THIS DEMOCRATIC EMPIRE
AN ADDRESS BY LIEUT.-COL. WILFRID BOVEY, O.B.E.
Chairman: Mr. E. F. Thompson
Thursday, February 8, 1940
THE CHAIRMAN: Gentlemen, may I have your attention for a minute? It is with very deep regret that I announce the death of Dr. Albert Ham, who was President of the Empire Club during the year 1915-1916, and who was also a life member of the Club. He passed away on Sunday last, in Brighton, England, where he has been residing since he left Canada two years ago. Dr. Ham was in his 83rd year. The Empire Club of Canada has sent the following cables. One to his widow, reading:
"President, Directors and Members, Empire Club of Canada, Toronto, greatly regret passing of our former President and Life Member and respectfully tender you sincere sympathy in your loss."
The other cable was to Captain Lyman CrawfordBrown, formerly a member of the Executive and now overseas with the 48th Highlanders
"Doctor Ham, one time President Empire Club, died Sunday at Brighton. Would appreciate your communicating with widow in person, if possible, tendering sincere condolence of Club. We are cabling her also."
He was a most lovable character and his memory will live long with those who had the privilege of knowing him. Gentlemen, it is suggested that in memory of Dr. Ham you might stand for a moment. (A minute of silence observed in memory of Dr. Ham.)
Gentlemen of the Empire Club, also our Radio audience: We are today greatly favoured with the presence of Lieut.-Col. Wilfrid Bovey, O.B.E., one of Canada's prominent sons, who has taken a most active part in military affairs. He served overseas during the Great War with distinction, being mentioned in despatches and made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, Military Branch, and he was also decorated by the French. After demobilization, he remained on the reserve of Officers with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, and has since been doing splendid work on behalf of the Legion. He is National Chairman of the Educational Branch of Canadian Legion War Services.
He is Director of Extra Mural Relations, McGill University, and at present is Chairman of the Canadian Association for Adult Education, a Member of the English Bar, and a fellow of the Royal Society.
He has written a number of articles, mainly dealing with historical subjects, Canadian and American, and two books on the French-Canadians, which have enabled English-speaking people to acquire more knowledge of North America's group of French-speaking people. In recognition of this work he has been made an Officer of the Legion of Honour of France, and received the Honorary Degree of LL.D. His work in the field of literature was this year recognized by the Royal Society of Canada which awarded him the Lorne Pierce Medal for literature.
It is my privilege and pleasure to introduce to you Lieutenant-Colonel Wilfrid Bovey, O.B.E., who has chosen for his subject, "This Democratic Empire". (Applause)
LIEUT.-COL. WILFRID BOVEY, O.B.E.: Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen: I must begin by thanking you very much, Mr. Chairman, for your extremely kind introduction. I always find it very difficult to live up to these introductions because I don't feel at all like the person you are talking about.
The title of these remarks contains a contradiction in terms. The word democracy means the rule of all the people and the word empire, whatever it means, has up to this time involved a completely different idea. There are more contradictions than that about the British Empire. The British Empire is not, in any strict sense of the word, British and it is not an empire in any sense in which the word has ever been used before. The only part to which the word Empire is properly applied is India. India is not yet one of our democratic states-it never has been part of any democratic system. India took no part in the making of the Statute of Westminster, which declared the present constitutional position of the nations of the Empire and which never used the word Empire at all. The other sections of the Empire which are not self-governing had no part in that legislation either. When I speak of our democratic Empire I mean specifically the nations which the Statute of Westminster mentions, the United Kingdom, the Dominion of Canada, the Commonwealth of Australia, the Dominion of New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, the Irish Free State and Newfoundland. One of those has changed its name since and one has a temporary government of another kind but the group is the same. The word empire implies a monarchial government. Here is an empire with one section a republic; that section is today neutral but for the first time in many, many years its people are pro-British. The word empire connotes a central authority, yet here is an empire without any central authority, it has no capital except where its King may be; and the title of that king declares that he rules by divine right, while we all know that he rules because his people have acknowledged him as king.
