1862- Macdonald James Alexander.

Democracy and the nations; online

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General Smuts, and by the officers and the forces
of the Union of South Africa under their com-

The story of that romantic episode in Britain's
history ought to be told in every part of Britain's
world-dominions forever. It needs to be told in
plainest terms whenever the arid Imperialism
that sought the banishment of men like Louis
Botha again asserts itself. The children's chil-
dren of the British citizens of to-day ought to
teach its deep and eternal truths to their children
after them, lest the real source of Britain's en-
during power should ever be forgotten, or the
secret of her survival, when the proud empires
of despotism have passed away, should ever be

And this is the life-process that transforms the
Empire. Canada's rise to nationhood marked the


first adventure. Australia and New Zealand
made the bounds of national freedom wider yet.
To-day South Africa plays a still more splendid
part in the great world-drama. And the end is
not yet.


WAR is the world's great crucible. Into it
have been cast all the organising ideas of
civilisation and all the established institutions of
international politics. The world will never
again be the same for any nation. The changes
will be great for neutrals as for belligerents.
Within the national boundaries and the imperial
circles changes will be as radical as in the wider
international relations. What those changes will
be, how far they will reach in this direction or
that, and what may be the war's far-off event, no
one can foretell. The changes will be vital rather
than mechanical. In the end a vital change is
radical. It goes to the root.

War or no war, a change was coming in the
political relations, both national and interna-
tional, of that marvellous fact in history, that ap-
parently accidental but really purposeful aggre-
gation of nations and colonies and dependencies,
which before the war began the world geogra-
phies called the British Empire. For it a change
was long on the way. But the fierceness and
the ferment of the crucible of war are producing



in a year what in the slow-moving evolutions of
peace a generation or perhaps even a century
might not have yielded.

For one thing, not only will the self-governing
British Dominions, Canada, Australia, New Zea-
land and South Africa, accept each for itself the
fact of full national status and cherish feelings
and aspirations appropriate to nationhood, but
also, as among themselves in the British com-
monwealth, and by the other nations over all the
world, they will be recognised as nations. Al-
ready they each present the national requisites : a
national territory, a national government, and
a national spirit. In their self-government they
do the things nations do: they exercise national
rights, they accept national obligations, they dis-
charge national duties. They are nations, not
colonies; nations, not dependencies.

Years ago, while he was Prime Minister of
Canada, Sir Wilfrid Laurier declared Canada's
national status on many notable occasions, and
in terms such as these:

"Canada is a nation. We feel that we are
a nation. Our country is the finest under
the sun. We have a population of over
seven millions. We have practical control
of our foreign relations. We have command
of our own forces. We bow the heart and
the knee to the King, God bless him. We


are his loyal subjects. He is our King, but
he has no more rights over us than are al-
lowed him by our own Canadian Parliament.
If this does not mean nationhood, what,
then, constitutes a nation? And if there is
a nation under the sun that can say more
than this, where is it to be found?"

The Canadian people even at that time had be-
gun to think in terms of nationhood and to
breathe the spirit of a nation's life. They re-
fused the terms "colony" and "colonial." Some-
times they resented them. The thing represented
by such terms had been outgrown and left be-

But the fact of nationhood claimed for Canada
by Sir Wilfrid Laurier, in accordance with the
growing sentiment of the Canadian people, had
been recognised, or at least it had begun to be
recognised, by leaders and exponents of political
thought in Britain long before the events of the
war in 1914 made it plain to all the world. The
following quotations from British political lead-
ers made by Mr. John S. Ewart, K.C., of Ot-
tawa, in an address on "Canadian Sovereignty,"
delivered before various Canadian Clubs in 1913,
are not only pertinent to this discussion but ex-
tremely illuminating and significant He quotes
the great British jurist, Sir Frederick Pollock, as
saying :


"Leave the conventions alone and look at
the facts, and we find that the 'self-govern-
ing colonies' are, in fact, separate kingdoms
having the same King as the parent group.
. . . The House of Commons could no more
venture to pass a bill altering the Aus-
tralian marriage laws or the Canadian tariff
than the Dominion Parliament could legis-
late on London tramways. The sovereignty
is a figment. . . . Here, then, we have the
first of our Imperial anomalies. It is dif-
ficult to define what the realm is. We call
it an Empire, for convenience; but the im-
perium, the power of sovereignty, the right
residing in some quarter to issue a command
which should be obeyed, resides nowhere."

