Self-governing colonies is a term used by scholars to describe states of the Commonwealth of Nations (the former British Empire), which are responsible for the management of all or most of their affairs. The best-known examples are the Dominions, although many Crown Colonies are de facto self-governing states. The governments of typical self-governing colonies have control of, and responsibility for most matters.
In the case of Crown Colonies which are self-governing, Britain retains official control of foreign affairs, defence and some trade matters. Britain is represented in self-governing Crown Colonies by a Governor, who exercises some degree of control over affairs of state. The Governor appoints a cabinet with executive power from the majority party in the legislature, which is led by a Chief Minister or Premier. Usually the title Premier is reserved for colonies with de factoresponsible government; few or no colonies have de jure responsible government.
The term "self-governing colony" has sometimes been used in relation to the direct rule of a Crown Colony by an executive governor, elected under a limited franchise, such as in Massachusetts between 1630 and 1684.
However, in the strictest sense of the term, the first modern self-governing colony is generally considered to have been the Province of Canada, from 1841 (with responsible government from 1848, and national government in 1867). However, the term "self-governing colony" is not widely used by Canadian experts. The term is widely used in relation to the political arrangements in the seven British settler colonies of Australasia between 1852 and 1907.
In the Dominions, prior to the Statute of Westminster in 1931, a Governor General was the de facto representative of the British government. After that time the Dominions were largely free to act in matters of defence and foreign affairs, if they so chose and "Dominion" grdually acquired a new meaning: a state which was independent of Britain, but which shared the British monarch as the official head of state. The term dominion has largely fallen out of use and been replaced with the term commonwealth realm.
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