Read CHAPTER VII - AN EMPIRE IN TRANSITION of The Day of Sir Wilfrid Laurier A Chronicle of Our Own Time , free online book, by Oscar D. Skelton, on

The secret of empire The old colonial system Partner nations Achieving self-government Building up the partnership The High Commissioner New foreign problems First colonial conference Political federation Inter-imperial defence Inter-imperial trade

When Canada’s problems seemed too great for her to solve unaided, many had looked to Washington for relief, in ways which have been reviewed. Others looked to London. The relations between Canada and the other parts of the Empire did not become the central issue in any political campaign. Until late in the period now under survey they aroused little systematic public discussion. There were few acute episodes to crystallize the filial sentiment for the motherland which existed in the country. Yet throughout these years that readjustment in the relations between the colonies and the mother country, which is perhaps the most significant political development of the century, was steadily proceeding. Steadily and surely, if for the most part unconsciously, the transformation of the Empire went on, until in the following period it became a fact and a problem which none could blink, and the central theme in public interest and political activity.

The story of this transformation, of how the little isles in the North Sea ventured and blundered into world-wide empire; of how at first they endeavoured to rule this vast domain in the approved fashion, for the power and profit of the motherland; of how this policy was slowly abandoned because unprofitable and impossible; of how, when this change took place, most men looked to the ending of a connection which no longer paid; of how acquired momentum and inherited obligations on the one side and instinctive loyalty on the other prevented this result; of how the new lands across the sea grew in numbers and strength and national spirit and, withal, in the determination to work out a permanent partnership on the new basis of equality this is the most wonderful story political annals have to tell. The British Empire of to-day, tested in fire and not found wanting, is the paradox and miracle of political achievement, full of hope for the future of the rest of the world. In shaping the policy which made the continuance and growth and adjustment of the Empire possible, Canadian statesmen of both parties played a leading part. That long story cannot here be told, but a few of the significant steps must be recalled, to make clear the development of yesterday and to-day.

In the expansion of Europe over all the five continents and the seven seas which has marked the past five centuries, the Englishman found a roomy place in the sun. By luck or pluck, by trusted honesty or sublime assurance, and with little aid from his government, he soon outdistanced Frenchman and Dutchman, Spaniard and Portuguese, in the area and richness of the regions over which his flag floated and in which his trading-posts or his settlements were established. This empire was ruled, as other colonial domains were ruled, to advance the power and the profit of the motherland. The colonies and dependencies were plantations, estates beyond the seas, to be acquired and guarded for the gain of the mother country. They were encouraged by bounty and preference to grow what the mother country needed, and were compelled by parliamentary edict to give the mother country a monopoly of their markets for all she made. Great Britain never applied these doctrines with the systematic rigour of the Spaniard of the seventeenth century or the German of the twentieth, but monopoly of the direct trade with the colonies, and the political subordination of the colonies to secure this end, were nevertheless the cardinal doctrines of imperial policy.

Slowly this old colonial system broke down. It became impossible to keep in political subjection millions of men across the seas of the same vigorous race. This the American Revolution drove home and the Canadian insurrections of 1837 again made unmistakable. In the views of most men it came to appear unprofitable, even if possible. Gradually the ideas of Adam Smith and Pitt and Huskisson, of Cobden and Bright and Peel, took possession of the English mind. Trade monopolies, it now was held, hampered more than they helped, even if costless. But when maintained at heavy expense, at cost of fortification and diplomatic struggle and war, they became worse than useless, a drag on the development of both colony and mother country. So the fetters which impeded trade and navigation were discarded.

There followed, from the forties onward, a period of drift, of waiting for the coming separation. When the trade monopoly which was the object of empire ceased, most men in Britain reasoned that the end of the Empire, in so far as it included colonies settled by white men, could not be far distant. Yet the end did not come. Though Radical politicians and publicists urged ’cutting the last link of connection’; though Conservative statesmen damned ’the wretched colonies’ as ‘millstones about our necks’; though under-secretaries said farewell to one ‘last’ governor-general after another and the London Times bade Canadians ’take up your freedom, your days of apprenticeship are over’; in spite of all, the colonies lingered within the fold. Some dim racial instinct, the force of momentum, or the grip of inherited obligations, kept them together until gradually the times changed and the stage was set for another scene.