In three of the states mentioned in the Statute of Westminster-Canada, Eire, and South Africa-people of British origin are in a minority. Eire is a republic with its own flag. Yet the leading club of Eire is still the Royal Irish Yacht Club, and it still flies the Blue Ensign. In one part of the Empire the King is not King at all, but Duke-such is his lawful title in the Channel Islands, which are all that is left of the Ancient Duchy of Normandy.
There are a few contradictions--now what about the greatest contradiction of all, what is this British Democracy on which our Empire is founded, and for which we are fighting? We come very quickly to another contradiction--we find that this democracy is not British, if you mean by British something derived from or depending upon Britain.
The word British has had all sorts of meanings. Once it was used as the equivalent of Welsh, then Great Britain became the name of the United Kingdoms of England and Scotland, and I can remember old Scottish people-my grandmother was one of them-who were always furious when any one spoke of England and the English as if the words included Scottish and the Scots. During the Revolutionary War, British was the word used by the Americans to describe their enemies. Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne talked for the first time of the British Empire in Parliament and a little later we hear of British North America. During the last war the Canadians used the word British to mean troops from the United Kingdom. But when we say British Empire today we have again given the word British a new meaning altogether. The preamble to the Statute of Westminster contains this paragraph: "And whereas it is meet and proper to state by way of preamble to this Act that, inasmuch as the Crown is the symbol of the free association of the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and as they are united by a common allegiance to the Crown, it would be in accord with the established constitutional position of all the members of the Commonwealth in relation to one another that any alteration in the law touching the Succession to the Throne or the Royal Style and Titles shall hereafter require the assent as well of the Parliaments of all the Dominions as of the Parliament of the United Kingdom."
The word British as used in that paragraph is an identifying adjective. It identifies, it does not describe the group of nations to which it refers. That is what British means in the phrase-the British Empire. As for the word Empire it has a new meaning, too. The Statute of Westminster attempts to explain it by using the words "free association" and the word "Commonwealth". I do not know that I can do much better. Now, when we speak of British democracy we mean the kind of government which has been developed by and is held in common by the nations of the British Empire. It seems to me important to get this clearly into our heads. There is a very distinct tendency for people of British birth (and now we are using British in another sense of the word) to think of British democracy as something which is their particular property, a kind of autochthonous English growth transported by the English and the Scots to less fortunate portions of the globe. As a matter of fact that conception is completely wrong. The English of the earliest days brought with them from their earliest home which was presumably in the region of Friesland, before the Zuider Zee was in existence, some rudimentary ideas of parliamentary power. We have been told by many historians that their public assemblies chose their leaders. Modern theories have considerably modified older ones and there is little doubt that among the low German peoples, whether those who migrated to England or not, there were always families of better blood, presumably considered as descended from gods, from whom the leaders were chosen. Writers of today hesitate to agree with Motley in his statement that Low German leaders were not kings but generals.
Several hundred years later there was a settlement of northmen in England which is now known to have been far more important than was previously realized. So large indeed was the Scandinavian immigration that its traces persist not only in place names-like Whitby and Grimsby, Weardale and Teesdale, but in the popular tongue. Until very recently a Swede could talk his own language in Yorkshire and be understood. The old Norse tongue which the Vikings spoke was modified in England and modified in Scandinavia but among the common people it changed far less than among the educated.
The Scandinavian, like the Low German peoples, had democratic customs and public assemblies. They had, in combination with those, the same method of electing kings from among royal families. They were accustomed to the use of parliaments, local and general, called things and althings. In England the two ideas would have become one had it not been for the interruption of the Norman Conquest which followed not long after the last Scandinavian settlements in the north country.
Now let us look at the Norman contribution to our democracy. The Normans imported into France from Norway and Denmark their original Scandinavian notions of government.
Rollo, the first Norse Duke of Normandy, was called upon to pay the usual homage to the King of France but he would not stoop to kiss the king's foot-he pulled the foot in the air and the King fell over backward. His followers imitated his independence, he was their leader, primas inter pares, but that was all.
