The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 57
"The Conference on Imperial Federation, which was held yesterday at the Westminster Palace Hotel, shows that the divisions of party among Englishmen, even when they are most keenly edged, are compatible with community of national feeling. Mr. Forster and Lord Rosebery on the one side, and Mr. W. H. Smith and Mr. Stanhope on the other, are illustrations of the interest which Liberals and Conservatives alike take in preserving the unity of the Empire. We do not think that there is any danger of its being disturbed. It is impracticable to divorce those who wish to remain united. In discussing the question of nationality Mr. J. S. Mill said that it page 79 was impossible to define in what its essence consisted. A common race, religion, and language are strong bonds. But they do not always preserve national unity, and they are not essential to it. Switzerland is a nation, and the Swiss patriotism is as ardent and steady as that of any European country. Yet in Switzerland the Cantons are not only divided in matters of religion into Protestant and Catholic, but also by language and race into German, French, and Italian. Mr. Mill came to the conclusion that nothing more could be said on the subject than that a nation was one which felt itself to be one. In the same way we may say that the British Empire is one because it feels itself to be one. The testimony borne yesterday to this community of sentiment by such men as Mr. Forster and Mr. Smith on behalf of England, and by the representatives of Canada and the Australian colonies, is a witness to a fact which makes predictions of separation as futile as theories of federation are premature. Our Colonial system has passed through several phases. Little more than a generation ago the unity of the Empire was maintained by the almost despotic rule of the mother-country over what were truly called her Dependencies. Since self-government was conceded to the Colonies the British Empire has consisted of an association of free States with a certain primacy and authority on the part of England often little more than nominal and titular.
"This condition of things has been attended with a certain amount of inconvenience. There has been occasional discord, now and then threatening conflict, and there have been hostile tariffs, but the sentiment of union has been stronger than these difficulties; and without forecasting any scheme of imperial Federation, we believe that one will gradually shape itself with a little aid from human wisdom as opportunity and necessity suggest. Such a system may be something new in human history; but history has not yet exhausted itself, and the living being may be trusted to create for itself an organisation suitable to its character and needs. We do not believe that the dominion of England will within any time, or under any circumstances, which it is reasonable to contemplate, be restricted to these two islands, still less to one of them. Possibly, under stress of events, this or that colony may separate itself. But page 80 the English are still an expanding and emigrating nation, and others will be formed, the growth of which will maintain the Empire undiminished. Cut and dried schemes of deliberate separation, such as that which Lord Rosebery connected truly enough with the name of Mr. Goldwin Smith, and quite erroneously with that of the late Sir William Molesworth, are powerless against old historic traditions, common sentiment, and the conviction of common interests. The opening speech of Mr. Forster, whose hold upon his countrymen is largely due to the strong fibre of old English patriotism which runs through his character, and which redeems occasional errors, as we think them, of opinion and conduct, struck the keynote of the meeting yesterday with a vigour and clearness which elicited prompt and hearty response. Cur only doubt is as to whether the Conference was not in itself superfluous, except in so far as manifestations of a feeling strengthen the feeling itself. Otherwise it might seem to be giving reality to a fictitious danger. This at any rate is, we think, certain. When an Empire or any other organisation, political, social, or physical, begins to fall in pieces, it is because its life is decaying. While there is still a vigorous principle of vitality within it, it will continue to maintain itself, and growth or expansion in one direction will atone for loss or decline in another. This branch may be lopped off, or that shoot may be transplanted, but there will be other shoots and branches so long as the roots are vigorous and supply sap to the trunk."