Goldwin Smith.

The United kingdom; a political history online

. (page 76 of 84)
Online LibraryGoldwin SmithThe United kingdom; a political history → online text (page 76 of 84)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the British and the French province ended in a political
deadlock, from which the leaders of parties, combining for
the moment, agreed to escape by merging their quarrels
in a confederation of all the British provinces of North 1867
America. Into this confederation Upper or British
Canada, now called Ontario, and French Canada, now

VOL. II вАФ 26


called Quebec, came at once. New Brunswick came

early and freely. Nova Scotia was drawn in by question-

1873 able means. Prince Edward Island came in later of her

own accord. The vast Northwest was afterwards pur-

1870 chased of the Hudson's Bay Company and added to the
confederation after the American model as a set of terri-
tories to be received, when peopled, as provinces of the

1871 Dominion. British Columbia was ultimately incorporated
by the construction of the Canadian Pacific railway across
the continent. Some of the authors of confederation
would have preferred a legislative to a federal union.
This was precluded by th,e jealous nationality of the
French province and its adherence to its own civil law.

Federation this process was called, but the form of
polity comprised in the British North America Act is
not that of federation proper ; it is that of a nation with
a federal structure. There is a wide and important differ-
ence between the two. In federation proper, which has
usually been the offspring' of union for common defence,
the several states remain sovereign. The federal govern-
ment is formed of delegates from the several states. Its
powers are confined to the objects of the bond, security
from without and peace within; it has the power of
requisition only, not of taxation ; nor has it any general
legislative powers. The American colonies during their
struggle for independence were a federation proper ; hav-
ing afterwards adopted their present constitution, they
became a nation with a federal structure; if any doubt
remained upon that point, it was dispelled by the war
of secession. The political parties are national; they
extend into state politics, and there has been a general
tendency of the national to prevail over the federal ele-


ment. In the case of Canadian confederation the national
element was from the first stronger than the federal in
this respect, that the residuary power which the American
constitution leaves in the states was by the Canadian
constitution assigned to the Dominion. On the other
hand, the geographical relations of the Canadian prov-
inces, which are stretched in broken line across the
continent, and separated from each other by great spaces
or barriers of nature, so that there is not much natural
trade or interchange of population, are a bar to the ascen-
dancy of the national over the federal element. Provinces
send their delegations to Ottawa charged with provincial
interests, especially with reference to the outlay on public
works ; and it is necessary to have thirteen members in
the cabinet in order to give each province its share, while
a cabinet, or, to speak more properly, an administrative
council, of eight suffices for the population, fourteen times
larger, of the United States. Political parties, however,
extend over all the provinces and generally into pro-
vincial politics, though in the remoter provinces, with a
large element, and in British Columbia with a predomi-
nance, of local objects. On the two old Canadas, now
Ontario and Quebec, but chiefly on Ontario, have lain the
stress and burden of confederation. Ontario has paid
more than sixty per cent, of the taxesj

The imperial element in the Canadian constitution is
represented^ besides the appointment of the governor-
general and the commander of the militia, by an imperial
veto on Canadian legislation, which, however, is becoming
almost nominal; the appellate jurisdiction of the privy
council, which has been partly pared away ; and the sub-
jection of Canadian relations with foreign countries to


the authority of the imperial Foreign Office, which again
is gradually giving way to Canadian autonomy, though
with British responsibility and under the protection of the
British army and navy; a colony having no means of as-
serting its claims by war. Nor must we forget the influ-
ence of imperial titles and honours which on colonial
politicians is great. The Canadian constitution, more-
over, though framed in the main by Canadian politicians,
1867 is embodied in an imperial Act of Parliament, subject to
repeal or amendment only by the same authority by which
it was passed. A community living under a constitution
imposed by external authority, and without the power of
peace or war, can hardly be said yet to have attained
the status of a nation.

The monarchical, element consists of the governor-
general, representing the British sovereign and equally
divested of personal power, with lieutenant-governors of
provinces appointed nominally by the governor-general,
really by the prime minister, and figureheads like their
chief, the places being in fact retiring pensions for vet-
eran politicians.