As early as 997 A.D. there was a revolt in Normandy. The common people claimed the right to join in making the laws. The uprising was sternly repressed but the tradition of democracy was nourished by the blood of those who suffered. Later when William came to claim the crown of England he was still only Duke of Normandy--we have observed that our own King is still Duke of the Channel Islands--although by reason of an admixture of royal blood he now had the claims to royalty which Rollo had lacked. He called a Parliament of his barons and tried to persuade them to support the expedition. He failed. Then he called a parliament of the townsmen and among them he succeeded. With this card to play he went back to the barons as individuals and this time won them over.
From this time, democratic traditions lived on separately in England and in Normandy. Normandy indeed was the one part of France in which they never quite disappeared. The Norman municipalities were the first to be chartered; the Norman guilds were the first to be formed, the Norman was never willing to give up his right of public meeting. Normandy, like England, had its Magna Carta granted in 1315, guaranteeing property, stability of currency, regular requisitions instead of armed demands, and improved judicial procedure. It was a Magna Carta as important to the Normans as was that of Britain to the English; it was followed by the calling of parliament which met at Pont Audemer in 1337 and was given the name of the Etats Generaux, the "General Estates", since it contained representatives of clergy, nobles and commons. This gathering was the mother of the similar elective assemblies of other provinces and of the French nation as a whole, which, because they were elective, were more formidable than the assemblies of "Notables" selected by the King in France and later by the Governor of Canada.
As time went on the French Kings violated the Norman Charter more and more frequently, but never with Norman goodwill. The Rouen traders always resented French interference as today they consider themselves oppressed by Paris and by the State as a whole. "It has killed our province" says a Norman historian, "and as indemnity presents us with a magnificent capital. It is not enough ... Paris, the capital, has made itself manager of our national property, has given no inspiration, no advice, nothing but indications of indifference." The Norman Charter of 1315 was followed, more than four hundred years later, by the demands of the last "General Estates", held in 1780 at Paris after a lapse of one hundred and seventy-five years since the preceding meeting.
About the same time as the Norman conquest a new set of ideas influenced statesmen. I wonder how many of you have read the first English manual of statesmanship. It was written by Bishop John of Salisbury in the 13th century, and it sets out 13th century notions of government in an extraordinary interesting fashion. In this book we find the monarchy regarded as a combination of Biblical and classical kingships. In the course of Bishop John's arguments he sometimes contradicts himself for in one place he tells us that a king when he becomes a tyrannical ceases to be a king, while elsewhere he adopts the ecclesiastical theory that even a tyrant must be obeyed because he holds his power from God. Other writers, Bracton, for instance, declare that the king's court may restrain tyranny. It was on this latter theory that Charles was tried and the description of him as a tyrant in the proceedings of his trial is a technical one, not a mere generality. The only conception of democracy which John of Salisbury had is that the king must be elected. When he made this remark his hand was forced by facts since he discovered the kings of England went through the formality of election which had come down from the Low German and Scandinavian peoples. But he could justify himself, because he found that King David was elected in precisely the same way as a Scandinavian or a Low German monarch.
The theory of monarchy thus set forth gradually became that of the French kings. When they had reduced their troublesome vassals to order they gave up calling parliaments-much, as I have said, to the disgust of the Normans. Most of the other French people accepted the situation and it was never altered until the revolution.
I am sure I do not need to tell you of the struggle in England between the classical theory of monarchy as discussed by John of Salisbury and the democratic ideas enshrined in the traditions of parliament, the struggle which came to a head in the time of Charles I--came to a head is probably right. Since that time the power of parliament, king, lords and commons, in England has developed until the authority of the king himself, or what is technically called the crown, the executive authority, is ultimately subject to popular control. I do want to point out that the same traditions of democracy derived from the same sources, are part of the inheritance of the two principal minorities of the Empire, the South African Dutch and, in our own country, the French Canadians.
