Page images

and determination of responsibilities. If any one should go to the United States, and there deliver himself of warnings to the people, telling them that by turning each lawless western wild into a slightly less lawless territory, and that by turning each rather lawless territory into one of the well-ordered group of United States of America, they were extending their responsibilities, and that that was a dangerous thing to do, he would probably be regarded as a lunatic. And we may go even to our own perplexing possessions of South Africa and find an example similar in effect. In 1871, owing to the discovery of diamonds in what is now that part of the Cape Colony called Griqualand West, and to the certainty that there would be collected there in search of diamonds a community requiring a settled government, we annexed Griqualand West. We thereby considerably extended our territory, but I do not think any one will argue that we thereby increased our responsibilities in the sense of adding a new danger to our possessions. Nor, indeed, will any one, I think, deny that so far from adding a new danger we acquired an effective security against a new danger of a very appreciable and of a very threatening and growing character. Time will establish a similar conclusion-indeed it has to a large extent established it, and has written, and is writing, the lesson in letters of blood, in regard to the annexation of the Transvaal. But the headlong bitterness of party spirit at home broke into that country and convulsed it, and spread a confusion over a whole series of events into which it is no part of the object of this paper to attempt to bring a light. The position, however, I am pleading for can do without any illustration from facts connected with the Transvaal. For the sake of argument I would even grant all that the most reckless opponent of the annexation of the Transvaal ever said, and would allow that it was an annexation that ought never to have been made, and that did increase our responsibilities. I do not think so; indeed I think strongly the exact opposite. I believe that our responsibilities are such as they were before we went into the country. But even if this is not so, if we did therein add to our responsibilities by an addition to our territory, still it remains a fact that this consequence by no means follows always, and that an increase of territory is not identical with an increase of responsibility, but is in many cases a safeguard against it. I may rescue another instance out of the same turbid waters. Whether it was right or wrong, necessary or unnecessary, to make war upon the Zulu king, hardly any one, I think, can doubt that once that war had been made, and the power of that king had been shattered, we should, had we there and then extended our territory so as to include Zululand, have been now bearing upon our shoulders a less burden of responsibility in regard to that unhappy country than we do bear. Undoubtedly, could we build round each of our possessions, round the confines of our South

African territories, and round the shores of Australia, a Chinese wall of insurmountable height, and thereby shut off our people from the touch of all external trouble, we might with some confidence refuse to consider the extension of our territories; but since such a contrivance can live only in a fairy tale and not in reality, we are bound to recognise that where there is a neighbouring foothold of danger the occupation of that foothold for the suppression of the danger or for a protection against the danger, though it may not always be right, though it may not always be expedient, is at the same time not always and of necessity wrong, and not always and of necessity an addition to our dangers.

There is a statement, in the nature of a menace or a promise, purporting to be a menace to the people of the colonies and a promise to the people of England, which, no less than this prejudice against the extension of territory, must, I think, be expunged from the catalogue of propositions defining our imperial duties and liabilities before a clear understanding of the position of Great Britain in regard to the colonies can be obtained. I mean the statement which may be read not seldom in the press, and which has received more than once the stamp of official authority, to the effect that wherever a colony, acting of its own free will, adopts deliberately a particular policy, that policy and all its consequences it must itself support by its own powers, carrying it through at its own cost, whatever that cost may be, or abandoning it, if abandonment may become inevitable, at its own risk. A more salutary principle for the education of a dependent community, one better calculated to impart a prudence to all its dealings, could not, it must be acknowledged, be easily devised. It has, unfortunately, the fault of being impracticable. There are forces of nature, powers which it is impossible to constrain within the artificial circuit of official declarations, which in certain events will assert a supremacy against all opposition. No one can believe that if any community of colonists, any considerable recognised body of English men and women and children were pressed to the verge of painful destruction, were indubitably threatened, for instance, with massacre by bands of barbarians, any English Government would be permitted, no matter what might be the precedent sins in the political strategy of the sufferers, to sit still and contemplate the dreadful work without an exertion to stop it. Blood and kinship and humanity are stronger than the corner-stones of any paper constitution, and though there might have been built up between the two Governments, the Imperial Government and the Colonial Government, warnings and understandings and agreements and compacts in any multitude beforehand, a question of life and death for the inhabitants of a part of the British Empire would brush away that flimsy edifice and arm an authority of another sort.

