided for the dis-allowance of Dominion legislation which the British government felt would harm British stockholders of Dominion trustee securities. Most importantly, however, the British Parliament could exercise the legal right of supremacy it possessed at common law to pass any legislation on any matter affecting the colonies.

The Irish Free State

Irish Free State in 1922, after the bitter Anglo-Irish War. All retained the same monarch as head of state, represented locally by a governor-general appointed in consultation with the Dominion government. The Irish Free State, led by W. T. Cosgrave was the first Dominion to appoint a non-British, non-aristocratic Governor-General, when Timothy Michael Healy took the position in 1922. Dominion status was never popular in the Irish Free State/Ireland, where people saw it as a face-saving measure for a British government unable to countenance a republic in what had previously been the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Successive Irish governments undermined the constitutional links with Britain, until they were severed completely in 1949. In 1930, the Australian Prime Minister, James Scullin, reinforced the right of the overseas Dominions to appoint native-born governors-general, when he advised King George V to appoint Sir Isaac Isaacs as his representative in Australia, against the wishes of the opposition and officials in London.

The Balfour Declaration and the Statute of Westminster

The Balfour Declaration of 1926, and the subsequent Statute of Westminster, 1931, ended Britain's ability to pass or affect laws outside of its own jurisdiction. Significantly, it was Britain which initiated the change to complete independence for the Dominions. World War I had left Britain saddled with enormous debts and the Great Depression had further reduced Britain's ability to pay for the defence of its empire. In spite of popular opinions of empires, the larger Dominions were reluctant to leave the protection of the then-superpower. For example, many Canadians felt that being part of the British Empire was the only thing that had prevented them from being absorbed into the United States.
Until 1931, Newfoundland was referred to as a colony of the United Kingdom, as for example, in the 1927 reference to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to delineate the Quebec-Labrador boundary. Full autonomy was granted by the United Kingdom parliament with the Statute of Westminster in December 1931. However, the government of Newfoundland "requested the United Kingdom not to have sections 2 to 6[—]confirming Dominion status[—]apply automatically to it[,] until the Newfoundland Legislature first approved the Statute, approval which the Legislature subsequently never gave." In any event, Newfoundland's letters patent of 1934 suspended self-government and instituted a "Commission of Government," which continued until Newfoundland became a province of Canada in 1949. It is the view of some constitutional lawyers that—although Newfoundland chose not to exercise all of the functions of a Dominion like Canada—its status as a Dominion was "suspended" in 1934, rather than "revoked" or "abolished".
Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland and South Africa (prior to becoming a republic and leaving the Commonwealth in 1961), with their large populations of European descent, were sometimes collectively referred to as the "White Dominions." Today Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom are sometimes referred to collectively as the "White Commonwealth."
The United Kingdom and its component parts never aspired to the title of "Dominion," remaining anomalies within the network of free and independent equal members of the empire and Commonwealth. However the idea has on occasions been floated by some in Northern Ireland as an alternative to a United Ireland if they felt uncomfortable within the United Kingdom.

The Dominions


Four colonies of Australia had enjoyed responsible government since 1856: New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia. Queensland had responsible government soon after its founding in 1859 but, because of ongoing financial dependence on Britain, Western Australia became the last Australian colony to attain self-government in 1890 . During the 1890s, the colonies voted to unite and in 1901 they were federated under the British Crown as the Commonwealth of Australia by the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act.The Constitution of Australia had been drafted in Australia and approved by popular consent. Thus Australia is one of the few countries established by a popular vote. Under the Balfour Declaration, the federal government was regarded as coequal with (and not subordinate to) the British and other Dominion governments, and this was given formal legal recognition in 1942 (when the Statute of Westminster was retroactively adopted to the commencement of the Second World War 1939). The governments of the states (called colonies before 1901) remained under the Commonwealth but retained vestigial links to the British Parliament until the passage of the Australia Act 1986.


