- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 3 Dec 1936, p. 124-137
- DeWitt, Norman Wentworth, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- The place of Canada in world history, both past and present. Two novel principles: that history, and more particularly world history, is the evolution of the unintended; that government is the administration of the unforeseen. Some illustrative examples. Ways in which we all contribute to the depression, to the economic traffic jam. The supreme example of the evolution of the unintended as the development of the British Empire itself, and how that is so. The lack of imperial design. British Imperialism as the result of Empire, not the cause of it, with examples. Canada as a by-product of the Empire, and as a by-product of the American Revolution. The third respect in which Canada is a by-product revealed in federation. Two things that Canada has contributed to the Empire; two aspects of Confederation: the adoption of the federal form of Government; Dominion status. A brief discussion of each. The different present picture. Placing Canada in the world today requiring an acquaintance with what is now called "pressure politics." Pressure politics in individual governments and also in the world at large. How the radio has diminished the opportunity of scoops for newspapers. Europe as the area of highest pressure, and of different pressures: military, political, economic and population. Asia as the second great area of high pressure and perhaps more dangerous and reaching to another area of high pressure, Russia. Two areas of extremely low pressure: the British Commonwealth of Nations and the United States. The Western Hemisphere as a second great area of low pressure. Canada overlapping both areas of low pressure. [This address ended due to a pre-announced special announcement in connection with the crisis in Great Britain by Prime Minister Baldwin of Great Britain.]
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- 3 Dec 1936
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- Full Text
- CANADA IN WORLD HISTORY
AN ADDRESS BY NORMAN WENTWORTH DEWITT, B.A., PH.D., F.R.S.C.,
Thursday, 3rd December, 1936
THE PRESIDENT: Gentlemen, before proceeding with today's luncheon, I wish to announce that the Rt. Hon. Stanley Baldwin, Prime Minister of Great Britain is expected to make an announcement over our broadcasting station at ten minutes to two, and our broadcast will therefore cease at that time. Subject to, your confirmation, I have made arrangements so that the Prime Minister's announcement will be received by the loud speakers in this room, and our proceedings will therefore terminate shortly before this time. I would ask any, who of necessity must leave this meeting, about the time this broadcast terminates, to please do so quietly before the scheduled hour if possible.
Gentlemen, the affairs of the world, with which we are being confronted these days, particularly as presented in our newspapers, are such. as to make the most confirmed or, shall we say, habitual opfimist concerned over our future. The future of Canada is closely linked with the future of Europe and while this Club stands for a united Canada arid the United Empire, there are many circumstances which would cause us, as members of this Club, to be also apprehensive of the future and of the soundness of the decisions which our public men as leaders must make. To assist in making such decisions, it is my opinion that a review of Canada's place in history is essential.
We have with us today, Dr. Norman Wentworth DeWitt, who is a scholar, a linguist and an historian. He is to address us on an. important subject which should serve as a guide not only to the members of this Club but to the whale of Canada. I have much pleaure in introducing Dr. DeWitt who will speak on the subject: "Canada in World History."
DR. NORMAN WENTWORTH DEWITT: President Balfour, Guests and Members of the Empire Club: My subject today is the place of Canada in world history, both past and present. In order to bring this before you 'in a way that I think is true, I propose to you two principles which perhaps may seem somewhat novel. The first of these is this, that history, and more particularly world history, is the evolution of the unintended, and that government is the administration of the unforeseen.
I think I can make this somewhat plain to you by a very simple example. Until the North Drive, connecting Queen's Park with Bloor Street, was widened recently, traffic-jams in front of the college were of almost daily occurrence. Now, no one wants a traffic-jam, but everyone contributes to it. No one is compelled to choose the route to his home through Queen's Park. He does it of his own free will, but those motorists who choose that route unwittingly produce a result which they do not want and which nobody wants. This is the evolution of the unintended. Similarly, what happens in the world at large is the product of a multitude of wills acting independently, but the joint result reflects the will of no one; it is unintended.
Let me give you another example of the working of this law on a somewhat larger scale. Take the recent depression. No one, of course, wanted the depression, but everyone in a small way or a large way contributed to it. There were few individuals one may say, and no nations that did not contribute to the depression in some way. This was on a large scale a traffic-jam, an economic traffic-jam. The workmen contributed to it by purchasing beyond their means without due consideration for future necessities. The salesmen and the advertisers were to blame for it because they made goods so attractive that people were tempted to buy beyond their means. The manufacturers contributed to it because they produced goods in excess of the capacity of the market to absorb. The bankers contributed to it because they may have loaned money beyond the capacity of their clients to repay. Governments contributed to it by establishing quotas and tariffs against their neighbours and, not to leave out any class in the community, the ladies also had part in it, because just at a time when the world was surfeited with foodstuffs, they put on a continent-wide reducing campaign. (Laughter.) In fact the only class that I know of who, did not contribute to that depression was the university professors. This is a supreme example of the evolution of the unintended.
