Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

she even absorbed her rival, and at the close of the sixteenth century Spain laid claim to an empire such as the world bad never before seen, including a large part of Europe, Asia, and Africa, and all of the New World, realizing the proud boast of one of her writers that the sun never set upon her dominions.

Magnificent and powerful as it was, this gigantic monopoly contained within itself the germs of dissolution. With one hand on the wealth of the East, the other on that of the New World, Spain became-outside of the priestly and the military classes—a nation of beggars, while abroad every man's hand was against her. The Dutch, made into a great maritime power by the very atrocities intended to subvert them and their faith, harried her commerce, carried terror to her colonies, and founded a rival empire in the East; and the French, then permeated with the leaven of the Reformation, sent Huguenot colonies to Florida, and, in spite of Spanish vigilance, established a New France on the St. Lawrence.

But another maritime people at the north-whose coasts like their own looked out upon the western ocean, and who were more hated because more heretic than any of their neighbors— were destined to play a far greater part in the New World drama than even themselves. The English had not been backward in taking advantage of the discovery of Columbus, and had been the first to look upon the North American continent, at least a year before the great Genoese saw the mainland of South America. Though this gave them a priority of right, they were restrained in some degree, doubtless, by the bull of the Roman pontiff and by the claims of Spain, who made Florida extend to the north pole; and they did not attempt to colonize the land which Cabot had found for them until nearly half a century after Henry VIII. had repudiated his Spanish wife and the pope together. Once established it was not easy to dispossess them. Though watched jealously from the north by the French, who had brought from the Old World batred of their hereditary rivals, and from the south by the Spanish, who would have been glad to treat them as trespassers if they had not been restrained by wholesome memories of the Invincible Armada, they poured by thousands into Virginia and New England, and sowed all along the Atlantic coast the seeds of English supremacy.

Thus, in the middle of the seventeenth century three great powers of Europe were pitted against each other in North America: Spain, claiming the entire continent under the papal grant, but contenting herself with peopling only the warmer and supposed richer portions; France, holding Canada on a somewhat shadowy claim, founded on the voyage of Verazzano, and boldly asserting her right to the whole valley of the Mississippi and the country beyond to the Spanish possessions on the south ; and England, dotting with her plantations the entire coast line between. How these English colonies gradually swelled until they burst the double cordon of forts which France constructed from the St. Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico, and poured a flood of hardy emigrants into the valley of the Mississippi and beyond to the Pacific Ocean, is matter of history. France was driven from the New World, and at the time of the revolt of the English colonies England laid claim to the entire continent, save only Mexico and her dependencies. Mexico, Central America, and all of South America excepting Brazil, which belonged to Portugal, owned the sway of Spain.

It is unnecessary to detail the series of revolts which, beginning with the American Revolution, ended in the independence of the thirteen English colonies, and in the nearly total expulsion of the European powers, excepting Great Britain, from the New World. Nor is it necessary to show how Great Britain, though shorn of the chief jewel in her diadem, built up a second colonial empire, greater in territorial extent than the first. Her flag floats to-day over one-sixth of the habitable globe, while her once great rivals of the Latin race, Spain, Portugal, France, are, in comparison, scarce worthy to be counted as colonial powers. Spain, once mistress of the world, rules a few Asiatic islands, and holds by an insecure tenure the Queen of the Antilles, all that is left to her of the pope's magnificent grant; Portugal, whilom lord of the Indies and of the Brazils, claims a few African possessions but little greater in extent and less valuable than our Alaska; and France, who once disputed the title to

[ocr errors]

North America, governs only Algeria and some Asiatic dependencies, won in the last fifty years.

Taken in the aggregate, including the United States, the English-speaking peoples now number more than one hundred millions and control politically nearly three times as many more, while they own a fourth of the habitable globe and a much larger proportion of the world's wealth. What the future has in store for this favored race is one of the most interesting and most important political problems of the age. Their magnificent empire, grander than Roman or Spaniard ever dreamed of, could, united, control the destinies of mankind. Shall this be its fate-shall it in the future speak with one voice in the councils of the nations, or shall it, divided into jarring sovereignties, go the way of all the empires before it?