See also: Name of Canada
Dominion is the legal title conferred on Canada in the Constitution of Canada, namely the Constitution Act, 1867 (British North America Acts), and describes the resulting political union. Specifically, the preamble of the BNA Act indicates:
''Whereas the Provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick have expressed their Desire to be federally united into One Dominion under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, with a Constitution similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom ...
and, furthermore, sections 3 and 4 indicate that the provinces:
... shall form and be One Dominion under the Name of Canada; and on and after that Day those Three Provinces shall form and be One Dominion under that Name accordingly.
Unless it is otherwise expressed or implied, the Name Canada shall be taken to mean Canada as constituted under this Act.
Usage of the term Dominion of Canada was sanctioned as the country's formal political name, and some still read the BNA Act passage as specifying this phrase – rather than Canada alone – as the name. The term Dominion of Canada does not appear in the 1867 act nor in the Constitution Act, 1982 but does appear in the Constitution Act, 1871, other contemporaneous texts, and subsequent bills. References to the Dominion of Canada'' in later acts, such as the Statute of Westminster, do not clarify the point because all nouns were formally capitalised in British legislative style. Indeed, in the original text of the BNA Act, "One" and "Name" were also capitalised.
Starting in the 1950s, the federal government began to phase out the use of Dominion, which had been used largely as a synonym of "federal" or "national" such as "Dominion building" for a post office, "Dominion-provincial relations", and so on. The last major change was renaming the national holiday from Dominion Day to Canada Day in 1982. Official bilingualism laws also contributed to the disuse of dominion, as it has no acceptable equivalent in French.
While the term may be found in older official documents, and the Dominion Carillonneur still tolls at Parliament Hill, it is rarely used any more to distinguish the federal government from the provinces or (historically) Canada before and after 1867. Nonetheless, the federal government continues to produce publications and educational materials that specify the currency of these official titles.
Defenders of the title Dominion — including monarchists who see signs of creeping republicanism in Canada — take comfort in the fact that the Canadian Constitution Act, 1982 does not mention and therefore does not remove the title, and that a constitutional amendment would be required to change it.

India and Pakistan

India acquired responsible government in 1909, though the first Parliament did not meet until 1919. India and Pakistan separated as independent dominions in 1947. India became a republic in 1950 and Pakistan adopted a republican form of government in 1956.

Irish Free State

The Irish Free State was a British Dominion between 1921 and 1949, when the Oireachtas's Republic of Ireland Act came into force. Upon the establishment of the Irish Free State on 6 December 1922, Northern Ireland provisionally became an autonomous part of the Irish Free State. However, as was widely expected at the time, the Parliament of Northern Ireland chose, under the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, to opt out of the Irish Free State and back into the United Kingdom the following day.

Newfoundland and Labrador

The colony of Newfoundland enjoyed responsible government from 1855-1934. It was among the colonies to be declared dominions in 1907. Following the recommendations of a Royal Commission, parliamentary government was suspended in 1934. In 1948 Newfoundland and Labrador joined Canada and the legislature was restored.

New Zealand

The New Zealand Constitution Act 1852 gave the colony of New Zealand its own Parliament (General Assembly) and home rule in 1852. In 1907 New Zealand was proclaimed the Dominion of New Zealand. It adopted the Statute of Westminster in 1947. The Constitution Act 1986 repealed the Constitution Act of 1852 and accorded full legal independence from the United Kingdom.

Union of South Africa

South Africa was formed from the 1910 union of the self-governing colonies of the Cape of Good Hope, Natal, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State (the last two were former Boer republics ). The South Africa Act 1909 gave the Union a Parliament consisting of a Senate and a House of Assembly. The provinces had their own legislatures. In 1961 the Union of South Africa left the Commonwealth and adopted a new constitution.

