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Colonial Office

Colonial Office. The changes in the status and structure of the Colonial Office mirror the vicissitudes of the British empire. For most of the 17th cent., while the American colonies were being established, there was no coordinating body at Westminster. The Privy Council exercised what supervision there was through a series of committees or councils, but distance and the chartered status of most of the colonies made control fitful. Not until 1696 was a Board of Trade and Plantations established under a president, working through the Privy Council. By 1768 the state of the American colonies was causing concern and a third secretaryship was created for the colonies, usually known as the American secretary. By 1782, with the rebellious colonies almost gone, both the third secretaryship and the Board of Trade were abolished, though the latter was revived in 1786. Colonial affairs went to the home secretary. In 1794, when the Portland Whigs joined Pitt, a third secretaryship was re-established under Henry Dundas, with responsibility for war and the colonies. Indian affairs meanwhile fell to the Board of Control, set up in 1784. These rather makeshift arrangements sufficed until 1854, by which time the second British empire was growing, and a fourth secretary of state with special responsibility for the colonies was created. This was a powerful cabinet post, especially when held by men of the calibre of Granville (1868–70, 1886) or Joseph Chamberlain (1895–1903). A further reorganization took place in 1925 when a new Dominions Office was created with its own secretary of state. The extraordinarily rapid decolonization in the 1960s left the Colonial Office with few territories to administer. The secretaryship was abolished in 1966 and the Colonial Office merged with the Commonwealth Relations Office. They were both integrated into the Foreign Office in October 1968.

J. A. Cannon

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