The South African Dutch are, as you know, descended from the same low German peoples as came to England from across the North Sea. You will remember that I spoke to you about the similarity of language between Sweden and Yorkshire. There was, a few years ago, exactly the same similarity of language between Essex and that part of Holland which is still called Friesland, the language of which differed considerably from real Dutch. "Good butter and good cheese is good English and good Fries". If a young woman on the Island of Marken, where the people spoke Fries, wanted to brag about her infant she said, "Dis is de bijby". If a young woman in Essex wanted to do the same thing she used the same words, pronounced in the same way, "Dis is de biby". It cost the Dutch in Holland a long struggle and seas of blood to free themselves from monarchial tyranny, but in the end they succeeded. By the beinning of the last century there was as considerable Dutch settlement in South Africa which was handed over to Great Britain in 1815 for six million pounds. The subsequent history of South Africa, of which we in Canada know a great deal too little, was marked by constant change of policy on the part of the Home Government up to the time of the last South African war, and by disunity and deterioration among the South African Dutch. Yet among the Dutch in the Transvaal and Orange River Colony, the parliamentary tradition persisted. Even in the darkest times the Transvaal Volksraad, however inefficient, existed and insisted on its powers. It would not for instance give to Mr. Burgers, probably the best President the Transever had, the dictatorial authority for which he asked in 1877. The stubborn refusal of the Transvaalers to give in to British demands at a later date, however justified the demands were and however unjustified the refusal, is at least a mark of the same spirit. The unity of policy between South Africa and the other nations of the Empire at the present moment would never have come about had it not been that the Union of South Africa had been able to link peoples of different language, and the Union of South Africa has been able to link those people because, and only because they possess identical traditions of government derived from identical sources.
Now turn to the other great minority of the Empire, the French Canadians. They are probably for the most part of Norman blood. If they are not mostly of Norman blood they are definitely inheritors of Norman traditions. They have always believed in public meetings and the settlement of questions by public meetings, and although the king of France produced an edict forbidding anything of the kind, the meetings still went on.
There are two little villages near Quebec, Deschambault and Portneuf, about ten miles apart. Some years before the Cession a man from Portneuf once called a man from Deschambault a rude name. He said, "Peeled head". The Deschambault man was bald, but it was hardly his fault, he had been scalped. Deschambault held a public meeting and decided to have a war on Portneuf to begin on the next day of Pentecost. Why they chose that day I don't know. Portneuf had a meeting and accepted the ultimatum. Fortunately, the authorities in Quebec heard about the war and issued an order that the generals were to be sent to Quebec in irons and that anyone who went to the war was to be fined $1.25. After the cession to England the Crown in Canada, as we all know, exercised its authority in an entirely unjustifiable way and there were many abuses. As a result came the troubles both in Upper and Lower Canada. Into that story there is no need to go but we all know that its final result was the recognition of parliamentary power and responsible government. We all know that parliamentary power and responsible government in Canada led to similar institutions throughout the British Empire and so to that Statute of Westminster of which we spoke a little while ago.
In the Lower St. Lawrence region of the Province of Quebec the French Canadians still have the remnants of the local things of Scandinavia. The would-be candidate in the election which we shall shortly face must present himself to a series of "Parlements". Each parlement is a gathering of local people of sufficient importance to entitle them to be present, in a section of his constituency. And he must be able to hold his end up in a very violent argument. The persistence of the ancient tradition is shown by the use of the word "Parlement", the same word as is used for our central governing body. So more than a thousand years ago in Scandinavia were assembled local Things which dealt with local matters. When the Northmen learned French in the 10th century, they took the French word Parlement as a translation of Thing. They used the same word for the Althing, the general parliament.