Foreign relations

Initially, the Foreign Office of the United Kingdom conducted the foreign relations of the Dominions. A Dominions section was created within the Colonial Office for this purpose in 1907. Canada set up its own Department of External Affairs in June 1909, but diplomatic relations with other governments continued to operate through the governors-general, Dominion High Commissioners in London (first appointed by Canada in 1880; Australia followed only in 1910) and British legations abroad. Britain deemed her declaration of war against Germany in August 1914 to extend without the need for consultation to all territories of the Empire, occasioning some displeasure in Canadian official circles and contributing to a brief anti-British insurrection by Afrikaner militants in South Africa later that year. A Canadian War Mission in Washington, D.C., dealt with supply matters from February 1918 to March 1921.
Although the Dominions had had no formal voice in declaring war, each became a separate signatory of the June 1919 peace Treaty of Versailles, which had been negotiated by a British-led united Empire delegation. In September 1922, Dominion reluctance to support British military action against Turkey influenced Britain's decision to seek a compromise settlement. Diplomatic autonomy soon followed, with the U.S.-Canadian Halibut Fisheries Agreement (March 1923) marking the first international treaty negotiated and concluded entirely independently by a Dominion. The Dominions Section of the Colonial Office was upgraded in June 1926 to a separate Dominions Office. However, initially the same person was appointed as the Secretary of State for the Colonies.
The principle of Dominion equality with Britain and independence in foreign relations was formally recognised by the Balfour Declaration adopted at the Imperial Conference of November 1926. Canada's first permanent diplomatic mission to a foreign country opened in Washington, DC in 1927. In 1928, Canada obtained the appointment of a British high commissioner in Ottawa, separating the administrative and diplomatic functions of the governor-general and ending the latter's anomalous role as the representative of the British government in relations between the two countries. The Dominions Office was given a separate secretary of state in June 1930, though this was entirely for domestic political reasons given the need to relieve the burden on one ill minister whilst moving another away from unemployment policy. The Balfour Declaration was enshrined in the Statute of Westminster 1931 when it was adopted by the British Parliament and subsequently ratified by the Dominion legislatures.
Britain's declaration of hostilities against Germany on September 3, 1939 tested the issue. Most took the view that the declaration did not commit the Dominions. Ireland chose to remain neutral. At the other extreme, the conservative Australian government of the day, led by Robert Menzies, took the view that, since Australia had not adopted the Statute of Westminster, it was legally bound by the UK declaration of war—which had also been the view at the outbreak of World War I — although this was contentious within Australia. Between these two extremes, New Zealand declared that as Britain was or would be at war, so it was too. This was, however, a matter of political choice rather than legal necessity. Canada issued its own declaration of war after a recall of Parliament, as did South Africa after a delay of several days (South Africa - September 6, Canada - September 10). Ireland, which had negotiated the removal of British forces from its territory the year before, chose to remain neutral throughout the war. There were soon signs of growing independence from the other Dominions: Australia opened a diplomatic mission in the US in 1940, as did New Zealand in 1941, and Canada's mission in Washington gained embassy status in 1943.

From Dominions to Commonwealth realms

Initially, the Dominions conducted their own trade policy, some limited foreign relations and had autonomous armed forces, although the British government claimed and exercised the exclusive power to declare wars. However, after the passage of the Statute of Westminster the language of dependency on the Crown of the United Kingdom ceased, where the Crown itself was no longer referred to as the Crown of any place in particular but simply as "the Crown." Arthur Berriedale Keith, in Speeches and Documents on the British Dominions 1918-1931, stated that "the Dominions are sovereign international States in the sense that the King in respect of each of His Dominions (Newfoundland excepted) is such a State in the eyes of international law." After then, those countries that were previously referred to as "Dominions" became independent realms where the sovereign reigns no longer as the British monarch, but as monarch of each nation in its own right, and are considered equal to the UK and one another.
World War II, which fatally undermined Britain's already weakened commercial and financial leadership, further loosened the political ties between Britain and the Dominions. Australian Prime Minister John Curtin's unprecedented action (February 1942) in successfully countermanding an order from Churchill that Australian troops be diverted to defend British-held Burma (the 7th Division was then en route from the Middle East to Australia to defend against an expected Japanese invasion) demonstrated that dominion governments might no longer subordinate their own national interests to British strategic perspectives. To ensure that Australia had full legal power to act independently, particularly in relation to foreign affairs, defence industry and military operations, and to validate its past independent action in these areas, Australia formally adopted the Statute of Westminster in October 1942 and backdated the adoption to the start of the war in September 1939.
The Dominions Office merged with the India Office as the Commonwealth Relations Office upon the independence of India and Pakistan in August 1947. The last country to be officially made a Dominion was Ceylon in 1948. The term "Dominion" fell out of general use thereafter. The Republic of Ireland ceased to be a member of the Commonwealth on April 1, 1949, following proclamation of the Republic of Ireland Act. This formally signaled the end of the former dependencies' common constitutional connection to the British crown. India also adopted a republican constitution in January 1950. Unlike many dependencies which became republics, the Republic of Ireland never re-joined the Commonwealth and agreed to accept the British Monarch as head of that association of independent states.
The independence of the separate realms was emphasised after the accession of Queen Elizabeth II in 1952, when she was proclaimed not just as Queen of the UK, but also Queen of Canada, Queen of Australia, Queen of New Zealand, and of all her other "realms and territories" etc. This also reflected the change from Dominion to realm; in the proclamation of Queen Elizabeth II's new titles in 1953, the phrase "of her other Realms and Territories," replaced "Dominion" with another mediaeval French word with the same connotation, "realm" (from royaume). Thus, recently, when referring to one of those sixteen countries within the Commonwealth of Nations that share the same monarch, the term Commonwealth realm has come into common usage instead of Dominion to differentiate the Commonwealth nations that continue to share the monarch as head of state (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Jamaica, etc.) from those which do not (India, Pakistan, South Africa, etc.). The term "Dominion" is still to be found in the Canadian constitution where it appears numerous times; however, it is largely a vestige of the past, as the Canadian government does not actively use it (see Canada section). The term "realm" does not appear in the Canadian constitution. Present-day general usage prefers the term realm because it includes the United Kingdom as well, emphasising equality, and no one nation being subordinate to any other. Dominion, however, as a title, technically remains a term that can be used in reference those self-governing countries within the Commonwealth of Nations, other than the United Kingdom itself, that are in a personal union relationship with the UK.
The generic language of dominion, however, did not cease in relation to the Sovereign. It was, and is, used to describe those territories in which the Monarch exercises her sovereignty, the phrase Her Majesty's dominions being a legal and constitutional term used to refer to all the realms and territories of the Sovereign, whether independent or not. Thus, for example, the British Ireland Act, 1949 recognised that the Republic of Ireland had "ceased to be part of His Majesty’s dominions." When dependent territories which had never been annexed (that is, were not colonies of the Crown), but were protectorates or trust territories (of the United Nations) were granted independence, the United Kingdom act granting independence always declared that such and such a territory "shall form part of Her Majesty’s dominions"; become part of the territory in which the Queen exercises sovereignty, not merely suzerainty.
Many of the distinctive characteristics which once pertained only to Dominions are now shared by other states in the Commonwealth, whether they are republics, independent realms, self-governing colonies or Crown colonies. Even in a historical sense the differences between self-governing colonies and Dominions have often been formal rather than substantial.



