- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 15 Jan 1925, p. 15-30
- Foster, Sir George E., Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- The ties of Empire. A discussion of the term "Empire" and substitutions for it. The danger of taking the Empire for granted; of not being awake to the changes that have taken place and are taking place, and to the responsibility which is thrown upon the men of every generation to add to the forces which are already existent, and to make them more substantial and powerful for the future work they have to do in the progress of the Empire. Calling our attention to some facts to stir up our minds by way of remembrance, and inducing a little more thought by all of us on the important question of the ties of Empire. Changes in the relationships between the overseas Dominions and the Mother Country within the last 50 years. Looking back for fourscore years to consider the ties or links that then united the Mother Country to her overseas possessions. Contrasting those ties with those that exist today. Advances as witnessed at the peace Convention in Paris where the overseas Dominions took a position of absolute equality with all the other Nations concerned. Advances in terms of Ambassadorial representation at the capitals of foreign countries. Replacing old bonds with new. What is left of the old quasi-political bonds: the Court of Appeal in London, and the tie of a common Sovereign. What the Sovereign, symbol of the Empire, means to us, and how it means everything to the permanency of our Empire. An illustrative anecdote with regard to the Sovereign. Another tie: the common Parliamentary and Judicial system which prevails throughout the British Empire. Three things which the speaker believes could be put in place of some of the old bonds; three ways of bringing us closer together and interweaving the different interests and dispositions of the different parts of the Empire. These three issues are described and discussed in some detail. They are: a common and united diplomatic voice and foreign policy; a common system of Empire defence; the need for a common plan of Empire development, including settlement and the interchange of commodities between all the parts of the Empire. A concluding look back over the last 1,000 years of the Anglo-Saxon race and its achievements. Looking forward 1,000 years; 100 years. The trustees of the future.
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- 15 Jan 1925
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THE TIES OF EMPIRE
AN ADDRESS BY SIR GEORGE E. FOSTER.
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto,
January 15, 1925.
PRESIDENT BURNS introduced the Speaker who was received with applause.
SIR GEORGE E. FOSTER.
Mr. President and Gentlemen,--Today I make no apology for asking your attention to an old subject. I am going to talk a little on the Ties of Empire. In the beginning let me say that I still stick to that old word "Empire." (Hear, hear) I cannot get my tongue around the collection of words which in this more modern time have become a substitute for the word "Empire"; and I will never get out of my mind nor out of my heart nor out of my whole composition what the word "Empire" means to me, who have studied it and lived within it for now pretty nearly seventy-eight years. (Applause)
I am to speak to you today about the Ties of Empire, not because I am growing a little anxious or the least bit pessimistic as to the future, but of late I have been thinking more and more that possibly we are taking too much for granted in this Empire of ours; that we are relying too much
Born in New Brunswick (of Loyalist descent), Sir George was educated in the University of New Brunswick (gold medalist), Edinburgh University (prizeman in literature) and Heidelberg; professor of Classics in University of New Brunswick; entered politics, 1882. He was Minister of Marine, 1885; Finance Minister, 1888; Minister of Trade and Commerce, 1911-1921; appointed to the Senate of Canada, 1921; represented Canada at Peace Conference, 1919, and at first assembly, League of Nations, Geneva, 1921. He is an imperialist and a United Empire Preferential Trade advocate.
on the dynamic forces of the Empire to keep it going through all time; and that we are not quite awake to the changes that have taken place and are taking place, and to the responsibility which is thrown upon the men of every generation to add to the forces which are already existent, and to make them more substantial and powerful for the future work they have to do in the progress of the Empire.
So I am going to call your attention to some facts not in a very learned or continued form, but to stir up your minds by way of remembrance, and inducing a little more thought by all of us on this important question. You know that a new generation is growing up, and that every new generation has to learn the multiplication table, and that it never inherits it from either father or mother; that each generation learns in all these larger affairs which run out, in the maximum, to Empire relations, through example, through teaching, through precept, and through association. So that our duties to the young are always paramount in that respect. Do not take it for granted that they have our experience of the Empire, our knowledge of its history, our appreciation of what it has done for us and for he world; but there is something for them to learn in all these particulars. That is the thought that I would like to keep uppermost in my mind and in yours.
