- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 10 Jan 1910, p. 89-101
- Foster, Hon. George E., Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- The trend of Empire, which interests us all but not, as far as the speaker is concerned, as much as it ought. Ways in which the Empire of Great Britain is unique. The trend of Empire divided into three parts: the long, long period of preparation; the period of wonderful and unexampled expansion, which is a comparatively short period; the present period in which we live, in which it would seem that the old lust for conquest has given way entirely to a period of consolidation and development. In that last period three different trends, which the speaker calls the trend of Empire. They are: the trend towards the ever-growing freedom and comparative autonomy of the different units of the Empire; the trend towards keeping up what already is perhaps the dominant idea— a co-ordination of all the units of the Empire in a central and Imperial system; that which compels us, and holds us towards the centre of the Empire and binds us together into one. All that we have today absolutely proffered and thrown upon us as the result of a policy which is as wide as the Empire is and which is as old as this period of organization and consolidation to which the speaker has referred. The third trend which we ought not to lose sight of: A perceptible advance in one direction, a continuous well-defined, absolutely evident progress in this, that the enfranchised, and the enfreedomed units of the Empire have been constantly asked to take greater participation and greater interest in the Imperial direction of affairs, within the Empire as a whole. The gaining of our fiscal autonomy: asking in what way we have gained it, and what it is. The speaker's response and review. Remembering that whilst we talk of our freedom and our autonomy, we must limit it by a phrase; a constitutional and local autonomy that we have, and only have and can only have, and it is an autonomy which was given to us by the highest power of the Empire itself. The issue of Parliamentary representation. The speaker's whole argument today that the time has come when we should take these matters into serious consideration, and know as far as we possibly can where we are bound for and be able to ask for a ticket to a place for which we are heading, and to which we wish to get. Holding to the Imperial trend. The speaker's wish to see Canada, Australia, South Africa, and the other co-ordinated parts of the Empire all working together on common Christian lines, to push forward this Evangel of Empire and civilization and Christianity which we have known so much of in the past, which has done such a great work for the world of the past, and which ought to do an infinitely greater work for the world of the future.
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- 10 Jan 1910
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- THE TREND OF EMPIRE.
An Address by the HON. GEORGE E. FOSTER, M.P., before the Empire Club of Canada, on Jan. l0th, 1910.
Mr. President and Gentlemen,--
"The Trend of Empire" is as good a phrase as any to indicate the thought that I shall endeavour to place before you. The trend of Empire interests us all, but interests none of us so much, I take leave to say, as I think it ought to. That is excusable for several reasons--the busy work of busy men, in a busy age, precludes them from giving as much solitary thought and consecutive thought to questions lying outside their sphere of business as they otherwise might do or as good citizens of the Empire they ought to do. In looking at the Empire of Great Britain we are accustomed to say that it is unique; I think that is the word that has been used to denominate it. Unique particularly in its origin, certainly in its developments and its results and, possibly, most unique of all in the marvellous facility it has of adapting itself to constantly changing and varying conditions. The British constitution is a wonderful constitution in that respect.
The trend of Empire divides itself into three parts; the first is the long, long period of preparation in which the old Briton and Roman, the old Saxon and Celt, the old Norman and-Norseman pitted their forces in opposition or combined their forces together, over a period of many, many centuries, within the territorial limits of the Islands, themselves making preparation for that vast expansion which was later to be. I simply note that without going into particulars. The next period is the period of wonderful and unexampled expansion, which when you take the dates of history, is a very short period, comparatively speaking. That expansion has been tremendous. It is as though all the preparations of centuries developed force and energy and the spirit of adventure, and the spirit of conquest and organization which all at once burst its bounds and centered itself over the face of the known world, appropriating possession after possession, almost continent after continent, and showing the seeds of the wonderful British Empire which exists today and of which we are all so proud. That period of expansion can have no more of our time today. If we dwelt upon it, it would take more than the allotted time.
Following that period of expansion is the present period in which we live, in which it would seem that the old lust for conquest, so far as it ever existed in the Saxon, has given way entirely, as it were, played itself out in its work and given way to a period of consolidation and development. And for the last century and during this century more particularly, that is, the period in which we are living, and in which this Empire is working, the period of consolidation and of development, accompanied by the appropriate organization to bring about that consolidation, and to press forward that development of all the parts of the Empire-in this period of consolidation and development and the organization which is working thereto there are, it seems to me, three different trends, and these I call the trend of Empire.
