The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 57
Expressions of Opinion on the Federation of the Empire
Expressions of Opinion on the Federation of the Empire.
In reprinting, for the use of members and supporters of the League, the following Expressions of Opinion by public men at home and in the Colonies, it may not be out of place to point to the extraordinary and rapid development of public thought in favour of the movement towards closer union between the mother country and the colonies. It is but eight months since the first conference was held, and four months have not elapsed since the League was founded. Before July last the term Imperial Federation was only heard in whispers, and now it is a common and popular expression.
Deeds have given practical effect to thought, and the action of the great colonics in placing military forces at the disposal of the mother country for service in the Soudan shows that British unity is something more than a phrase, and that "the maintenance of common interest and the defence of common right" are recognized as a practical necessity in all parts of our Empire. The meeting of H.R.H. the Commander-in-Chief, the Secretaries of State for War and the Colonies, and the Agents-General for the Colonies to take counsel together, and the subsequent consultation between the Commander-in-Chief and the Secretaries of State for War and the Colonies on the one part, and the High Commissioner for Canada on the other, are historic incidents on the road towards Imperial Federation—which Sir Hercules Robinson, High Commissioner at the Cape, and successively a Governor in the West Indies, of Hong Kong, Ceylon, New South Wales and New Zealand declared in the Pall Mall Gazette of March 9th to be "a project which must assuredly be faced if the Empire is to be maintained."page 2
The following Extracts from some recent speeches of public men in England and the Colonies are printed for the use of members of the League:—
The Right Hon. G. J. Goschen, M.P., Edinburgh, Feb. 3rd, 1885.
Let it not be said that this is a question of sentiment which only concerns the cultured classes. I am not one of those who would depreciate sentiment in politics, for so long as men are what they are, and nations are what they are, sentiment, whether we wish it or not, will play a very decided part in politics. We cannot ignore it. But it is not in the spirit of sentiment that I shall approach this question this evening. I wish to press home that which was urged by Lord Reay last night, which has been urged by my friend, Mr. Forster, and which is being urged now, I am glad to say, in many quarters. I wish to see interest taken in these colonial subjects. The question of the united Empire, the question of our Colonies, is to a great extent a workingmen's question. It is they who supply the chief number of the emigrants who go forth to seek their fortunes beyond the seas. It is they who work at the manufactures that are sold to our Australian fellow-subjects; it is they who would feel the effects if, in the course of the destinies of this country, any calamity should break up the colonial empire. And so I say this is a question that cannot be ignored, and that the working classes must take up; they must hold their statesmen and their public men responsible for attention being paid to our colonial empire.
The Right Hon. Earl of Rosebery, Epsom, Feb. 9th.
Then I am afraid, gentlemen, that if we wish to remain the possessors of a great empire, we must also have a colonial policy. Now, here I am sorry to be at issue for a moment with the greatest name but one in our party: I mean John Bright. One feels such an unbounded respect and admiration for Mr. Bright, and affection for him, if one has the privilege, as I have, to know him, that it is painful to differ from him even on one point. But the other day at Birmingham Mr. Bright attacked those who, like myself, are anxious to bind the colonies closer to the mother country, and he called their doctrines "childish and absurd." I see that the resolution I have to move seems to think that these doctrines are not "childish and absurd"; but what I was very much more interested in were the arguments by which these epithets were supported; and the first was that all great empires had disappeared—the Empire of the Mogul, the Empire of Cæsar, the Persian Empire, and so on—and that if we tried to have a great empire we should disappear also. I do not know whether we shall disappear or not; but I am confident that we are much more likely to disappear if we have not a great empire than if we have. But in one respect I am a much better Liberal than Mr. Bright is, if that is not a presumptuous thing to page 4 say, because Mr. Bright is guided in his argument by precedent, and I am not guided by precedent. I say there is no precedent for the British Empire, and you cannot find a precedent for it. The British Empire is going on a way of its own without a precedent. It must be guided by the wants and powers of the moment. Citizens of the British Empire must never be discouraged into the belief that it is going to fall because other empires have fallen before it. Then Mr. Bright said, "Look at Ireland. You have been trying to govern Ireland for centuries, and you cannot do it. What is the use of trying to govern more?" Well, one of my greatest reasons for wishing to associate the colonies more closely with the mother country is that I am unwilling to be left alone in the world with Ireland. It may be a political Utopia, to be left as a united kingdom—more or less united—of which a considerable proportion is Ireland, but that does not realise my idea of the maximum of human happiness. The third argument was that we could not bind our colonies closer to ourselves for the purpose of defence, because they had not the same tariffs as we had. We wish to treat that argument with all respect, but I submit that it really amounts to very much the same as if you were to say because Australians are allowed by local law to marry their deceased wife's sister, and we are not, that it imposes an insuperable barrier in the way of our union.
