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COMMONWEALTH
OR EMPIRE



BY



A BYSTANDER



Partly reprinted from '■''The Toronto Weekly Sun.'''



Toronto : Wm. Tyrrell & Co.
1900



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COMMONWEALTH OR EMPIRE



Whatever may be for Americans the main issue in
the Presidential campaign, for the world at large it is
that between Imperialist Plutocracy, and the American
Commonwealth. Shall the American Commonwealth
remain what it is, follow its own destiny, and do what
it can to fulfil the special hopes which humanity has
founded on it, or shall it be turned into an imitation of
European Imperialism and drawn, with the great mili-
tary powers of Europe, into a «3areer of conquest and
domination, impairing at the same time its own demo-
cratic character^ as all experience tells us that it must?
Shall it be ruled by the spirit and in the interest of
the American people, or in those of the European ized
plutocracy which has its commercial centre in the fin-
ancial offices of the East and its social centre in the
drawing-rooms of New York? This is the main issue
for humanity.

Puritan New England could not last, though it served
as the foundation, and left strong traces on national
character. America w^as bound to undergo the general
influences of the world's progress and to be embi-aced
by the world-unifying agencies of electricity and
steam. The original elements had been largely diluted
by foreign inflow, which, however, had been assimilated
in a wonderful degree. Still, the American Republic
was the home of democracy and the hope of labor. It
promised to do something more than the Old World
communities towards rectifying the injustice of nature
and equalizing the human lot. The eyes of the masses
everywhere were turned to it. To the enemies of
equality and freedom everywhere it was an object of
aversion and alarm. Loud was the shout of exultation



4 COMMONWEALTH OR EMPIRE.

with which, at the moment of secession, aristocracy and
plutocracy in Europe hailed its apparent fall. Freedom
from Socialism, other than imported, proved the general
soundness of the industrial republic.

There was reason at all events to hope that human-
ity would here be rid of two of its banes in the Old
World, State Churches and standing armies. Where
there was no danger of war there could be no occasion
for a standing armj' beyond what might be necessary
for the maintenance of order in a community receiving
foreign elements little trained in their countries of
origin to recognize any authority but force. The inter-
nal conflict caused by slavery was at an end. Nothing
apparently was left to give birth to war. The war
with Spain, that most ardent of patriots, John M.
Forbes, held, as his biography tells us, to have been
made for the purpose of keeping a political party in
power. It seemed that peace might be preached to
all peoples and governments more effectually than any
conference could preach it by the spectacle of a mighty
nation thriving beyond all other nations by honest
industry and living on friendly terms with all its com-
peers, yet, as a power, respected by the whole world.

But the resources of the continent, marvellously de-
veloped, and financial speculation have bred a body
of wealth having its centre in the East, headed by a
fabulous multi-millionairism, entrenched in a multi-
plicity of great corporations and trusts, daily absorbing
money and extending its influence, feeling more and
more the general unity of its interests, and threatening,
if its ascendancy is not moderated, to dominate the
State. For some time the class was timid, shunned pol-
itics, rather shrank from sight, fearing that public jeal-
ousy might be aroused. Now it is past that stage and
is beginning to turn its wealth into power. This it may
do to an indefinite extent. It may buy legislatures.



COMMONWEALTH OR EMPIRE. 5

judiciaries, mimicipalities, perhaps even Churches.
A Senatorship we have seen it purchase without dis-
guise. It may command the public journals and thus
control public opinion. It may kill commercially any-
one who opposes it. Even universities, fed by its
bounty, may fall under its political influence. A
limit can hardly be set to the extension of its power in
an age in which the universal object of desire is money
with the .enjoyment which money provides.

No one who is right-minded can desire to array
labour against capital or to interfere by violent mea-
sures of repression with fair gains, with the discharge
by capital of its necessary functions in the conduct of
industry, or with its just mfluence in the political
sphere. But it would be an evil day on which supreme
power should pass into the hands of accumulated
money. Of the wealth, much has been made by the
organization of industrial enterprises beneficial to the
community at large, while some has been made in
ways not so beneficial. Not a little has been nobly
spent on public objects and institutions. But the best
of multi-millionaires leaves heirs.

