On August 20th, 1917, Edwin Montagu declared in the House of Commons that: “the policy of His Majesty's Government … is that of the … gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to the progressive realization of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire.” This announcement, more than any other single event, may properly be described as signalling the creation of the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms and the breakup of the third British Empire. It affirmed that a nonwhite portion of the empire could aspire to the same goal of self-government as the white colonies of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa had successively achieved.



House of Commons Debates, Vol. 97, cc. 1695–97 (20 Aug. 1917). Also conveniently reprinted in Report, paragraph 6.


In a forthcoming study: British Reform Policy and Indian Politics on the Eve of the Rise of Gandhi.


Available through the kindness of the Barnes, Butler, Chelmsford, Gendel, Lloyd, Meston and Willingdon families, the University of Birmingham, the India Office Library, the Scottish National Registry Office, the Public Record Office, the National Archives of India, and Trinity College, Cambridge.


Chelmsford Coll., Vol. 2. Formula 7/7/16. The earliest draft of this passage appears to have been written by Sir Valentine Chirol. A memoir by Barnes records: “Sir Valentine Chirol (who was a guest in Viceregal Lodge at the time [late April]) was also invited to put down on paper any views might have [i.e. as well as members of Council]. Sir Valentine accordingly wrote a short note on half a sheet of notepaper … On the 25 May 1916 a meeting of the Council was held, at which the various memoranda were considered generally, and Sir Valentine Chirol's note was used as a basis for an agreed formula.” (Barnes Papers, Memoir written on 2/5/33, “Initiation by Lord Chelmsford Reforms in India.” Chirol's original handwritten note is preserved in the Barnes Papers.)


Cab. 23/3, 172 (13), 29/6/17. Chamberlain's comment is quoted in the minutes. Also found in Trinity Coll. Cab. folio 1916/17. Cf. also Chelmsford Coll., Vol. 3, Chamberlain to Chelmsford: “… I dislike the elaboration and formality of your definition” (15/5/17).


Cab. 24/22/214 (appendix I), GT 1615 Montagu Mem. on Indian Reforms.


Report, paragraph 6.


Chelmsford Coll., Vol. 51, No. 13, O'Dwyer to Chelmsford (note) 25/8/16 and cf. e.g. ibid., No. 6, memorandum by P. C. Lyons, appended Carmichael to Chelmsford 20/8/16: “There is no clear indication that the eventual form of self-government which we contemplate will contain such elements of national freedom as will suffice to constitute India a partner in the Empire rather than one of its dependents.”


Meston Papers, Vol. 4. Meston to Chirol. 10/9/16.




The fact that it had not appeared in the original Chirol draft suggests that the introduction of this phrase followed discussion and was quite self-conscious.


Chelmsford Coll., Vol. 3, Chelmsford to Chamberlain, 26/5/17.


Trinity Coll., Cab. Folio 1916/17, Holderness Memorandum on Viceroy Formula 31/7/16.


Ibid. (Holderness Memorandum). And cf. Barnes Papers, Holderness to Barnes 5/10/16: “Viewing the formula as one that might be publically used and made a catchword, I could not help expressing apprehension that the Indian politician, so ready to take alarm and to discern signs of retrogression and to suspect the honesty of the British Government, would at once compare it with Lord Hardinge's utterances and find in it a denial of progress beyond a finite point.”


Cab. 23/3, 176 (18) 5/7/17.


Cab. 24/22, GT 1696, Balfour: A Note on Indian Reform 7/8/17; also found in Trinity Coll., Cab. folio 1916/17.


Montagu Coll., Vol. 2, Mont, to Chelmsford 5/9/18. Before he became a member of the cabinet, Montagu sent Lloyd George a long letter on Indian reform. On forwarding a copy to Hankey he confessed that the PM “has never expressed an opinion on the matter.” (Cab. 21/66 File 20/F/1, Montagu to Hankey 21/4/17.) Hankey broached the subject to Lloyd George and cheerfully wrote back: “… I am quite sure that he never got the end and really important part of your letter.” (Cab. 21/66 File 20/F/1, Hankey to Montagu 27/4/17.)