There has been a remarkable change in relationships between the overseas Dominions and the Mother Country within the last fifty years. We are living in a rapidly changing world today, and we are changing so rapidly that we fail to find time to appreciate just what these changes mean. There are changes with reference to our Empire relationships. Go back for fourscore years and consider the ties or links that then united the Mother Country to her overseas possessions. Contrast them with those that are uniting them today--that is the quasi-political ties--and what a contrast there is! There has been almost a revolution in that short space of time. Out of the controls and the restrictions of Downing Street the overseas Dominions have entirely emancipated themselves. Responsible government has been given; parliamentary institutions have intervened; we in those overseas Dominions have been developing more strongly and successfully our municipal institutions, our methods of parliamentary government, our judicial arrangements from top to bottom, our financial and economic relations, both amongst ourselves and towards outside countries. In all these respects we are absolutely on a different footing from what we were fifty or sixty years ago. We have to take that into consideration.
In the last few years we have made distinct advances still further forward. At the Peace Convention in Paris the overseas Dominions took a position of absolute equality with all the other Nations concerned in that important body, relative to the operations and discussions and decisions of that Conference. That was an acknowledgement, claimed by ourselves and admitted willingly by Great Britain, placed by her before her Allies, and ultimately accepted by all who took part in that Conference. From that time on Canada, Austalia, the other overseas Dominions were on an absolute plane of equality with every one of the fifty-five nations which now constitute part and membership of the League of Nations. That was a great advance forward.
Then again, supervening upon that, there have been more advances. These overseas Dominions have been given an opportunity or privilege or right, whichever you may call it, of having Ambassadorial representation at the capitals of foreign countries. It is true that Canada has not availed herself as yet of that; there has been delay; I hope there has been cogitation and deep thought. To me it would not be embarrassing at all if there were still more delay and still more deep thought before we launched ourselves on that policy which, once put into practice by Canada, will spread to the other overseas Dominions; and once we have Ambassadorial representation in Washington we may afterwards press for it-and quite equitably-with every foreign State in the world. I think we must thoughtfully and carefully consider before undertaking those new responsibilities. But there we are. You put all these things together, and the change is remarkable from eighty years ago, and still more notable during the last ten years.
Now, we must consider that if these links and bonds have lessened, or have disappeared, what remains? If some loosen and disappear, it is of great moment that others should be found of a more distributive and probably more powerful nature, which would take their place and balance any weakening which may have come from their lapse, and so bind the parts of the Empire closer and closer together? That is the line of thought that I want to follow out today.
What, then, are left of the old quasi-political bonds? Only two in reality. We still have the Court of Appeal in London, and all the British Dominions have retained that. Through every part of the British Dominions everywhere the meanest, humblest citizen of the Empire has the privilege of going straight to the throne and having his claims ultimately decided before an Imperial Court of Review of the Empire. There are criticisms with reference to that which I have heard; there are objections to it in some directions; there are men who think that that tie should be entirely cut. I hope we shall not go that far. (Hear, hear) Criticism may fairly be directed upon the composition of that Imperial Court, and as to whether it efficiently represents the whole Empire today, how it may be enlarged and its functions widened so that it may become such if it is not now a court which is fully able to interpret the legal contentions of every part of the Empire. That Court remains, and I hope it will always remain; and that any criticism will be devoted to this second branch of the question rather than to one which would abolish the Court itself.
There is another tie left, and of that we cannot speak too impressively. It is the tie of a common Sovereign. (Applause) All the Empire, no matter what the trials and turmoils, the changes and reverses, the antipathies, the credal or political bitterness which take place, with their overturnsover and above all, the Sovereign, symbol of the Empire, is changeless and constant and permanent. (Hear, hear) Does that mean anything to us? It means everything to the permanency of our Empire.
