The Historical Experience

  • Nicholas Mansergh


‘Here I sit and govern it with my pen: I write and it is done: and by a clerk of the council I govern Scotland now, which others could not do by the sword.’1 Such may be thought the British ideal of imperial government — trouble-free; economical, with a clerk of the council sufficing as the agent of imperial authority; and pacific. But while King James I of England and VI of Scotland could boast in these words of having achieved it in his northern kingdom, no nineteenth-century British statesman, plagued by the ‘small wars of empire’ and their expense, could even aspire to so happy a state. By then the Empire was too large, too variously composed and too expensive to allow of the direct, economical exercise of authority or of a reasonable prospect of general peace. On the contrary by Victorian times its administration had come to be popularly, and not unreasonably, associated with troubles, expense and wars. That association meant that the argument of Empire was rarely stilled. But by 1870 one outcome of the argument at least was clear. It was, as Lord John Russell contended in the sentences reprinted on the title page of this book, that there could be no going back. ‘Tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento.’*


Neutral Word Historical Experience Title Page Parliamentary Government Imperial Government 
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  1. 1.
    Quoted in C. V. Wedgwood, Truth and Opinion, London, 1960, p. 157.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    J. P. Plamenatz, On Alien Rule and Self-Government, London, 1960, p. 17.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    Reprinted in N. Mansergh, Documents and Speeches on Commonwealth Affairs, 1952–1962, London, 1963, pp. 276–8.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    Sir George Gilbert Scott, Personal and Professional Recollections, London, 1879, chapter 4.Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    André Siegfried, The Race Question in Canada, London, 1907, pp. 178–9.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    N. Mansergh, The Multi-Racial Commonwealth, London, 1955, pp. 132 and 142.Google Scholar
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    Cmd. 6677. Reprinted in N. Mansergh, Documents and Speeches on British Commonwealth Affairs, 1931–1952, (2 vols), Oxford, 1954, vol. 2, pp. 718–19.Google Scholar
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    Quoted in Sir Charles Webster, The Art and Practice of Diplomacy, London, 1961.Google Scholar
  9. 14.
    R. Hyam, Britain’s Imperial Century 1815–1914, London, 1976, pp. 92–103.Google Scholar
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    For a contrary view, see W. D. McIntyre, The Commonwealth of Nations. Origins and Impact 1869–1971, University of Minnesota Press/OUP, 1977, p. 9.Google Scholar
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    W. K. Hancock, Survey of British Commonwealth Affairs, 2 vols, Oxford, 1937, vol. 1, pp. 1–5.Google Scholar
  12. 19.
    Sir R. Menzies, The British Commonwealth of Nations in International Affairs., A Lecture (Adelaide, 1950).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Nicholas Mansergh 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicholas Mansergh
    • 1
  1. 1.St John’s CollegeCambridgeUK

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