And there are many other contingencies capable of evoking a

similar impulse. The English nation, with its intense philanthrophy, its generous care for weaker races, its sensitiveness to the bonds of family feeling, is the last power that can pretend, unless with ludicrous insincerity, absolutely to abdicate all concern in any part of the doings or sufferings of its dependent communities. There is no better and no more recent illustration of this truth than the history of the relations of the British Government to the Government of the Cape Colony in regard to Basutoland. The British Government protesting that the whole consequences of the war should rest upon the Cape Colony, vowing they would never interfere, then compelled by their own supporters to interfere, are being obliged to accept the responsibility they had from the outset denounced and repudiated, are driven in fact upon that very rock whereon they had set their beacon and rung their bell in proof of their precise appreciation of the peril it threatened.

Nor, indeed, is this the only form of danger to a British community that may drag an unwilling British Government to interpose its power directly in colonies where it may have proclaimed with much premeditation that its direct power should cease to reach. Let us imagine such a striking, and I hope such an impossible, calamity as that the present Government, despite the determination of the Australian colonies to establish British authority in New Guinea, should refuse to sanction such a measure. In that event the issue, I believe, could be predicted with moderate certainty. The Australian colonies in concert would constitute a Government in New Guinea. To do this, each colonial legislature would pass an Act entrusting its Government with the necessary powers, and that Act would be disallowed at home. The position would then be as follows. Australian officials would be sent to New Guinea, and under the authority of the disallowed Act would exercise jurisdiction. Such jurisdiction would be of course illegal; but as the ultimate sanction of all authority is force, force could alone upset it.

If Great Britain determined to exercise force, she would be at war with a set of her most powerful colonies. This resolve she would not be likely to take, but she would be compelled, nevertheless, to take some action. For the exercise of the illegal jurisdiction, though it might in regard to British subjects avail for a time, would immediately where it attempted to deal with a foreigner evoke a protest from a foreign Government. Such a picture we may trust is in the present day beyond the possibility of realisation, but it bears features corresponding sufficiently to a reality to make the conclusion clear that no Government can safely or sensibly say to a colony in any matter of difficulty, "This is your business, we will have nothing to do with it." It is precisely because a matter is a matter of difficulty, that it is one that will not tolerate such a solution.

I can imagine that many persons who may not have a particular knowledge of colonial affairs, if they discern any worth in these considerations, will begin to experience an uneasiness not known to them before. You are destroying our simple faith, they will say; what do you propose to give us in its place? We have been accustomed to read that every colony had a right to manage its own affairs, subject only to the claims of imperial interests; and this seemed to us without going very deeply into the question a very fair arrangement. That we must not extend our responsibilities, too, seemed a wise principle, and more captivating than all appeared that excellent provision that a colony should be made to bear all the consequences of its own acts. But if such wise saws are useless, whence are we to draw a principle or a set of principles by which to overcome the dreadful difficulties of our Colonial Empire? Such a query is of a kind, it must be admitted, to make the stoutest heart quail. One response, however, we need not fear to make. However dark are the perplexities of our Colonial Empire, however eagerly we may turn to any quarter whence we fancy we see a ray of light appearing, no good can be done by following a light that is only an illusion, be it never so near and shining, by embracing principles that with all their satisfactory sound are impotent; and some advance is made at any rate in the right direction when we have retraced our steps to the turning where we went astray.

