- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 2 Feb 1915, p. 44-53
- MacDonald, Dr. J.A., Speaker
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- Today American looking back to Europe to the ancient homes of our peoples in Britain, in France, in Germany, in the Low Countries, in Italy, and in the Near East. Asking what America has to show and what has Europe to learn? The two English-speaking nations of North America standing aghast at the collapse of European ideals. The melting-pot of brutal war. In America the celebration of a full century of unbroken peace between the greatest Empire the world ever saw and the world's greatest Republic. The self-government for which the American patriots strove. National autonomy, for men of the British blood, the very essence of national freedom. The Declaration of Independence as the mean to the end of self-government. That contribution to world democracy, despite the losses and sacrifices which revolution always brings, marking in itself a new epoch in world history, and the greatest achievement of the United States of America. Canada's contribution to the political thinking and the progress of the world. The struggle and movement which confederated the British North American Provinces into the Dominion of Canada and gave to the new Dominion the rights and responsibilities of free national self-government; a thing done without precedent, an achievement "worthy of Pilgrim blood" which has changed for ever the political history of the world. The gain of national self-government without the loss of the nation's historic background as the supreme achievement of Canada. Canada's Imperial relations made by deliberate choice by Canadians themselves. How Canada's achievement for herself made for the Empire a new prestige and a greater prominence among the nations. The old lines, upon which the Empire could not endure. The joint achievement of Canada and the U.S. the greatest thing of all: an international boundary line between two nations across which in a hundred years neither nation ever once launched a menacing army or fired a hostile gun. Ways in which North America offers straight contradiction, and through a hundred years of peace these two civilised nations have given to Europe's war lords the unflinching and triumphant lie. Why and how this relationship works as it does. The American dream of unbroken Peace. Hoping that this war will be the end of autocracies, the end of despotism, the end of war lords, the end of secret diplomacies of deceit, the end of menacing alliances and threatening "ententes," the ultimate and everlasting end of the Religion of Valour, of the Cult of Violence, and of the barbaric appeals to brute Force. The nations of our English-speaking fraternity, standing shoulder to shoulder for the good of all our peoples and the freedom of the world, whether neutral or combatant.
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- 2 Feb 1915
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- Full Text
- AMERICA'S GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT
AN ADDRESS BY DR. J. A. MACDONALD
Before the Empire Club of Canada, February 2, 1915
MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN,--Three hundred years ago Europe, with strained eyes, gazed westward across the unknown seas. All was waste and wilderness. today America looks back to Europe to the ancient homes of our peoples in Britain, in France, in Germany, in the Low Countries, in Italy, and in the Near East. What has America to show? What has Europe to learn?
The two English-speaking nations of North America stand aghast at the collapse of European ideals. All the highest achievements of Europe, all the things that make for progress and freedom and justice, the work of a thousand years and the hopes of a thousand more-all have been crowded back into the melting-pot of brutal war. At its best wax is barbarism. Brute force belongs to the brute stages of human development. The carnage of these months in Belgium and France and Austria and Servia and on the borders of Germany and Russia is a triumph of the savage instincts in humanity. No matter who is responsible for it, the lining up for mutual slaughter of millions upon millions of men from the foremost nations of Europe, for the alleged purpose of settling some international dispute, is a blank denial of civilisation, a crime against humanity, an apostasy from Christ.
Over against that ghastly failure of Europe is presented in America the celebration of a full century of unbroken peace between the greatest Empire the world ever saw and the world's greatest Republic. This is indeed the wonder of the world: more than 400,000,000 people of all races and colours and languages, covering one-quarter of the land area of the globe, live at peace under one flag: under another flag live nearly 100,000,000 of as progressive people as the world knows: and these two flags for a hundred years, fold in fold, entwine in a common ideal, for a common purpose, to promote the freedom and progress and peace of all humanity. In these days, these days of staggering and bitterness, when the warcloud of Europe looms blackest, when its thunders speak of death and its lightnings flash of hell, I turn again to America, and, at the close of this unparalleled century of Anglo-American civilisation, I thank God and take courage for all the world.
In preparing the way for America's greatest achievement the American colonies of the eighteenth century played a necessary and notable part. They achieved one thing which informed and thoughtful citizens of Canada and Great Britain now know was unique and of world significance. That one thing was the declaration of the right of a free people to govern themselves, the declaration before all the world that any people who desire self-government and are fit for self-government, must be given the chance and responsibility of governing themselves; the supreme declaration of democracy that the authority of all human government is based on the consent of the governed.