The first is the trend towards the ever-growing freedom and comparative autonomy of the different units of the Empire. The old possession, held lightly, has been turned into a more or less organized and settled portion of the Empire. Out of it has been carved the Crown colonies, the self-governing Colonies, the great protectorates of Egypt and of India, and that other stage in which we find the separate units, in so far as the geography and other conditions assist, being united into federations. Such, for example, is the Canadian confederation, the Australian federation and the latest and last, the South African organization, in which the different self-governing units have massed themselves together in a more complex and more co-ordinate system, and so are leading out into the general development and consolidation of the Empire on the best possible lines.
But that is one trend. These different steps and stages of freedom which have resulted in Canada, in Australia, in South Africa, and the self-governing Dominions, into a local autonomy almost absolute and perfect in itself, has been a most wonderful development in the history of the Empire. To leave that without dwelling longer upon it than to suggest it, let me call your attention to the fact that along side of that there is another trend, equally positive, equally universal, and equally essential to the permanance and stability of Empire. That is the trend towards, keeping up what, already, is perhaps the dominant idea--namely a co-ordination of all the units of the Empire in a central and Imperial system. There you, see what we have in the great universe about us; this earth has its revolution upon its axis, its change of seasons, but the earth in its orbit, where it is autonomous and undisputed so to speak, finds that over and above it there is a greater and stronger power which keeps it coordinated with the centre of its system; and so with all our systems as with the central system of the universe. These planets of ours would soon riot and result in the destruction of one another if it were not for that central co-ordinating power which holds them together in the great universe. And as well, though in quite a different sense, these different units of Empire might cause great damage to one another and be productive of great weakness in the whole if, whilst they had their own well-constituted orbits, there was not still a central power which held them to the Imperial whole, and so coordinated them along the path and line of Empire.
Where we sometimes are apt to make mistakes is that we fix our minds too much upon either the one or the other of these without holding the balance well between the two. We are proud of our freedom. Take Canada, for instance. We talk about our constitutional position, about our being free, about our self-development, about our own powers being unshackled. We are proud of it; we boast of it; we vaunt it; and within reason that is right. But we make a substantial mistake if, whilst we speak of that and dwell upon that, we do not give prominence to the other trend and central idea of this great Empire of ours, namely, that which compels us, and holds us towards the centre of the Empire, and binds us together into one. Now in all this that has happened, do not let us be led away with the false idea that it has been a kind of a warfare, a strenuous contest, that we have, as it were, wrenched from Great Britain these liberties that we have. History denies that. Fact is against it. It is easy for a man in making the most of what he holds to be the great privileges of government that this country enjoys, to represent them as having been forced from an unwilling central authority. Let us get rid of that idea. All this strength, and power, and fullness of freedom that we today possess, has not been wrenched from a foreign or from an uncongenial or a stingy source. It has been absolutely proffered and thrown, as it were, upon us as the result of a policy which is as wide as the Empire is and which is as old as this period of organization and consolidation and development of which I have spoken.
We are not wise in going back to the most ignorant, the most tyrannical, most autocratical periods. We must give all due weight to the progress of principles and of ideas. I am right, I think, in saying that in this last period of which I am speaking, we have not in any sense had to wrest these things from an unwilling authority. We have simply got them in the progress of a great policy which has been adopted by the thinkers and the statesmen of Great Britain. Nor have we been unhelped and unaided in the organization which, with these great powers, we have taken part in, and wherein we have played a very successful part. In the consolidation of Canada as in the consolidation of Australia and of South Africa, the British Government, the main force and influence of the Empire, has been a uniform and helping hand in bringing about the actual accomplishment in each and in every case. They have aided us by their counsels. They have given us of the depth of that accumulated political wisdom which the Empire has, through a long series of centuries, laid up for itself, and which today as though in a great laboratory, is stored for the benefit of those who come after us as well as of the workers of today. In the development of Canada, of Australia, of every self-governing part of the Empire, not only has Great Britain not been unwilling, but British capital, British enterprise, and British vigour and adventure have played a most important part in the development which these different organized communities have been enabled to carry out for themselves.