History teaches that all great combinations of peoples have been failures; that diversity of interests and jealousies bave proved disintegrating forces too strong to be overcome by any central attraction, however great. But while this may be true of the past, is it not possible that new conditions may bring about a corresponding change in results ? In the Roman empire peoples of diverse race, language, and interests were held together by the sword and were divided by the sword. The Spanish empire, cemented with superstition and intolerance, crumbled from inherent weakness. Unlike the component parts of either of them, the several branches of the English-speaking peoples are drawn together by ties of blood, language, and faith, and by similarity of institutions and pursuits. Grafts of the same original stock, they preserve their homogeneity wherever fate may transplant them. Truly of them might the Roman poet bave sung:

“Cælum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt." Under all climes, all circumstances and conditions, the Englishman remains in essentials an Englishman, imbued with the same sense of personal and of race importance, the same love of liberty, of honesty, of truth, of fair play, the same detestation of sham and of double-dealing. The old Teutonic bluntness and uprightness, the legacy of his Saxon fathers, still clings to him, and is as characteristic of one branch of his family as of another.

The question of the essential unity of the English-speaking peoples is of far greater moment to the British than to the American branch of the race. We are isolated and comparatively free from danger of foreign entanglement, while our territory is compact, with no outlying dependencies, save Alaska. Our interest in such a union is, therefore, extrinsic rather than intrinsic, sentimental rather than practical. If we favor it as a political measure, it will not be from hope of deriving from it much advantage for ourselves, but because we believe that it will be for the interest of humanity and of humanity's future. No true American can disclaim a certain pride of blood and a wish for the aggrandizement of his kindred, who, whatever may be their faults, are more to him than any race of men who speak a foreign tongue. But to Great Britain, under her present system, it is a question of vital importance. The United Kingdom has reached the limit of her power in Europe. Her insular position alone enables her to keep her rank among the military powers, a fact so patent that the bare mention of a closer connection with the Continent by even a harmless railway tunnel causes a universal ripple of protest all around her shores. Yet, potwithstanding this isolation, she is near enough to the maelstrom of European politics to be in continual danger-a danger which is vastly increased by the number and distance of her dependencies and their contiguity to the possessions of foreign powers. At the same time her colonies are essential to the maintenance of her political position, for without them she would inevitably lose rank. They serve, too, as drains for her surplus population, which she cannot support at home, and as markets for her vast manufacturing industries, which would languish without their support. Thus, while they increase her danger of foreign complication, they add to her political importance and indirectly to her revenues-good reasons why she should be anxious to bind ber children by closer ties.

This anxiety of Great Britain to conciliate her colonies is at once a confession of weakness and an acknowledgment that her policy of a hundred years ago was wrong. If she had shown a

[ocr errors]

similar disposition toward the old thirteen colonies, it is possible that she might not now be looking on her own children grown into an empire destined to excel even herself. Wisdom gathered from experience may be painful, but it is eminently salutary; and it is certainly a healthful indication of progress that her statesmen have discarded the antiquated idea that colonies have no inherent rights, but exist only for the benefit of the parent state. The question with them now is not, How much can our colonies do for us? but How much can we do for our colonies ?

Time was when a British statesman, appointed secretary for the colonies, could without shame ask his clerk to point out for him on the map their situation ; to-day the opinion of the Englishman at the antipodes is eagerly sought on the subject of a closer union with the mother-country. Three years ago Mr. James Anthony Froude and Lord Elphinstone went round the world to gather the sentiments of South Africans, of Australians, of New Zealanders, on this now all-important question, and Mr. Froude, in his delightful “Oceana,” has devoted many pages to the discussion of what is somewhat inaptly called "imperial federation."

Precisely what the advocates of this measure mean by this phrase is not apparent. If they mean a union of co-equal states under one general government, it may be a federation, but it will not be imperial; if a union of states under one dominant state, it may be imperial, but it will not be a federation. The two terms are essentially antagonistic. But, setting aside the question of nomenclature as immaterial, let us glance briefly at the practical question: Is it possible for Great Britain and her colonies to form a closer union than that which they now enjoy ? The adoption of a more intimate bond implies some change in their political relations, and this involves the renunciation of political power by one or the other party. Colonies are proverbially jealous, and it may be taken for granted that the dependencies will object seriously to the resignation of any of their acquired rights. The renunciation of power must be, then, on the part of Great Britain; and, as the present relations are imperial, this involves a change from the imperial to a federative form of government, based on the equality of the members com.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »