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CHAPTER XIII

EMPIRE CONFEDERATION

IN 1891 I published in The Nineteenth Century an article entitled, “Federating the Empire: A Colonial Plan,” and in the same review in the following year an article on “How to Federate the Empire," and I feel I cannot do better than reprint these papers here, which I am enabled to do by courtesy of the Editor and publishers of The Nineteenth Century and After :

FEDERATING THE EMPIRE: A COLONIAL PLAN*

The great change which has taken place in the public mind in recent years upon the importance to the Empire of maintaining the Colonial connection found expression at a meeting held at the Westminster Palace Hotel in July, 1884, under the guidance of the Rt. Hon. W. E. Forster, who occupied the chair. At that meeting—which was attended by a large number of Members of Parliament of both parties, and representatives of the colonies—it was moved by the Rt. Hon. W. H. Smith: “That, in order to secure the permanent unity of the Empire, some form of federation is essential.” That resolution was seconded by the Earl of Rosebery, and passed unanimously. In November of the same year the Imperial Federa* The Nineteenth Century, October, 1891.

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tion League was formed to carry out the objects of that resolution; and the subject has received considerable attention since, both here and in the colonies. At the annual dinner of the Imperial Federation League two years ago, I ventured to suggest that it would be difficult to maintain public interest in the question much longer, unless some steps were taken to arrive at a practical scheme by which the objects aimed at might be attained, and proposed that a conference should be called by Her Majesty's Government of delegates from the colonies to discuss the matter with them. I added : “I will throw out one more suggestion, though perhaps I shall be in advance of public opinion in this respect. I believe that if such a Convention were summoned, and this question were taken up as a practical question, and examined with a view to the adoption of such measures as would give vitality to the principle of Imperial Federation, a solution would be found in bringing to bear that most potent of all influences, the principle of selfinterest; and that it would be seen to be perfectly practicable to adopt a fiscal policy in regard to this country and the colonies, by which each part of the Empire would materially strengthen the other, renewed vitality be given to the powerful link of affection that now binds us together, and a new tie developed by which the colonies would vastly increase the power and influence of Great Britain, and Great Britain, on the other hand, become of far greater importance to her colonies.” My proposal was adopted by the council of the league, and the President approached the Prime Minister upon the subject. Lord Salisbury saw difficulties in

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the way, and, before any further progress was made, an important circumstance arose bearing very strongly upon this question of Imperial Federation, and that was, the determination on the part of the Australasian provinces to take up promptly the federation of those great colonies. Lord Rosebery, with the assent of the council of the league, then made an announcement at the Mansion House that the league proposed to defer pressing the question of a conference pending the local federation discussions. The determination subsequently arrived at to again revive the proposal for a conference was the result of a discussion which took place when I was absent in Canada. The Prime Minister of this country has been again approached, and I cannot hesitate to say that the result of the two deputations—one of the Imperial Federation League, and the other of the United Empire Trade League—has, in my opinion, given a most important impetus to the cause of Imperial Federation. The suggestion of the Prime Minister to the deputation of the Imperial Federation League, that a scheme should be formulated, appeared to me to involve the duty of endeavouring to meet that proposal. We had to deal with the fact that the Imperial Government, when approached with reference to this measure, called distinctly upon the league to direct their attention to the formulation of some practical proposition by which the objects of the league might be reached. His Lordship said: “I think that we are almost come to the time when schemes should be proposed, and that without them we shall not get very far. You have stated a problem to us to-night

-I may almost call it an enigma. If I remember the words, we are to invite the colonies to share in the responsibilities and privileges of the Empire in such a manner as not to disturb the Constitution of this country, or that which is enjoyed by the colonies. Well, I think that at all events the solution of this problem does not lie upon the face of it, and that it will require the labour of many able brains before a satisfactory solution is arrived at.” In response to that invitation, at a meeting of the council of the Imperial Federation League, the following resolution, moved by myself, and seconded by Sir F. Young, was passed unanimously :

“ That a carefully selected committee be appointed to submit to the council definite proposals for the consideration of the organisations of the league throughout the Empire, by which the objects of Imperial Federation may be realised.”

I venture to think that the enigma suggested by the Premier is capable of solution, and that measures may be devised by which, without conflicting with the self-government enjoyed by the colonies, the great objects of Imperial Federation may be attained. As showing the very advanced position in which this movement, in my opinion, is placed by the statements of the Prime Minister, I may allude to what has taken place since the occasion to which I refer as having to some extent initiated this movement. It will be remembered that a former Premier of the Cape of Good Hope, Sir Gordon Sprigg, visited this country a few months ago, and delivered an address before the City of London branch of the Imperial Federation League, in which he adopted very much the same line of

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policy suggested by me two years before, as to the practicability of drawing the bonds between the Mother Country and the colonies much more closely together, and rendering them much more enduring, by means of fiscal arrangements between Great Britain and the colonies. He said :

“Now what I should recommend, and what I should trust that the members of the Federation League will take up and press upon Her Majesty's Government, is, that an invitation should be addressed to the Governments of the various colonies and dependencies to send representatives to this country to consider in a conference the practicability of forming a commercial union between the different colonies and dependencies of the Empire."

In its comments upon this speech the Times said :

“There is still a considerable amount of fetishworship, but the ideas upon which any commercial union must rest will not in future incur the furious and unreasoning hostility that would have greeted them twenty years ago. It is getting to be understood that free trade is made for man, not man for free trade, and any changes that may be proposed will have a better chance of being discussed upon their own merits rather than in the light of highand-dry theory backed by outcries of the thin end of the wedge. The British Empire is so large and so completely self-supporting that it could very well afford, for the sake of serious political gain, to surround itself with a moderate fence."

The Government have recently been urged by a deputation from the United Empire Trade League to get rid of two treaties, those with Belgium and

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