We, I want to re-inforce the idea with which I commenced, have been dealing with a Mother and not with an alien or a foreigner. Whatever has come in the way of freedom has come in some cases, before it was given, in others as the subject of inquiry and of deliberate examination, against the outcome of decisions based upon that broad and enlightened policy which has dominated the Empire for the last hundred years. Now I want to say that discernable along with both of these trends there is, I think, a third trend which we ought not to lose sight of, that is this: whilst in no case has the Imperial authority opposed itself to what the development of the self-governing powers of the different units of the Empire, but has rather extended to them the sympathetic and helpful hand; whilst there has been kept, on the other hand, the co-ordinating power of the Empire as a whole drawing and binding together the different units; there has been a perceptible advance in one direction, a continuous well-defined, absolutely evident progress in this, that the enfranchised, and the enfreedomed units of the Empire have been constantly asked to take greater participation and greater interest in the Imperial direction of affairs, within the Empire as a whole.
I do not know whether I have made it clear, but to me it is an important thing. To the man who would say, "see what we have gained from the Empire," and hold up these things that I have been talking of, and who would go, as I think, a little too far in saying that these have been wrested from the Empire, I would raise this point, or I would uphold that other side of the shield, and ask where has opposition been shown to the development of your freedom, where has the Imperial entity, so to speak, which was interested in keeping the parts together and binding them all into one great whole opposed your progress; where has it shown a stingy reserve in barring you out, after having given you those full liberties, from having a constantly increasing and greater share in the Imperial whole, in influencing it, in participating in its work, in becoming influential units in the decision of great Imperial questions and the administration of the Empire as a whole.
Now this third point is an important thing, it seems to me, for us to constantly remember. And it sums up what is the trend of Empire, in my mind, the greatest broadening, the constantly broadening, freedom of self-government in each unit; along side of that the careful holding of the cords that bind all together into one Imperial whole; with it an ever-outstretched invitation to everyone of these enfranchised and enfreedomed units, that they shall come into the direction of Imperial affairs and take more and more their place, by opinion, by suggestion, and by actual consultation and even beyond that. These are the lines upon which it seems to me we are trending.
Now, Mr. President, shall I be saying too much, if I say what I hinted at a moment ago, that I think some rather foolish talk, to say the best of it, and not the worst of it, has been indulged in by ourselves-we will say, for the sake of not having any quarrel later amongst ourselves, foolish talk, and even mischievious talk, along the line of which I hinted a moment ago. Now these say, and talk in this wise--"See what we have wrested from the Imperial Power." I have touched upon that. "We have gained our fiscal autonomy," they say. "We have gained our political autonomy," they add. "We have indicated our autonomy in the matter of the negotiation of treaties with foreign nations," they go on. "We have got even our Naval autonomy," they now declare. The latest addition of all is this, that I have heard is that we practically have our autonomy in national and international relations. After this about all that we have to do when we bow the knee to King Edward, is to salute him, not as our Sovereign, but as our Suzerain. I take leave to say that this is foolish talk, if that is all that is meant, not only foolish, but mischievious. It tends to create false impressions; and false impressions created at this particular time in Canada, with our flooding immigration from all countries under the sun and with our changing and mobile conditions, are, if false, far-reaching in consequences and may be fraught with some danger and some difficulty, in the after time.
Let me, just for one moment, take up these three or four points. We have gained our fiscal autonomy. Yes, and in what way have we gained it, and what is it? We had it by virtue of an Imperial Act of Parliament, the action of the supreme authority itself. We have our political autonomy, and we carry on our affairs accordingly; but under what right and by what charter excepting the right and charter of the Confederation Act, which is an Act signed by the Soveriegn's own hand, which is an emanation of the highest parliamentary power of the Empire. That is how we have it, and why we have it. We have, say some, fiscal autonomy as well as political autonomy, and we have also now the right to make our own treaties with foreign nations. That is not true, it is an absolute misrepresentation. There is but one power in the British Empire, which can make, and sign, and give effect to a treaty, and that is the Sovereign power, and whatever we are in Canada, we are not a Sovereign power. That is again a development of the very same, wise policy, of which I spoke a moment ago.
