The Meaning of the Empire Today
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The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 27 Sep 1920, p. 312-323


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Cave, Rt. Hon. Viscount, Speaker
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Text
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Speeches
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The speaker at the end of an experience of a railroad journey of 8,000 miles through Canada, the memory of which will remain with him for the rest of his life. The speaker’s wish that all members of the Imperial Cabinet would pay a visit to Canada and that some of our Statesmen would return the call. The importance of getting to know each other better. Finding a strong Imperial spirit today. What the word Empire means to us; its historical origins. Ways in which the British race has given a new meaning to the word Empire. The British Empire the result not of conquest but of expansion. Noting that the addition of territory to the British Empire, however brought about, has generally been followed at a shorter or longer interval by the institution of self-government. A new process developed in more recent years: autonomy followed by co-operation; the greater the measure of autonomy, the stronger the tendency towards co-operation. An example to be found in the confederation of the states or provinces into Dominions, as in Canada. The even closer bond in The Union of South Africa. A greater union yet in that constellation of nations which is called the British Empire. The Crown as the formal bond; the Imperial Conference as its common Parliament; the Imperial War Cabinet has been its only Executive. Hope that hereafter the Imperial War Cabinet will be the Imperial Cabinet. The essence of both these bodies that the consultation which there takes place shall be voluntary; that the statesmen of the Empire who there meet for mutual information and advice shall remain free to act as they think fit, responsible only to the nations who send them there. A quotation from a speech made by Sir Robert Borden in 1917, expressing this idea. Much learned in the last half-century as to the true relations between the mother country and the Dominions. What the British Empire means to us in 1920.
Date of Original:
27 Sep 1920
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English
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Full Text
THE MEANING OF THE EMPIRE TODAY
AN ADDRESS DELIVERED BY THE
RT. HON. VISCOUNT CAVE
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto,
Thursday, September 27, 1920

PRESIDENT HEWITT, in introducing the speaker, said,-

Gentlemen, we are delighted at all times to have the opportunity of showing appreciation of great services rendered to our country or to our Empire. We have been favoured in the past days with some very able men, men who have served their countries and their Empire well. I question if at any' time we have had a more outstanding representative of that class of Empire citizens than we have in our guest of today, Viscount Cave. (Applause) We look upon him as a splendid type of progressive-the right kind of progressive. He began his career by doing the thing that was at his hand to do, and has progressed from a very simple form of service to the more complex kind, and the more valuable kind to the Empire. Viscount Cave is a man with greatly diversified interests, not satisfied with merely the practice of his profession as a successful Barrister. Beginning as a member of the Richmond Vestry, which afterwards became the Richmond Borough Council, and later elected as Member of Parliament for Kingston and Richmond divisions of Surrey, Viscount Cave took an exceptional interest in all the organizations which had to do with the public life of England. He was ViceChairman of his County Council for twenty years, and was for ten years recorder of the quarter sessions and Vice-Chairman of the General Sessions of -his County. He was Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee appointed to reform the land laws of England, and as a result of the work of this Committee very substantial reforms will shortly be made. During the war he was Chairman of the Prize Court, dealing with enemy ships, and was in the advisory council that had to do with the organization of the country for war. Viscount Cave held the office of Secretary for the Home Department and continued that office until the close of the war, and is now a very important member of the Privy Council. As you know, Viscount Cave since coming over to this continent has made important addresses before the American Bar Association and also before the Canadian Bar Association. We are glad to have with us today members of our own Canadian judiciary and representatives of the legal profession to join in our welcome to Viscount Cave, whom we shall hear today with very great pleasure as the speaker on "The Meaning of 'Empire' today." I have much pleasure in introducing Viscount Cave. (Loud applause, the audience rising and giving three cheers)