I may give you another example that is interesting to people in Ontario, a small one, to remind you that this law works out beneficently, as well as disastrously; that it applies to good developments as well as evil 'developments. Some thirty years or so ago the Government undertook to build the Northern Ontario Railway. This proved to be the beginning of the exploitation of Ontario gold but it was not intended precisely that way. Moreover, the reason that so many Ottawa Valley men became pioneers in the gold-fields, and especially in the Porcupine District, was that the construction crews were largely recruited from the Ottawa Valley. Thus a great many of those people became rich in a way quite foreign to their expectations when they went to build a railway in Northern Ontario.
The supreme example of the evolution of the unintended, however, is the development of the British Empire itself. No one ever planned the British Empire. No one conceived it, not even a dreamer, let alone a statesman. It was the result of what thousands and tens of thousands of Britishers did without any individual intention on the part of one of them. If you consider the British possessions today and their history, you will find that in not a single one of them was there an imperial design in the beginning. The truth is that British Imperialism was the result of Empire and not the cause of it. The Empire developed first and Imperialism 'developed afterward and it developed on the margins of the Empire before it developed at the centre. There were no men like Cecil Rhodes at any time among the statesmen of Great Britain. Cecil Rhodes belonged to the circumference of the Empire, not the centre.
So far from being planned, the Empire was actually, it seems, opposed at times. Take a very close example, Newfoundland. Do you know, for a century and more it was absolutely forbidden for any Britisher or anyone else to settle in Newfoundland, build a house or make a garden. Do you know why? Because the merchants of Bristol demanded a monopoly of the privilege of fitting out fishing vessels. In those days of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Great Britain was still exporting food arid did not want the colonies to produce food.
Take another part of the Empire at random. Take South Africa. The British went there first, not through any imperialistic design at all but because of the only motive they knew at that time, the desire to protect British shipping. It was the Boards of Trade in the history of the Empire that developed the conscience of the British Navy. In South Africa the British founded Capetown for the sake of protecting the route to India, so that shipping on that route might have a safe base, both for supplies and for security against enemies and the weather.
Take Egypt. Great Britain had no interest in Egypt in and for itself. Her interest was in the route to India, and the possession of Egypt was a by-product of that interest. As a matter of fact, nearly all parts of the Empire were by-products, or incidentals.
Take Austalia, for example. You know the beginning of the British settlement in Australia. That arose from the American Revolution. Before the Revolution they used to ship their convicts to America. After the Revolution that market was closed, and in passing let me say a word for those convicts. There never was a class that less deserved the name. Those men were the result of social conditions in England, which in those times classed them as criminals. Their crime was nothing more than sheep-stealing as a rule; so the approbrium attached to the name in that day is to be minimized. Well, when the British Government was unable any more to send so-called convicts to America they sent them to Australia. Moreover that Continent was there, down to that time, for any European power to take possession of if it chose, but none chose to take it. The next step in the 'development of Australia was purely accidental also. Gold was discovered there in 1849 and '50, at the same time it was discovered in America, in California, and there was a great rush of population to Australia, not through any imperialistic design whatever. Men were after the precious metal.
Come to Canada. Canada is also a by-product. In the first place, so far as French Canada is concerned, 'it is a by-product of the Seven Year's War. The French, you know, had grand colonial' designs, grand imperial designs in America. They conceived a magnificent project of, connecting the Gulf of the St. Lawrence with the Gulf of Mexico by a chain of settlements. There never was a grander imperialistic design conceived than that. The British, of course, balked it, they stopped it. Through the capture of Quebec it was brought to nought, but the British had no alternative plan at all. If they had had an alternative plan the American Revolution might never have taken place. It was because of the attitude of laisser-faire, so far as political matters were concerned in the colonies, and also it was due to the exclusive attention to trade, because the only advice the British Government at that time was receiving of an urgent kind was from the Boards of Trade, that no alternative plan was projected, which might have given to history a different turn. French Canada, then, was a mere incidental product of the Seven Years' War. Now, you know for a long time they sought the Northwest Passage. If there had been a Northwest passage and it had been discovered, then something might have been done about Canada. It might have been worth while for the British Empire to establish posts for its security and hold that route. Or, again, if the climate had been less forbidding they might have brought foreign labour here. If the climate had been more attractive we might have had a large negro population or a coolie population, because in, those days they took negroes to all colonies where they had work for them. But that wasn't to be. Or, if the British had 'discovered gold in Ontario, assuming they were able at that time to work mines of the character we possess, it might have been very different, but they found nothing here that they wanted.