I suppose the position of the Imperial Federation League is this, that the armaments and fleets of this country may have to be increased in order to afford protection to our colonies and coaling stations. The colonies might, in that case, wish to contribute to the support of these armaments, and of course the contribution would be raised in whatever way the colony thought fit—whether by a protective or free-trade tariff is a matter it does not occur to us to investigate. We have given them local government, and local government must be respected in tariffs as in everything else. Let me go back for one moment to the words "childish and absurd." You observe that these words rankle in my sensitive mind. I felt very deeply this scheme being called "childish and absurd." But let me read you a quotation of what was said by the Liberal Prime Minister of this country in March, 1841. This is what Lord Melbourne said :—"To leave the whole agricultural interests without protection I declare, before God, I think it the wildest and the maddest scheme that it has ever entered the human mind to conceive." Five years later, owing to the exertions and eloquence of Mr. Bright, the agricultural interests were left without protection, and that "wildest and maddest" scheme had been revised. I think we may take comfort from the fact that Mr. Bright and Mr. Cobden were able to upset a much stronger dictum uttered by a man engaged in guiding the State; and if Mr. Bright could give us the eloquence and influence which he exerted then it would not take five years to bring about this federation. It is with distress that I have even appeared to differ in the remotest degree from one that I admire page 5 and love so much as Mr. Bright, but we cannot submit to be completely snuffed out by epithets, and I wish to draw this further lesson from this matter, and it is this, that though Mr. Bright does not agree with the Imperial Federation League about the colonies, yet the Liberal party is big enough to embrace Mr. Bright and those who think with him, as well as those who take a warmer and a closer interest in the colonies.
J. Bryce M.P., Bow Liberal Club, Feb. 10th.
He believed the colonies would be willing to bear their share in the expense; but if so they might fairly ask to be consulted in foreign policy also. Thus the problem before us was how to find a means of ascertaining the wishes of the outlying part of our people, and enabling common action to be concerted with them. The suggestion of a representative colonial council well deserved consideration, for it would be a quicker and more effective organ of colonial opinion than any which now existed. Such page 6 a council would, perhaps, be in the first instance merely consultative. But a consultative body is not necessarily weak: it may be-like the great councils of the kingdoms in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, very influential without defined authority to determine issues by a vote. Most of the questions of foreign policy which now arose were of consequence to our colonies no less than to England; the whole group of Indian questions for instance, and of the routes to India, affected the Australasian colonies; the question of the Panama Canal affected both New Zealand and the North American colonies. As respects the tendencies of opinion, he believed that the sentiment of the self-governing colonies would be very similar to that of the masses of the English people, generally pacific, disposed to trust any able and upright executive in minor matters, prepared to repel by arms any attack on grave national or imperial interests. Fully recognizing the difficulties of the question, and believing that it could not be solved until colonial opinion had been more fully elicited, he conceived that it had become a practical and might soon be a pressing question; and so far from seeing in the suggestion of closer political relations between scattered branches of our people anything aggressive, or, to use a popular term, Jingoish, he held that, by tending to the cohesion and stability of the British Empire, it would make for the peace of the world.
J. Cowen, M.P., New-castle, Feb. 14th.
Hon. Evelyn Ashley, M.P., Under Secretary for the Colonies. London Chamber of Commerce, Feb. 18th.
Mr. Ashley, in responding to the toast of "Our Colonies and Possessions," spoke as follows :—I see, Mr. Chairman, that you have given this toast a place of honour, and I am glad that it is so. I need no such proof to convince me that the London Chamber of Commerce feels a pride and deep interest in the prosperity of page 8 Greater Britain. Your published transactions and your spoken words amply show it. But in giving this prominence to the present toast I venture to assert that your Chamber is but the exponent of the feelings of the whole community, and that the future of Britain's sons and daughters beyond the seas, which has long seized the minds of the imaginative and the thoughtful, is now the care, I may add the hope, of even the most dull amongst us; and it is high time that it should be so. I speak not only of a languishing trade—though in this assembly it would not be inappropriate. I speak not only of an overcrowded home—though that is a matter of anxiety to every lover of our race. I speak also of the position of the Empire—that Empire which, without boasting, we may say has largely contributed to the commerce, the freedom, and the civilization of the world—that Empire which, in the presence of many rivals, whether friendly or hostile, can only successfully retain its position, and so continue its work, by knitting together in close alliance its various parts, which, physically separated and morally united, look to the same flag and are loyal to the same Queen.