It is useless to rail at a class for following its natur-
al bent. Multi-millionairism does no more. Its luxury
and ostentation are as natural as they are conspicuous.
A famous ball bespoke at once its profuse magnificence
and its disregard of democratic sentiment. At heart it
sighs for a court and for aristocracy. It is even intro-
ducing the powder-headed footman while he is going
out of fashion in England. Its social centre is shifting
more and more from the United States to monarchical
and aristocratic England, where it can take hold on
the mantle of high society, get more homage and sub
serviency for its wealth, hope perhaps in the end to win
its way to the circle of royalty, and, if it becomes nat-
uralized, to obtain a knighthood or even a peerage. It



6 COMMONWEALTH OR EMPIRE.

barters the hands of its daughters and its millions for
aristocratic connection. One of its leading members
has just abandoned his native country for the country
of his class, while he continues to draw a royal income
from the industry of New York. Its growth on the
body politic may be, as we are told it is, the operation
of natural law. But so are growths on the physical
body, against which, nevertheless, we guard.

That the plutocracy is at once conscious of the gen-
eral identity of its interests, and feels that Imperialism
is congenial to it, is shown by the unanimity with
which it ranges itself under the Imperialist banner in
this contest. Even with Silver magnates the bias of
class, it appears, is stronger than that of Silver.

If you have an Empire, you will, under one form or
another, have an Emperor. You cannot help commit-
ting a measure of autocratic power to the head of the
executive, thereby changing his character and the
character of the constitution. President McKinley is
an autocrat in regard to the acquired possessions of the
United States, if they are not covered by the constitu-
tion. The Queen, constitutional in Great Britain, is an
Empress in India ; though in this case the government
of the Empire has been effectually separated from that
of the constitutional country by delegation to a vice-
roy, with an entirely separate service.

A standing army is the necessary appendage of
Empire, and it brings with it not only the means of
armed repression in case of conflict between the hold-
ers of power and the people, but the military spirit of
absolutism and professional caste, which is congenial to
oligarchic and adverse to democratic sentiment; as
Germany, dragooned by her military aristocracy, too
well knows.

The ai'iny at home, though constitutionally under the
command of the President, is practically under the con-



COMMONWEALTH OR EMPIRE. 7

trol of the same democratic influences by which the ex-
ecutive generally is controlled. The army in the de-
pendencies would be more absolutely at the President's
command.

The change would soon extend to the spirit of the
American people. The effect is already seen. Lan-
guage on questions between right and force at vari-
ance^ not only with the Declaration of Independence,
but with anything that would have been heard fifty
years ago, may now be read in the Imperialist press.
It is true that there is throughout the Avorld a tendency
of sentiment in this direction ; that evolution and the
survival of the fittest have been everywhere propagat-
ing the gospel of force ; while the gospel of human
brotherhood, justice, and mercy, preached by Jesus and
professed by Christian nations, has been losing influence
even with Churches. Yet, apart from this general ten-
dency, the immediate effect of Imperialism on Ameri-
can sentiment may be distinctly seen.

A relapse, not only from American but from civil-
ized principle, has already taken place. In all defences
of the sanguinary subjugation of the Filipinos it is as-
sumed that the people were sold and bought with the
land. Under the feudal system the serfs were sold and
bought with the land, though in the case of the free
tenants attornment was required. The general idea
that the people, as a matter of course, passed with the
land by cession or transfer long afterwards prevailed.
But it has been discarded by modern civilization. When
Savoy was transferred from Sardinia to France^ a plebis-
cite was taken. In the case of the Ionian Islands the
desire of the people to be transferred from Great Brit-
ain to Greece had been clearly expressed. The treaty
for the transfer of St. Thomas from Denmark to the
United States was made conditional on the assent of the
inhabitants, to be taken by vote, as it actually was.



