CANADA’S RISE TO NATIONHOOD
One of a Family of Free Nations
Two kindred nations divide the vast area of North America north of the Rio Grande. It is, with the possible exception of South America, the largest continuous territory in the world given over to a people, the great majority of whom derive from kindred sources—a people moreover who are subject to pressures, environmental, linguistic, social and commercial, which steadily strengthen their homogeneous elements. Of these pressures I put first that of language. The use of language is a discipline and an education in conformity in its large aspects. As a man speaks so he is. Bismarck is reported to have said that the greatest political fact of modern times was the “inherited and permanent fact that North America speaks English.” The purpose of the British Empire, Cramb said, was to give all men within its bounds an English mind; and the statement is true if the words “an English mind” are not given a too narrow construction. The influences operating within the United States give an American mind, in whole or in part, to every resident; and the English mind and the American mind in their attitudes to fundamental political issues are not dissimilar. In his book, The English-Speaking Peoples, George L. Beer—whose premature death was a tragic mishap to the cause of Anglo-American understanding—has something of moment to say on this point:
In spite of the fact that the population of the United States is composed of many European strains, there is an essential unity in so far as the Caucasian native-born elements are concerned. This unity of language has given to these Caucasians born in the United States a common mind and this mind does not differ in essentials from that of other English-speaking peoples. As has been said by Professor Hart “the standards, aspirations and moral and political ideals of the original English settlers not only dominate their own descendants but permeate the body of immigrants of other races.” The son of the immigrant into the United States finds himself at home in Canada, Australia or Britain while he feels himself a detached stranger within his own ancestral gates in continental Europe.
With the eye of imagination it is easy to see North America as the stronghold of the English-speaking world growing in power and numbers from century to century.
The story of the growth of the American Union from the Atlantic seaboard states to the mighty Republic of today is one of the great epics of democracy. It is the story of a people who in obedience to an inner urge pushed their territory to the Pacific in something more than half a century, and then insured the greatness of the land by declaring at the cannon’s mouth that the Union must forever endure. Your pride of national achievement, your high sense of destiny fulfilled, your faith in a future of steady advance to ever-rising levels, find ample justification in this record of achievement.
My purpose in coming before this audience is to speak to the best of my ability of the parallel development of the other North American nation—a story which differs from yours in many respects but in its own way has been, as it seems to us Canadians, as notable a manifestation as yours of the vision, courage and tenacity of North American democracy.
At this point a question may arise in the mind of some listener, to be put against my characterization of Canada as a “North American democracy.” He may say, in keeping with what was not so long since a very common idea: “Canada is the colony of a European Empire: her North Americanism is little more than a geographical expression.”
The central theme of this discussion of Canadian-American relations is the argument that what might be called North American ideas of government, of social obligations and of the institutions necessary to the functioning of a democracy have been exemplified by Canada, not obscurely in a small backward country but in a setting of world-wide range.
Canada is a North American nation. She is also one of a family of free nations which, in their prenational stage of existence, were integral parts of that Empire which was thus described by your orator, Webster, just a hundred years ago: “… a power which has dotted over the surface of the whole globe with her possessions and military posts, whose morning drum-beat, following the sun, and keeping company with the hours, circles the earth with one continuous and unbroken strain of the martial airs of England.”
These younger British nations are not reproductions, as like as peas, of a majestic motherland. They are true national entities, the product of natural evolution and growth, with well-developed special characteristics and aptitudes.
A Commonwealth gathering of any kind, provided the national delegations to it are so chosen as to be truly representative, is the most striking demonstration that this world can furnish of the voluntary unity that can arise from wide diversities of view and temper where there is no element of subordination, but instead a disposition to find common ground in essentials. Political conferences such as the Imperial Conferences, which are now held at regular intervals, are least representative of the actual diversities and essential unities owing to the limitation imposed by the requirement of maintaining, in each delegation, a united political front. Beginning twenty-five years ago there have been at intervals conferences of the press of the Commonwealth in which all shades of Dominion opinion have been represented. All these conferences I have attended, being now, I think, the sole working journalist of whom this can be said. Other imperial gatherings representative of various interests—educational, fraternal, religious, commercial—are being constantly held. In all these meetings diverging national characteristics, variations in the rating of values over a range of intangibles, diversity in instinctive attitudes of mind, reveal themselves naturally and inevitably; but this takes place within an environment of harmonious voluntary coöperation.
What I regard as the most significant of all these Commonwealth gatherings was one which was held last September in Toronto. It met with a minimum of publicity; its meetings were held in private; there has been restraint in the publication of the discussions and of the conclusions reached. Yet I note, particularly in Great Britain, constant reference to the importance and significance of the meetings and of the views that were there exchanged. This was the British Commonwealth Relations Conference, which assembled under the auspices of the Royal Institute of International Affairs and its Canadian counterpart, the Canadian Institute of International Affairs.
To the calling of this conference there went two years of study and preparation. “I wish,” said a Canadian statesman, “that the official Imperial Conferences had preparation one-half as efficient and as complete as this unofficial gathering had received.” The practical purpose of the conference was to consider the relations of the British nations under the conditions of today and to discuss the ways and means of practical coöperation.
The national delegations from each unit of the Commonwealth had been carefully chosen, not with the view to enabling them to speak with a single voice, but expressly for the purpose of bringing into the discussion all the diverse existing elements of opinion. In the Canadian delegation the whole range of political diversity was represented. At the left was Mr. Woodsworth, the leader of the Coöperative Commonwealth Federation, Canada’s newly organized and potentially formidable Socialist Party. At the other end of the scale there were champions of a conception of imperial relationships which belongs to yesterday. Political parties in all the British nations were represented by public men of distinction, but no one actually a member of a government or holding an official position was regarded as eligible, it being known that the holding of office inhibits the free expression of individual opinion.
The discussions which took place during the ten days of the conference were, to my way of thinking, of high interest and significance. The realities of today with respect to the working relationships of the British nations and, of still more profound importance, the relations that are practicable between the British nations, individually and collectively, and the outside world, were presented to the conference, in the first instance by Canadian speakers, with a vigor and directness which determined the course and the character of the discussions. There were three main schools of thought in the membership of the conference. There were those who sighed over the vanished Empire. There were those who desired the Commonwealth to consolidate itself anew on lines of economic exclusiveness and military preparedness, into a formidable combination which would play a leading part in the world drama of tomorrow. And there was the view that such a consolidation would add nothing to the security of its members, but rather would put them in jeopardy; that the Commonwealth must remain a family of free nations subject to two limitations upon their sovereignty: that which they voluntarily concede to that spirit of friendly coöperation which is seemly in a family; and externally, the subordination of foreign policy to their engagement to act collectively with other nations in establishing and enforcing peace.
This conception of nationalism, tempered by moral domestic considerations and by obligations, express and implied, to the world at large, was Canadian in its origin and in the manner of its presentation to the Commonwealth Relations Conference. It at once enlisted support from influential members of the delegations from Great Britain and South Africa; and, as the discussion went forward, it could be observed that it more and more commended itself to the judgment of the conference. Many of those to whom this policy was obviously distasteful on grounds of emotion and sentiment gave their intellectual adhesion to it as showing the only available road to a future that would protect the Commonwealth against strains that might destroy it.