Regard South Africa only since the year 1834. In 1834 a force of 20,000 Kaffirs invaded the Cape Colony and slew fifty farmers; the Colony sought defence and security, and conquered and annexed the country where the danger lay up to the Kei River. In the same year a committee of the House of Commons was examining into the state of the aboriginal tribes of the empire, and in 1835 Lord Glenelg ordered the colony to renounce its sovereignty over the new territory. From 1835 to 1846 we tried to deal with the Kaffirs in that territory by means of written treaties and diplomatic agents. By 1846 this plan had failed and the Kaffirs were again at war with us. In 1847, having again conquered them, we took back the territory we had let go in 1835 up to the Kei River, and set ourselves to govern the natives in it by our own magistrates. Thus in 1847, at the cost of a second war, and after twelve years of failure, we did what we had done in 1834 and undone by fiat of a Secretary of State in 1835. In 1850 the Kaffirs in this territory were again at war with us. In 1852 we again reduced them, and so far granted a concession to their revolt that, while holding possession of the territory, we withdrew our magistracy and suffered them to be governed by their own chiefs according to their own laws. In 1854 Sir George Grey introduced another change. He added assessors to the chiefs, whose power he aimed at rendering nominal only, and whose discontent he thought to pacify by fixed salaries in

lieu of their own revenues derived from fines. In 1857 there was another movement of revolt, which, however, was suppressed without bloodshed; and in 1858 new territory beyond the Kei River was brought under our jurisdiction. In 1862, again by fiat of a Secretary of State, our jurisdiction was withdrawn from that territory. From 1852 to 1877, though our peace was often threatened, we were never actually at war with any Kaffir people. In 1877 Sir Bartle Frere proclaimed the territory of the Galekas beyond the Kei to be British territory, and, with the view of making it so, invaded it. One feature in this wilderness of dilapidated administrations and shuffling authority deserves particular notice. From 1837 to 1880 no less than six governors of the Cape Colony and one governor of Natal have been recalled, or very nearly one governor for each natural term of a governor's office. In 1837 Sir Benjamin Durban was the victim; in 1839 Lieut.-Governor Stockenstrom; in 1846 Sir Peregrine Maitland; in 1852 Sir Harry Smith; in 1859 Sir George Grey -though in this case a new ministry at home, while confirming the censure of their predecessors, maintained the governor in his officein 1875 Sir Benjamin Pine (Natal), and in 1880 Sir Bartle Frere. It is not easy to conceive a series of bare facts more eloquent of years. of misgovernment, and yet1 Mr. Gladstone, shutting his eyes apparently to this striking sign, would seem to lend the weight of his great authority and the high colours of his rhetoric to the creation or the confirmation of an opinion that our troubles are induced not so much by a flaw in the scheme of our rule as by the inherent evil of the country. He would seem almost to commit South Africa to a doctrine of despair, to the doom of predestination to calamity-a theory, with its debilitating blandishment of selfjustification, which no reading of history can admit, and which no politician can wisely employ.

But while it is easy to reveal the causes of error in the past-and they are the causes of error also in the present-it is difficult, it appears indeed almost impossible, to devise a remedy against them, for they are part and parcel of our political constitution. Our colonies are mismanaged, wherever mismanagement is seen, almost entirely from their dependence upon the fluctuations, and, as the colonists see it, the absolute caprice of the fluctuations, of our home politics. In the case of South Africa this is more particularly the case, but it has had its effect too in quieter colonies. The Ashburton Treaty of 1846, by which Canada lost a considerable territory; the


(1) It (South Africa) has been the one standing difficulty of our colonial policy which we have never been able to set right. In other parts of the world dificulties have arisen-in India, in Canada, in New Zealand-and every one has been dealt with and satisfactorily disposed of, but never in South Africa. It was my lot in the latter part of the administration of Sir R. Peel, to be Secretary of State, and I then distinctly told Lord Grey that this case of South Africa presented a problem of which I for one could not see the solution. And so it has continued from that day to this, difficulties always recurring, never healed."-Mr. G'adstone, House of Commons, March 15, 1883.

« PreviousContinue »