There is an upper House in the shape of a Senate,
the members of which are appointed for life, ostensibly
by the crown, really by the leader of the party in power. If
the appointments w^e really in the crown, there might be
some opening for the general eminence of which a model
Senate would be the seat. As it is, these appointments
merely form an addition to the patronage fund of party.
The illusory name of the "crown" reconciles people to
the exercise, by party leaders, of powers which might
otherwise be withheld. A certain number of places in
the Senate is assigned to each province ; so that whatever


power the Senate has may be reckoned among the federal
elements of the constitution.'

The Canadian constitution, with its cabinet of ministers
sitting in parliament and controlling legislation, its pre-
rogative exercised formally by the crown, really by the
prime minister, of calling and dissolving parliament, adapts
itself to party government, for which the American con-
stitution, with its election of a president for a stated
term, and its separation of the administrative council,
miscalled a cabinet, from the legislature, is a manifest
misfit. Party takes its usual form and proceeds by its
usual methods, though the necessity of holding together
provinces geographically and commercially disunited, so
as to form a basis for the government, induces a special
resort to the influence of federal subsidies for local works.

The exact relation of a colony on the footing on which
Canada now is to the imperial country it would be difficult
to define, though definition may presently be needful if
misunderstanding is to be escaped. The crown, by the
British North America Act, renounces its supreme owner-
ship of the land by handing over the lands to the provinces.
The personal fealty of the colonists to the sovereign of
Great Britain remains.

Australian federation so called, is like that of Canada,
not a federation proper, but a nation with a federal
structure. It seems to postulate cabinet and, therefore,
party government. But how are Australian parties to be
formed ? How is the cabinet to be evolved ? The ma-
chine has been constructed with care and doubtless with
skill. But what is to be the motor ? In the case of the
Canadian confederation, parties were taken over from the
two united provinces which formed the core of the Do-


minion, and are still in some measure founded on the
opposition between French and English, though the divid-
ing line has grown very indistinct, and the conflict has
long since become almost entirely one of electioneering
tactics with the usual accompaniments of that game.

The political history of Canada is in its main features
that of the self-governing colonies in North America,
Australasia, and South Africa. All have passed from the
state of dependencies ruled, by a governor representing
the colonial office to that of self-government and virtual
independence, for which some now propose, over-riding
geographical conditions and difference of circumstance, to
substitute a federal bond. Recent developments, such as
the socialism and feminism of Australasia, fall not within
the compass of this work. A specially important part has
been played in Australasian politics by the land question,
the source of which, as has been already said, is the doc-
trine, handed down from feudal times, of the crown's lord-
ship of all land.

South Africa, a Dutch colony conquered by Great
Britain, has been the unhappy scene of a struggle be-
tween the British and Dutch races and between each of
them and native tribes, some of them powerful and war-
like. This again falls not within the compass of the
present work.

The West Indian colonies as a group, and notably the
most important of them, Jamaica, may be said to have
held a place intermediate between self-government and
the government of the crown. But the political history
of all those islands is slavery.

It is not likely that there was any scruple about slavery


in the mind of Cromwell, whose belief in the Old Testa-
ment was uncritical, and might mislead him, not on this
question alone. But in attempting the conquest of His-
paniola and in conquering Jamaica his main object
probably was, by advancing the outposts of England and
Protestantism, to break into the Spanish monopoly of
South American lands and waters. He put down seces-
sion in Barbadoes, but gave that colony articles of liberty
commercial and fiscal as well as political, such as if given
to the North American colonies would have averted the
American revolution.

All-powerful at sea while she was weak by land. Great
Britain found herself after each war the mistress of more
sugar and slave islands and more deeply implicated in
their unhallowed trade.

