Page images
PDF
EPUB

been honest, straightforward, and patriotic. With a public spirit and a disregard of immediate party advantage, only too rare in our political annals, they have given, and are prepared to give, a loyal support to the Liberals who voted against Mr. Gladstone's Bill. They have shown, in a way their countrymen will not fail to recognise, that they have the welfare of England more deeply at heart than the triumph of their party; and by so showing they have done all that in them lies to impress upon the public mind the conviction that the question at issue is one on which the fate of England is at stake.

It is by following this example the Unionist Liberals must enforce the same lesson. If they show in their turn that they are willing to subordinate their own party interests and preferences to the return of a Unionist majority, they will teach the constituencies that whether they are right or wrong in regarding Home Rule as fatal to England's welfare, they are at any rate honest in their belief. I, for my own part, say most sincerely that if the price of securing a majority pledged to resist Home Rule was the forfeiture of every single seat held by a Unionist Liberal, I would gladly consent to such a bargain. So long as the candidate whom I am asked to support is a Unionist, I care little or nothing whether he is called Liberal or Conservative. All I require to know is that his chances as a candidate are not impaired by the political opinions he professes. This point of view of mine should, I hold, be that also of all Liberal Unionists who have the cause of the Union at heart.

It is folly in such a crisis as this to cherish delusions. And the idea that it is possible to form an independent Liberal party which will be able to hold its own without coalescing with the Ministerialists on one hand or the Conservatives on the other seems to me an utter delusion. The Liberal-Unionist movement is one with which I, for one, sympathise most heartily, and which I have done what little lay in my power to set on foot. I should be the last, therefore, to say a word in its disparagement. But to misrepresent the nature of this movement is to injure the cause it is intended to serve. I can see no reason to suppose that the Liberal secessionists are likely to form an independent party of their own. The secession is intended to effect a definite object—the defeat of Mr. Gladstone's Home Rule policy; and when once that object is accomplished I am at a loss to understand what reason of existence the Liberal Unionists as a party will possess. As a matter of argument, the Unionists may be right in contending that it is not they who have seceded from the Liberal party, but the Liberal party who has seceded from them. Just in the same way, for aught I know, the Anglicans may be right in saying it was not they who seceded from the Catholic Church at the time of the Reformation, but the Catholics who seceded from them. But in all such matters the public counts by results, and somehow or other it is the Radicals, not the Liberal seceders, who will popularly be regarded as the party of progress. The British public likes clear colours, not neutral tints. Radicals it knows, and Conservatives it knows, but it is slow at understanding the exact position of Liberals who are neither Radicals nor Conservatives. The Liberals who voted against the Ministerial measure, and now seek re-election, have a clear and intelligible position. They have a fair claim to the votes, not only of all Conservatives, who put the maintenance of the Union above party interests, but of their own Liberal supporters. They have done nothing, they may reasonably urge, to forfeit the confidence reposed in them only six months ago. But Liberal Unionists who were not members of the last Parliament, and who come forward to contest a seat held by a Ministerial Liberal on the strength of the support they expect to receive from the Conservatives, occupy a very different position. A Liberal who endeavours to defeat another Liberal by the aid of the Conservative vote will always be popularly regarded as a Conservative; and in consequence of this impression he will labour, however unjustly, under a certain disadvantage.

The reason why I dwell on these considerations is to point the moral, that in all cases where the vote on which a Unionist candidate must rely for his return contains a preponderating Conservative element, the Liberals would do wisely to support a Conservative candidate, instead of attempting to enlist the aid of the Conservatives on behalf of a candidate of their own. The assumption on which my whole argument is based is that the end and aim of the Unionists should be to secure the return of a majority pledged to uphold the Union, and that it is a matter of comparative indifference in what proportion that majority is composed of Liberals or Conservatives. Granted this assumption, it is obvious that in constituencies where the mass of the Liberal vote will go solid for the Government, a Conservative is more likely to carry the seat with the aid of the malcontent Liberals, than a malcontent Liberal if supported by the Conservatives. My advice, therefore, to Unionist Liberals, in all cases where a Home Rule Liberal is opposed by a Conservative, especially in the rural constituencies, is to canvass actively and vote steadily for the Conservative. If you wish the end, according to a French proverb, you wish the means also. Now the best means to uphold the Union is to strengthen the hands of the Conservative party; and those Liberals who hesitate about doing this have not really at heart the attainment of their end.

