The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 57
"For men capable of taking an extended view of the future of this country, the Conference held yesterday under the presidency of Mr. W. E. Forster has a deep significance. Indeed, it can hardly be doubted that the outcome of the resolutions unanimously passed on that occasion will lead in the fulness of time to the serious consideration by Parliament of what Lord Rosebery, in the course of his remarkable speech, called 'the largest of all questions' that can occupy a legislative assembly. It was neither expected nor desired that any scheme for the federation of Great Britain and her colonies should be propounded in the course of the proceedings yesterday. The objects of a gathering including men of widely different political creeds were to elicit the opinions of those present as to the importance and practicability of such a federation as that just indicated, and to found a society for the purpose of promoting that union of interests between the mother-country and her colonists, which is really essential to the continued stability and prosperity of the Empire. Both these objects were accomplished, and with a heartiness that speaks well for the energy which will be devoted to promoting the new undertaking. It is impossible to conceal from ourselves the fact that sooner or later the great communities which live beyond the seas will in succession, as they develop in population and in power, seek to rid themselves of any trammels which we have imposed upon them, unless we can confer upon them advantages page 89 more than commensurate with the control we would exercise over them. As was said yesterday, either federation must in course of time take place or 'disintegration.' To allow immense populations of the same race and language as ourselves, and living under the same laws, to separate themselves from us for ever would be to bring about ultimately the isolation of England to an extent which would not only be fatal to her great influence among nations, but would seriously affect our commercial prosperity; for, as Mr. Forster observed in the course of his remarks on this aspect of the question, 'no fact is more clearly proved by practical experience than that the trade follows the flag.' The power of a country among the nations of the earth does not depend solely upon her wealth, and even if it did there are clear grounds for believing that if this Empire were reduced to 'two islands, one of which did not particularly care about the other,' that wealth would soon be seriously decreased. Fortunately, there is yet the warmest attachment to their native land existing on the part of the multitudes of people who have gone to Australia, to Canada, and elsewhere in search of that which they could not find here. The testimony is overwhelming on this point, and it is one of the most encouraging facts that can be cited in proposing to seek for the means of uniting this country and her colonies into one great Power. How this desirable end is to be achieved remains to be considered, but that it is practicable we are fully convinced. This country would be weakened, beyond all doubt, by the loss of her great colonies, but so, too, would they for many a year after that separation was effected. Where there is still a community of interest the task of formulating a scheme of federation, whatever its difficulties, is one which may, as time goes on, be successfully accomplished. That no undue delay should take place in advocating federation as a general principle, is made apparent by that 'rapid and vast' progress of our colonies alluded to by Mr. W. H. Smith while proposing the first resolution submitted to the meeting. We have seen what America has become since she shook off the yoke of this country; and thoughtful men have not failed to note the effects of letting our emigrants go forth to live under another flag instead of under our own. The population of this page 90 country in steadily outgrowing its material resources, as was pointed out by the late First Lord of the Admiralty yesterday, and the tide of emigration must therefore go on. But it is to our interest that the great bulk of it should go to lands the people of which have a loyal sympathy with us and our institutions. If the increase in our population is constantly checked, as it must be under the present condition of things, by the drain of emigration, and if the people who thus seek their fortunes become lost to us as part of the nation, together with those who have preceded them to our great colonies, then we say without hesitation that this country must certainly decline in power, while others, with areas capable of sustaining much larger numbers of people, will develop in influence and in wealth. Time will show what the constitution of the proposed federation should be, and the views of the colonists themselves must be consulted on that subject, but the necessity for the steps taken at the Westminster Palace Hotel yesterday are unquestionable."