There is abundant evidence to show that Jamaica was
in the days of slavery full of cruelty and vice. John-
son described it as " a place of great wealth and dreadful
wickedness, a den of tyrants and a dungeon of slaves."
"Here's to the next insurrection of the negroes in the
West Indies ! " was the toast which this high Tory gave
to a party in high Tory Oxford. Flogging and branding
were the ordinary, hanging, burning and gibbeting alive,
were the extraordinary, modes of enforcing submission.
Killing a negro was long even by law no murder. It
was an open question among slave-owners whether it
was better to rear or to buy slaves. Of the proprietors
the principal were resident in England, where they cor-
rupted society, bought seats in parliament, and there,
with their compact phalanx, upheld slavery and the slave
trade. The island was left in the hands of slave-drivers,
who were sure to be the vilest of mankind- The de-


cencies of civilized life were of course denied to the slave,
and if Methodists or Baptists dared to preach religion to
him, they were summarily put down. It was in Jamaica
apparently that the system was at its worst.

Jamaica and the other West Indian islands had constitu-
tions varying in some respects, but of the general colonial
type, with a governor and an elective assembly, the assem-
bly of course consisting exclusively of whites, and the gov-
ernor having probably as a rule practically more power
than he would have in a white colony, though, as Johnson
said, " The loudest yelps for liberty were heard among the
drivers of negroes."
1833 Emancipation found the negro totally incapable of polit-
ical self-government. Apprenticeship, even if it could
have been carried into effect, would not have sufficed to
bridge such a gulf. To this day the negro has no-
where developed a capacity for active citizenship. In San
Domingo he had a bad start, it is true, his commonwealth
having been born in one of the most fiendish of servile wars.
But in the hundred years which have since elapsed he has
made little, if any, progress in self-government. A series
of usurped dictatorships has been his history. There were,
moreover, a physical chasm between the white man and
the negro, a social chasm between the deposed master and
the liberated slave, and a contemptuous hatred of the
black on the part of the white man, which made their
union in a commonwealth hopeless. The attempt to form
a united commonwealth of whites and blacks has hideously
failed in the United States. If it was possible, the negro
should have been treated in both cases as a ward of the
state without political power, but with personal and in-
dustrial rights, and with superior authority to guard them.


Scarcely had emancipation been completed when the
restiveness of the assembly of Jamaica constrained the
Whig ministry to propose the suspension of the Jamaican 18;39
constitution. In the attempt to carry the Bill the mm
istry fell, and when restored to power it failed to pass an
effectual measure. But the union of the races in Jamaica
was hopeless, though in the lesser islands, with their small
white populations and under economic conditions more
conducive to negro industry, the friction was not so great.
At last, after a period of brooding mistrust and hatred,
with political wrangling in the Jamaican assembly, a war
of race, violent and bloody, broke out. A local and acci- 1865
dental riot among the blacks, caused by the unpopularity
of a district magistrate, was mistaken by the whites, or
they pretended to mistake it, for a general insurrection.
They made the governor proclaim martial law, and carried
on a reign of terror, hanging and flogging both men and
women and burning their houses, which brought a seri-
ous stain upon the honour of England, where the gov-
erning classes, swayed by imperialist sentiment, and many
of them by Carlyle's gospel of force, shut against mercy
the gate of justice. The governor, however, was recalled ;
the constitution of Jamaica was suspended; and a royal
governor went out, invested with power to hold the bal-
ance of equity between the races. Since that time there
has, at all events, been peace.

Crown colonies and fortresses have no political history.
But one of the fortresses, besides having a military his-
tory of extraordinary interest, has exercised a momentous
influence on the policy of the country. England did not
in the first instance come fairly into possession of Gibral-