Almost quoting these authoritative words, in
affirming the same ideas, the Standard of Empire,
itself established in order to help all British peo-
ples to "think Imperially," declared:

"Leaving theory and legal figments alone,
an overseas State of the British Dominions
is an autonomous nation. The King is King
of the United Kingdom of Great Britian
and Ireland, and of the Dominions beyond
the sea. That is to say, in Australia he is
King of Australia, and in Canada he is King
of Canada."

Right Hon. Joseph Chamberlain, who is given
credit for making "Think Imperially" a current
phrase, is quoted as saying in 1906:


"The time has gone by when we could
treat with indifference these States which
have voluntarily accepted one Crown and
one Flag, when we could speak of them as
though they were subject to our dictation.
They are self-governing nations. They are
sister States. They are our equals in every-
thing except population and wealth; and
very quickly you will find that they will equal
and surpass us in these respects."

And Mr. Chamberlain's successor as Secretary
of State for the Colonies, the Right Hon. Alfred
Lyttleton, expressed his view on the question in
this language:

"Action should be organised in the clear
appreciation of the fact that, as between the
parent country and the Dominions, there is
now a practical equality of status. Mr. Bal-
four in the House of Commons was under-
stood to say that his Majesty's Government
were well advised, in the changed relations,
to recognise the legitimacy of the Canadian
claim, and cordially expressed his pleasure
at the growth of the Dominions to the stature
of nationality. For a long time the politi-
cal relations of this country to the Domin-
ions were obscured in wise silence, but the
period during which silence could be main-
tained has now ceased. The consciousness
of the great Dominions has rapidly matured,
and the recurring Imperial Conferences


have of necessity brought about a clearer
definition of their national aspirations."

Declarations such as these are the more signifi-
cant of modern British opinion because they are
made, not by the exponents of political radical-
ism, but by statesmen of conservative mind and
of conservative political affiliations and tradi-
tions. Mr. Balfour spoke as the foremost states-
man in the Unionist party, and as chief among
the leaders of conservative political thinking,
when he affirmed that the United Kingdom "is
simply first among equals, so far as the great self-
governing parts of the Empire are concerned";
and that it is the business of the men of this
new day "to frame the British Empire upon the
co-operation of absolutely independent Parlia-

One more pronouncement may suffice. It is
from the stoutest Imperialist of them all, the
scholarly-minded Lord Milner. It is not only
very pointed, very definite, very unmistakable
in its language, but it has a far reach and a wide
application :

"One thing is certain. It is only on these
lines, on the lines of the greatest develop-
ment of the several states and their coales-
cence, as fully developed units, into a greater
union, that the Empire can continue to exist


at all. The failure of the past attempts at
Imperial organisation is due to our imperfect
grasp of the idea of the wider patriotism.
In practice we are slipping back to the anti-
quated conception of the mother country as
the centre of a political system, with the
younger states revolving round it as satel-
lites. Against that conception the growing
pride and sense of independence of the
younger states revolts."