Smuts expressed an interest in writing on the subject, but appears never to have done so.


Cf. Cab. 21/68 File 20/F/3 Hankey to Montagu, 23/5/18 guaranteeing that under normal conditions he would always be called when the Cabinet would be discussing India.


This was not at all unusual. “From its formation in December 1916 until its dissolution at the end of October 1919 the War Cabinet held over 650 meetings. At these meetings over 500 persons who were not members of the War Cabinet and its secretarial were summoned at different times to attend.” (Public Record Office, Handbook no. II, London: HMSO, 1966, p. 3), and cf.

Jennings Sir Ivor ,
Cabinet Government
), p.
. It would seem to have been accepted procedure that interest alone would gain a minister admission to war cabinet discussions of Indian matters. Cf. Cab. 21/68 File 20/F/3, Hankey to Long 14/8/17, noting that Long would normally be summoned to such meetings because of his expressed interest. Note also that Balfour enjoyed a rather peculiar status. He was not a member of the War Cabinet, but except for the King, was the only person outside of it to receive copies of all papers it dealt with. (Public Record Office Handbook, p. 8.)


Trinity Coll., Austen Chamberlain Folio, Chamberlain to Montagu, 31/5/18.


An analysis of the Lothian and Chamberlain collections indicates that Chamberlain's role in 1935 was exceptionally significant. He was “elder statesman” and an example of moderation to all factions (cf. e.g. Lothian Coll., GD 40/17/167, Kerr to Willingdon 4/8/33) and as such was the natural person to form a bridge between the conservatives on the Parliamentary Committee and the more liberal Hoare.


There is no doubt about this. Curzon's pencilled corrections of Montagu's draft may be found in Curzon Coll. F 111/438 (Montagu's draft is GT 1615). Also in this file is a copy of the final announcement with Curzon's handwritten comment across the top: “This is the formula drawn up by me and accepted by the Cabinet which was announced simultaneously in England and in India.”


Chamberlain Papers, AC 15/5/8, Montagu to Chamberlain 15/8/17, and cf. Montagu Coll., Vol. 1, 21/8/17.


Ronaldshay, Earl of,

The Life of Lord Curzon
, Vol.
. Cf. also
Craddock ,
The Dilemma in India
), p.
: “To anyone who knew Lord Curzon's views … the inseertion of these words by him is explicable only as an extraordinary temporary lapse of a brilliant brain.”


Cab. 23/3, 172 (13) 29/6/17. Also found in Trinity Coll. Cab. folio 1916/17. Curzon's statement is given all the more weight by his repetition of it one year later. “The Indian mind was prone to dissect phrases and to examine very minutely every word of a government proclamation.” (Cab. 23/6 428 (3), 7/6/18.)


Churchill Winston ,
Great Contemporaries
), p.


Cab. 24/17, GT 1199 Curzon Mem. 27/6/17. Also in Trinity Coll. Cab. folio 1916/17.


Beaverbrook Lord ,
Men and Power 1917–18
), pp.
. Cf. also
Politicians and the War 1914–16
), p.
: “Curzon always tried to take up with the winner when the battle was joined.” Beaverbrook could hardly, of course, be described as an impartial critic of Curzon, but these descriptions correspond with the facts of his career.


Cab. 24/17. GT 1199. Curzon Mem. 27/6/17. Also in Trinity Coll. Cab. folio 1916/17.


Curtis, Lionel, Dyarchy (Oxford, 1920), p. 82.


Ibid., pp. 81–82 (my italics).


Cab. 24/22 GT 1659. Islington's Oxford Speech: “The Problems of Indian Government,” circulated to the cabinet 9/8/17. Also found in Chelmsford Coll. Vol. 15, No. 109A.


This underlining is cited by Ronaldshay (op. cit.. p. 168). The original document may be found in Curzon Coll. F 111/438. There are actually two marked copies in this file. The blue crayon markings are by Islington (he sent out several copies marked in this way for those whose time was limited). The other markings Ronaldshay attributes (almost certainly accurately) to Curzon.