Alike in the motherland and in the colonies men had stumbled upon the secret of empire freedom. Expecting the end to come soon, the governing powers in London had ruled with a light rein, consenting to one colonial demand after another for self-government. In these years of salutary neglect the twofold roots of imperial connection had a chance to grow. The colonies rose to national consciousness, and yet, in very truth because of their freedom, and the absence of the friction a centralizing policy would have entailed, they retained their affection and their sympathy for the land of their ancestors. Thus the way was prepared for the equal partnership which it has been the task of these later years to work out.

Two lines of development were equally essential. It was necessary to secure complete freedom for the colonies, to abolish the old relation of ascendancy and subordination, and it was necessary to develop new ties and new instruments of co-operation. Nowhere in early years do we find a more nearly adequate recognition of this twofold task than in the prophetic words of Sir John Macdonald: ’England, instead of looking upon us as a merely dependent colony, will have in us a friendly nation, a subordinate but still a powerful people, to stand by her in North America in peace as in war. The people of Australia will be such another subordinate nation.... She will be able to look to the subordinate nations in alliance with her and owing allegiance to the same sovereign, who will assist in enabling her to meet again the whole world in arms as she has done before.’ It was Sir John also who urged that the new union should be called the ’Kingdom of Canada,’ a name which the British authorities rejected, ostensibly out of fear of offending the republican sensibilities of the United States. Had that name been chosen, the equality of the status of Canada would have been recognized much sooner, for names are themselves arguments powerful with wayfaring men. Both in act and in word the Conservative chieftain oftentimes lapsed from this statesmanlike view into the prevalent colonialism; but he did much to make his vision a reality, for it was Macdonald who, with the aid of political friend and political opponent, laid the foundations upon which the statesmen of the new generation have built an enduring fabric.

The first task, the assertion of the autonomy of the Dominions, had been largely achieved. So far as it concerned domestic affairs, practically all Canadians accepted the principle for which Liberals had fought alone in the earlier days. In the thirties a British colonial secretary, replying to Howe’s demand for responsible government, had declared that ’to any such demand Her Majesty’s Government must oppose a respectful but at the same time a firm declaration that it is inconsistent with a due adherence to the essential distinction between a metropolitan and a colonial government, and it is therefore inadmissible,’ and a Canadian Tory Legislative Council had echoed that ’the adoption of the plan must lead to the overthrow of the great colonial Empire of England.’ But now, since Elgin’s day (1849), responsible government, self-government in domestic affairs, had been an unquestioned fact, a part of the heritage of which all Canadians, irrespective of party, were equally proud.

In foreign affairs, too, some progress had been made. Foreign affairs in modern times are largely commercial affairs. In part such questions are regulated by laws passed by each country independently, in part by joint treaty. Complete autonomy as to the first mode was early maintained by Galt and Macdonald. In 1859 Galt affirmed the right to tax even British goods, ’the right of the Canadian legislature to adjust the taxation of the people in the way they deemed best, even if it should unfortunately happen to meet the disapproval of the Imperial Ministry.’ And twenty years later, in spite of British protests, Sir John Macdonald went further in his National Policy, and taxed British goods still higher to encourage production at home. The tariff of 1879 was the last nail in the coffin of the old colonial system. Here was a colony which not only did not grant British manufacturers a monopoly, but actually sought to exclude from its markets any British wares it could itself produce.

Self-government in the regulation of foreign commercial affairs, so far as treaties were essential to effect it, came more slowly, and with much hesitation and misgiving.