It was not, indeed, for independence the American patriots strove; it was for self-government. Independence may be only the noisy clamour of the law-breaker and the libertine. But self-government any free people of the Anglo-Saxon breed must have or be slaves. It was for -Freedom's sake the forefathers came three hundred years ago. National autonomy, for men of the British blood, is of the very essence of national freedom. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton and John Adams proved themselves sons of the same British blood when, against the arrogance of the monarch and the ignorance of the aristocracy of England, they stood, in the hour of supreme struggle, for the rights of British free-men in New England and in the South.
Self-government was the end. The Declaration of Independence came to be the means. Had any other way been known to history by which a colony could come to national self-government, except the way of national ration, the American colonists of 1776 might have taken that other way. But the world knew no other way. The colonies took the old way of revolution, paid the old price, suffered the old loss, and won the old prize. That contribution to world democracy, despite the losses and sacrifices which revolution always brings, marked in itself a new epoch in world history, and is the greatest achievement of the United States of America.
Canada also has made a great contribution to the political. thinking and the progress of the world. It is even yt the habit in some quarters to call Canada a " colony," and to regard the Canadian Dominion as having done nothing of which the world may well take note. That habit persists not in the United States merely, or in Britain, but in Canada as well. It is still counted for loyalty with some Canadians to ascribe every Canadian achievement to Britain (or, as they say, England), and to confess Canada's littleness and lack of achievement in the thought and government of the world.
And yet history, even the short history of Canada, records the fact that in the struggle and movement which confederated the British North American Provinces into the Dominion of Canada and gave to the new Dominion the rights and responsibilities of free national self-government, a thing was done which was absolutely without precedent, an achievement worthy of Pilgrim blood which has changed for ever the political history of the world.
What is that supreme achievement of Canada? It is the gain of national self-government, without the loss of the nation's historic background. Self-government had to come to Canada as surely as it had to come to the United States. The day of its coming, which ended in the Quebec Conference of 1865 and the passing of the British North America Act in 1867, was a long and stormy day. No man saw clearly. There was no blazed trail. No people had ever gone from colonial subjection to national self-government except by one road-the road of separation. There were those in Canada who believed that self-government must take that one road of separation, and they fought against self-government. In Britain statesmen in both parties thought the separation of Canada inevitable. They were prepared to grant not confederation merely, but independence as well. Beaconsfield and Gladstone both thought what was called confederation and autonomy would lead straight to the independence of Canada and its separation from the Empire.
But in Britain, and especially in Canada, were statesmen of the farther vision. They saw, dimly and fitfully saw, the rise of a new Canada-a new Canada leading the way for a new empire. Lyon Mackenzie and Louis Papineau, Baldwin and Lafontaine, George Brown and John A. Macdonald-men of vision, men of courage, men of faith, they went out not knowing whither they went; and by the trails they blazed the people of Canada have come to their own, to their rights of free citizenship, to their responsibilities of national self-government, to their obligations and dignities in Canada's Imperial relations.
And so it has come about that not by constraint, not by compulsion but by the free and deliberate choice of themselves; Canada's Imperial relations are what they are. and in these great days to come shall be what Canadians choose to make them. Not in tariff and trade merely, not in citizenship and defence merely, but in all the great choices of Canadian nationhood the law of the nation stands:
" The gates are mine to open,
And the gates are mine to close."
And that achievement of national self-government within the world circle of the British Empire, free from the embitterment of war or the alienations of strife, is Canada's greatest achievement. It is a new, an original, an epoch-making thing in the history of the world.
And Canada's achievement for herself changed for the world the constitution and spirit of the whole British Empire. It did more. It made for the Empire a new prestige and a greater prominence among the nations. On the old lines the Empire could not endure. The old idea of "Imperium", the idea of ancient Rome and of modern Germany, with its centralised sovereignty and its subject states, had no future for sons of the British blood. Its day was done. Unless there came a new idea the break up of the Empire was inevitable. The coming of Canada brought that new idea the idea of national freedom and national autonomy, not without but within the Imperial circle. Canada achieved it. After Canada came Australia, then New Zealand, then, only yesterday, South Africa. Those four overseas Dominions, with the ancient self-governing colony of Newfoundland, constitute, with the Mother Country, the great, strong right hand of the world Empire of Britain. Those five fingers are bound in that hand, not by bandages of weak dependence, not by bonds of compulsion, but by the vital ties of a common blood, a common purpose and a common Imperial will. And not in the mailed fist of threatening or oppression, but in the handclasp of world-friendship, those five fingers stretched over the seven seas-Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and today, as the war in Europe attests, the great Empire of India those five fingers all close toward the palm.
