Self-Rule for British Colonies
KEY IDEA: Britain allowed self-rule in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand but delayed independence for Ireland.
Britain had colonies all around the world. Three of them were settled by colonists from Europe who built societies strongly shaped by British culture. Canada, Australia, and New Zealand developed industrial economies. They reached a point where they hoped to have their own governments. The white settlers of Canada were split into two groups. Britain had won Canada from France back in 1763. However, some French-speaking Catholics still lived in the colony. The other group was English-speaking and mostly Protestant. The two groups did not get along. In 1791, Britain split the colony into two provinces, each with its own government. The French-speaking people grew angry at British rule. After a series of rebellions, the British Parliament put the two sections back together under one government. Other, smaller colonies were added to create the Dominion of Canada. Canadians had the right to make all laws concerning their own affairs. Parliament kept the right to make decisions about relations with other countries. By 1871, Canada stretched all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
New Zealand and Australia first became part of the British Empire around 1770. The first settlers sent to Australia were convicted criminals. Once they had spent the required amount of time, they won their freedom and had the right to buy land. In the 1800s, other settlers arrived, many to join in the growing sheep industry. The settlement of New Zealand went more slowly because the British government recognized that the native people—the Maori—had rights to the land. By the 1840s, though, the number of settlers was growing. During the 1850s, these two countries became self-governing. However, they stayed in the British Empire and in the early 1900s became dominions. Australia was the first country to use secret ballots in voting for representatives. New Zealand—in 1893—was the first country to give women the right to vote. The native peoples of Australia and New Zealand enjoyed few of these rights, though. Like Native Americans, they suffered the spread of European settlement.
Irish self-rule took longer to achieve. Ireland bitterly opposed English rule from its start in the 1100s. Conflict also separated the Catholic Irish and the small group of English Protestants who lived in the north. When Ireland was made part of Britain in 1801, the Irish won representation in Parliament. A leader used that position to win back some rights for Irish Catholics. In the 1840s, the Irish suffered a terrible famine. A disease destroyed the potatoes on which the Irish depended, causing many to starve. About 1 million died and another 1.5 million left for the United States and other countries. Meanwhile, the British forced the Irish to pay their rents. Many lost their land, and resentment against England grew even stronger.
In the late 1800s, some Irish pushed for complete independence. Most argued for home rule— the right to govern internal affairs. The British government opposed this move. They were afraid that the Catholic majority would harshly treat the Protestants in the north. In 1914, Parliament finally gave home rule to the southern part of Ireland. When World War I delayed its enactment, Irish nationalists rebelled. Finally, Britain split Ireland in two. Northern Ireland remained part of Britain. The southern part became independent. Many people still seek independence for all of Ireland.