Nothing could be more explicit. Nothing could
give more emphatic denial to everything funda-
mental in the political theory and practice of the
Toryism that held sway in the blundering and
reactionary times of Lord North and George III.
It sounds more like the progressive Liberalism of
Campbell-Bannerman, whose dictum was that
"freedom and independence are the essence of the
Imperial connection," and whose active apprecia-
tion of that true secret of what made the British
Empire strong and keeps it one, secured self-
government for Britons and Boers in South
Africa, and that, too, in the very teeth of Lord
Milner's own determined opposition. And one
other statement by Lord Milner is deserving of
repetition because of its still more emphatic re-
jection of the term "empire" and its strangely
self -contradictory use of the correlated term
"self-governing colonies" :


"The word empire has, in some respects,
an unfortunate effect. It no doubt fairly de-
scribes the position as between the United
Kingdom and subject countries such as India
or our Central African possessions. But for
the relations existing between the United
Kingdom and the self-governing colonies it
is a misnomer, and, with the idea of ascen-
dency, of domination, inevitably associated
with it, a very unfortunate misnomer."

Were it not that Lord Milner is an Oxford
man, one of the most scholarly among living
British statesmen, one whose thinking and whose
speech are most distinctly marked by the preci-
sion of what is called "German method," one
would not boggle over his frank rejection of
"empire" and his seeming acceptance of "col-
onies" in the same paragraph.

But, all petty criticism of mere phrases aside,
it is plain that, whatever confusion in language
may survive, the fact of "colony" as applied to
Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South
Africa has passed, and that the idea of "im-
perium," the idea of ascendency or of sover-
eignty, and even of "empire," as regards these
sister nations in the British family, is fast pass-
ing. That is to say, Canada is not a part of
the British "empire," inasmuch as it is a free
self-governing nation with no "empire" sover-


eignty exercised over it by the United Kingdom,
and itself exercising no "empire" sovereignty
over any other subject state or inferior race.

And that is to say that, although King George
is Emperor of India, he is not Emperor of Can-
ada. He is King of Canada. God bless him!
And his Kingship of Canada, of Australia, of
New Zealand, and of South Africa is not a
secondary sequence of any "empire" relation-
ship, but is of the very essence of the au-
thoritative proclamation made in Westminster
Abbey on June 22, 1911. Canada is one of the
King's Dominions. He is its King. It is to him
a King-dom. And in that kingdom his kingly
rights and prerogatives are such, and only such,
as the people and Parliament and responsible
Government of Canada approve and allow.

All this of "freedom and independence" was
true, at least in theory, and was asserted before
the war in Europe broke out in August, 1914.
What shall be after the war?

For one thing: whatever new conditions may
arise, whatever changes impend, it must not be
overlooked or forgotten that the British Empire
was not made : it grew. It is a thing not of logic,
but of life. It is the result, not of German meth-
od, but of British experiment. Nothing the war
may do can change the genius of the British peo-
ples, or force a living organism within the dog-


matic terms of a dead formula. The empire-
builder with a measuring rod and a drill-sergeant
rule might, indeed, make an "empire" with its
"imperium," its "imperator" and its shoddy "im-
perialism," but, if omnipotent and if given a
chance, he would wreck the British Empire. Be-
cause it is British, not Roman and not German,
"freedom and independence are the essence of
the Imperial connection/' its fundamental doc-
trine of personal liberty is the glory of its citizen-
ship, and its social democracy is the corner-stone
of its enduring fabric of free government. Free-
dom and Independence! Liberty and Democ-
racy! These remain. All else may change and



INDEPENDENCE was the great idea in the
North America of Washington's day; Inter-
dependence is coming to be the greater idea in
the North America of our day. Nationalism was
the note of the world of Yesterday; Inter-nation-
alism will be the keynote of the world of To-

It is not that old ideas are repudiated: it is
rather that they are being outgrown. It is not
that national life is decaying; it is rather that
world life is beginning to emerge. When the
world was a jungle, each tribe counted every
other tribe its enemy, each race lived at the ex-
pense of other races, each nation thought to come
to power by the overthrow of other nations : but
as the world becomes a neighbourhood the fact
of mutual dependence overcomes the impulses to
tribal war, the law of social love casts out the
bondage of racial fear, and the ideal of interna-
tional service sets a new standard of national
greatness in the neighbourhood life of world na-
tions. Nationalism is not rebuked, rather it is
justified, and comes to its own in the broader
international life. The best seeds of national life



come to flower and fruit in the world achieve-
ments of international service.

