The Gendered and Racialised Self who Claimed the Right to Self-Government

TitleThe Gendered and Racialised Self who Claimed the Right to Self-Government
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsLake, Marilyn
JournalJournal of Colonialism and Colonial History
Date Published2012

First paragraphs: It was no accident that white men had a monopoly over the exercise of responsible and self-government in the Australian colonies in the nineteenth century. The self that claimed the right to self-government in British colonies of settlement was gendered and racialised in conception. As Goldwin Smith, the politician and political theorist, explained in his book Empire in 1863, nations, like men, were intended “by nature” to form their own character through self-exertion and self-control: They have in them the faculties of political life, which they must develop, as we did, by their own efforts. Every hour that an adult Colony is kept in leading strings, a mischief is done to its political character… They have a right above all… to be released from the childish thraldom which, if it is prolonged, will be fatal to their hope of attaining the manly strength and status of great nations…1 Effort, exertion and self-control. These were the masculine capacities required for the demanding business of self-government. It was significant that Goldwin Smith, the great theorist of independence, was strongly opposed to women’s suffrage.2 White men alone were recognised as possessed of ‘manly strength.’ They alone were qualified for self-rule and the responsibility of ruling over others that colonial settlement entailed. Understandings of white men’s personal and racial constitution informed their project of drawing up political constitutions.

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