Less than two months ago I stood in the Central part of South Africa, and I listened to and took in view the great assembly of the Basutos, an English Protectorate in the heart of South Africa, where half a million natives have refused so far, to join the South African Union, holding that they want to be as near as possible to the King. They know nothing about Lloyd George, and do not care a pin about him. They know nothing of Asquith, of Baldwin, or Ramsay McDanald, and care nothing for them, but the King is constantly in the mind and heart of every one of them. (Hear, hear) Well, if that is true of half a million of natives in Africa, think of our native populations, all the wide Empire over. What would become of the strong element that binds them to the Empire if for a permanent king there were substituted a changing party leader? What would become of that feeling, of continuing and changeless sovereignty, so binding, so necessary to so large a proportion of the population which makes up the Empire, if any day that King might disappear and a fellow-subject, the creature of a party be put into his place? What would happen in the overseas Dominions themselves if a Presidency instead of a Kingship should prevail in Great Britain, and the nominee of one party should succeed the nominee of another party? maybe of a party quite unacceptable to a large section or to a majority in this country. We face none of those perils, we avoid all of those disintegrating issues, when we have a common Sovereign. (Hear, hear) Long may he reign. (Applause) You sing "God Save the King" here, as you always sing it, with spirit and verve. The last time I heard it sung in a large assembly was at Lovedale in South Africa, where 800 natives in the schools and agricultural workshops in that place stood together in a mass and sang "God Save the King" with a fervour, and a verve and a strength which you yourselves here could not surpass, even though you quite well equalled it. It means something--that universal and diffused idea of sovereignty in the British Empire, permanent, not subject to change, a symbol of justice and of right and of equal dealing the Empire over. (Hear, hear)
Those two, then, are the ties that still remainsome have gone; some of those bonds I have mentioned. Now, is there not something we could put in their place? Is there not something which we ought to put in their place? I think there is, and I am going to speak just briefly of two or three that I think are necessary. But before I go to that I want to mention one other tie of Empire which I think is very important; it is the common Parliamentary and Judicial system which prevails throughout the British Empire.
Just think of that for a moment. Wherever an Empire man goes, be it from the Old Country to a possession in the far West or in the far East, he meets the same kind of parliamentary government, the same kind of judicial proceeding that he is used to at home. It pervades the Empire. The whole system of relations of man to man, his rights and how he can enforce them, his representative duties and responsibilities, the action and reaction upon the public mind-all those are on the same plan everywhere in the British Dominions. There is no difficulty or change met by one who goes from one to the other. That is a very strong element in the process of bringing and keeping us together; it is a very strong bond, and one of the indispensable ties of Empire. Suppose you had in different parts of the British Dominions a Republican kind of government, Democratic governments of different forms, a Commonwealth here and something else there, how different it would all be! But we are all projected on the same model, so to speak. It is not a model which is mechanical, but it is founded on and developed from, great principles of justice and right and representation which are common to the British race and a part of the genius of the British civilization. Now I think we all ought to apply ourselves at this present time in this Empire of ours to a realization of other methods of bringing us closer together and interweaving the different interests and dispositions of the different parts of the Empire. Amongst these are three which I wish to mention.
In the first place as to a common and united diplomatic voice; now just get that into your mind and keep it in mind. I mentioned a little while ago that Ambassadorial rights and privileges had been granted to Canada and the other Dominions. Ireland has already availed herself of this right and has a representative at Washington; so far and only so far has it gone. When you come to face the outside world of nationalities how is it possible for the British Empire, made up of at present five different Dominions or quasi-nationalities, to meet the world of nations if each one of these has a supreme and final voice on foreign relations to express to the nations of the world? I cannot get it into my brain how this is practical, how it can ever be made to work out. I do see in it the fruitful seeds of dissension and of disintegration as well.