Of course, it will be said that this advice of mine, if it were followed, would lead to a permanent, in lieu of a temporary, disruption of the Liberal party. To this my answer would be that, in the first instance, the maintenance of the Union is infinitely more important, from my point of view, than the ascendency of any particular party; and, in the second place, that the disruption which we are implored to avert is already an accomplished fact. Even Mr. Gladstone could never have induced the Liberal party to adopt Home Rule as their platform unless the party bad gradually been indoctrinated with ideas which, whether right or wrong, are not in accordance with the principles on which the old Liberal creed was based. But for Mr. Gladstone's inordinate greed of power the coalition between the Radicals and the Home Rulers might have been deferred for years. But even if, happily for himself and his country, Mr. Gladstone had retired from public life last year, the conclusion of such a coalition would always have been a possible, and not a probable, contingency. Home Rule is, indeed, only the logical development of the theories which find favour with Radicalism as distinguished from Liberalism.

The plain truth is, that the Liberal party, as we have known it hitherto, has well-nigh fulfilled its mission. All the important political reforms, consistent with the existing political and social institutions of the country, have been accomplished ; and it is impossible to advance much further than we have done already in the way of democratic legislation without attacking the Constitution or the established order of society. Whether such an advance is desirable or otherwise is not a question we need consider here. It is enough for my present purpose to say that the Liberals, whom I am now addressing, are anxious to preserve our existing Constitution, and are opposed to all Socialist ideas. This being so, co-operation with the Conservatives is a thing to be desired in itself, apart from the immediate object this co-operation has in view—namely, the maintenance of the Union. The Conservatives of to-day have practically become converts to the principles which formerly were associated with Liberalism. The Radicals, on the other hand, have largely abandoned these principles. I should be loth here to say a word against Mr. Chamberlain, whose manly attachment to the Union has enlisted for him the sympathy of those who do not share his political views. But truth compels the admission, that Liberals of the class represented by Lord Hartington and Mr. Goschen have much more in common with the views held by Lord Salisbury than with those propounded by Mr. Chamberlain. If the fundamental institutions of the country are to be secured against attack, if individual liberty and the rights of property are to be protected in the future against the encroachments of Socialism, it must be by the combined action of the Conservatives and the Liberals. Far, therefore, from regretting that the necessities of the present crisis have led to a coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberals, I rejoice at the probability of this coalition leading to a permanent fusion. Our old party names have ceased to represent facts. Whether as Unionists or Constitutionalists, or under whatever name fortune may assign them, the friends of law and order and individual liberty will soon have to form one united party. If, then, the alliance for the defence of the Union should, as I hope, achieve this consummation, so much the better.

On the eve, therefore, of the new election I would once more repeat the advice I proffered to Liberals, as opposed to Radicals, at the last election, and urge them to support the Conservatives openly and loyally, as fellow-workers in the same cause with themselves. By this policy alone can the Union be maintained. To uphold the Union is the common duty of Liberals and Conservatives, and if the fulfilment of a common duty by common action lead to a permanent fusion between the two great sections of the party of law and order, I for one shall be well content.

EDWARD DICEY.

THE POLITICAL HISTORY OF CANADA.

CANADA is the greatest of the self-governing colonies; her political history is the most important: she is trying an interesting experiment in Confederation, a form of government to which attention is just now specially directed ; and her example is being cited for momentous legislation here in a manner which, I think, is misleading, and which, if it is misleading, is extremely dangerous. I believe that the Prime Minister is wrong in saying that she was ever provoked to rebellion by the tyranny of the mother country. I am sure that he is wrong in saying that she was satisfied, or that she ever would be satisfied, with that which he proposes for Ireland.

Canada is called a British colony, and over all her provinces waves the British flag. But as soon as you approach her for the purpose of Imperial Federation you will be reminded that a large part of her is French. Not only is it French, but it is becoming more French daily, and at the same time increasing in magnitude. The notion which seems to be prevalent here, that the French element is dying out, is the very reverse of the fact. The French are shouldering the British out of the city of Quebec, where not more than six thousand British inhabitants are now left, and out of the Eastern Townships, which have hitherto been a British district; they are encroaching on the British province of Ontario, as well as overflowing into the adjoining states of the Union. The population multiplies apace. There, as in Ireland, the Church encourages early marriage, and does not teach thrift ; and were it not for the ready egress into the States, we might have Irish congestion and misery in French Canada. Had French Canada been annexed to the United States, it would no doubt have been absorbed and assimilated, like other alien nationalities, by that vast mass of English-speaking population. As it is, instead of being absorbed or assimilated, the French element rather absorbs and assimilates. Highland regiments disbanded in French Canada have become French. In time, apparently, there will hardly be anything British left in the province of Quebec, except the commercial quarter of Montreal, where the more energetic and mercantile race holds its ground. Had the conqueror freely used his power at first, when the French numbered only about sixty thousand, New France might have been made English; but

« PreviousContinue »