In those days, of course, the pioneer type of settler had not developed. Do you know, it required a hundred years in America, at least, and a lot of religious persecution to produce a pioneer. There is nothing much harder to change than human nature, human habits. Do you know how the pioneer type was developed? By religious persecution. The Puritans drove the Quakers out of Boston, compelled them to live in the woods, and they turned into pioneers. In the South, the Anglicans drove the Presbyterians out of Virginia and compelled them to live in the woods. So you find almost all the pioneer families in the Middle States, (I have lived in several of them) across Kentucky, Southern Indiana, Illinois and Missouri, are descendants of Presbyterians who were compelled to become pioneers through religious persecution.
To come back to Canada, it began as a by-product in which the Empire had very little interest. It continued as a by-product. The second stage reveals it as a byproduct. The second stage reveals it as, a by-product of the American Revolution. A certain section of the population, as you know, did not participate in the Revolution. They opposed it; they came to Canada, and a new Canada was founded here in great haste. A great many things in Canadian history have been done in haste. The Loyalist settlement was made in great haste as a result of an emergency.
You remember I told you that government is the administration of the unforeseen. History has very little approval for planned economies, and pehaps, if you ask a, definition of the word statesman from the voice of history, it would be this, that he is one who wisely administers the emergencies that arise from time to time, because, if he handles each emergency wisely, he will find he has built well for the future. This is the word that resounds through British history in particular. There has been no great foresight in British history, but there has been extraordinary wisdom and common sense exhibited in handling emergencies as they arose. This is likewise true in the history of Canada.
The third respect in which Canada is a by-product is revealed in federation. Do you know why our government is of the shape that it is today? It is all because of the American Civil War. The history of Confederation as we find it in the books is only half-told. The documents are now at Ottawa but they haven't been there for so very many years. The truth is this. During the Civil War the upper classes in England sympathized with the Confederate States, and William Ewart Gladstone said on one occasion that Jefferson Davis had founded a nation. British noblemen even bought bonds of the Confederate States, which showed more faith. After the War was over the British Government felt very contrite, and the American nation was rather belligerent. You remember how it promptly ordered the French out of Mexico. It was taking steps to buy Alaska and there was even a prominent member of the Government who talked about annexation. The United States at that time possessed the best army in the world, the most seasoned soldiers and the best generals, and everyone knew it.
So the British Government in Downing Street, which I must say backs down gracefully at times, thought that under the circumstances it would be very wise for them to retire so far as possible from the northern half of this continent, and this was quietly arranged. At that time John A. MacDonald and the Hon. George Brown were not on the best of terms, which was no exceptional circumstance. The British Government asked them to forget their personal differences for the time being, and just in case there might be some incidental expenses to pay, placed a credit of $50,000 with the President of the Grand. Trunk Railway. It need hardly be mentioned, of course, that no men in the position of John A. MacDonald or the Hon. George Brown would have cared to handle this money, which was to be used where it would do the most good. Well, there were some elections in the Maritimes not long after that and they turned out as desired. The Charlottetown Conference was crashed, to use a students' term, and you know what happened after that. As soon as Confederation was consummated the Hudson's Bay company's rule was brought to an, end because this new plan was far more comprehensive and had to be carried out more thoroughly than any that had been projected down to this time.
With respect to Confederation itself, I wish to call your attention to two facts. There are two things that Canada has contributed to the Empire, or at least she has introduced one of them and contributed the other. Confederation has two aspects. One of these is the adoption of the federal form of Government. Now, federalism is not British. It is Anglo-Saxon, but not British. For example, when Wales was joined with England, it was not federated with England. At a later time Scotland was joined by an Act of Union, and Ireland for a century and more was joined to England and Scotland by an Act of Union, that is, so long as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland lasted. Thus, federalism, you see, is not British, though it is Anglo-Saxon because it arose in an Anglo-Saxon country, the United States, after the Revolution. Through Canada it has become a British institution, and it is just as natural for the States of South Africa or of Australia to unite in a federal union as it was for the Provinces of Canada. So in that respect Canada has furnished a model to the Empire, and federalism, which was not British in the beginning, has by adoption become a British institution.