RT. HON. VISCOUNT CAVE

Mr. President and Gentlemen, I have heard much about the Empire Club, and I am glad that my last speech, or what I conceive to be my last speech in Canada, should be delivered here. I am at the end of an experience of a railroad journey of 8,000 miles through Canada, the memory of which will, I believe, be with me during what remains of my life. It is true that the time which I have been able to spend here is comparatively short, and I do not imagine that I have learned more than a fraction of what is to be known, about this great Dominion; and I have not the least intention of, writing a book about it. (Laughter) But nevertheless, I feel that even in this short visit I have learned more about Canada than I could have learned from books in a life-time. I have said elsewhere 'that in my opinion every Member of the body to which I have the honour to belong-the judicial Committee of the Privy Council should consider it part of his duty to pay a visit to this Dominion. (Hear, hear, and applause) He would be all the better for knowing something at first hand both of the country itself and of the people who make it what. it is. I say the same now of every Statesman who is a member, or is at all likely to be a. member, of the Imperial Cabinet; I wish that they would all in turn pay a visit to Canada, and that some of your Statesmen would return the call. (Applause) I think that if all of them would do so we should in every way know each other better than we do. For myself, it has been a great experience to see something of the vast expanses of this Dominion and learn more about its great natural resources and about the work of development which has been proceeding with such rapid strides. It has also been a happiness to speak with many Canadians in all occupations of life; and I have been impressed not only with the wealth of natural resources but with the spirit of the people. I have found a Canadian spirit which makes you justly proud of Canada and ambitious for her future. I have found also a British spirit which keeps alive your pride in the Old Country from which you or your ancestors came. (Applause) And I found an Imperial spirit strong today, and daily growing stronger, which makes you glad to be members of that great Union of Nations which is called the British Empire. (Hear, hear and applause)

Gentlemen, after such an experience I would much rather listen to what you might tell me than endeavour to speak to you. I am in sympathy with the old philosopher who desired these words written upon his tomb-"I died learning"-but you have asked me to address you, and I must do my best. I have chosen as my subject one which may .be of interest to members of this Club"The Meaning of 'Empire' today." In dealing with this question I have no rhetoric to give you, indeed I never had any, but I shall be content if I am able to .put before you some new thoughts, or to lend further interest to those which are already in your minds.

There are some people in our time who boggle at the word"Empire." You do not: nor do I-(hear, hear)-for we know what it means to us. In its origin the word denoted dominance or command, and history has many instances of Empire in that sense of the word. Rome sent her legions to conquer, to annex, and to exact tribute. Spain sent her! ships to crush, to plunder, and to exploit. Austria acted upon the principle, "divide et impera." Napoleon was consumed by that thirst for power which in the end destroyed him; and William II of Germany, forsaking the old German spirit which found its centre at Weimar, put himself at the head of those who sought to make of Germany a parvenu empire of self-styled supermen, lording it over other countries. He struck for "World Empire or Downfall"-and he found one of them. (Laughter)

It seems to me, Gentlemen, that the British race has given a new meaning to the word Empire. The British Empire is in the main the result, not of conquest, but of expansion. I do not know whether you have read a book by Professor Seely called "The Expansion of England." If not, I hope you will take the opportunity of reading it, for it contains a thought which is worthy of your consideration. No doubt British territory has from time to time been acquired in war, but if so, the acquisition of territory was not the purpose of the war but was an incident in some greater war of self-preservation. For instance, the cession of a part of lower Canada was but an incident in the great wars with France; the taking over of Cape Colony was an incident in our wars with the Dutch; and recent annexations on the African Continent are but an incident, an unforeseen incident, of 'the great war with Germany. Conquest and annexation, though, have not been the purpose of our wars, and they have been accepted often somewhat reluctantly as a consequence of them. Speaking generally, by far the greater part of the British Empire has been built up not by soldiers, but by settlers. The country has become ours, yours and mine, not by the conquests of men, but by the hard-won victory over the difficulties of nature.

