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Learn English > English lessons and exercises > English test #576: Commonwealth
The modern Commonwealth has its roots in the 19th century. In 1867, Canada became the first colony to be transformed into a self-governing 'Dominion'; a status which came to imply equality with Britain. In Australia in 1884, Lord Rosebery, a British politician, was the first to call this changing empire a 'Commonwealth of Nations'.
In turn, other parts of the empire followed suit: Australia became a Dominion in 1900, New Zealand in 1907, South Africa in 1910 and the Irish Free State in 1921. The important contribution of the Dominions to the First World War led to their separate signatures on the Treaty of Versailles (1919) and individual membership of the League of Nations.
With a new-found sense of nationhood, the desire among the Dominions for constitutional definition increased. What was the nature of the British Commonwealth to be? Dominion leaders resumed their conferences in 1887 and agreed to meet every four years. At the Imperial Conference of 1926, prime ministers adopted the Balfour Report which defined the Dominions as: ... autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
This definition was adopted into British law in 1931 as the Statute of Westminster. It was adopted immediately in Canada, the Irish Free State, Newfoundland (which joined Canada in 1949) and South Africa. Australia and New Zealand adopted the Statute in 1942 and 1947, respectively. Although responsible self-government had been promised to India as early as 1919, it was only partially achieved by the time of the Second World War. India remained a Dominion under the India Act of 1935 until independence in 1947.
The Commonwealth today 54 independent states (1.7 billion people or 30% of the world population) belong to the Commonwealth. From Canada to Papua New Guinea despite their diversity, they cooperate for social and economic development.
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