Negative freedom was achieved first. After 1877 Canada ceased to be bound by commercial treaties made by the United Kingdom unless it expressly desired to be included. As to treaties made before that date, the restrictions lasted longer. Most of these treaties bound Canada to give to the country concerned the same tariff and other privileges given to any other foreign power, and Canada in return was given corresponding privileges. Two went further. Treaties made in the sixties with Belgium and Germany history discovers strange bedfellows bound all British colonies to give to these countries the same tariff privileges granted to Great Britain or to sister colonies. In 1891 the Canadian parliament sent a unanimous address to Her Majesty praying for the denunciation of these treaties, but in vain. It was not until the Laurier administration had forced the issue six years later that the request was granted.

Positive freedom, a share in the making of treaties affecting Canada, came still more gradually. When in 1870 Galt and Huntington pressed for treaty-making powers, Macdonald opposed, urging the great advantages of British aid in negotiation. A year later, however, Macdonald gave expression to his changed view of the value of that aid. As one of the five British commissioners who negotiated the Washington Treaty (1871), he declared that his colleagues had ’only one thing in their minds that is, to go home to England with a treaty in their pockets, settling everything, no matter at what cost to Canada.’ In 1874 George Brown went to Washington as one of the two British commissioners in the abortive reciprocity negotiations of that year. In 1879 the Macdonald Government made Galt ambassador at large to negotiate treaties in Europe, but he was hampered by being compelled to ‘filter’ his proposals through the various resident British ambassadors. When in 1882 Blake moved in the House of Commons a resolution in favour of direct treaty-making powers, Sir John Macdonald opposed it as meaning separation and independence, ending his speech with the declaration, ’A British subject I was born, a British subject I hope to die.’ Yet action moved faster than the philosophy of action. In 1883 Sir Charles Tupper signed the protocols of the Cable Conference in Paris on Canada’s behalf; and at Madrid, in 1887 and 1889, the same doughty statesman represented Canada in the conduct of important negotiations. It was in 1891, only nine years after Sir John Macdonald’s reply to Blake foreboding separation and independence, that the House of Commons and Senate of Canada, praying for the abrogation of the Belgian and German treaties, unanimously declared that ’the self-governing colonies are recognized as possessing the right to define their respective fiscal relations to all foreign nations.’

The first task had been practically achieved; freedom had been won; but it still remained to rise through freedom to co-operation, to use the newly won powers to work out a lasting partnership between the free states of the Empire. This was the harder task. There was no precedent to follow. Centralized empires there had been; colonies there had been which had grown into independent states. But of an empire which was not an empire, of colonies which had achieved self-government only to turn to closer union with the parent state, the world had as yet no instance.

It had not even a model in idea, a theory of how it should be done. Such a forecast as that already quoted from Sir John Macdonald came as near as might be, but this long remained a peroration and no more. No man and no school divined absolutely the present fact and theory of empire. It has worked out of the march and pressure of events, aided by the clash of the oppositions which it has reconciled.

In the eighties and nineties four possible futures for the Dominion were discussed. The first was the continuance of the colonial status, the second Annexation, the third Independence, and the fourth Imperial Federation. Colonialism had only inertia in its favour. Annexation ran counter both to filial sentiment and to national hopes, but its discussion served to show the desperate need of change and forced the advocates of other ideals to set forth their creeds. Independence meant the complete severing of the ties which bound Canada to the rest of the Empire. Imperial Federation proposed to set up in London a new authority with representatives from all the white Dominions and with power to tax and bind. Each played its needed part. The advocates of Imperial Federation did much to prevent a drift towards Annexation which might otherwise have set in. The advocates of Independence expressed the national aspirations which must be satisfied in any solution that would be enduring. The resultant of these forces was of a character none had precisely anticipated. Empire and Independence were reconciled.

In this period the two most important steps towards co-operation were the appointment of a Canadian High Commissioner in London and the beginning of the Colonial Conferences.

The first step was taken on the initiative of the Macdonald Government in 1879. It was found necessary to appoint a Canadian representative in London both to act as ambassador at large in dealing with European states, and to serve as a link between the Canadian and British Governments. The latter purpose was especially significant. In the days of colonial subordination the governor-general had served as the only needed link. His duty was to govern the colony in accordance with the interest and policy of the mother country, and in carrying that out he was responsible to the British Government. Now he was becoming the representative, not of the British Government, but of the king, who was king of Canada as well as of the United Kingdom, and, like the king, he governed by the advice of the responsible ministers in the land where he resided. This change in the governor-general’s status marked the ending of the old colonial relationship. The appointment of a commissioner to represent to one free government the wishes of another free government was one of the first steps in building up the new relationship.