In the second place, it is worth noticing that the addition of territory to the British Empire, however brought about, has generally been followed, at a shorter or longer interval, by the institution of self-government. It is recognized throughout the world that there is no better Colonist than the British Colonist. He has no desire to domineer over others, but is ready to give justice and fair play to all. He does not blindly impose his own law, and would rather adopt and administer the existing law of the country. It was remarkable-and I saw something of it-how at the end of ,the recent great war the call everywhere was for the British soldier to go and keep the peace in one country after another until the final settlement could be made. (Applause) Indeed, I remember a protest being made by our Prime Minister in the British Cabinet against the view that we could spare soldiers for this kind of work in every part of the world. It was recognized that the British soldier would do his work efficiently and with good temper, and would want nothing for himself except that he might get home as soon as possible. So, during the building up of our Empire, it has been our role to give self-government as soon as possible. Where other races form the larger portion of the population, the process has been a gradual one; and this holds true both of India and of some of the Crown Colonies. But where a white race has been in the majority, autonomy has been given quickly and with both hands. When a country has been held by men of British blood, this has been a matter of course. It would be absurd in the present day to speak of Britain as owning Australia or any other part of the great self-governing Dominions; they are sister nations of the Empire. And even where the population of a territory has not been mainly British, but has been white, the same course has been followed. Now, a striking instance is that of South Africa, where within a few years after an inter-racial war, autonomy was granted, and where today those who were our chief and most gallant opponents in that war hold the highest offices in the territory where it was waged. (Applause) That is, I believe, the British way.

In more recent years a new process has developed itself. Autonomy leas been followed by co-operation, and the greater the measure of autonomy, the stronger the tendency towards cooperation. One example of that tendency is found in the confederation of the states or provinces into Dominions. Canada became a province arid then a Dominion. The states of Australia voluntarily united in a Commonwealth. The territories in South Africa, lately at war with one another, have entered into an even closer bond, and have become "The Union of South Africa." And today we see, forming almost before our eyes, a greater union-that constellation of nations which is called the British Empire. (Hear, hear) It has no formal bond except that of the Crown; its only common Parliament is that consultative body known as the Imperial Conference; its only Executive has been the Imperial War Cabinet, and I hope will hereafter be the Imperial Cabinet-(hear, hear, and applause); and it is of the essence of both these bodies that the consultation which there takes place shall be voluntary, and that statesmen of the Empire who there meet for mutual information and advice shall remain free to act as they think fit, and shall be responsible only to the nations who send them there.

I have quoted elsewhere, but should like to quote again, a few sentences from a speech made by Sir Robert Borden in the year 1917, in which he expressed this idea better than I have seen it expressed elsewhere. He said

"For the first time in the Empire's history there are sitting in London two Cabinets, both properly constituted and both exercising well-defined powers. Over each of them the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom presides. One of them is designated as the 'War Cabinet' which chiefly devotes itself to such questions touching the prosecution of the war as primarily concern the United Kingdom. The other is designated as the 'Imperial War Cabinet' which has a wider purpose, jurisdiction and personnel. To its deliberations have been summoned representatives of all the Empire's self-governing Dominions. We meet there on terms of equality under the presidency of the First Minister of the United Kingdom; we meet there as equals, he is primus inter pares. Ministers from six nations sit around the Council Board, all of them responsible to their respective Parliaments and to the people of the countries which they represent. Each nation has its voice upon questions. of common concern and highest importance as the deliberations proceed; each preserves unimpaired its perfect autonomy, its self-government, and the responsibility of its Ministers to their own electorate. For many years the thought of statesmen and students in every part of the Empire has centered around the question of future constitutional relations; it may be that now, as in the past, the necessity imposed by great events has given the answer."

I do not think that the matter could be better put than in those well-thought-out sentences of Sir Robert Borden. (Applause) Of course, the Empire must have a centre; and you will forgive me, as an Englishman, for saying that at this time, until you hurry up with your population, the centre can be nowhere but in the Old Country. (Applause) The whole history of our race, the prestige of a nation great through centuries of history, the preponderance of population, designate as the nerve-centre of our Empire the little island pictured 'by Shakespeare in those thrilling lines

This Royal .Throne of Kings; this sceptred isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise; This fortress, built by nature for herself, Against infection and the hand of war; This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea.

(Applause) But, if England leads, as your late Prime Minister said, she is primus inter pares; and the statesmen of the selfgoverning Dominions come there, not to listen to her decisions but to discuss with her and to decide with her the great- Imperial issues.