8 COMMONWEALTH OR EMPIRE.

though the treaty afterwards went off on other grounds.
Newly-created monarchies are now entitled ^not of the
land but of the people ; Louis Philippe was King, not of
France but of the French ; Napoleon III. was Emperor
of the French ; Wilhelm II. is not Emperor of Ger-
many, but German Emperor. In the case of Alsace
and Lorraine the transfer of land and people together
was by the stern right of conquest in a war in which
the people had taken part. This cannot be pleaded in
the case of the Filipinos, who had been recognized by
the Americans as allies in the war against Spain. The
language which has been held on this subject by Impe-
rialist speakers and journalists grates harshly on the
ear of modern morality. Nor can anything be less
relevant as precedents than the natural extension of the
American people over the unpeopled spaces of their
own continent, or the acquisition of Louisiana, with the
tacit assent of its inhabitants, and provision for their
incorporation into the Union, before the expedient of a
plebiscite had become known.

Is it impossible that a democracy, without any formal
change of its constitution, should pass under the yoke
of wealth ? History furnishes at least one notable in-
stance of the kind. The Republic of Florence, without
change of its political forms, was effectually enslaved
by the wealth of the Medicis. Florence was small,
it is true. But so was the wealth of the Medicis com-
pared with the collective fortunes of the United States.
Nor had the Medicis, at the time of their usurpa-
tion, a standing army, which American plutocracy avUI
soon have, on a large scale, if Imperialism gains the day.

The tendency of Imperialism to an increase of the
power of the executive, at the expense of the represen-
tative is already seen in England, where the House of
Commons has of late been manifestly losing power
while the Ministry has manifestly been gaining it.



COMMONWEALTH OR EMPIRE. 9

This is so evident that a writer of mark on female suf-
frage doubts whether it is worth the while of the
women to strive for parliamentary representation when
the authority of Parliament is so clearly on the wane.
The tendency of war to exalt the executive at the ex-
pense of the representative will not be denied. The
War of Secession made the President for the time
almost a dictator, though Lincoln's character was a per-
fect security against usurpation.

War^ and everything that excites the passion for war,
favours political reaction by turning the thoughts of the
people away from internal improvement and reform.

The British polity is founded on traditional attach-
ment to a constitution handed down, with successive
developments, from the Middle Ages. The American
polity is founded on allegiance to principles such as are
set forth in the Declaration of Independence. If alleg-
iance to these great principles is renounced, as by the
forcible assumption of dominion over other communi-
ties or races it must be, the moral foundations of the
Republic will be shaken, and the sentiment which in
American hearts has taken the place of European loy-
alty, will lose its sustaining power.

A subtle influence had already been at work to un-
dermine the originality and independence of American
character, aims, and institutions. The United States,
after all, are colonies thrown off from an adult civiliza-
tion. The general verdict of history is that greatness
comes, not from colonies so thrown off, but from the
wild-stock which has the germ of independent life in it-
self. The G-reater Greece was much the lesser in any-
thing but bulk. Little, except of a material kind, has
hitherto come of the colonies thrown off from adult
civilizations in later days, such as those of Spain, Portu-
gal, Holland, or France. They have lacked the germ
of original and independent life. The American colon-



lo COMMONWEALTH OR EMPIRE.

ies of Great Britain were founded not merely by emi-
gration, but by s(3cession, religious or social, and were
ultimately torn away from the mother country by a
political convulsion. These things combined seemed to
give them a life-germ of their own. A marked and
even bitter antagonism was for- some time the result.
This, so far as the American plutocracy is concerned,
has now given way to the force of social attraction.
That the ancient antagonism should cease, that every
trace of angry memories should be effaced, and that
international bitterness should give place to perfect
amity, is what right-minded men on both sides desire
and do their best to bring about. But it is not desir-
able, either for America or for humanity, that Ameri-
can civilization should be re-absorbed into that of the
Old Country, or that the original and independent life
of America should be lost.

Participation with the British Empire in aggrandize-
ment is held out as a new life to the American
people. Principally by maritime war, Great Britain has
acquired a miscellany of possessions. Imperial and col-
onial, scattered over the globe. For their protection
she is compelled to keep up a fleet such as will make
her mistress of all seas, thereby, perhaps involuntarily,
threatening the maritime independence of other nations,
which, to avoid passing under her naval yoke, think
themselves obliged to vie with her in lavishing on the
building of battleships the bread taken from the
mouths of their people. The people of the United
States have no interest in dominating over all the
seas, nor any inducement to partake of the general
envy and enmity which such domination inevitably
breeds and which are already felt by Great Britain to
be assuming a dangerous form.