When Canadian interests came to be important, and when negotiations were on where Canadian interests were strongly in evidence, then the British Government took a step forward. It is said: "We think we ought to have advice from Canada, or Australia, or other self-governing countries," and they took advice. They then went a step forward in the course of evolution
"We think we ought to have a representative, or a statesman, or knowledgeable person from that Dominion, or that unit, to sit with us; and to have the benefit of his advice, and of his knowledge, and they have later (in 1893) taken the final and most forward step that under our constitution they can take, that is by making representatives of the Dominion the negotiators for His Majesty, the Plenipotentiaries of the Crown, and associating them with their own representatives in the negotiation, and the practical conclusion of a treaty. Yet that is not an absolute autonomy in treaty-making, and to represent it so, is to create a false impression, which is very apt to lead up to consequences, that as I said, are far-reaching. I think we have to remember these things; whilst we talk of our freedom and our autonomy, we must limit it by a phrase. It is a constitutional and local autonomy that we have, and only have and can only have, and it is well to remember the fact that it is an autonomy which was given to us by the highest power of the Empire itself.
So, I say, that if these words are used without being fraught with meaning, if they are simple rhetorical phrases, if they are simply a little florid adornment to a speech at a banquet or elsewhere, if they serve, as it were, like pepper and such things either to season the dish, and make it for the time being a little more stinging and palatable it may be all right, but still, I think, a little foolish, and apt to be mischievious, though we will not quarrel greatly with it. But if these words are meant to convey what they do mean; if they are studied, and serious, then I think they merit more than the epithet of foolish and mischievious, and verge very strongly indeed upon the revolutionary; for Sir, we cannot have an absolute autonomy in any of these particulars and remain within the boundaries of the Empire itself. We can have all these things if we wish, we can have all these autonomies to their perfect fulfillment, but we can have them only on one condition, that is that we step out from the Empire and declare ourselves to be independent. Then we can elect our own presidents, then we can make our own treaties, then we can have our perfect political autonomy, and our political fiscal autonomy in so far as the circumstances of the world will guarantee them to us; but on no other conditions can we have these things, and I say that it is not worth while our living much longer in a fool's paradise refusing to think about these matters or to express our minds with reference to them. What we want to know is whether this talk is studied, if it has the full meaning in itself that its words would show it td have.
Possibly we have approached a position where we are obliged to think, where I am obliged to think as the descendant of an old Loyalist and a Britain to the core, where this Club is bound to think as a British Empire club, and where the people of this country are obliged Io think, as well-they who have been born in the lap and nourished in the protection and sympathetic help of the Empire, and have arrived at the stage of the fulfillment of their progress under such conditions as those I have indicated. For myself I am ready to discuss the question at any time, but what I just want to put before the minds of the members of this Club is, not to allow ourselves to drift any longer until some day we find ourselves on a vessel, the sails of which bear the unthinking and unmeaning titles and mottos which I have recited in a little degree before you today. For my own part, I am of the opinion that if it comes to the point of whether we are to break off from this Empire and enjoy what these words would seem to make us believe we already have, that if it comes to that point we are ready to decide in this country. Let me put it to any man here, you are all of you wiser than I am, most of you older than I am, (laughter) and you are business and scientific men, and you are men of knowledge, and of education. Suppose that one of you found himself down at the Union Station. You go up to the wicket and the man behind the wicket says: "Where are you going?"
"Hanged if I know where I am going."
"Well you are going somewhere?"
"Yes, I am going."
"Don't you know where you are going?" "No, I have not made tip my mind yet."
"Well, I can't sell you a ticket'.'
Or on some well-regulated road you get into the train, and the Conductor says
"Ticket, Sir." "I haven't any."
"Where are you going?"
"I don't know where I am going."
"But you are going?"
"Yes, the train is in motion; I am going."
"Well, don't you know where you are going? Where shall I put you off?"
Well, that would be rather a foolish position for a man with a well-developed brain, and fair reasoning power, to be subjected to, rather a position which he would not like to be caught in. How much better are some of us in reference to this development of Empire as to where we are going. Time was when we could be excused, because in our then stage of development, we were children and younger than we are. My whole argument today is that the time has come when we should take these matters into serious consideration, and know as far as we possibly can where we are bound for and be able to ask for a ticket to the place for which we are heading, and to which we wish to get.
