The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 57
The Earl of Rosebery†
The Earl of Rosebery†
Said:—The main object of this meeting being a practical one, I should like to offer at least one practical suggestion. It seems to me that this meeting represents a very great national impulse as coming from the mother country. I have no doubt that if all those who sympathised with us were here to-day, not one hall such as this, nor ten halls such as this, would suffice to hold, not merely the masses, but the men of more or less "light and leading" who would assemble. That is an impulse that comes from the mother country; but there is another impulse which is needed, and that must come from those Colonies which we are anxious to unite; It seems to me that, as a practical matter, it page 17 would be an excellent thing to invite the Colonies, and those representatives of the Colonies who may be, here present, to form branches of this League in their respective Colonies, so that at any rate we may have a voice which would reach those parts of the Empire, and yet make those parts of the Empire feel that we are not lecturing them on what it would be good for them to do, but trying to raise a responsive echo in the Colonies to answer the voice which comes from the mother country. Now, that is a practical suggestion, and I think it is one of some moment. The relations of Great Britain with her Colonies are mysterious in their nature and origin, but are also extremely delicate. Anything that savours of dictation coming from this country to the Colonies is not likely to be very well received. The Colonies being self-governing and self-acting bodies, great empires like Canada and Australia, as some of them promise to be, are not likely to receive even suggestions coming from the mother country unless they have some power of deciding on them for their own part. The Chairman has alluded to me on two very delicate points, and they are so delicate that I am almost afraid to follow him in dealing with them. But allusion was made to the risk that a great country like Australia, with a comparatively or relatively sparse population, might run in danger of a war. The Chairman said, and said truly, that the other great nations of the world were beginning to see that they have an interest too in securing as much of the unoccupied places of the world as they can, and he intimated that Australia might run some risk of invasion. I do not believe that any Power in the world could control even the present population of Australia, being of Anglo-Saxon origin, so as to hold it for ever; but I do believe a hostile Power might inflict tire greatest possible temporary damage on Australia by a navy, or a landing, or the exaction of a great fine in money. It is tolerably well known that at a time when the last Government felt themselves compelled to take warlike measures, which did not happily result in war, against another European Power, that European Power, unless we are strangely misinformed, was fitting out a fleet in America for the very purpose of invading the Australian shore. But to show that on their part the Colonies are not unprepared to take their share of the burden, I would point to this fact -that the Colonies of Australia are taking on their own shoulders a great part of the task of defending themselves; and though I believe that if their smaller fleets were so organised as to be comprehended in the British page 18 Imperial Fleet, it would be better for all concerned, yes, as a sign of effort and as a sign of goodwill, I think those navies are somewhat remarkable symptoms. I think allusion was also made to the causes that were making this question of confederation a very leading one, and I think there was one omitted which I will venture to dwell upon now. It is that since the time when what I may call the nullification school of politicians held sway in this country, and When it was almost deemed high treason against common sense to hint that the Colonies were anything else than a millstone around the neck of the mother country, great changes have passed over the face of the world. We have seen Italy form itself into a nation; we have seen Germany form itself into a nation; we have seen everywhere a movement for nationality develop and expand even among races which we cannot consider equal to ours, and the Reflection is inevitably forced upon us, why should that nation which, in our opinion, is the greatest of the nations, hold aloof from a movement so obviously in its own interest, and which in a short time will be one of absolute and imperious necessity.
It was pointed out in reply to the noble lord that his suggestion was Covered in the eighth of the series of resolutions above printed.
† Under Secretary for the Home Department, 1881, in Mr. Gladstone's Ministry.