These essential principles of world life and
world progress are set forth and illustrated in the
history of the two great English-speaking groups
of nations, the British Empire and the Republic
of the United States of America.' The unmatched
illustration is in North America. The great
fraternity of the English-speaking world has
made an experiment on the North American con-
tinent which is at once the marvel and the in-
spiration of all the world. This international
experiment is the embodiment of North Ameri-
ca's World Idea.

North America is more than a continent of
Geography. It is also a World Idea.

Four hundred and fifty years ago, with the
fall of Constantinople, the nations of western
Europe were turned back upon themselves. Their
whole history, for more than two thousand years,
had been bound up with the commerce, the ideas
and the life of the people of Asia Minor and the
great nations of the Far East. The closing of
the Dardanelles five hundred years ago shut off
that eastward look of Europe. The fall of Con-
stantinople and .the rise of the Ottoman Empire
compelled the right-about-face of western Euro-
pean nations. That change of front changed the
outlook for Italy, for Spain, for Portugal, for


France, for Britain. The nations that had been
in the rear were henceforth to stand in the
world's front street. To break new pathways
to the treasures of the fabled East the Portuguese
went round the Cape, adventurers from Britain
broke into the misty and frozen north, and far
beyond the western seas Columbus and Cortez,
the Cabots and Cartier, saw a new continent
heave high above the horizon line.

That was Europe's first vision of America.
America was a new world. To the old world,
broken and defeated at the Dardanelles, America
meant a new beginning. For the restless life of
the Europe of the fifteenth century, shut in by
the eastward blockade in the basin of the ^Egean
and eager to burst its bonds, the discovery of
America meant a new opportunity.

To-day America looks back to Europe. After
four centuries of stagnation along the one hund-
red and fifty miles of narrow waters that sep-
arate Europe from Asia, conditions again meet
for another stupendous world change. It would
seem as though thirty centuries were blotted out.
The world is back again in the romance land
of the Iliad. The shores where once anchored
the long-oared boats of the Achaeans, and that
echoed to the tread of the hosts of Xerxes, now
answer to the heaven-splitting boom of artillery
shells, forged some of them in Pittsburgh and


some in Toronto, while soldiers of the Allies, not
from Britain and France and Russia alone, but
from Australia and New Zealand under the
Southern Cross, press on, as did Ulysses thirty
centuries ago, to win death and glory

"Far on the ringing plains of windy

In these uncommon days in which we live, con-
ditions now meet on that battleground of world
history, that under our very eyes will issue in
epoch-making events of world significance. The
age-long horror of the Near East is about to lift,
like a night-pall at dawn. Once again Constanti-
nople is doomed to fall, and when it falls, no mat-
ter what happens in Brussels or Berlin, the map
of the world must be re-drawn.

In the fifteenth century Constantinople fell,
and in its fall the West was split off from the
East, as though never again the twain would
meet. In the twentieth century, when Constan-
tinople falls again, the middle wall of partition
will be taken away, and in the new world of the
new day there shall be neither East nor West.
One more of the world's autocracies, the blackest
and cruellest of them all, crumbles into ruin. The
democratic life of the western world will break
down the institutions of half-barbaric Turkish
despotism, as the Dreadnoughts of Britain and


France smash their way through the forts of the
Dardanelles. History is about to take a fresh
start. Civilisation is shot through with the
birth-pangs of a new age. A new world throbs
in the womb of time, struggling to be born. Into
that new world of new beginnings and new ideals
and new resolves North America, with its world
idea, must make its way.

And America to-day means more, immeasur-
ably more, than that first shadowy vision Europe
caught of the western hemisphere. America
means more than opportunity. Into the new
world of a new time North America comes,
meaning not opportunity alone, but achievement
as well. North America represents an achieve-
ment, an international achievement in the politics
of the nations, absolutely without precedent in
any century, without parallel on any continent.