Is there any difficulty about it? The young Canadian starts up here, the youngest we will say, bright and strong, going well in education, but he has not lived fifty years, he has not the experience of the older ones, he has not the knowledge of history which is so necessary when we come to speak of this Empire of ours-what it has done, what it is doing now and what it may do in the future if we keep together. He voices an opinion, he has an idea that it is well to be independent and strong and row our own boat, and forgets that you need a pilot. The finest vessel that goes across the ocean never gets into port without a pilot. It might be able to struggle over, but the responsibility is not taken. So I ask how in the wide world we as the British Empire, made up of different component parts, can ever keep our place as an Empire and our prestige and influence if we give a separate and equal voice in foreign policy to every one of the different members of that Empire? I cannot conceive that it is possible, that it is practicable. But is it impossible to have that common voice? Not at all. And every year it is becoming so much easier to get the common consultation and close touch necessary therefor. Here again we are brought up to face with the amazing changes, rapid, sudden, almost beyond our thought and our ken.
Just before I left London members of the Government in London were talking side by side--6,400 miles away--with Cape Town, sitting down there just as you sit down and put a machine to your ear and talk to a man in New York and he seems to be right by your side. You have no sooner put your question than the answer is made. He is, as it were, by your side. The perfection of wireless telegraphy and telephony is so great that you can sit down and talk to one another over distances of six to eight thousand miles. That brings people closer together in the way. of information, in the way of consultation and in the way of decisions. Add to that that you have your recurring imperial conferences where you get together from all parts of the Empire as often as possible, but not less than once in four years; granted that you have a proper representation from every Dominion in London itself and that if it became absolutely necessary your representative could take an airship and come to Ottawa in the course of two or three days or nights, or less, and have a consultation with the members here face to face--that is possible now and will be an absolute accomplishment within two or three, or four or five years, perhaps sooner. What is more, there is nothing like the face of a man's friend to the man himself. (Hear, hear) You may hear his words at a distance, you may note his voice and answer his call, but when you stand right beside him and look in his eyes and your soul and your mind talk to his soul and his mind, there you are; and the finest of close and intimate communication takes place.
I was speaking in the Cecil Hotel, London, at a banquet not long ago and in my speech I was making allusions to this same wonderful thing that was happening in the bringing of people into closer and quicker communication, and I said, "Probably within six months or a year, or may be a little longer, you will not only be able to hear the words of your friend thousands of miles away, but you will have him before you, with his voice, his form, his features, and there you will have his intonation and every play of features and expression as it takes place when one talks face to face with you." After I had spoken someone got up in the assembly and said, "I don't know whether it is telepathy, or whether it is a case of prophecy fulfilled before its utterance, but if you gentlemen will come up stairs after this banquet is over, we will show you something in that direction." We went up after the banquet, and the room was darkened, and on the screen came first one and then another in form, in propria persona and amongst them was President Collidge; he appeared upon that screen-President Collidge in every respect--and read to us who listened a portion of an address that he delivered in Chicago, every word, every intonation, every play and lighting up of the features, everything just the same as one man talking to another.
Now when that is perfected, and inside a year it will be absolutely perfect, then Premier Baldwin can have Prime Minister King right ahead of him. (Laughter) Or King can get Baldwin and put him on the screen, and there they can hear each other's sentiments, look in each other's faces and converse with each other. Just as the telephone has at last come to give not only the message to but the instant answer from, so that will give the message to and the answer from face, features, tones, and personality--the bodily presence and communication between person and person. This will open up greater possibilities for information and- discussion and quick decisions.