The Canadian Association for Adult Education recently sponsored a book called The Corner Stone of Democracy, the Discussion Group. These little French Canadian parlements of the Lower St. Lawrence are political discussion groups with a history of more than a thousand years-now if you want to find the corner stone of Canadian democracy you know where to look for it. Side by side with that persistent tradition in French Canada there persists another. This second tradition comes down directly from that which caused the Scandinavians and the Friesians to choose their leaders from kingly families. The French Canadian, in the country in any case, demands that his leader be a man whom he can respect as a gentleman. Curiously enough he uses, more often than not, the English word. It is extremely difficult to explain what he means by gentleman in this connection. I do not suppose that the French Canadian could explain it himself. All I can say is that he has an instinct as to the sort of leader he wants and in the end that is the sort of leader he will have. Some of you will say, "But that is undemocratic." I have only one question to ask: Are we any less democratic because we have chosen George VI as King?
We have in Canada today an exact parallel to the situation in South Africa. The French Canadians are not a majority as are the Dutch-speaking South Africans, although it may be news to some people there are three-quarters as many Canadians of French as of British origin. I am quite sure that the average French Canadian has the same point of view regarding this war as the average English Canadian. Long before the question of intervention became a live one two surveys were made in different parts of the Province of Quebec, both by French Canadians. Both produced the same result. Typical farming communities considered it necessary to put an end to Mr. Hitler's threats. "Give me a gun and let me chase him", as one old gentleman told me.
I cannot tell you, because I do not know, the precise figures of French Canadian enlistment. I do know that there has never been any trouble in obtaining recruits,
often there have been more than were wanted. I do know that French Canadians feel proud that they are cooperating with the rest of us and that perhaps for the first time their cooperation is appreciated. None of this could have happened had it not been for those traditions of democracy which in Canada as in South Africa have been able to make of one kind people of different tongues.
There is another nation in the Empire which has sent its sons and daughters mainly to Canada and to Australia. That nation is Eire. I have heard in this country reproaches against Eire for remaining neutral. Those reproaches are not only unjustified, they are excessively foolish. Let me tell you what seems to me a good reason. Suppose that Eire had not remained neutral. There would have been an immense amount of propaganda in the United States to the effect that Eire had once more been dragooned into war by Britain. I leave to your imagination how much chance the change in the Neutrality Act would have had of getting through Congress in the face of that propaganda. I do not suppose that is the reason why the Eire Government remained neutral, but any British statesman should be very glad that they did. Eire of the old days was a kingdom or a group of kingdoms and a highly civilized country. Today it is a republic and a highly democratic one. The stern measures the government has taken with the I.R.A. are good enough proof. Eire, neutral or not, is serving with the rest of us in the maintenance of democracy.
Suppose we tried to guide our association of nations by the principles of Lenin and his followers, or by those of Hitler and his followers, in either case we should be resigning ourselves to the control of a clique, a gang, or whatever you like to call it. Lenin, himself, has pointed out that the proletariat cannot govern, that it must be governed by a highly specialized group. This is a long way from the notions of Marx, Hitler, Goering, Ribbentrop, and the rest we know by their actions. The people under their rule have no democratic traditions. Not many of the Germans of Germany come of the Nordic stock which they claim or of the Low German stock from which the English sprang. Most of them are of the Alpine race. The parliamentary tradition, if it ever existed in Germany, ceased long ago, and the sporadic efforts to reconstruct it have been complete failures.
What are the characteristics of the democracy which we peoples of the British Empire have so inherited from our forbears, English, Scotch, Irish, French, Dutch?
I do not believe that I need to tell you. In the first place you have heard and incredible number of speeches on this subject; in the second place, and far more important, you are intelligent men who have practised democracy as a form of government all your lives. Perhaps you will forgive me if I tell you my private formula. Democracy to me is the only kind of government in which law and liberty can be reconciled. (Applause) I know perfectly well that we have made mistakes. I know that sometimes laws have invaded liberty. I know that sometimes liberty has defied law. Yet all these mistakes have been remedied. We have suffered, often for years, before they have been remedied, but a democratic people is like a man with a strong constitution; it has the power within itself to throw off its sicknesses.