The initiative in the second step came from the United Kingdom. A change was now apparent in the attitude of many Englishmen upon imperial questions. The present value of the colonies, their possible greater value in the future, and the need of all the help that could be had from them, were coming to be the leading articles in the creed of many fervent thinkers. The Imperial Federation League, founded in London in 1884, gave vigorous expression to these views; and its Canadian branch, formed at Montreal in the next year, to be followed by local branches from sea to sea, exercised a strong influence on the current of Canadian thought.

The new desire to bind the colonies closer was largely due to the revival of protection and of imperialism both in the United Kingdom and in foreign countries. Alike in trade and in defence, colonial aid was by many coming to be felt essential. Abroad, protection was in the ascendant. Cobden’s prophecy of the world following Britain’s example in free trade had not been fulfilled. France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Russia, the United States, were rearing higher tariffs, threatening to shut out British goods. Even Canada and Victoria had done likewise. Moreover, France and Germany and the United States were becoming formidable rivals to Britain, as they turned more and more from farming to manufacturing. It was little wonder that a section of English opinion began to sigh for protected markets, for retaliatory tariffs to force down bars abroad, and for a revival of the old preference or monopoly in the markets of the colonies.

Defence, too, assumed a more anxious aspect. The nations of Europe were entering on a mad scramble for empire, for colonial possessions overseas. Russia pushed steadily westward to the Pacific and south to the gates of India. France sought territory in Africa and in Asia, Germany in Africa and the Pacific, Italy in Africa. Nationalism had gone to seed in imperialism. Long prevented by internal dissensions from competing with England in the acquisition of territory, the nations of Europe, now that national consolidation had been largely effected, turned to follow her example. England could not logically object to their desire for territory or to their plans for larger navies. Her Palmerstons and Disraelis had boasted of the might of the empire on which the sun never set; her Froudes and Seeleys were singing the glories of the ‘expansion of England’; the man in the street felt the manifest destiny of the Anglo-Saxon to rule the ’lesser breeds’; while the American Mahan had made clear the importance of sea-power and had pointed the means to the end so glorified. None the less the rivalry was felt uncomfortable, the more so as these nations did not follow Britain’s free-trade policy in their new possessions, and sometimes manifested a lack of scruple which boded ill for future peace. And so from some quarters in Britain came the demand for colonial contributions to the Army and Navy, or failing that, for some form of imperial federation which would set up a central parliament with power to tax and to control.

In August 1886 an influential deputation from the Imperial Federation League waited upon the prime minister, Lord Salisbury, and asked him to summon a conference of all the colonies to discuss the idea of setting up a federal council as a first step towards centralizing authority. The prime minister expressed his doubt as to the wisdom of discussing political changes which, if possible, were so only in the distant future. Believing, however, that there were other subjects ripe for discussion, he took the momentous step, and called the first Colonial Conference.

Every self-governing colony and several crown colonies sent representatives. Canada sent Sir Alexander Campbell, lieutenant-governor of Ontario, and Mr, later Sir Sandford, Fleming, the apostle of an All-Red Pacific cable. Lord Salisbury, in opening the proceedings, referred to the three lines upon which progress might be made. The German Empire evidently suggested the ideas which he and others had in mind. A political federation, like that of Germany, to conduct ‘all our imperial affairs from one centre,’ could not be created for the present. But Germany had had two preliminary forms of union, both of which might be possible, a zollverein or customs union, not yet practicable, and a kriegsverein, or union for purposes of mutual defence, which was feasible, and was the real and important business before the Conference.

