« PreviousContinue »
removed. If the result of free-trade measures should be the severance of the ties which bind the mother country to the colonies, Lord Grey, and doubtless many other politicians, would deem it a grave misfortune. We, on the other hand, think ; that free-trade has caused the question as to the relations between mother country and colonies to be put on the straight road towards a satisfactory solution. We have already seen that the assumption of constitutional right, inherent either in the Crown or the Imperial legislature, to govern colonies without their consent, is, in spite of the ancient authorities, not to be acquiesced in at the present day. It becomes, then, a matter depending upon policy and mutual convenience, whether the connection between Great Britain and her colonies should be maintained as at present, or be varied or dissolved altogether. “I cousider," says Lord Grey, " that the British colonial empire ought to be maintained, principally because I do not consider that the nation would be justified in throwing off the responsibility it has incurred by the acquisition of this dominion, and because I believe that much of the power and influence of this country depends upon its having large colonial possessions in different parts of the world.” Now, the first suggestion, as to the evasion by England of her responsibility, would not arise where, by mutual agreement, the bonds of union were severed. Nor does the remark apply where colonists have settled themselves independently, and the mother country has stepped in afterwards and established governmental relations. It has never been the practice in England for the state to colonize; and no contract, moral or legal, can be implied from the ordinary conditions, under which “plantations and settlements have been created.” When colonies, however, have come into her hands by conquest, treaty, or cession, the particular circumstances attending such an acquisition would, of course, require special consideration.
With respect to those colonies which are unable to preserve their security, and which find that it is for their interest to continue their connection with the mother country, these must. still remain colonies, with such government as is best suited, for the common purposes of the old and new countries. The con
sent of the colony removes the difficulty we are contemplating, and the terms on which protection is to be afforded, can here be adjusted with due regard to what equity requires.
The other opinion with regard to the power and influence which England derives from her colonies, though merely stated. as an opinion, yet deserves consideration. Mr. Bell has entered upon this topic rather freely, and we may perhaps be allowed to follow him. “It is unquestionably true," he observes," that the possession of a number of steady and faithful allies in various quarters of the globe, would add greatly to the strength of the British empire; but so far from that warranting the inference which Lord Grey seems to intend to be drawn, that the possession of a great number of colonies in various quarters of the globe will add still more to the strength of the empire, because the connection which unites the colonies and the united kingdom is more close and intimate than an alliance, it seems to do just the reverse.
“It is never questioned in modern days, that an alliance between Great Britain and the minor states of Europe, is a source of mutual strength to her and to them; while it is broadly admitted that the right of the sovereign of Great Britain to the minor kingdom of Hanover, was a constant source of weakness to Great Britain while it lasted ; and yet Hanover was a more favourable instance for the maintenance of connection than an ally can be, so far as closeness and intimacy were concerned. Colonies are not closely connected with the empire as was Hanover, because of the accidental coincidence of its sovereignty in the same person as the monarch of Great Britain, and as our allies by virtue of the treaties found with them. They are integral parts of the empire, and as such must be protected and defended at the last extremity, and with as much pertinacity and with as keen sensitiveness to national honour, as if the capital itself were in question. It is on this account—it is on account of the identity of interest more close than the connection of any alliance, however intricate--that colonies may be sources of weakness, rather than of strength, to the mother country.” On the other
hand, the moral and material strength conferred upon the colonies by their connection as such with the mother country, must be fully aclmitted, nor can it be in equity rudely withdrawn. To drive them to seek protection and especial alliance with other and rival states, would be both wrong and injurious. . In considering the benefits derived from our colonies, we must remember that, unlike other European countries, England has never drawn from them direct revenues for the imperial treasury. What Adam Smith said of her a century since is true even now, that she is, “perhaps since the world began, the only state which, as it has extended its empire, has only increased its expense without once augmenting its resources.” From one colony only has Great Britain received an accession of military strength. This is Canada, which at the outbreak of the Indian mutiny contributed a regiment to the imperial government.