Now, Mr. President and Gentlemen, that is all I have to say to you today; nothing in it that is new, nothing in it that you yourselves have not thought out a hundred times, but it is well for us to review these things now and then. Let me hand you just one other thought and it is this. I spoke of the wonderful adaptability of the British constitution to meet circumstances as they arise in the great progress of the Empire itself. One evidence comes to your minds as it comes to mine: it is the Imperial Conference. Have you thought much of it? They have met from 1887 at certain periods; they have determined now, to meet at least every four years. It has become a stated Conference in this respect that it has appointed its Secretaries and it has its staff and its rooms and has become a permanent thing. What is this Imperial Conference? It is an answer to the cry that has come up from every part of the Empire, weak at first, but growing stronger as the years passed for some mechanism or other by which the Empire as a whole could be brought together in the shape of its representative men, who could hold counsel together, and consult together for the good of the Empire as a whole. Today it is absolutely constituted, it is absolutely there, it has already printed upon history many achievements. It includes the Prime Ministers and Ministers of every self-governing dependency throughout the Empire, the Prime Minister and Ministers of Great Britain.
In London they sit down together, they have no executive power as yet, they simply have the power of examination, of swapping confidences face to face instead of seven or eight thousand miles apart, of bestowing their confidences upon each other, or withholding them. Instead of using the printed paper which is cold and distant and illogical in the extreme, they come together face to face. The highest dignitaries of every part of the Empire all animated with motives of patriotism, all statesmen more or less, and probably, taken altogether, the best representatives you could get together at any one time. They exchange-confidences; they give by word of mouth or flashes in the eye, their hopes, their desires, their conditions; they travel together in argument and examination, and consultation, and they come to a conclusion upon all subjects which admit of unanimous conclusion, and leave those that are not unanimously concluded over till a riper time and a second Conference when they may meet again and see eye to eye on some of them. That is the Imperial Conference, and in it today is centered more of the hope, more of the future possibility, more of the grand achievement, and the prominence of the Empire, as a whole, than in any other body executive or consultative that we have within the whole range of the Empire.
That is the adaptation of the British constitution on this line of Imperial work by the different constituents of the Empire. We have no Parliament in which all are represented; we possibly could not at this time have such a Parliament. This, however, is the beginning of a growth which as the Empire proceeds, will bring all of its parts closer and closer. For instance, there may be a preponderating sentiment in Canada, Australia, South Africa, against such and such development of policy. It is taken into account and perhaps the suggestion is made, and acted upon, that this shall not be pressed until we have more light and more knowledge. But there are other lines of policy upon which co-operation and copartnership are suggested and are carried out, and in this way the dominance of the Imperial idea, the strength of the Imperial bond, and as I believe it, the consequent preeminence and unity of the Empire are strongly wrought together. Let us hold to the Imperial trend. Whilst we rebate none of our powers of self-government let us joyfully enter into the invited field of influence and participation in the great affairs of the Empire by whatever mechanism the wisdom of statesmen of the Empire can invent, and so let us march onward far into that illimitable series of years which lies yet before this British Empire if it is wisely managed, properly organized, and fairly co-ordinated--that work which shall undertake the filling up of the waste places of the Empire, the development of the immense resources up to this time untouched, and which have lain untouched because of the lack of organization, of population and development.
Some men tell us that the years of this British Empire are pretty nearly numbered. To my mind it is but in its infancy. To my mind it is just organizing for the work of the future, for the work that lies before it, the work that I believe God has given it to do. If there is anything in the power that has been accumulated, in the civilization that has been concentrated, in the institutions of freedom and of law that have through centuries grown up in the British Empire and are essentially British, the future holds for these in their further development and their further power an almost illimitable field. I, for one, do not want to be shut off from entering into that field. I want to see Canada, Australia, South Africa, and by and by the other co-ordinated parts of the Empire all working together on common Christian lines, to push forward this Evangel of Empire and civilization and Christianity, which we have known so much of in the past, which has done such a great work for the world of the past, and which ought to do an infinitely greater work for the world of the future.