Americans are tempted to embrace a policy of tribal-
ism, under the foi-m of a league of the Anglo-Saxon



COMMONWEALTH OR EMPIRE. ii

race, which is to overshadoV the world. A return to
tribalism sounds like relapse into barbarism. Besides,
the tribal unity in this case is largely fictitious. In
the United Kingdom, three-fourths of Ireland, the High-
lands of Scotland, almost the whole of Wales and the
West of England are Celtic, not to mention a large scat-
tering of Flemings, Huguenots, and other immigrants.
In the United States there is a great mixture of races.
There was a mixture in the original foundations, and
there has been a vast inflow of motley immigration.
The population of the United States is not tribal but
human ; human also ought to be its policy. That the
English language is spoken and that English law and
institutions have been largely adopted by the great
community of the New World is matter of just pride for
Englishmen. But we do not want the New World to be
turned out of its course and made untrue to its destiny
by an ethnological fancy plainly at variance with fact.
Nor should it be forgotten that Great Britain carries
with her not only her fifty millions of English-speaking
people, but her three hundred millions and more of Hin-
doos and other races differing as widely as possible
from the Anglo-Saxon type.

A league of States in different parts of the globe,
bound together merely by origin or language, yet sworn
to fight in each other's quarrels, whatever the cause
and without regard to the merits of the case, would be
a conspiracy against international morality and the- in-
dependence of all nations such as would soon compel
the world to take arms for its overthrow. Nobody
would be cajoled by such phrases as " spreading civil-
ization " or " imposing universal peace." The world
does not want to have anything imposed on it by an
Anglo-Saxon league or by a combination of any kind.

Commercial gain would be the real object, commer-
cial cupidity would be the sustaining principle of the



12 COMMONWEALTH OR EMPIRE.

league. But in their commercial policy the two nations
at present are diametrically opposed to each other;
Great Britain being for free trade, America being for
protection. That Great Britain will ever renounce free
trade, under which her wealth has multiplied, seems
about as likely as that the Thames will reverse its
course. Mutterings of reaction, political rather than
economical in their source, and local rather than
national^ are heard from time to time ; but they die
away.

Americans are exhorted to embrace '' the strenuous
life." Is it not a strenuous life that has produced the
United States with all their marvels of wealth, intelli-
gence, and civilization ? Is nothing strenuous but ex-
ternal aggression ?

The American constitution is not suited for playing
the British game. In England foreign policy remains
in the same hands enough to preserve its continuity
and the general identity of its aims. A Foreign Minis-
ter, retiring from office, still sits in Parliament and still
has his voice in the councils of the State ; while the
Foreign Office is largely in the hands of permanent
officers of the highest chiss. But an American Secre-
tary of State, retiring from office, hardly ever takes his
seat in Congress, so that the thread of an Imperialist
policy would be abruptly broken off every four years,
and there could hardly be community of design or con-
tinuous co-operation with the Foreign Office of Great
Bi'itain. Instead of unity of counsels, angry divergence
might result. Nor does it seem likely that the demo-
cratic character of the American Republic could be so
comjilctely eliminated from its diplomacy as to make it
an apt yoke-fellow for a monarchical and aristocratic
country like Great Britain. The monarchical and aris-
tocratic influence in Great Britain has been consider-
ably strengthened, as it was sure to be, b^^ Imperialism



COMMONWEALTH OR EMPIRE. 13

and militarism, wliich commend themselves to reaction-
ists on that account.

The reason given for this sudden tendency to alliance
with British Imperialism is the interposition of Great
Britain to prevent action on the part of the other Euro-
pean powers adverse to the United States in the case of
the war with Spain. The fact has been denied by the
other powers, nor has any proof of it been given. It
may safely be said, however, that this, if a genuine, was
not the sole cause. There were combined with it pluto-
cratic affinity and sympathy^ which found a fair occa-
sion for their display under the guise of gratitude for
the British intervention.

