The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 57
"At last it would seem that, if a great idea can be brought to realisation, we are within measurable distance of a federated Anglo-Saxon Empire. The project of uniting all our colonies to the mother country in some more visible and tangible form than at present is not a new one, but it has never been so prominently brought forward as at the meeting called together yesterday morning in London to welcome and support the general scheme of Federation. We have already dwelt by anticipation with the pregnant and Imperial topic which was there discussed, and the fact that it is a subject above party politics is sufficiently evidenced by men like Mr. Forster, Mr. page 81 Smith, and Lord Rosebery uniting together in support of the same views. Really and truly the question which was debated by the earnest speakers at the Westminster Palace Hotel was, What are we to do with our Empire? Is it to be retained as a priceless legacy from times gone by, or is it to be got rid of, piecemeal, with the utmost degree of speed consistent with Radical convenience? It is noteworthy that the first resolution declared 'that the political relations between Great Britain and her colonies must inevitably lead to ultimate Federation or disintegration.' Thinkers who are not afflicted with what Mr. Spencer calls the 'bias of patriotism' might demur to these terms. Professor Goldwin Smith, for example, had he assisted at yesterday's gathering, would probably have moved to omit the words which make it appear even possible that the Empire may not ultimately be broken into fragments. But it is notice-able that the Colonists, or those most capable of speaking on their behalf, do not take this gloomy view of the future. Thus Sir Charles Tupper objected to the resolution we have referred to because it breathed the base notion of disintegration as the alternative to Federation. There is, in the opinion of the greatest Colonial authorities, no reason in the nature of things why our Imperial children should not go on in their present state of affectionate unity with the mother country till the end of history. Mr. Forster, we believe, was perfectly correct when he said that 'influential Colonists would tell them that the prospect of separation was as hateful to the Colonists as it is to us at home.' But there is no doubt that the existing tie is loose, irregular, and so far unsatisfactory. It does not bring home to the popular imagination either of England or her colonies the fact of the kinship between distant communities and the reality of our Imperial relationship. To numbers of our countrymen the first idea of the vastness and the grandeur of the Empire and of the reality of the newer Englands across the ocean comes with a sense of surprise as a result of travel; and those who do not make the trip to Canada or Australia often fail to receive the impression at all.
"Yet our Colonial friends would be making a real mistake if they supposed that there is one whit less of pride in the power and prosperity of those distant possesions now than in page 82 any previous period of our annals. It is possible, of course, that some day a colony may drift away from us; Lord Rosebery's warning that we may delay Federation till it is too late to federate is not at all unnecessary; but if that evil hour ever arrives we may be sure that we shall never realise so vividly the value of our Colonial Empire as when we are on the point of losing it altogether.
"Specific plans for Federation between all the component parts of the British Empire may possibly be premature. Mr. Forster, the chairman of the meeting of yesterday, stated that the ultimate form which Federation should take was not the main question for the audience to consider. Mr. Smith also deprecated hasty counsels at what was practically only a preliminary Conference. Yet some practical outcome ought to result from the efforts of those who have organised the new movement, or the subject will inevitably sink back into the region of aspiration and hope where it has so long lain. We ourselves have suggested the scheme of a Federal Council which might carry on its labours side by side with the Imperial Parliament. Lord Rosebery, whose interest in the Colonies must have been quickened by a recent visit to Australia, pro-posed the appointment of a Committee or a Royal Commission to examine into schemes of Federation, and to report to Parliament upon the best working plan presented to them. There would be a double advantage in such a course being adopted: in the first place, the evidence taken would serve to show how and in what direction the first experimental attempt to federate might best be made; and, besides this, there would be the solid benefit of the interest which would be excited, and the fresh tie which such an inquiry would constitute between Great Britain and the 'Greater Britain.' At the present moment, nothing could well be looser than the formal bond between England and Canada, for example. In all internal matters the Canadians manage, and ought to manage, their own affairs; they possess what a hundred years ago would have been considered a most dangerous institution—a Parliament of their own. The presence of a Governor, sent out periodically from England, to represent the paramount authority of the Crown, and the existence of a power of appeal from legal decisions to page 83 the Privy Council in England, are about the sole indications that Canada is not at this moment possessed of the independence which some philosophers wish to force upon her.
"Such are the formal bonds. But we have, of course, omitted the strongest of all possible ties—the feeling of attachment to the mother-country and her institutions which does practically make us and our most remote Colonial kinsmen portions of one large 'family party.' That bond, albeit sentimental, is one which is more valuable than any other; but we must remember that in future the Colonists will unavoidably lose something of the personal fondness for the 'green fields of England,' as generations arise which know them not except by the tales they have heard from their fathers or from what they read in books. There is also some danger lest a race-relationship of which there is no outward manifestation perpetually recurring will gradually and insensibly be weakened. Our colonies are loyal and patriotic to the core; but it is only human nature to think of that which is seen, and to forget what does not bring itself constantly before the imagination. These are undoubtedly the sentiments which are entertained by the most patriotic of our Colonial statesmen, and which found expression at yesterday's Conference. We believe that no greater or nobler work was ever inaugurated than this of drawing together Great Britain and her insular and Continental offshoots into a federated partnership, in which all shall participate in the benefits, and of which the power will be infinitely greater for mutual good and mutual protection than in a loosely-bound congeries of atoms, such as is the British Empire of to-day. We must take account of the expansion of the Colonies. We shall soon have to do with peoples as numerous and as industrious as our own. Our Colonial children will outgrow their parent; they number already as many as all the population of this kingdom at the time of the American War of Independence; and we must think of them already as powerful kindred nations, soon to become still more powerful, whom it is alike our interest and our glory to join with us in directing the future course of our Imperial history.
"One objection which is sometimes heard to the plan of Colonial representatives in either House of Parliament is that page 84 the distance is so great that, at election time, it would be difficult to make the machinery work. But the answer which the senior Member for Westminster gave yesterday to this argument is conclusive. Canada is not so far off now as Londonderry or Aberdeen in last century. The mail-coaches which were in vogue up to the introduction of the railway system hardly brought Edinburgh into closer communion with London than is Montreal or Quebec at the present day.
"It used to be considered a wonderful feat when letters were brought in four days from the capital of Scotland; while Mr. Smith truly remarked that Australia in point of time is hardly more distant now than were the islands on the west coast of Scotland or Ireland a century ago. Then the telegraph has joined England with the Antipodes in a manner which renders Melbourne or Sydney really much nearer for purposes of commerce and business than was Dublin or Glasgow sixty years back. With Australian cricketers coming over every summer to England, and with English scientific men rushing off to hold the meeting of the British Association in Canada, space is already annihilated. The Empire is brought close together, and the desired Federation would be only the formal ratification of a change induced by the marvels of steam and electricity. It is now scarcely more than a hundred years since Captain Cook and Sir Joseph Banks first set foot in Australia; yet what a mighty revolution has supervened since that date! 'No mission arising,' once wrote Dr. Arnold, 'is half so beneficial as to try to pour sound and healthy blood into a young, civilised society—to make our colony, if possible, like the ancient colonies or like New England, a living sucker from the mother-country, bearing the same blossom and the same fruit.' To some the topic of Federation may appear uninteresting because it is not a 'burning question,' or because it would be difficult to manufacture out of it any political capital worth speaking of at the polling-booths. We trust that no such sentiments will prevail in the consideration of this noble and far-reaching project, but that there may be sufficient patriotism still left in these islands to understand the vital importance of a real union of the Empire, and enough statesmanship to carry it out."