In the weeks of discussion which followed the Canadian delegates took little part except upon the question of the cable which was at Sandford Fleming’s heart. Australia agreed to make a contribution towards the cost of a British squadron in Australasian waters, and Cape Colony agreed to provide some local defence at Table Bay. Sir Alexander Campbell referred to the agreement of 1865 as still in force, denied that the naval defence of Canada had proved burdensome to Britain, talked vaguely of setting up a naval school or training a reserve, and offered nothing more. The Conference did not discuss political federation and touched only lightly on preferential trade. As the first of a series, and for its revelation of the obstacles to proposals for Germanizing the British Empire, it proved more important than for any positive achievements.

In the stand thus taken the Canadian delegates adequately reflected the feeling both of the general public and of the leaders of both parties in Canada at that time, alike as to political defence and trade relations.

As for political relations, the only proposal for change came from the Imperial Federationists. The idea had some notable advocates in Canada Grant, Parkin, Denison, M’Carthy and others. But many of them advocated it simply because it was the only theory of closer imperial relations then in the field. At first it was too hazily pictured to make clear the extent to which the Canadian and other parliaments would be subordinated to the proposed new central parliament. When faced with a concrete plan, few Canadians were eager to give up control of their destinies to a parliament in which they would have only one-tenth of the representation. The responsible politicians did not at any time endorse the scheme. Sir John Macdonald, as a practical man, saw at once a fatal objection in the sacrifice of Canadian self-government which it involved. Some of the members of the Imperial Federation League urged with plausibility that political federation would bring the colonies new power in the shape of control over foreign policy, rather than take old powers away, but Macdonald much doubted the reality of the control it would give. Nevertheless the Imperial Federation League and its branches did useful educational work. Owing to differences of opinion among its members it was dissolved in 1893, but was revived and reorganized two years later as the British Empire League.

Nor was Canada greatly interested in questions of defence. In the sixties and seventies, it is true, the larger colonies had agreed, with some reluctance, to assume the increasing share of the burdens of defence made necessary by the increasing control of their own affairs. Gradually the British troops stationed in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada (save for a small garrison force at Halifax) had been withdrawn, and their places taken by local militia. But as yet it was understood that the responsibilities of the colonies were secondary and local. As a result of long discussion, the British House of Commons in 1862 unanimously resolved that ’colonies exercising the right of self-government ought to undertake the main responsibility of providing for their own internal order and security and ought to assist in their own external defence.’ The duty of the United Kingdom to undertake the general defence of the Empire was equally understood; the Committee on Colonial Defence (1860), whose report led to the adoption of this resolution, agreed that since ’the Imperial Government has the control of peace and war, it is therefore in honour and duty called upon to assist the Colonists in providing against the consequences of its policy,’ a position affirmed by Mr Cardwell’s dispatch of June 17, 1865.

Given the fact and theory of political relationship as they existed in this period, this compromise was the natural result. Under the old colonial system the empire was Britain’s, governed for its real or fancied gain, and imperial defence was merely the debit side of colonial trade monopoly. The myth that Britain had carried on her wars and her diplomacy for the sake of the colonies, which therefore owed her gratitude, had not yet been invented. True, the day had passed when Britain derived profit, or believed she derived profit, from the political control of the white empire, yet the habits of thought begot by those conditions still persisted. If profit had vanished, prestige remained. The Englishman who regarded the colonies as ’our possessions’ was quite as prepared to foot the bill for the defence of the Empire which gave him the right to swagger through Europe, as he was to maintain a country estate which yielded no income other than the social standing it gave him with his county neighbours. As yet, therefore, there was no thought in official quarters that Canada should take part in oversea wars or assume a share of the burden of naval preparation. When an English society proposed in 1895 that Canada should contribute money to a central navy and share in its control, Sir Charles Tupper attacked the suggestion as ’an insidious, mischievous, and senseless proposal.’ He urged that, if Canada were independent, ’England, instead of being able to reduce her army by a man or her navy by a ship, would be compelled to increase both, to maintain her present power and influence.’ He quoted the London Times to the effect that the maritime defence of the colonies was only a by-product of that naval supremacy which was vital to England’s very existence as a nation, and cost not a penny extra, for which reason the control of the fleet must always remain unconditionally in the hands of the responsible government of the United Kingdom. Sir Charles, too, was wont to stress the strategic importance of the Canadian Pacific Railway as Canada’s contribution to the defence of the Empire. His arguments had much force, but they were obviously the product of a time of transition, uneasy answers to the promptings of the slow-rising spirit of nationhood.