Now, put all these things together and the will to do it, and there is no reason why we should not get together and have one voice as an expression of the foreign policy of the Empire. We must not grow pig-headed over this matter of our national status. There is a certain amount of looseness in all this talk about our national status and the equality of nations in the British Commonwealth. We older people have the teachings of history and the experience of a lifetime to balance our minds, but the young minds all about us have not these lessons of experience in which the history and development of our Empire has sown its seed and take root in the intellectual soil and grow into helpful fruitage. How careful we ought to be about our loose expressions in our families, before our young people in our homes and wherever we may meet them, because we must recollect that they have not the mooring posts, so to speak, that we older people have. They have to learn these things by degrees. So with respect to this talk of equality of nations. We are not an equality of nations within the Empire--don't let us be foolish about it; it is impossible to be. You have Ireland with a few millions of population, you have New Zealand with one million and over, you have Australia with less than six millions, and South Africa with a million and a half of white people; here is Canada with nine millions and over, and yonder you have the mother and father, the protector and founder of all this fabric of Empire with forty-seven millions of people, a vast organized industrial economic and intellectual civilization, buttressed by an invincible navy with a prestige and power which places her first amongst the nations of the world today; and I stand by that against any other. (Loud applause) Now, to say that Canada or the other overseas Dominions stand on an equality in this motherhood of nations is to go too far. They will stand on an equality--and be self-respecting in standing on it, when in population, in development, in organization, in ability and willingness to share the responsibilities and bear the burdens of Empire they come somewhere near to the old Mother Country. (Hear hear) As we approach that position and in proportion as we do, we can claim and we will get all that is our due in that brotherhood of nations. But to throw a line over the Mother Country, the predominant partner, and hold that line tight and say, "Don't you make a single move till you get our permission," that is practically impossible and practically unreasonable, and will never take us anywhere. That is why I ask for reasonableness about this matter.
The next thing we need is a common system of Empire defence. If we are nations we must be so in practice as well as in profession. If we claim rights, let us assume some of the duties. I am ashamed every time I meet people in the Old Country and the conversation turns towards the defence of the Empire, to have to admit that up to the present time Canada has hardly lifted the weight of a little finger towards relieving the burden of Empire. Look at it: extended over the whole wide world, its high lines of transport and ocean channels. What is it, and who is it, that keeps these lines of communication free, sovereign and untramelled to the passage of every man who is a citizen of the British Empire? It is the British taxpayer. (Voices: "Yes" and Hear, hear) He is burdened as no other taxpayer in the whole world is burdened today, yet he is standing erect, maintaining his old character of independence, and paying to the last cent every dollar he owes, and asking favors of no nation or power on earth. (Loud applause) That is the British Empire. Talk about our millions of grain which we must get to the markets of the old world; who keeps the ocean waters open for the passage of these millions of bushels of grain? Why, it is the British taxpayer. Now, what we need and what we must have--and we will sink in our own self-respect unless we assume it--is a share in the burdens of Empire, a helping hand towards lifting the burden of the defence of Empire off the shoulders of the British taxpayer. (Applause) That is not difficult. The modus operandi has already been worked out both as to naval and land forces; all it requires is cooperation, willing and constant. The British Empire is not going to ask you to measure up according to population. It has borne all the burden-speaking generally-so far; it is quite willing to go on and bear the great proportion of the burden, but it would be a gratifying thing if these new countries were to say to the Old Country, "Well, Mother, you have protected us till today, and your burdens are heavy therefrom; we receive a mighty benefit from that protection; henceforth we are going to put our shoulder to that wheel; it will not be as weighty as yours, but it will be something." If we were to do that, what a splendid spirit would be created throughout the whole Empire?--self-respect in us and a feeling in the Old Country that we will not let them carry the whole of that burden. So much with reference to that.