But the greatest thing of all is the joint achievement of these two English-speaking nations of North America. That supreme achievement which North America can show the world is an international boundary line between two nations across which in a hundred years neither nation ever once launched a menacing army or fired a hostile gun. Think of that achievement! A thousand miles up the mighty St. Lawrence, a thousand miles along the Great Lakes, a thousand miles across the open prairie, a thousand miles over a sea of mountains-four thousand miles where nation meets nation and sovereignty meets sovereignty, but never a fortress, never a battleship, never a gun, never a sentinel on guard! Four thousand miles of civilised and Christianised internationalism-that is North America's greatest achievement.
And why America's achievement? Why America's alone? Not because these two nations are spent and wasted forces, degenerate sons of coward sires, weak to defend a national right, slow to resent a national insult. No redder, prouder, hotter blood ever beat in British veins than the Pilgrim blood of New England, the Cavalier blood of Virginia, the Celtic blood of North Carolina, or the blood of the Ulster Scot of Kentucky and Tennessee. The same blood, red, proud, hot, throbs through Canadian veins from Cape Breton to Vancouver. Not blood from Britain alone, but from France as well, and from Germany. All the great war nations of Europe through the generations have slit their own veins and poured their best blood, their hot war blood, into the heart of America. If blood tells, that blood should tell in us.
And that blood has told. The men of America, in the United States and in Canada, have never belied their breed. The blood of the lion, the blood of the eagle, the blood of the bear, the fiery bloods of all the beasts of Europe's war jungle have mingled in the veins of America. Sons of that blood, we, like our sires, have been little used to lie down at the bidding of any man. On the battlefields of the Revolution the American Republic justified its breed; and in the deadlier Civil War, with more prodigal hand South and North alike paid the full measure of devotion to causes they deemed to be great. Canada's half-century of national history has no war page, and no battlefield consecrated by the blood of her sons; but; not once or twice in Britain's blood-writ story, the sons of Canada, by their deeds of valour in the Empire's wars, proved to the world their British heritage.
And they will prove it once again. Thirty-three thousand men have gone. If needs be, 100,000 will follow. In a war that is not our war, or Britain's even, but Freedom's, the British blood, the French blood, the German blood, red and hot and true in Canadian hearts, will be poured out on the awful altar of the world's war for the rights of British freedom and the cause of the little peoples. No, whatever else may be true, Europe cannot say that North America's greatest achievement was wrought by nations of the lesser breed and the craven heart.
Nor can it be said that this continent has been without for war. Again and again questions have arisen, tins have been created, tempers have been aroused, in other times and for other nations would have involved the excuse of national honour and vital interest, and the gauntlet would have been thrown down. Wither can it be argued that the United States and have kept the peace because of their equality in war -and the power of each to resist attack from the other. Our two nations divide almost equally this continent between the Arctic and the Gulf; but in numbers and developed resources and war equipment there is no equality. On one side are nearly 100,000,000 of people; on the other side less than 8,000,000. One maintains a seasoned standing army; the other until the present war in Europe had only the beginning of a militia. One boasts a navy third, if not second, on the high seas; the other has not even a naval programme accepted by parliament. To all the boasted defence policies of the war nations of Europe, North America offers straight contradiction, and through a hundred years of peace these two civilised nations have given to Europe's warlords the unflinching and triumphant lie.
Why, then, this achievement of North America in international civilisation, while on other continents the nations crouched under the burden of their wars and lingered in the halfbarbarism of their armed peace until they broke into hideous war. Why? For one thing these two Englishspeaking nations of America have each developed into a national unity of its own, self-contained, purposeful, free. The Great Lakes are not barbarised by the black menace of forts and battleships, because the two nations they divide desire supremely to be free, are fit for freedom, and have each united all their peoples in unchallenged devotion to freedom's great experiment. Through this one great lesson in North America the American Republic and the British Empire are working into the public opinion of the world this maxim of international politics: Any nation that desires to be free and is fit to be free, and stands for national freedom, must be given freedom's unfettered chance.
A civilised international boundary and a century of peace. That is America's greatest achievement. That thing, unique, original, North America alone has done. And because of that achievement these two nations have earned the right, when this wicked war is over, to stand up in the councils of the nations and teach the homelands of American colonists the more excellent way. What the sons in America have done on the Great Lakes, on the St. Lawrence, on the Niagara, and across the sweeping plains, the fathers in Britain, in France, and in Germany might do, ought to do, on the North Sea and in the Channel.
It can be done on all the continents. The jungle can be made a neighbourhood. The remainders of barbarism can be swept away on every boundary line. If America takes her stand and leads the way all the continents will do it.