It is with the Tory party in England, the party of
sympathy with Secession, that the United States are
being drawn into alliance. Let it not be forgotten that
there is in England a Liberal party, the constant friend
of the United States, anti-Imperialist itself and the ally
of American anti-Imperialists, at present depressed by
the war fever, but likely, when national health returns,
to recover its power. The language of the Democratic
platform about Great Britain needs modification in this
respect.

Politicians who propose to discard the advice of
Washington and enter the councils of the great Euro-
pean powers appeal to the pride of the American people.
Yet not to pride of the highest kind ; for the transfor-
mation of the Commonwealth into the counterpart of a
power of the Old World would be an imitation, and in
imitation there is always something poor. Like an
American heiress married into an aristocratic family,
America in that circle would always be a new-comer.
Independence, miscalled isolation, is not impotence. By
virtue of it America has enjoyed moral influence and a
hold on the popular sentiment everywhere. It is doubt-
ful Avhether Mr. Chamberlain would have ventured on



14 COMMONWEALTH OR EMPIRE.

the South African war had he not been assured at least
of benevolent neutrality at Washington. If the Com-
monwealth yearns for a nobler part, a nobler part may
be found, not in partnership with predatory powers, but
rather in morally upholding against them human inde-
pendence and the rights of the family of nations.

How could that charter of the independence of
the hemisphere, the Monroe Doctrine, be sustained if
the United States were interfering all over the w^orld ?

In the East the name of America must surely be
better, and her influence over those races greater, if she
stands aloof from European powers, to whose aggres-
sive attitude this fearful uprising of Chinese nationality
is immediately due.

Expansionists, the party of Empire call themselves.
But no name could be less appropriate. Expansion
means extension without breach of continuity, tei ritor-
ial or political, such as was the enlargement of the
Union by the incorporation of new States. The annex-
ation of an archipelago on the other side of the globe,
inliabited by a race or races in all respects radically
alien, is not expansion but dispersion. The new States
need no army or fleet to hold them ; nor, as territories
before their admission to the Union, are they dependen-
cies ; they are probationary States.

Continental Union, formed with the free consent of
Canada and of her mother country, would be expansion
in the true sense of the tei-m. It would bring into the
Republic a long stretch of adjoining territory inhabited
by people of the same blood and trained under similar
institutions. It would complete the unity of the north-
ern continent and shut the gate on war. The natural
products of Canada's forests, mines, and water-power,
as well ;is her special farm pioducts, are needed by the
United States, while Canada needs the manufactures
whicii the United States, liaving an immense market,



COMMONWEALTH OR EMPIRE. 15

produce on the largest scale and therefore at the cheap-
est rate. Nor is it very doubtful that had statesman-
ship reigned at Washington, Continental Union might
have been brought about ; though, as it is, the face of
the Canadian producer is being forcibly turned away
from his own continent to Europe. In the Republican
platform of 1896 Continental Union was a plank. It
has now been struck out. The immediate cause of the
omission, no doubt. Is the tacit alliance of the Repub-
lican party with the Conservative party, which is now
dominant in England and is intensely opposed to Con-
tinental Union, hoping always in its heart to found in
Canada a power differing in spirit and institutions from
the democracy of the United States. But plutocracy
also cannot help viewing with secret, perhaps half un-
conscious complacency, the outpost of monarchy and
aristocracy with its little court and miniature peerage
on this democratic hemisphere. This again is but a
natural tendency, about which it would be folly to utter-
hard words but of which it is necessary to take note.

Pitt tried to found an order of hereditary nobility in
Canada. The soil of the New World refused to nourish
the exotic plant. But now a mode of introducing aris-
tocracy and aristocratic sentiment into the New World
has been found. British titles, including peerages,
are conferred upon colonial politicians and capitalists.
The Canadian Almanac comprises a miniature peerage,
baronetage, and knightage. An American can obtain a


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Online LibraryGoldwin SmithCommonwealth or empire → online text (page 1 of 2)