The British Retreat from Empire

  • A. J. Hanna


WHEN I was asked to speak on this subject, I was struck by the significance of the choice of words used in the title. I remembered how, only three or four years ago, Mr Dean Acheson had aroused a storm of patriotic indignation by his candid remark that Britain had lost her empire and had not yet found a role in the world to compensate for it. We had not lost our empire, came the indignant reply: we had transformed it into a free association of sovereign peoples, the Commonwealth. Even the Prime Minister, Mr Macmillan, thought fit to add his voice to these protestations, although Mr Acheson had spoken merely as a private citizen. It was as if men who had for many years cherished their belief in the Commonwealth suddenly found it necessary to shout down their own dawning awareness that the fine new clothes in which the British Empire had arrayed itself existed only in our own imagination, to conceal from our own eyes the reality of our nakedness.


Middle East Late Nineteenth Century British Government British Rule Political Advance 
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Further Reading

Collections of Documents

  1. The Development of Dominion Status, 1900–1936, ed. R. M. Dawson(Toronto, 1937), includes some illuminating newspaper comments as well as official documents, and has a masterly introduction.Google Scholar
  2. Selected Speeches and Documents on British Colonial Policy, 1763–1917, ed. A. B. Keith (Oxford, 2 vols, 1918; 1 vol. reprint, 1948), with its sequel, Speeches and Documents on the British Dominions, 1918–1931. (Oxford, 1932), conveniently bring together most of the basic official documentary material; they have been supplemented byGoogle Scholar
  3. Imperial Constitutional Documents, 1765–1965, ed. F. Madden(Oxford. 1966).Google Scholar
  4. Documents and Speeches on British Commonwealth Affairs, 1931–52, 2 vols, and its sequel, 1952–62, both ed. N. Mansergh (1952 and 1963): a magnificent collection, including some material on the transition of the dependencies to independence, although mainly concerned with the relations between Britain and the older members of the Commonwealth.Google Scholar
  5. The Evolution of India and Pakistan, 1858–1947, ed. C. H. Philips(Oxford, 1962).Google Scholar

Secondary Works

  1. Hancock, Sir W. K.: Survey of British Commonwealth Affairs, 2 vols, vol. II in 2 parts (1937–42) is a work of great penetration, especially in its examination of the British response to Dominion nationalism. It is supplemented and continued by N. Mansergh, 2 vols (1953–8).Google Scholar
  2. Wheare, K. C.: The Constitutional Structure of the Commonwealth. (Oxford, 1960) brought up to date the same author’s standard work on The Statute of Westminster and Dominion Status. (1st ed., 1938).Google Scholar
  3. Miller, J. D. B.: The Commonwealth in the World. (1958) illustrates admirably the viewvoint of a decade ago.Google Scholar
  4. Jennings, Sir I.: The Commonwealth in Asia. (Oxford, 1951). A brief survey by an eminent authority.Google Scholar
  5. Tinker, H.: South Asia: a Short History. (1966) covers India, Burma and Ceylon; it is a work of reflection as well as scholarship, and is admirably written.Google Scholar
  6. Tinker, H.: Experiment with Freedom: India and Pakistan, 1947. (1967) discusses the transfer of power with exceptional lucidity, and judiciously places it in the wider context of British imperial policy.Google Scholar
  7. Menon, V. P.: The Transfer of Power in India. (1957). A substantial study which includes an account of constitutional developments from the beginning of the century, written with detachment and scrupulous fairness by a distinguished Indian who played a prominent part in the events of the time.Google Scholar
  8. Moon, Sir P.: Divide and Quit. (1961). Brilliant and incisive; important for its account of events in and near the Punjab.Google Scholar
  9. Monroe, E.: Britain.’s Moment in the Middle East, 1914–56. (1963) brings out the essentials with great clarity.Google Scholar
  10. Perham, Dame Margery: The Colonial Reckoning. (1961). A series of Reith Lectures, by the greatest living authority on British rule in Africa.Google Scholar
  11. Oliver, R. and Atmore, A.: Africa Since 1800. (Cambridge, 1967) contains, in the African rather than the imperial context, a good clear account of the ending of colonial rule, and includes a substantial bibliography. A fuller account, now in preparation, will be given in Austin, D.: Africa, the Transfer of Power, to be published in Macmillan’s series on ‘The Making of the Twentieth Century’.Google Scholar
  12. Hunter, G.: The New Societies of Tropical Africa. (1962) is a sympathetic but clear-sighted examination of a number of African states as they emerged from British and French rule.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1968

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. J. Hanna

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