That is what a nation such as Germany or Russia cannot do. Firstly, National Socialism and Communism are both based, as I have already said, on control by a group. Secondly, as I have also said, neither the German nor the Russian peoples have any democratic traditions. Read the history of Lenin's rise to power in Russia and the history of Hitler's success in Germany-you will find that the stories are completely parallel and that there is nothing democratic about them. Both are stories of organized minority group successes; I could use a more unpleasant name but I will not.
I said a moment ago that a democracy can throw off its sicknesses: Now our Canadian democracy is faced with two dangers, and one danger is far greater than the other. There is a danger, there is always a danger in times like these, that public apathy will have the same effect on Canada as it has had before, that we shall leave all the work and all the responsibility and all the decisions to a few people. Up to a certain point that is what we must do, but I am not really afraid of that danger at all. Some are exaggerating it for their own ends, and some of us are inclined to believe them. As for myself, I have complete faith in our own peoples with a thousand years of democracy in their blood. No government of any country in the Empire will ever get away altogether from that tradition. (Applause)
There is another danger and of this danger we should be very much afraid. The danger is that evil shepherds masquerading as wise leaders will guide a large and ever larger number of sheep into the way that leads to destruction. I do not need to tell you how the propaganda is produced. The favourite subject at present is conscription. I could say quite a lot about conscription with which a good many of you would not agree. I shall venture on just two statements. First of all, we never needed conscription in the last war. We had more volunteers than we ever had men in France. Why we had conscription I do not know, but I know that the law was not applied in the same way in different places.
Secondly, we need fifty men in Canada for every fighting man serving in the forces. That is where the position of Canada is completely different to that of England or France. We shall, I am certain, find a very large proportion of the future Air Force, but we must have ten or twelve men on the ground in Canada for every pilot. You see just as well as I do where this argument leads. The proportion of those who will fight to those who may take some other part is entirely different to what it was in 1917. You cannot conscript for one job without conscripting for every job.
Both the present Government and the present Opposition see this perfectly clearly, and have declared that no conscription will be necessary and that there will be none. In spite of this, some people have sedulously spread among our youth the notion that Canada must have an enormous force and that conscription must be enforced. Those magi have said it so it must be true. The result is that a great many young people are setting forth a programme against conscription.
You gentlemen call yourselves an Empire Club, and I am sure that you are loyal to your name. I am sure that you value and will continue to value this democratic empire. We all have tasks ready to our hands. If you are looking for a place in this democratic empire where democracy need be guarded, where the evil shepherds are at work, you need not look at Dutch-English South Africa, you need not look at Labour-controlled New Zealand, you need not look at French-Canadian Quebec, you need look no farther than the County of York. (Applause-prolonged)
THE CHAIRMAN: Gentlemen, I am going to ask the Honourable Dr. Bruce to say a word of thanks to the speaker.
HONOURABLE DR. BRUCE: Mr. Chairman, Gentlemen: Very little need be said by me in an expression of thanks to Colonel Bovey for his very admirable and scholarly address. Colonel Bovey served in the last war from its inception until two years after its close. He occupied the very important post of an A.C.M.G. and was closely associated with the late General Sir Arthur Currie. Not only had he that intimate association with General Currie during the war, but General Currie, knowing of his great ability, induced him to become associated with him in McGill University following the war, where he has been ever since 1923 in charge of External relations, a position in McGill similar to that occupied by our own Mr. Dunlop in Toronto.
We are very pleased also to have a gentleman from McGill University address us in Toronto. As you all know, McGill is a very great University, and second only to the University of Toronto. After listening to this very able address I am sure you will all appreciate why Colonel Bovey was selected as President of the Canadian Association for Adult Education, and why he is so competent to be now in charge of the educational arrangements which are being made, or have been made by the Canadian Legion. Like Colonel Bovey, Mr. Dunlop is in charge of that work for the Province of Ontario.
We thank you Colonel Bovey most heartily for your very splendid address, and I wish to tell you how delighted some of your old soldier friends are to see you looking so well and able to be with us today. (Applause)
THE CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Dr. Bruce, and Colonel Bovey.