1713 tar. It was taken, not in a war with Spain, but in a war
in support of a claimant to the Spanish throne, in whose
name and interest all captures were supposed to be made.
The possession, however, was afterwards amply recog-
nized and confirmed. It brought England, and was sure
to bring her, the undying enmity of Spain. On this
account principally English statesmen, Townshend, Stan-
hope, Shelburne, and even Chatham, were willing to resign
it. But it had taken the hold on the popular imagination
which Calais had in former days, and which two mem-
orable sieges confirmed. Again and again, Spain, sinking
into decay, dragged her enfeebled limbs to the attack.
She was as far as possible from being inclined to help into
existence an American republic in close and dangerous
neighbourhood to her own South American possessions ;
but in the hope of regaining Gibraltar, she joined the
league of maritime powers which brought Great Britain
to the brink of ruin. Gibraltar, with the subsequent
addition of Malta, has drawn with it the policy of ascen-
dancy in the Mediterranean, the acquisition of Egypt and
Cyprus, and in some measure the antagonism to Russia as
a power striving to force her way into that sea. Ascen-
dancy in the Mediterranean must depend on the ability of
Great Britain to maintain an overwhelming sea power.
This, again, must depend on the continuance of her supe-
riority in wealth, and, therefore, on her supremacy in
manufactures and trade. But we do not presume to lift
the veil of the future. Among other things, who can
foretell what effect the progressive invention of tremen-
dous instruments of destruction may hereafter produce
on war power and all that depends upon it, particularly
at sea?


The British empire in India is an empire in the true
sense of the word ; yet it is unlike all the empires of
history. It is held on the other side of the globe by
sea power, and in a climate in which the natives of the
imperial country must always be sojourners and can never
make their home ; the races subject to it are absolutely
alien, not in blood, form, and colour only, but in mind,
sentiment, and religious belief, to the conquering race ;
while the professed aim, which in no small degree really
rules the practice of its government, is the welfare not
so much of the conqueror as of the conquered. The
Carthaginian empire was held by sea power, but in that
respect alone resembled the British empire in India, which
it did not approach in scale and still less in beneficence.
The Roman empire, though vast, was still in a ring fence.
Romans could make their abode in any part of it, and the
effete religions of the old world presented no such social
obstacle to a tolerant conqueror as the caste of the Hindoo,
while the population probably did not amount to two-
fifths of that of Hindostan. Spain held a transatlantic
empire in South America. But that empire was in no
respect a counterpart of the British empire in India.
With regard to unselfishness and beneficence of aim, it
was not a counterpart, but a contrast.

When, in the latter part of the eighteenth century, the
Mogul empire, of which the jewelled throne was at Delhi,
having reached its zenith of greatness under Akbar, having
declined under his immediate successors, having under
Aurungzeb veiled its growing weakness beneath its bloated
pomp, at length received its mortal wound from the mur-
derous invasion of Nadir Shah, three great trading com- 1738
panics had their privileged factories on the coast of


Hindostan and faced each other, as competitors for the
command of the Eastern trade. All were armed, as the
lawlessness of the seas in those times and the hostile rela-
tions into which they were often brought by wars among
the home governments required. At an earlier period
Portugal had aspired to supremacy in the Indian seas;
marvels had been wrought by her adventurous mariners
under Vasco de Gama, Cabral, and Albuquerque. But she
had not strength to hold an empire on the other side of
the globe, and at the critical moment she fell into the
grasp of Spain. Of the three rival powers left in the field,
Holland, it has been remarked, had the advantage of undi-
vided devotion to the aims of commerce ; but to her, again,
strength was wanting, and she was crippled by the attacks
of France, who thus unwittingly played the game of Eng-
land. Of England's rivals France was the most formi-
dable. But the prize was to the greatest sea power, and
England was the stronger upon the sea. France, more-
over, was a despotism sinking into decay, ruled by harlots,
ungrateful to its best servants. It could requite the
zeal of Lally in the contest for India, by sending him to
1766 death, after a secret trial on a fictitious charge, in a common
cart, with a gag in his mouth. The English adventurer
had to back him a parliament and the spirit of a free as
well as largely commercial nation. He had also in dealing
with the heathen the advantage, like the Roman, per-
. haps even more than the Roman, of religious indiffer-
ence ; he could scrupulously respect the faith and rites of
the Hindoo even to the extreme, for a long time, of toler-
ating suttee; he could swear to a treaty by the sun and
moon, and furnish a guard to the temple of Juggernaut.
He took no missionaries with him, but long discouraged


their coming; whereas the commander of a Portuguese
expedition took with him eight friars to preach the catho-
lic faith, and orders to carry fire and sword into every dis-
trict which would not listen to their preaching.