The advantages which colonists derive in the protection which the character of a British sulject confers, and the support and aid which the British consular and diplomatic services afford throughout the habitable world, augment the responsibilities and risks which the mother country. incurs in maintaining the cause of so large an offspring. Taking the view of mere interest, and balancing this against the importance” which extended possessions lend to a state, it would seem that these may, in not a few instances, be an element of weakness rather than of power ; and that in many cases firm and intimate treaties and the natural bonds of blood and language, would produce greater advantages. But the consideration is of great value to those who ponder not only on the prospects of colonies, but also on the general progress of our race. When a colony can stand alone, can govern and protect itself, and then chooses to direct its own affairs, while its interests will thus be best watched, no detriment will accrue to the parent state, if the severance be wisely brought about. - Turgot has truly said, that colonies “are like fruits which cling to the tree only till they have ripened.”. If, however, nature, experience, political philosophy, and commercial policy all point to this consummation, neither the views of cabinets, the
pride of parliaments, the weight of government officers, nor effete principles of jurisprudence, can effectually oppose it. The latter; as we believe, must be deduced, in the case of England and her colonies, from broader fields and more philosophical sources than will be found in the reports of English courts of law, or rather the judgments there delivered.
“Ships, colonies, and commerce," have a very enlarged meaning to what they had in former times. Steamers have revolutionized navigation, and free trade has emancipated commerce. The intelligence and wealth dispersed through colonies, the mode of their settlement, the experience of their government-in one word, the fact of their existence, growth, and power--should impart to us a lesson by which our views of their rights should be enlarged beyond what we find affirmed by the narrow judgment and limited experience of the old constitutional lawyers.
The present government of the colonies would present a strange spectacle to the eye of the old “constitutional lawyers," and the orthodox home politician, of whom the former was wont to impute to the Crown an absolute power over his foreign provinces, and the latter (as Franklin said) seemed "to consider himself as a piece of a sovereign over America, and to jostle himself into the throne with the king, and to talk of our subjects in the colonies." Besides the high parliament at Westminster, there may be now seen parliaments sitting at Quebec, Sydney, Melbourne, and other places, affording the spectacle of constitutional self-government, in all respects but the all important one, of the possible control of the imperial legislature, and the consequent clashing of the elements in their constitution, when the supposed local interests are opposed to the imperial policy. Such, for instance, might occur if Canada were resolved to introduce protection principles, and oppose those of free-trade, which have, by the struggles and advanced intelligence of the mother country, been happily adopted:1
1 We have Lord Glenelg's authority for saying, that "Parliamentary legislation on any subject of exclusively internal concern to any British colony possessing a representative assembly is, as a general rule, unconstitutional ; it is a right of which the exercise is reserved for extreme cases, in which necessity at once creates and justifies the exception.” Liberal as this doctrine reads at first, it contains within it the germs of disputes fatal to the connection between England and her colonies.
A politician or constitutional lawyer of the last generation, who, now for the first time, learnt what innovations had been made on the old systems, would be astonished to see the variety of experiments made to govern “plantations” without absolutism. He would see here, a government by a governor with a council of nominees; there, by a governor and a council, partly of nominees and partly of elected representatives; here, by a governor nominee council and elective assembly; there, by a governor and executive council irremovable, and an elective legislative council and assembly; here, by a governor with an executive council removable, and an elective legislative council and assembly; now, the appropriation of the revenue left with the Crown; now, in the hands of the colony; here, a fixed civil list; there, none at all. Now, though it would be difficult to justify in theory these varied schemes, (and indeed in some cases it would be easy to point out practically the evils of certain of the arrangements,) yet it must be remembered that the numbers of the population, its character and requirements, differ in different colonies. In small communities a parliament and responsible government would be far worse than such an institution in a country parish. Not only party feeling, small factions, heart-burnings, and bitter personalities, would be created, roused, multiplied, and ex sperated; but oftentimes the conflict of private occupations with public functions would render such a form of government impracticable or mischievous.
Although we have been to some extent drawn away from the consideration of the constitutional questions applicable to British colonies, and the more legal aspect of the subject in hand, we will not plead, by way of confession and avoidance, that we have followed Mr. Bell, as was our duty; for while, to some extent we have done so, there is much in his volume concerning the history of particular colonies, which he has given by way of illustration of his subject, tempting us to follow him, where, nevertheless, we have forborne to take this course. But in fact the subject is necessarily mixed up with political and economical consi
· Bell, p. 357.