Federation is the watchword in vogue. I care not for the name, so long as the thing is done. But there are some few, who ought to know better, who call it Utopian. Utopian! when within one short week Canada, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, all flash through the ocean offers of their gallant sons as soldiers to fight for the Mother Country. Utopian! when our Queen accepts their willing services, and we, their fellow countrymen, grasp the hands held out to us, not so much because we at present need them, but because of the loyal and friendly spirit of which they are tokens. Why, I venture to affirm that the day that Greater Britain sees her forces, called from her various shores, marshalled side by side in face of the enemy, Federation is an accomplished fact. All that will remain for us to do is, if necessary, to clothe this new embodiment in some garb of formality. We will do so, but let us not be in too much hurry about this. It must not be the hasty, though ingenious, work of some Abbé Sieyès, but the gradual creation of Anglo-Saxon loyalty and common sense—not a hot-house plant, but one of natural growth; and we, perhaps, should be wise to remember that our own old unwritten Constitution has been more enduring, because more elastic, than many of the carefully mapped systems of some of our more logical neighbours. But there is one initial and practical step which, though small, I think important; .and which, in un-capacity as a Member of Parliament, I venture to suggest. Some two years ago, by the courtesy and appreciation of the late Speaker, I was able to obtain an order that the High Commissioner for Canada for the time being, and the Agents-General of the other Colonies, should have a right of admission at all times to the Ambassadors' Gallery in the House of Commons. A very proper recognition of their just claims, as far as it goes. But when from time to time I look up from my seat and see my page 9 friends aloft, I feel an irresistible wish to bring them down from their empyrean, to take their seat among us all below. They are not Ambassadors from foreign States, but welcome messengers from our kith and kin. I do not know whether my honourable friends (the Agents-General) here present to-day will thank me for my suggestion, but I cannot help that. It is not to please them, but to aid the Empire that I desire their presence. Now why do I say that this step, though small, would be important? In the first place, there is a great truth in the French proverb: Ce n'est que le premier pas qui coûte—The first step taken, others will more easily follow. At any rate, the Colonies will feel that they are represented in the great Council of the nation. Then, again, what the Colonies most need, in my opinion, is the power of bringing, directly and without delay, pressure upon public opinion in this country and on the Cabinet. True, we at the Colonial Office regard ourselves as the servants of the Colonies, and I appeal to my hon, friends here present whether all in that office, from the highest to the lowest, do not with a will place themselves at the disposal of the representatives of the Colonies. But we are, after all, only a department, and my experience is that nothing stirs a Cabinet so much as a well-laid and well-supported motion or action in the House of Commons.
The High Commissioner of the Dominion of Canada.—Same time and place.
The Agents-General for South Australia and New South Wales.—Same time and place.
The Eight Hon. W. E. Forster, M.P., Associated Chambers of Commerce, Feb. 25th.
Mr. Forster said he would take the opportunity of giving some figures which had been prepared by a friend upon whom he could rely. The trade which the inhabitants of Great Britain conducted throughout the world was about one-third of the total trade of the whole world. The annual trade of the British dominions beyond the seas with the United Kingdom was, exports and imports, £190,000,000, and with other countries £170,000,000—a total of £360,000,000, or six times the value of the annual trade of the United Kingdom at the beginning of the century. They had heard a great deal about the depression of trade which had ruled throughout the whole of the United Kingdom, and he asked, if it were not for the colonies, what would the depression be i The trade of the United Kingdom with foreign countries in 1872 was more than £248,000,000, and in 1882 it was £214,000,000, a decrease in the ten years of £34,000,000. The trade of the United Kingdom with British possessions, which in 1872 was page 11 £66,000,000, had increased in 1882 to £92,000,000. We should not, he asserted, have had these figures if the colonies had been separated from the mother country. We were also largely de-pendent for the food of the country upon our colonies, and we could not help the fact. If we attempted to prevent it it could only be by legislation, and we could only have prevented it by limiting the number of our population and by starving them down. The increase in the amount of wheat imported into the country in 1882 from India, North America, and Australasia against that in 1872, was 8,000,000 cwt. from India, 1,000,000 cwt. from North America, and 2,000,000 cwt. from Australasia. The total trade of imports and exports of the United Kingdom with the world out-side British possessions had increased from 1854 to 1882 more than 77 per cent., but the total trade, import and export, of the United Kingdom with British possessions had increased more than 170 per cent. This, he thought, was sound evidence of the importance of the colonies, and, looking at it simply in a commercial light, it was of the utmost importance to Great Britain as an empire that she should retain possession of and maintain the connection with her colonies.
It was sometimes said that notwithstanding our connection with the colonies they levied duties upon our goods. If, however, they were not our colonies, judging from what had happened elsewhere, they would levy far larger duties. There was a vast difference between the duties levied by the United States and those levied by Canada, and he wondered if we should do anything approaching the trade in Canada if they maintained the tariffs of the United States. He very much doubted whether we should not have the United States tariff in place of the Canadian tariff if Canada ceased to be governed by the mother country. As to the present position of the country, we were in troublous times, and some said we were never in worse times in England before. In his opinion, the crisis was serious, but Englishmen had not forgotten how to meet difficulties. He referred to the action of the colonies in sending troops to the Soudan, and warmly commented upon this as a strong testimony to the unity of the empire. He referred to the article in The Times of that day in respect to Russia, and expatiated upon the effect which the spectacle of the United Empire would have even upon attempted Russian aggressions. The action of the colonies, he said, had astonished many, but he was not surprised. He assured the colonists that there was but one feeling, and that this action on their part would be an example and lesson to the world, showing that the empire, however spread, was one in all times of danger and difficulty.