Here we stand, we of America, facing the colossal failure of Europe. The boundary lines between European countries are yawning with forts, bristling with bayonets, and most of them bedabbled with blood. For forty years those defences have been a growing menace to all the world. Europe has been an armed camp. The nations lived in the Fool's Paradise of Armed Peace until they found it the Fool's Hell of Bloody War. They all said
" In Peace prepare for War." Here in North America our two nations for a hundred years have been saying: "In Peace prepare for More Peace." In Europe they got, as they were bound to get, the thing they prepared for--War. In America we got, as we deserved to get, the thing we prepared for--a hundred years of More Peace.
But this hundred years of peace has not saved America from the colossal failure of ape's half-century of preparation for war. North America has become a neighbourhood; but Europe remained a jungle. The world is too small for any continent to live to itself, or for any country to stand alone The United States in this war is neutral, and neutral, I hope and pray, it may remain. But neutrality has not saved the people and the interests of this Republic from its share of the world's sorrows, or of the incalculable suffering and loss which this war entails. Canada was worlds away from the mad vortex of European militarism, but the widening circle of that awful maelstrom bras swept Canada into its deathful whirl. There is not a shore in the Southern Seas, there is not an island in the lone Pacific, there is not a whaling vessel in the frozen North; that has not felt the dread undertow of Europe's upheaval.
America had indeed dreamed of unbroken Peace. The Forefathers dreamed it for New England. The Fathers of Independence planned it for the United States. To Canada War is a new and surprising experience. We had all thought a war in Europe never could come nigh our dwelling. But it has come. And it shall come nearer still, into our homes, into the bleeding places of our hearts. We have been parties to the world's uncured and unchristian folly. The Republic and the Empire both have said: " In Peace prepare for War." With half the homes of Europe bleeding at every pore, we cannot expect and we cannot ask that our homes and our counting-houses and our nations and our continent, alone in all the world, shall be spared the world's awful baptism of blood.
But a new day shall dawn. Out of this weirdness and welter a new world shall rise. Up from this horror and death America must come with its schools and colleges and universities and churches; America, having seen enough of blood and carnage in the Old World to take a fresh stand for the New: America, with its eye undimmed, its faith unbroken, and its hope triumphant in a new life, a larger life, a life not of militarism and world-mastership, but of love and justice and the brotherhood of man!
Please God, this will be the end of autocracies, the end of despotisms, the end of war lords, the end of secret diplomacies of deceit, the end of menacing alliances and threatening ententes, the ultimate and everlasting end of the Religion of Valour, of the Cult of Violence, and of the barbaric appeals to brute Force.
And please God, too, this will be the end of all ambitious and arrogant Imperialism, the end of that ignorant and vulgar jingo lust for colonies and for mastership and for the domination of the world. A new-born world already begins to heave above the horizon line. It will be a world of free nationalities: a world of righteous democracies, in which there must be no supremacy and no servitude
a world where no master will be allowed on land and no mistress needed on the sea. Over free peoples there can be no dictator, no autocracy, no mastership. Every nation, great or small, must be master in its own house--little Belgium as truly as great Germany, the year-old China as truly as the ages-old Britain. The Might of all must defend the Right of each. The glory of the Strong must be in the help of the Weak. The Ten Commandments must be written on the heart of the world's democracy; and into the Congresses, the Parliaments and the Chancelleries of the nations He must come whose Truth and Justice give the Right to Reign.
Many people are now asking if this hideous conflict in Europe is indeed the Armageddon of the Nations. It may be so. Certainly from the ends of all the earth the nations are coming to its awful slaughter. Gog and Magog are coming.
But Armageddon, when it comes, will be something more than the crash of mighty navies and of armies rolled in blood. It will be the conflict not only of brute force against brute force, but of ideals against ideals, of character against character, of life against life, of civilisation against civilisation. It will be, as it ever has been, Caesar against Christ, Corsica, against Galilee, Will-to-Power against Will-to-Serve. Armageddon is the conflict of Ideas.
And because it means Ideas it means also America. Here on this continent the new Idea was released to all the world-the idea of Freedom, of Justice, of Peace. That Idea was set free on Plymouth Rock by the Pilgrim Fathers three hundred years ago. By the two nations of this continent, the heritors together of the freedom of Englishspeaking civilisation, that Idea shall be vindicated against all world-despotisms everywhere and forever. That is America's Mission. It may seem Canada's Martyrdom. But for world-freedom, for world-justice, for world-peace, these two nations of America shall stand. And we stand with the Motherland that gave us birth, and with the Sister democracies on all the seven seas, to make America's international civilisation the triumphant experience of all the continents. Whether neutral or combatant, the nations of our English-speaking fraternity shall stand shoulder to shoulder for the good of all our peoples and the freedom of the world.
" In the day of Armageddon,
In the last great day of all,
Our house shall stand together,
And its pillars shall not fall."'