If, in the last half-century, we have learned much as to the true relations between the mother country and the Dominions, you also have learned something. Goldwin Smiths may exist today in Canada, but if so, they are notable more for their rarity than for any other quality. (Laughter) They are like some old postage stamps which are of interest to collectors because there are so few of them. (Laughter) The great mass of men both here and at home realize that to destroy or weaken the links which bind us, and make us strong, would be the height of folly, would indeed be treachery to our race. (Applause)

My friend, Lord Desborough, spoke here a few days ago of the value of team-play in sport, and no one could be more competent to speak of it than that fine sportsman arid stouthearted man. Among the British nations also there must be team-work, and it is only if we play for the team that we shall win. But all this you know full well; and if there is any place in the world where any attempt to weaken the links of Empire is doomed to failure, I believe that that place is Canada. (Applause)

And so I conclude where I began. The British Empire to us in 1920 means, not conquest or possession, or exploitation, but that great union of self-governing territories and of territories working towards self-government of which the foundation is the British spirit of sturdy independence and fair consideration for others, and of which the fruit is liberty. It is in that sense that we understand and hail Lord Beaconsfield's quotation, "Imperium et Libertas"--"Empire and Liberty." "Empire" means to us the coalition of free nations in one great body, banded together under one king to secure the liberty of all. (Loud applause)

PRESIDENT HEWITT: Mr. Justice Riddell has consented to express the thanks of this Club to Viscount Cave for his address.

MR. JUSTICE RIDDELL

Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen, I am under strict injunctions not to exceed five minutes, and I shall see that I obey my instructions. As you have said, we have listened-you, as host and some of us as guests-to very many excellent addresses by very many men of high standing; and I think I express the feelings of this audience--I know I express my own-when I say that the address to which we have just listened yields to none in importance, interest or value, and the gentleman who has spoken is no less than any of those whom we have heard. (Applause) The noble and learned gentleman has spoken about the British Empire, of which we are all proud, chiefly because it is not an Empire at all. We know that the Holy Roman Empire was so called because it was not holy, it was not Roman, and it was not an Empire. (Laughter) The British Empire is not quite the same; it is not an Empire in any true sense; but it is, thank God, and please God ever will be, intensely British. (Hear, hear, and applause)

