- From the latin dominus (“lord”), the term dominion means an area of rule or domination. The word was used in this sense to name the seventeenth-century Dominion of New England and the “Old Dominion” of Virginia, both so named under the Stuarts. In 1867, the term was adopted by the new Canadian Confederation as an attractively vague alternative to “Kingdom,” which, it was feared, might offend the republican sensibilities of the United States. In 1901, the perceived importance of the empire was recognized by the addition of the phrase “and of the British dominions beyond the seas” to the royal style, the term dominion - in lower case - again being sufficiently imprecise as to encompass all manner of dependent territories along with the self-governing colonies, without offending anyone’s sensibilities. Although the federal Australia created by the Australian Colonies Act of 1901 called itself a Commonwealth, the term dominion came to designate the status of a self-governing member of the British Empire or Commonwealth, thus acquiring in the twentieth century a connotation opposite to its etymological meaning. In the first half of the twentieth century, it was common to refer to the self- governing emigrant members of the commonwealth as British dominions, and indeed the British government maintained a dominions secretary to deal with them. Although the Dominion of Canada, as originally constituted, had in most respects complete autonomy, it assumed control over foreign policy only in the twentieth century and did not enjoy full international sovereignty until the 1931 Statute of Westminster, so even in its later, more attenuated sense, the precise meaning of dominion status was not entirely fixed. In discussions about the future of India, South Africa, and other territories such as Southern Rhodesia, reference to dominion status referred to full local self-government and sovereignty under the British crown, on the Canadian model.See also <
>; < >, First Earl of; < >.FURTHER READING:Martin, Ged. Britain and the Origins of Canadian Confederation. Vancouver: UBC Press, 1995;Wheare, K. C. The Constitutional Structure of the Commonwealth. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1982.MARK F. PROUDMAN
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.