The British Empire has been placed in history as one of the most powerful Empires known to man. It reached its peak, geographically, in 1922 where it was said to have covered over one third of the Earth’s surface. Throughout the 20th Century the British Empire faced many challenges, not least of which was its involvement in both world wars. However, it is debateable which factor pushed this once mighty Empire too far. I have come to the conclusion that it was the long lasting effects of the Second World War which upset the teetering edifice of Empire beyond repair.This needs one of those great quotes from the new book I have about Empires in general.
Canada has been suggested as the point in which the cracks began to show for Empire. The British granted the Canadians 'independence' in 1867 with the Constitution Act. This saw Canada transition from dominion to colony. The act saw Canada become a 1"Quasi Independent Actor" when it came to trade according to Taylor. The fact that the act was implemented shows that there was some thirst for autonomy from the Canadians. However this was not the case. The transition to colony for Canada has been described by Heard as an 2"evolutionary process" in which the end result would still be in the best interest of the Empire. Anderson correctly agrees as he describes the process as 3"more of an evolution than a radical break with the past”. The evidence of this view can be found in the terms of the act in which Canada came under 4"legal subjugation to British Imperial supremacy in all aspects of government". It is then most likely that the British were leaving the Canadians to look after themselves whilst still looking to make the most out of her new colony. This seemed to be acceptable by both parties as Prime Minister Boden said " 5“The highest future for this dominion lies within the Empire upon conditions of equal status.”. Any sense of Nationalism seemed to be neutralised by this mutually beneficial Act which suggests that Canada was the not the factor which upset the 'teetering' edifice of empire.
The earliest signs of nationalism can be seen in the foundation in 1885 of the Indian National Congress. Congress was made up of mostly English educated Indians whose policies were created to help improve the economic and social issues within in India. The actions ofCongress have been described by Dr Chandrika Kaul6as 'a key turning point in formalising opposition to the raj'. This was the first step towards decolonization for India in many ways because the policiesthey put forward and the tactics that they used such as speeches and petitions showed an increased political awareness.The now more politically minded Indian populationprovided the foundation that other English educated Indians such as Ghandi and Nehru were to build on to help achieve independence after 1920. However, I think it is important not to over emphasise the impact of the early years of Congress. It seems that it was not the start of radical nationalism aimingto bring British rule to an end but, rather, Indians trying to stand up for basic human rights, a luxury which the British did not grant them. This view is put forward by Francis Robinson as he outlined the objectives of the Congress. 7'They sought respect, as individuals, as Indians, which often British racial hauteur did not allow. There was no suggestion whatsoever that British rule should be brought to an end'. The moderate nature of the Congress is also recognized by The Open University which states 8" (The Congresswas )not interested in campaigning for independence or self-rule but for greater political autonomy within empire". Overall I feel thatCongress has to be seen as an important factor in laying the foundations of nationalism as it gave the common people of India a representative to