The third point I wish to bring to your mind is that what we need in this Empire to gradually help in settling some of the points that are before us is a common plan of Empire development. That means Empire settlement, Empire development and the interchange of commodities between all the parts of the Empire. I am not going to spend much time upon that, the matter is so self-evident, and it is now in a position where we can really make ourselves feel that the Empire is going to work along that line. We had some disappointment because the late Government threw over some of the privileges we had gained in preference, and some of the prospective privileges that we were to gain, thereby almost intimating to us that Great Britain puts an absolute "NW" on that point. But that Government has gone out and another has come in with a tremendously strong mandate and with a platform proposed and discussed in the getting of that mandate from the British people, which looks toward the carrying out of inter-imperial relations, and of the old duties and safeguarding of key industries, which bring along with it the safeguarding of the Dominions overseas. That now is being practically worked out. The British Government and the Governments of the Dominions are furnishing dollar for dollar-or the British Government more-towards putting British migrants into Empire territories instead of having them dispersed all over foreign nations in adventurous fields of investment and settlement. They are proposing plans which are being worked out between them and the Dominions on a practical basis for development of markets and marketing, transportation system and all that, along which channels are a great many opportunities for making overseas produce not only cheaper in cost of production but for making the cost of living less in the old land. Empire development carried out co-operatively with good-will and spirit and organization is one of the things which now, and more in the future, will tend to bind us together.
Before concluding I wish to call your attention to one other thing. Here we are in the year 1925, we of the present generation, in the British Empire. What is behind us? We must look back over a thousand years to the genius and spirit and enterprise of the Anglo-Saxon race which has developed from a mere band in the old islands of the North Sea to a world-wide Empire which has a population of white men, and of natives depending on her, running up to one-quarter of the population of the whole world, and which occupies a little more than one-quarter of the superfices of the whole world. That is the achievement of a thousand years. What does it connote to you and to me and to every thinker? Take a moment from our hurried lives and run over the history of that achievement and all that it has meant in the accumulated power, wealth and prestige of the present moment. That is our inheritance. That is the mother's milk which goes into the upbuilding and nourishment of every part of the Empire, to the extremest verge. Along those lines there is strength, confidence, optimism and hope. It will take a lot to rend that Empire asunder. (Hear, hear and applause) It would take a lot to erase from our hearts what it has done for us. It is the dynamic force; it is the ground upon which we are likely to rest ourselves for the future work. It is the great inspiration and the great treasure-house of impulse for the Empire today. But that is not half of it. Ahead of us we must look as well. This Empire has lasted for a thousand years; suppose it lasts for another thousand years-is it over-optimism to think that it will? It is absolute nonsense to think that it may fall; but it depends upon the exercise of the will and the thought and the power of the citizens of each generation. But suppose it is possible to work forward for a thousand years to come. With this dynamic force now accumulated in 1925, is it not our duty to throw our vision forward even while we look back and contemplate the source of our strength, and then to look forward with courage, confidence and hope to what is to be done and what may be done in the future? I sometimes think of it in this way-take only a hundred years: well, Canada may in one hundred years have 75 millions of people within these broad domains; New Zealand may well have 5 millions; Australia may very well have 50 millions, and South Africa may go up to 20 millions. Just think of the immense change, contemplating these possible figures and connoting with them all the development of the Empire and these overseas Dominions in that hundred years. Can you overlook the prospects of Empire? How strong and almost immovable are the foundations for future permanence and future prestige of that Empire!
Here we are, looking backward and looking forward, and what are we? The trustees of those great achievements of the past, the trustees for that great series of generations in the future. Here we have an administering estate, using its usufruct as we pass our years, but bound by all the true principles of trusteeship to transmit the estate better as it leaves the hands of each generation. (Hear, hear) That is the thought I want to leave with you. It is our duty, our absolute duty, to vision and confront the future as well as to draw upon the sources of strength in the past. If we do that, and do our duty reasonably and well, we shall feel we have done one other thing more than to look after our own and the interests of the British Empire; we shall have kept, what every country and thinking people recognize, the British Empire which has been the greatest mechanism for good in the history of the world. It is our duty to contribute to what the Empire has done in the past so that in the mighty future, when empires develop and populations double and treble in all parts, humanity shall yet have that mighty mechanism for- good-passionately loving freedom, devoted to fair play and justice, and combining with its civilization those moral and spiritual features which have been its mark in the past and which are so essential for its permanence and progress. These are some of our duties; will we measure up to them? Let us try. (Loud applause, the audience rising and cheering)
SIR WILLIAM HEARST, in eloquent terms, expressed the thanks of the Club to Sir George Foster for his inspiring address.