On this day in 1949, Newfoundland became part of Canada. It had previously been a colony, and then an independent country, and then an oligarchic despotism, having botched independence so badly that it begged the British government to take back control of the country. “Politics in Newfoundland have never been such as to inspire wholehearted confidence in the ability of the people to govern themselves wisely,” said the bracingly frank report of the Newfoundland Royal Commission, “but there is general agreement that a process of deterioration, which has now reached almost unbelievable extremes, may be said to have set in about a quarter of a century ago.”

Only two independent nations have managed to be repossessed by the British crown, the other being Rhodesia. In both cases, the governments of those countries willingly handed over the keys to the Crown’s representatives. In the case of Rhodesia, the surrender was provoked by a long and wearying war between the governing minority and the vast majority of citizens of the country. But Newfoundland may claim the distinction of being the one country on earth whose government recognized its own incompetence, and the need to place control in the hands of outside experts. Paradoxically, that makes it one of the most competent governments in history.


  1. Joseph Moore says:

    This essay sent me searching the web for the history of Newfoundland. Very odd. Vikings, French, Portuguese, Basques, English, along with sundry peoples from the east. All trying to settle or claim an island near the Arctic that even in modern times has never had more than a few hundred thousand people on it.

    I had no idea. I just know from the book “cod” that there is some reason to believe the bask were fishing there for a few centuries before Columbus.

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