The second aspect of Confederation, and it is much more original than the first, illustrates amazingly my doctrine of the evolution of the unintended. I refer to Dominion Status.
You recall that after Confederation we had a long period of quiet in, Canada. This was interrupted by the Northwest Rebellion because Confederation was very hastily put through, too hastily, and from an. economic point of view, prematurely, because the Eastern Provinces still lacked the surplus of wealth and population necessary to exploit the prairies and build the railways. But, of course, as Mr. J. W. Dafoe has said, in Canada political forces and not economic forces have determined the shape and development of our institutions. However, there was a period of quiet. During this interval what we call Dominion Status was developed, but when the name 'Dominion' was selected in the first instance for this Confederation, it was chosen because it was an absolutely colourless word. It was the intention that the new Government should resemble that of the United States and that Great Britain should retire so far as possible from this Continent. Thus this world that they had chosen under novel circumstances gradually took on anew colour and eventually became capable of precise definition in a new sense, arid this is much more important than the idea of federalism. Federalism, when it became British, was applicable only to countries like Australia and South Africa, comprised of several parts, but Dominion Status can be applied to any unit, no matter whether compound or simple, large or small. For example, Dominion Status has been applied to Ireland. It could be applied to Newfoundland, and for a time it seemed that this would be done. It applies equally well to India. It is the case of India that demonstrates better than other instances how a concept, developed here in Canada through no one's iron tention and no one's plan, has more profoundly than any other affected the shape of the British Empire as we know it. Without Dominion Status there would be no British Commonwealth of Nations today.
This brief analysis gives you the picture in outline. From the very first you may observe the evolution of the unintended. There has been no planning in the British Empire. The first Imperialism as such, as doctrine, did not emanate from London; it came from South Africa. A figure like Cecil Rhodes does not belong to the heart of the Empire; it belongs to, the circumference. At the circumference of the Empire, in the outlying Dominion, the pride of Empire is apt to be very strong, but at the heart it is not pride but responsibility that weighs. There they feel chiefly their responsibility. We perhaps feel it less.
Turning to the present you find an entirely different picture. To place Canada in the world today you have to become acquainted with what is now called 'pressure politics.' We no longer have even in democratic countries a pure democracy. We have what students of the subject call 'pressure politics.' For example, at Washington you have the veterans' lobby, you have lobbies of financial men, you have hobbies of manufacturers, lobbies of the utilities, and all of these exert a pressure on the Government which is infinitely more urgent and more skillfully applied than the pressure that any constituency can exert upon the member who represents it.
It reminds me sometimes of the work of a colleague of mine when I was in an American university. He was hired by a firm of architects to study wind-pressure on buildings. He installed a pressure-gauge on every angle of the Physics Building, also on every side of it, and he connected all these to a board in his laboratory. There you could take your stand and watch a battery of tubes with coloured liquid in them, playing like an organ all the time. That is Government today. That is pressure politics. From time to time it wanes, of course. Sometimes democracy has a revival. It has had a great revival in the United States in the last presidential election and, incidentally, the radio is an agency that strengthens democracy and at the same time tends to counteract what we call pressure politics.
There is pressure politics not only in individual governments but also in the world at large. You know, the did-fashioned high-hat and gray-spat diplomacy is fading. It used to be that when a government had some particularly scalding message to deliver to another government, the Premier passed the word to the Secretary of State and the Secretary of State put on his high hat and his white gloves and his gray spats arid drove over to the embassy concerned and delivered this scalding message, but 'it was in a thermos bottle. It was so wrapped up in politeness and formality that it didn't burn the fingers. It was transmitted in the same condition to the Home Government and the answer came back in a similar container, no matter how scalding. Perhaps the newspapers never heard of it. It was all under cover. That time is now past. Today, if the heads of certain countries in Europe have messages to deliver, they buckle on their swords and don their helmets and call together 30,000 people in a public square and roar their message into a microphone, and by a well-known law of physics, the pressure engendered there is exerted equally in all directions, so that it rises to the stratosphere and darts to the Eastern Hemisphere and the Western Hemisphere, and the citizens of every civilized country who have a radio and choose to listen have that speech in their ears before ever the newspapers receive a copy, before even the wires ever begin to click with it. Thus the radio has diminished the opportunity of scoops for newspapers. In the old days there was nothing more prized than a diplomatic scoop and, by the way, it has diminished also the pleasure of life for court-circles, because in the same old days of gray-spat diplomacy there was no greater pleasure in, life than possessing a diplomatic secret and not telling it.