dominion in German: Dominion
dominion in Spanish: Dominio británico
dominion in French: Dominion
dominion in Croatian: Dominion
dominion in Italian: Dominion
dominion in Hebrew: דומיניון
dominion in Dutch: Dominion
dominion in Japanese: 自治国
dominion in Norwegian: Dominion
dominion in Polish: Dominium brytyjskie
dominion in Portuguese: Domínio (política)
dominion in Russian: Доминион
dominion in Swedish: Dominion
dominion in Turkish: Dominyon
dominion in Ukrainian: Домініон
dominion in Chinese: 自治領

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

acme, administration, ally, ambit, antecedence, antecedency, anteposition, anteriority, archduchy, archdukedom, area, arena, ascendance, ascendancy, ascendant, authority, authorization, bailiwick, balance of power, be-all and end-all, beat, blue ribbon, body politic, border, borderland, buffer state, captive nation, champaign, championship, chieftaincy, chieftainry, circle, circuit, city-state, claws, clutches, colony, command, commonweal, commonwealth, control, country, county, demesne, department, directorship, disposition, domain, dominance, dominancy, domination, dominium, duchy, dukedom, earldom, effectiveness, eminent domain, empery, empire, field, first place, first prize, free city, front position, governance, government, grand duchy, grasp, grip, gripe, hand, hands, headship, hegemony, height, helm, hemisphere, highest, hold, imperium, influence, iron hand, judicial circuit, jurisdiction, kingdom, kingship, land, land tenure, landholding, landownership, landowning, leadership, lordship, management, mandant, mandate, mandated territory, mandatee, mandatory, march, masterdom, mastership, mastery, maximum, most, nation, nationality, ne plus ultra, new high, orb, orbit, overlordship, ownership, pale, palms, paramountcy, polis, polity, possession, possessorship, power, precedence, precedency, preceding, precession, precinct, precursor, predominance, predominancy, predomination, preeminence, preference, prefixation, prelude, preponderance, prepotence, prepotency, presidency, primacy, principality, principate, priority, property, proprietary, proprietorship, protectorate, prothesis, province, puppet government, puppet regime, raj, realm, record, region, regnancy, reign, reins of government, republic, round, rule, satellite, say, seigniory, seneschalty, settlement, sovereign nation, sovereignty, sphere, state, sultanate, superiority, superpower, supremacy, suzerainship, suzerainty, sway, talons, terrain, territory, the lead, top priority, top spot, toparchia, toparchy, upper hand, urgency, walk, whip hand, zenith
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