Cab. 24/17. GT 1199, Curzon Mem. 27/6/17. Also in Trinity Coll. Cab. folio 1916/17.


Cab. 24/18, GT 1252, Curzon Mem. 7/17.


Curzon Coll. Craddock to Curzon 5/2/18.


Chelmsford Coll., Vol. 17, No. 137. Craddock Minute 26 June 1916. In private he expressed these feelings even more strongly: “We cannot contemplate a small oligarchy of Indian intellectuals kept in power over the diverse millions that inhabit India by the bayonets of European mercenaries …” (Barnes Papers, Craddock to Barnes 12 May 1916). See also his denunciation of “vakil raj” in Home (Poll.) Files, Series D. 9 December 1912/17, (National Archives of India), “Considerations Arising from the Interpretation of Paragraph 3 of the Government of India Despatch Dated 25 August 1911.” Craddock's note is dated 26 August 1912.


Cf. also e.g. Barnes Papers, Meyer to Barnes 6 May 1916: “Now I am no political theorist, and I should have no objection to handing over India to the internal rule of an oligarchy if the latter can obtain … ready acquiescence … But with die oligarchy in question this would not occur.”


For a later example of this argument see Churchill's speeches in opposition to the Government of India Act evolving during the nineteen thirties, e.g.: “These masses will be delivered to the mercies of a well-organized, narrowly elected, political and religious oligarchy and caucus.” (House of Commons Debates, Vol. 247, 26/1/31. cc. 698.)


Vol. 3, 28/3/92, cc. 66. The phrase “microscopic minority” originated with Lord Dufferin, Viceroy when Congress was founded.

It is especially notable that Curzon used the word “responsibility” in this debate in the special sense which it is suggested he intended in the 1917 announcement. As cited in Col. 68, he remarked that the proposed act was valuable because it would “provide the means by which representatives of the most important sections of native society may be appointed to the councils, and may have an opportunity of explaining their views with a fuller sense of responsibility than they at present enjoy.” Compare the sense of this use of the word with that of the Earl of Norhbrook in discussing the same act (House of Lords Debates, Vol. 342, third series, 6/3/90, cc. 64): “India is a long way from having what is called a Responsible Government, namely, an administration which is composed of men who possess a majority in the Representative Assembly.…”


Chirol Valentine ,
India Unrest
), p.
. Chirol was still actively propounding this viewpoint during the period under discussion. In a letter to Meston, for example, he argued: “The danger seems to me that in our anxiety to do something we should forget that our main obligations as rulers of India are towards the great masses of the people and not towards any one particular class such as the intelligentsia, and what assurance have we that the interests and aspirations of the latter coincide with those of the former?” (Meston Papers Vol. 4. Chirol to Meston 4/9/16.)


Chamberlain Papers, AC 16/1/5. Curzon to Austen Chamberlain 25 August 1917. N. B. how difficult it is to reconcile this statement with Ronaldshay's analysis.


Curtis's analysis significantly uses this phrase. Op. cit., p. 81.


Petrie Sir Charles ,
The Life and Letters of the Right Hon. Sir Austen Chamberlain
, n.d.), p.
, quoting Chamberlain. See also House of Lords Debates, 342 (third series), 6 March 1890, cc. 88. Viscount Cross's reply to the Earl of Northbrook: “But the noble Earl and the noble Marquess [Ripon] have both avoided a very important point in discussing this question of representation, and that is, where are your constitutents to be found?”


Cab. 23/3, 214 (11), 14/8/17. Also in Trinity Coll. Cab. folio 1916/17.


Lloyd George later claimed that the announcement had a further claim to special status, because it was promulgated by an Imperial War Cabinet. Commons, Vol. 231, cc. 1314 (7 Nov. 1929).


Cf. Chelmsford Coll., Vol. 1, Earl of Cromer to Chelmsford 17/8/17.


