CHAPTER VIII. A CENTURY OF EMPIRE
Finally, the colonies have made momentous experiments in federation. New Zealand's was the earliest and the briefest; after a few years' experience of provincial governments between 1852 and 1870, it reduced its provincial parliaments to the level of county councils, and adopted a unitary constitution. In Canada, on the other hand, the union of the Upper and Lower Provinces proved unworkable owing to racial differences; and in 1867 the federation called the Dominion of Canada was formed by agreement between Upper and Lower Canada (henceforth called Ontario and Quebec), New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. Prince Edward Island and British Columbia joined soon afterwards; and fresh provinces have since been created out of the Hudson Bay and North-west Territories; Newfoundland alone has stood aloof. Considerable powers are allotted to the provinces, including education; but the distinguishing feature of this federation is that all powers not definitely assigned by the Dominion Act to the provinces belong to the Dominion. This is in sharp contrast to the United States, where each individual state is the sovereign body, and the Federal government only possesses such powers as the states have delegated to it by the constitution.
In this respect the Australian federation called the Commonwealth, which was formed in 1900, resembles the United States rather than Canada. The circumstance that each Australian colony grew up round a seaport, having little or no overland connexion with other Australian colonies, kept them long apart; and the commercial interests centred in these ports are still centrifugal rather than centripetal in sentiment. Hence powers, not specifically assigned to the Federal government, remain in the hands of the individual states; the Labour party, however, inclines towards a centralizing policy, and the general trend seems to be in that direction. It will probably be strengthened by the construction of transcontinental railways and by a further growth of the nationalist feeling of Australia, which is already marked.
The Union of South Africa, formed in 1909, soon after the Boer colonies had received self-government, went almost as far towards unification as New Zealand, and became a unitary state rather than a federation. The greater expense of maintaining several local parliaments as well as a central legislature, and the difficulty of apportioning their powers, determined South African statesmen to sweep away the old legislatures altogether, and to establish a united parliament which meets at Cape Town, a single executive which has its offices at Pretoria, and a judicature which is located at Bloemfontein. Thus almost every variety of Union and Home Rule exists within the empire, and arguments from analogy are provided for both the British political parties.
Two extremes have been, and must be, avoided. History has falsified the impression prevalent in the middle of the nineteenth century that the colonies would sooner or later follow the example of the United States, and sever their connexion with the mother-country. It has no less clearly demonstrated the impossibility of maintaining a centralized government of the empire in Downing Street. The union or federation of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa has strengthened the claims of each of those imperial realms to be considered a nation, with full rights and powers of self-government; and it remains to be seen whether the federating process can be carried to a higher level, and imperial sentiment crystallized in Imperial Federation. Imperial Conferences have become regular, but we may not call them councils; no majority in them has power to bind a minority, and no conference can bind the mother-country or a single dominion of the crown. As an educational body the Imperial Conference is excellent; but no one would venture to give powers of taxation or of making war and peace to a conclave in which Great Britain, with its forty-four millions of people and the navy and army it supports, has no more votes than Newfoundland, with its quarter of a million of inhabitants and immunity from imperial burdens.
Education is, however, at the root of all political systems. Where the mass of the people know nothing of politics, a despotism is essential; where only the few are politically educated, there needs must be an aristocracy. Great Britain lost its American colonies largely through ignorance; and no imperial organization could arise among a group of states ignorant of each other's needs, resources, and aspirations. The Imperial Conference is not to be judged by its meagre tangible results; if it has led British politicians to appreciate the varying character and depth of national feeling in the Dominions, and politicians oversea to appreciate the delicacies of the European diplomatic situation, the dependence of every part of the empire upon sea-power, and the complexities of an Imperial government which has also to consider the interests of hundreds of millions of subjects in India, in tropical Africa, in the West Indies, and in the Pacific, the Conference will have helped to foster the intellectual conditions which must underlie any attempt at an imperial superstructure.