North America has achieved a world idea.
Indeed the real distinction of North America is
not so much in great things done as in great ideas
set free. Among what are called the wonders of
the world other nations on other continents may
have a pre-eminence. Things done elsewhere
mere things, eccentricities of nature, triumphs
of invention, applications of science, achieve-
ments in art and architecture things done else-
where may be more widely advertised and may
fill larger space in the world's records. And it


may be the things about which Americans them-
selves make their loudest boasts are but replicas
of old-world creations. Other races and other
nations laboured through the ages, and America
entered into their labours. But in one thing North
America blazed a new trail, staked a new claim.
In one achievement North America stands alone.
In the greatest achievement of the United States,
in the greatest achievement of Canada, and in
the joint international achievement of the United
States and Canada, North America gives voice
and accent to a world idea, an idea which will yet
reconstruct Europe and touch to finer issues the
civilisation of the world.

Recall the greatest thing done by the United
States. It was not a railway system spanning the
continent. It was not a canal uniting the oceans.
It was not any of the big things done by the
Republic in the great day of its pride and world
power. It was rather the achievement of the day
of small things. It was the idea set free in Colo-
nial days, at Fayetteville and at Mecklenburg, in
Massachusetts and in Virginia, the idea of free-
dom and self-government that at Philadelphia
in 1776, issued in the Declaration of Independ-
ence and in the setting up of the new Republic.
That thing, to be sure, was not all great. It had
its taint of selfish ambition posing in the garb of
patriotism. It had its spirit of lawlessness talk-


ing the language of liberty. But the distinctive
thing in that great adventure, the supreme thing
of all American effort, the thing which makes the
names of Washington and Jefferson immortal,
was the declaration before all the world of the
inalienable right of a free people to govern them-
selves, and the working out of democratic self-
government in the growing history of the nation.
That is the organising idea of the United States
and its greatest contribution to the democracy of
the world.

Over against that thing done by the United
States set the thing done by Canada, the unique
achievement embodied in Canada's national his-
tory. Canada represents in North America the
first successful effort of any colony of any Em-
pire in the world's history to attain national self-
government without revolution and without the
sacrifice of the historic background of the nation.
The thing done by the American colonies through
revolution and war in the eighteenth century
might easily have been done by the remaining
colonies of British North America in the nine-
teenth century. Canada could have had separa-
tion from Britain without striking a blow. Inde-
pendence would have been hers for the asking.
But between 1776 and 1867 the political think-
ing of the English-speaking world was broadened.
The idea of independence in North America took


a wider sweep and a higher ranged Canada came
to nationhood, not by the old way of independence
and separation, but by the new way of inter-
dependence and the larger alliance. With its
national roots struck far back in the thousand
years of Britain's history, Canada stands to-day
in the world's battle array of free Dominions
Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa,
with self-governing Newfoundland from the
North Atlantic and mighty India holding the
mystery of the Far East and back of them all
that mother of free nations, never greater than
when, with her loyal children from the ends of
the earth, and all of them free, she throws her-
self across the battle- front in Flanders, for the
cause of the little people whose only crime was
innocence. And that marvel of the world alli-
ance of the British nations is the vital outcome of
what was done in North America in the nine-
teenth century when the colonies of Canada
achieved democratic nationhood without aliena-
tion from the motherland, and made possible the
international commonwealth the world calls the
British Empire.

But North America's world idea is greater
than the achievement of either of the North
American nations alone. It is the product and
the expression of the combined and unified life
of the United States and Canada through their


marvellous century of international history. That
world idea which North America offers to all
the continents is a boundary line between these
two proud, high-strung, aggressive nations, four
thousand miles from ocean to ocean, but across
which in more than a hundred years neither na-
tion ever once launched a menacing army or fired
a hostile gun.

Grasp that idea. Measure that achievement.
A thousand miles up the mighty St. Lawrence!
A thousand miles along the Great Lakes! A

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Online Library1862- Macdonald James AlexanderDemocracy and the nations; → online text (page 6 of 12)