France, nevertheless, had nearly grasped the prize. The
imperial and unscrupulous genius of Dupleix, who knew
the secret of dealing with native powers and had learned
to make use of native soldiery, was on the eve of decisive
victory over the English when Robert Clive, a youth of
twenty-five, and bred a clerk in a commercial office, by 1748
his native genius for war and diplomacy, which was recog-
nized with happy penetration by the mercantile head of
the establishment, turned the scale in favour of his own
countrymen. Presently the Dutch also were driven off
the field. With the name of Clive, as the founder of the
empire, must be linked those of Lawrence, the father of
the Indian army, Eyre Coote, and Forde.

In Hindostan there was no nationality, no spirit of
national resistance to foreign conquest. The Hindoo
population was a vast expanse of social tissue, of which
the life was caste and the organization was the commu-
nistic village, a remnant of the primeval state. In the
realm of the Mahrattas was a spirit of race, in the Sikhs
a spirit of religious fraternity; and it was in the Mah-
rattas and the Sikhs that British power was destined to
find its doughtiest foes. None of the dynasties carved
by usurping satraps out of the wreck of the Mogul empire
had any seat in the heart of the people. The Mogul
empire itself had been founded by foreign invaders from
the mountains of the north, whence conquest had repeat-
edly descended on the enervated people of the sultry
plains. The Hindoos were ready with perfect indiffer-


ence to bow to any government; any power of order, how-
ever alien, they were ready to welcome when plundering
usurpation or anarchy filled their land and over it swept
like whirlwinds the Mahratta raids. In such a chaos Brit-
ish dominion could not fail even in its own despite to
grow. War power enough to enable the company to hold
its ground against its rivals had always been necessary.
Sir Josiah Child, the dictator of the India House, under
William III., had desired that his company should be a
military power. The sage Sir Thomas Roe, on the other
hand, had conjured the company to content itself with
factories and trade. Roe's advice the company was always
inclined to follow, its heart being set on dividends. But
the finger of manifest destiny pointed the other way.
Brought inevitably into collision with one barbaric power
after another, the company's government was compelled
to conquer, and having conquered, to annex. With the
exception of Scinde, where the impetuosity of Sir Charles
Napier made the British power the aggressor, the con-
quests of which the empire is built may be said to have
been made in defensive war.

Surajah Dowlah, Nabob of Bengal and an insolent bar-
1756 barian, attacked Calcutta, took it, and through his officers
perpetrated the hideous tragedy of the Black Hole. Clive
came to the rescue, at Plassey virtually conquered Bengal,
- though a puppet nabob was kept upon its throne, and
opened to the greedy eyes of the company's servants the
glittering treasury of the East. During his absence in
England, merchants' clerks on small salaries being let
loose upon a ravishing field of plunder, a scene of the
foulest corruption and most iniquitous oppression ensued ;
fortunes were made in scandalous ways and carried home


to buy rotten boroughs, degrade the legislature, and alarm
the conscience of the nation. There is hardly a darker
stain on the honour of England. Clive returned, restored
order, arrested abuse, and strove to prevent it for the
future by giving the company's servants regular and
sufficient salaries, and forbidding the acceptance of pres-
ents. For clandestine and irresponsible influence over
Bengal he, by taking a formal grant from the phantom at
Delhi, substituted avowed and responsible dominion. A
trading company thus became king of the richest of all
Indian domains, with revenues bearing no mean propor-
tion to those of the imperial country. The first step
towards empire had been taken and it determined the
march. As a necessary instrument of dominion, the Com-
pany began to form, in addition to the British troops at its
disposal, an army of sepoys or native soldiers, easily re-
cruited in the swarms of mercenaries of which the un-
happy land was full.

The eyes of the home government were now anxiously
turned to the growth of a political dominion in the hands

Online LibraryGoldwin SmithThe United kingdom; a political history → online text (page 76 of 84)