Action, or inaction, corresponded to words. In 1885, when Britain was waging war in the Soudan, New South Wales offered to raise and equip a regiment. The secretary for war at once spread the news of this offer through the other colonies. Sir John Macdonald’s only reply was to offer to sanction the raising of troops in Canada, the whole cost to fall on Great Britain. The offer was declined with thanks. A company of voyageurs, largely French-Canadian, however, was recruited in Canada, at Britain’s expense, and did good service in the rapids of the Nile. Sir John Macdonald did not, of course, proclaim Canada’s neutrality in this war, any more than Hincks and MacNab had done in the Crimean War, when hired German troops garrisoned Dover and Shorncliffe. Canada simply took no part in either war.

But, if political federation and inter-imperial defence thus fell on deaf ears in Canada, the question of trade relations received more serious attention. In urging the Pacific cable and a service of fast steamships on each ocean, Sandford Fleming had hit upon the line along which progress eventually was to be made. Tariff preferences, inter-imperial reciprocity, began to be discussed. As early as 1879 Sir John Macdonald, on finding in England much dissatisfaction over his high taxation of British imports, proposed to give British goods a preference if the United Kingdom would give Canada a preference in return. Thus, on the ruins of the old colonial system imposed by the mother country’s edict, would be built a new colonial system based on free negotiation between equal states. In view of Britain’s rooted adherence to free trade, nothing, of course, came of the proposal. Ten years later there was in England some discussion of protection or ’fair trade,’ and in Canada, during the elections of 1891, the idea of an imperial zollverein was rhetorically mooted as an alternative to reciprocity with the United States. Three years later still (1894) the second Colonial Conference met at Ottawa, on the invitation of the Dominion Government. The object was to arrange treaties of reciprocity in trade between the various colonies, to serve until such time as the mother country should renounce her free-trade errors. There were many forceful and eloquent speeches, notably one by Mr, now Sir George, Foster, and a resolution was passed in favour of an Imperial Customs Union. But, save for a limited arrangement with New Zealand in 1895, no definite result followed.

The policy of the Liberal Opposition in Canada in respect to inter-imperial trade may be briefly stated. Mr Laurier’s first speech, as leader of the party, at Somerset, in 1887, has already been mentioned. There he declared that if commercial union with Great Britain were feasible, he would favour it. But he had more hope of commercial union with other British colonies, which had protective tariffs. Two years later, speaking at Toronto, he referred to the obvious difficulties in the way of commercial union with Britain itself. ‘I would favour with all my soul,’ he said, ’a more close commercial alliance of Canada with Great Britain. But, sir, if there is any man who believes that any such an alliance between Canada and Great Britain can be formed upon any other basis than that of free trade, which prevails in England, that man is a Rip Van Winkle, who has been sleeping not only for the last seven but for the last forty-four years. The British people will not to-day go back upon the policy of free trade, and Canada is not in a position at the moment, with the large revenue which she has to collect, to adopt any other tariff than a revenue tariff at best.’ That free trade among all the British communities would some day be to their advantage, and that it would come in time, he stated elsewhere, but added that it could not for many years be a practical issue.

A notable step forward was taken in 1892. Hitherto Liberal and Conservative alike had been considering the trade question chiefly from the standpoint of the producer, seeking fresh markets by offering in return concessions in the Canadian tariff. Now the Liberals, and the M’Carthy wing of the Conservatives, began to speak of the consumer’s interests. The reduction of the tariff would be more important as a relief to the consumer than as a means of buying markets abroad for the producer. Instead of waiting for the distant day when Great Britain should set up a tariff and give Canada reciprocal preference, the Liberals now pressed for giving an immediate and unconditional preference on British goods. A resolution to this effect, moved in the House of Commons by Mr, now Sir Louis, Davies, was voted down by the Conservative majority, but it was to bear notable fruit later.