Thus we now have, as in the weather map, also in politics, high-pressure and low-pressure areas and to understand the position of Canada today you must know those areas. The area of the highest pressure, though perhaps not the most dangerous, is Europe. There, every form of pressure either exists or is being played. For example, there is military pressure, exerted abundantly during the Ethiopian War in the Mediterranean. There is political pressure, there is economic pressure and there is a pretence of population pressure.
The second great area of high-pressure is in Asia and this, while not so obstreperous, is, perhaps, more dangerous, arid, reaching from the one area of high-pressure to the other is Russia, which is a corridor across the two continents, touching both areas of high-pressure.
Lastly, corresponding to those, are two areas of extremely low pressure. One of these is the British Commonwealth of Nations and the United States, the Anglo-Saxon world, in which not a single member maintains a soldier or a ship against any other member. (Applause.) The second great area of low-pressure is the Western Hemisphere. Mr. Roosevelt, the other day, whose message was very different from those we hear in the playgrounds of Europe, pleading for democracy anal freedom and education and culture and high standards of living and interdependence, was speaking for this hemisphere. Here, from the Arctic to the Antarctic is an area of lowpressure, in which there is no dangerous quarrel, in which there is no difference that could not be settled by arbitration. These two great areas of low-pressure overlap and
Canada is in both of them. (Hearty Applause.)
(Prior to Dr. DeWitt's address, Major Balfour had announced that a special announcement in connection with the crisis in Great Britain would come over the radio at 1.55 and would be heard by the Empire Club.)
THE PRESIDENT: Gentlemen, I am going to call on Dr. Cody to express the thanks of this meeting to one of his own Professors.
Before doing so I would like to make an alteration in the announcement which I made at the opening of this meeting, namely, that the broadcast from England over short wave will commence at exactly two o'clock. This will give Dr. Cody exactly three and a half minutes in which to thank Professor DeWitt and he will, I think, earn a reputation for brevity of speech which possibly he has not previously held. (Applause.)
DR. H. J. CODY: That is a crown of glory not to be lightly held. I suppose if silence is golden, and speech is silver, a short speech of three minutes would be bimetallic.
But, Gentlemen, in your name, may I;offer your sincere thanks to Professor DeWitt for his admirable, suggestive and stimulating address this afternoon. (Applause.)
I have often though that the Clubs of Toronto might, much to their own profit, draw, more than they usually do upon the professorial staff of our great University.
Someone said to a great theologian who is now in New York, Dr. James Moffatt, and who had been in Oxford, "Do you prefer New York to Oxford?" His answer was, "I think not, and for this reason: When I am engaged in the study of any particular theological or linguistic problem at Oxford, I have merely when in difficulty to put on my coat or hat and go around the corner and find some man who knows all about the subject there was to be known in the world. In New York, I am somewhat 'differently circumstanced," and I venture to say that the opinion is that your university professors are deliberately informed on, many of these great problems of the day and are worth your hearing and will be constructive and helpful.
For this reason, I take very great pleasure in extending to Dr. DeWitt our profound thanks for his stimulating address today. And, yet, what he said about the unintended and the unexpected really throws us back, I humbly submit, on an over-ruling Providence that in some strange way seems to have chosen this British Empire and these English-speaking peoples, not for great privileges but for profound responsibility, and as members of this great common group, let us today more than ever realize the responsibility laid upon, us for maintaining peace and goodwill in all the world. (Applause.)
PRESIDENT: As we are not to hear the broadcast from Ottawa before the broadcast from England comes through, that gives me two and a half minutes to thank Dr. Cody for his thanks of Prof. DeWitt. I have heard. Dr. Cody on very many occasions but I think this earns for him a reputation which he has not previously enjoyed.
Seriously, we are very interested in what we are going to hear in a very short space of time by short wave from England. We have our own suspicions and we are afraid our suspicions are correct, but after the address we have heard today we should have some courage and faith ins the ability of the British people and in the continuity of this British Empire which, as our guest-speaker, Dr. DeWitt said, was not planned, that we shall blunder through in some way. And, if I might usurp the function of Dr. Cody and others of his cloth, and just quote as little as I shall have time to repeat from Kipling's 'Recessional': "The captains and the Kings depart! Lord God of Hosts be with us yet! Lest we forget, lest we forget."
Following a further announcement that the expected broadcast was not going to take place, the meeting adjourned.