Being asked to move a vote of thanks to Lord Cave, my mind is instinctively taken back to the last occasion upon which I heard a vote of thanks moved to Lord Cave for an address which he had made, when a matter was raised which is still highly contentious; and it may not be out of place for me to say a word on that, considering the learned Lord's position as a member of the judicial Committee of the Privy Council. So far, at all events, the position of the Privy Council in respect of Canada has not become a matter of party politics, or of politics at all, and therefore I am at liberty to speak of it as a Canadian and as a Britisher at the same time. If the time will come, as it doubtless will, when the matter becomes of political import, political combat, then-unless in the meantime I should be starved off the Bench and driven to some other occupation to support myself and those who depend upon me-my lips will be closed; but for the time being, at all events, I may say what I have to say. (Laughter and applause) Sir, before I was elevated to the Bench-in Canada we use the word "elevate" to the Bench, because elevation to the Bench imports that the elevated has the following day a sort of "morning after the night before"(laughter)-like those who were elevated in the olden days before the Ontario Temperance Act made us all virtuous-before I was elevated to the Bench I was an energetic follower of a political party the members of which lived in peace and happiness, mutually respected by and respecting their follow-Canadians, but as soon as an election was called on, they were at once charged with annexation tendencies, pro-American tendencies. Now, it is perfectly certain that the proposition of my friend Mr. Raney will be considered pro-American, anti-British; but let me assure you it is nothing of the kind. Those who know my friend, the Attorney-General of the Province of Ontario, know 'that he is as intensely British as I am, or as you are. (Hear, hear, and applause) He has shown the faith that is in him when he gave his dearly beloved boy to die for the Empire, and that is as high a test, I think, as we can make. Let no man believe that the proposition to remove Canadian appeals from the cognizance of the Imperial Privy Council is a step towards separating Canada from the British Empire. (Hear, hear) A Canadian question may be properly discussed, and discussed on all sides, and it will be dealt with and disposed of by Canadians as Canadians. So far as I am myself concerned, I thank God that we have at the present time the judicial Committee of the Privy Council. (Applause) I thank that great Tribunal for the judgments that they have delivered, which are full of sound law-I am always supported, I may say-(laughter)sound sense, .and good English-(hear, hear)-all of which we do not always meet in judgments of any Court with which I am acquainted. (Laughter) Not that I would have you think it is an ideal Court; it is not. The system is not ideal. But what do we care for idealism-we English-speaking people, we Britishers? A Frenchman will fight two duels before breakfast at any time for a principle. The Britisher doesn't care-I shall not say what T was going to say (laughter); my Lord Bishop, 1 know, will excuse me-for a principle. We ask ourselves, "Does it work all right? Does it bring out the proper result?" and if the proper result comes in practice we don't care tuppence-now, there is a proper phrase. (Laughter) As things stand, His Majesty's subjects throughout the world, wherever the map is painted red the British Isles, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the Islands of the Sea-are divided into two classes, Those who live in the British Isles alone-not the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands-have their ultimate Court of Appeal in the House of Lords. Those who are not sentenced to live in the British Isles, who live in the rest of the British world, have their ultimate Court of Appeal in the judicial Committee of the Privy Council; and those two great Courts are almost identical in membership. There is just enough of difference between the two to make a difference. Englishmen, Irishmen, and Scotchmen sit in appeal from Canadian cases; Englishmen, Irishmen and Scotchmen sit in appeal from English, Irish and Scotch cases. Burt no Canadian sits there. If we are going to have full fellowship, sisterhood, between all the self-governing nations of the British Empire, the ideal system is to have one ultimate Court of Appeal, composed of the House of Lords and the Lords of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. That would be the ideal. But in the meantime, until we can get something better-I speak solely for myself, although perhaps also for most of you-for Heaven's sake let us hang on to that Court which has been so useful to us in the past (applause) and will be equally useful to us in the future. But don't look upon those who advocate something different as desiring to separate Canada from the British Empire, as desiring to tear the British Empire in pieces. That talk we had when Canada sought and obtained self-government; when she sought and obtained firs constitutional government as early as 1837; which she got in 1840, when she sought and obtained the united form of self-government; when in 186677 she became the Dominion of Canada; when, she sought and obtained for us greater self-government during the war which is just past. But, Sir, let nobody believe, come what may, but that the worst thing which could befall the world would be the breaking up of the British Empire, the greatest agency for good the world has ever seen. (Hear, hear and loud applause) While we insist upon our right to govern ourselves, while we do not admit that our British friends across the sea know better how to govern Canada than we Canadians, and while we insist and have insisted for half a century on governing ourselves, we likewise insist upon retaining our share of the old flag, our share of British traditions. The flag that braved a thousand years the battle and the breeze is our flag, the glorious and supreme emblem, the banner of our liberty, and we will never give it up until the last Canadian who could carry a gun is dead. (Applause)

I am afraid I have trespassed upon your good nature. I have the greatest pleasure in moving a hearty vote of thanks of this Club to our fellow-Britisher, Viscount Cave, who has spoken to us so acceptably this -afternoon. (Loud, applause)

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The Meaning of the Empire Today


The speaker at the end of an experience of a railroad journey of 8,000 miles through Canada, the memory of which will remain with him for the rest of his life. The speaker’s wish that all members of the Imperial Cabinet would pay a visit to Canada and that some of our Statesmen would return the call. The importance of getting to know each other better. Finding a strong Imperial spirit today. What the word Empire means to us; its historical origins. Ways in which the British race has given a new meaning to the word Empire. The British Empire the result not of conquest but of expansion. Noting that the addition of territory to the British Empire, however brought about, has generally been followed at a shorter or longer interval by the institution of self-government. A new process developed in more recent years: autonomy followed by co-operation; the greater the measure of autonomy, the stronger the tendency towards co-operation. An example to be found in the confederation of the states or provinces into Dominions, as in Canada. The even closer bond in The Union of South Africa. A greater union yet in that constellation of nations which is called the British Empire. The Crown as the formal bond; the Imperial Conference as its common Parliament; the Imperial War Cabinet has been its only Executive. Hope that hereafter the Imperial War Cabinet will be the Imperial Cabinet. The essence of both these bodies that the consultation which there takes place shall be voluntary; that the statesmen of the Empire who there meet for mutual information and advice shall remain free to act as they think fit, responsible only to the nations who send them there. A quotation from a speech made by Sir Robert Borden in 1917, expressing this idea. Much learned in the last half-century as to the true relations between the mother country and the Dominions. What the British Empire means to us in 1920.