Chelmsford Coll., Vol. 15, Chamberlain to Chelmsford 20/6/18.


Lothian Coll., GD 40/17/33. Curtis to Montagu 3/8/18.


Compare the situation in 1929 (cf. Hansard, Commons, Vol. 231, cc. 1318, 7 Nov. 1929) and in 1909 (cf. Mazumdar, Vina, “Imperial Policy in India 1905–10,” unpublished thesis, University of Oxford, 1962, p. 396).



Besant Annie (ed.),
The Montagu-Chelmsford Report Reforms Proposals
The Sons of India
[?]), “Selected Criticism.”


House of Lords Debates, Vol. 37, cc. 1001. 12/12/19. Lord Sydenham.


Craddock, Sir Reginald, op. cit., p. 167.


Cf. e.g. Chamberlain's note Cab. 23/6, 114-D. 6/6/18. The Montagu-Chelmsford Report is revolutionary, but that is no objection because it was the announcement of 20 August that was revolutionary.


Besant, Selected Criticism, op. cit.


Chelmsford Coll. Vol. 15, No. 222 (telegram); Viceroy to Meston 30/9/19.


House of Lords Debates, Vol. 37, cc. 941. 11/12/19. Sinha.


House of Commons Debates, Vol. 116, cc. 2301. 5/6/19. Montagu.


On the 12/5/17 the Criminal Investigation Department noted the political potential of the non-Brahmin movement, “The existence of a community which opposes Home Rule for India in its own interests and is at the same time sufficiently advanced to start newspapers to spread its views is a phenomenon which deserves study.” (CID 446B. 12/5/17.)


This apt description was employed by Amrita Lal Roy in his

Reminiscences English and American
), Part II, p. 18.1 am indebted to Dr. S. Gopal for the reference.


Reed Papers, Reed to McGregor, 6/8/20. Archives of the Times (London).


Montagu Coll., Vol. 8, Chelmsford to Montagu (minute appended to letter of 26/2/19).




Chamberlain Papers, AC 21/4/04. Report on Government of India Despatch, Home Department, no. 17. (Duke Committee.) 16/3/17. On the other hand, the despatch continued, the effect of giving full responsibility would be disastrous. “Government will lose control over legislation; it will be unable either to prevent mischevious legislation from being passed, or, what is even more serious, carry its own legislation.”


“Suggestions for Constitutional Progress in Indian Policy,” by Sir William Duke, June 1916. The memorandum was intended for use by the members of the Round Table, a group of intellectuals concerned with remoulding the Empire and, in consequence, interested in the problem of Indian government. A copy of the memorandum may be found in the Meston Papers, Vol. 10, among other places.


Meston Papers, Vol. 1. Meston to Chelmsford 19/8/16.


Chelmsford Coll. Chamberlain to Chelmsford 2/5/17.


Montagu Coll., Vol. 8, Chelmsford to Montagu, minute appended to letter of 26/2/19. Indeed, Chamberlain had suggested a change in the announcement which appeared strikingly like the one that was made. In a letter to Montagu circulated to the Cabinet during the final drafting stage of the announcement, he noted four points worthy of consideration. The last one read:

I should be inclined to add (d) the growth of power must be accompanied by growth of the sense of responsibility. Indeed, no great increase of power is possible till an increased sense of responsibility makes itself evident. I wish you would consider whether a few words in the sense of (b) and (c), and perhaps (d), might not usefully be added to your pronouncement without overworking it.

(Cab. 23/3 GT 1615, Chamberlain to Montagu, 8/8/17.) Montagu never stressed the point and there is no sign that Curzon ever considered it. But Chelmsford assumed the cabinet had done so.


Montagu Coll., Vol. 7, Speech of Chelmsford to Conference of Heads of Local Governments and Administrations 13/1/19.


Report, 214.


Montagu Coll., Vol. 10, Chelmsford to Montagu 19/5/20.


Montagu Coll., Vol. 8, Minute A, op. cit.


House of Lords Debates, Vol. 59, cc. 177. 31 July 1924.


Report, 7.

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