It is difficult to speak the final word in elucidation of the sentiment with which one great, powerful, and prosperous nation regards another. Even when characteristics and prejudices have been growing for centuries, and have become almost as well defined as language, there is difficulty in generalising with accuracy, in condensing the lightning which plays through the life of a great people into an incandescent glow. And the embarrassment increases when the conditions are as yet unsettled; when one nation, labouring alone with “the too vast orb of her fate,” has been careless of forming an opinion, and when the other has been unable to find any adequate national ideal, oppressed by a motley of conditions which it wears with irritation, but which it cannot throw off. Under such circumstances to generalise is an almost impossible task, and the writer of the article entitled “American Feeling toward England,” in the April Bookman, found it possible to speak only for the great silent mass of Americans “whose nationality is inherited from many generations of Anglo-Saxon ancestors.”
Even with this limitation there may be doubt whether the last word has been spoken. There is much truth in what Professor Peck avers with regard to the boorishness of the individual Englishman. Americans have not suffered in any greater degree at his hands than have Canadians, who have not even the prestige of enormous national success to force respect, but who are merely colonists; and upon everything colonial lies the cloud of his clownish displeasure. But it is unfair to judge a race by individuals, and after we lay the stripes upon the insular barbarian, we have left the multitude of his countrymen untouched. Similarly, after we have visited a type of American with contempt for his chicane and his gross egotism, we still retain respect for the genuine qualities of the mass of his race. [page 38] We Canadians do not expect to be judged, as Sir R.F. Burton judged us, by the weary dulness, rudeness, and apathy of a provincial class which the narrow conditions of our life has bred. After we cast out this class, there remains the mass of our people, whose solid energy and integrity, whose reliability and force of character have created the Dominion of Canada from the staggering units, each with its separate interests, which existed before confederation.
In the old days of disquietude and trouble there were not a few who believed that Canada’s only hope for peace and prosperity lay in absorption by her masculine neighbour who was bustling about, filling the seas with commerce, and developing his enormous domain to the west. In 1840, when the union of the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada was formed, the feeling had not by any means died out; nor had it disappeared when the confederation of the colonies in British North America was accomplished in 1867. The sentiment for annexation was never widespread, and never struck its roots very deeply. The colonists were loyal in the bone; and if the conditions which caused unrest had not existed, there might never have been the least approach to a desire for political union with the United States. As it was, the contrast between colonies struggling with difficulties which the Home Government seemed too callous to attempt to remove, and a republic abounding in wealth and ready in resource, was too glaring not to arouse envy. Personal envy the prosperity of individual Americans did strongly arouse, and then began that desertion of Canada by Canadians in the hope of wealth and success, which continues to this day, and which has left our land labouring heavily under a sense of burden and loss.
The cloud of annexation was scarcely larger than a man’s hand, and it has now merged in the blue. It could not survive the sense of a national destiny which prompted confederation and which led to a vigorous policy of protection for Canadian industries. It vanished with growing prosperity, and if any vestige of it remained, it was dissolved in the warmth with which the message of President Cleveland was received. That utterance affected Canadians deeply. While they had an underlying confidence in the sober good sense of the saving remnant among the American people, they could not forget the past. They recalled a time when this remnant had been powerless to prevent active hostile preparations, and actual descents upon our frontiers, and they feared that temperance and [page 39] wisdom could not prevail if by any chance the war-dogs were once unleashed. The press of Canada with one accord, while scouting the probability of war, quietly discussed the modes of a successful defence, and from one end of the land to the other the people were resolute. The words which seemed to threaten our peace bound us together as nothing else could have done. We saw more clearly than ever our relation to England and the place we must assume in the Empire. We took one clear, straight step forward, and found ourselves in possession of a new ideal. The gospel of annexation, which had for so many years been moribund, drew its last breath. The President’s message had, in a few short hours, done more to strengthen the thews of the Canadian confederacy than a half-century of peace and plenty could have accomplished. The position of Canada at this juncture was very like that of the little man in Stephen Crane’s Lines who was preparing to fight with the mountains. A spectator might have argued from our attitude that it was very good to have had grandfathers who fought and conquered mountains.
In possession of this traditional valour some irritation had to be overcome. The American press rehearsed the march into Canada, and drew pleasant pictures of the easy path in the country of the vanquished. At such times the blood of the most unemotional Canadian leaps with fire at the thought of standing valiant in a breach and repelling the onset of war. But it must be confessed that the most patient of all patient countries is Canada, and it takes some extraordinary crisis to provoke active resistance.
In many of our people, descended directly from United Empire loyalist stock, and from ancestors who fought in the War of 1812, there is still a smouldering dislike of anything “Yankee,” a term which stands for many vices and hardly a single virtue. It only needs the breath of some filibustering American politician to fan this feeling into activity, when the survivor of the old loyalist is as ready as his progenitor to wave the Union Jack and strike the hereditary foe.
But for the most part Canadians remain undisturbed by any feeling of hostility toward the United States. They are content to admire, without envy, a prosperity which they cannot rival; and they are willing to be moderately, securely prosperous and remain governed by a constitution which they consider as stable as the rock, and by laws which they respect. When the Canadian comes [page 40] into contact with the American he finds in him a brother german. Upon the frontiers of the countries there is hardly an atom of difference between them. The farmer of Stanstead and Mississquoi has the same characteristics as his neighbour of Vermont. He even speaks with a similar drawl. One passes the borders of Maine and does not discover that he is in the county of Charlotte or of York. The peninsula of Southern Ontario is swept by railway trains which shuttle across the border free as spiders upon the strands of their own webs; and the vernacular and the accent in which it is conveyed is hardly distinguishable on the northern and southern shores of Lake Erie. And there is perfect accord in a characteristic which is fundamental and vital—love of country.
The Canadian loves his Dominion and its institutions with a deep, tranquil affection which he takes for granted and says very little about. He is proud of the history, traditions, and development of his country, and believes in her future successes and triumphs. If we are called upon to credit the statement that the American, who claims descent through generations of Anglo-Saxon ancestors, loves England “with a fervour and a passion of which no English-man has any conception,” he may be able to form some idea of how a Canadian loves her, whose traditions have not been broken by the rudeness of war and a century of exasperating misunderstandings. He cherishes the idea of his direct and permanent possession of all her greatness, her literature, her laws, her language. When he touches her shores he touches the very heart of home; and for him there can never be any separation of Englishmen and their greatness from England. His blood mounts to the flutter of her flag, and his heart is proud with the thought that, in his own land, for thousands of miles, in cities, towns, and counties, even among a loyal people who speak an alien tongue, “you won’t get away from the tune that they play to the bloomin’ old rag over’ead.” It is this spirit which so long held the separated colonies true to the mother land, and it is this spirit that achieved confederation.
But the great bond of confederation has been forged, and the men who brought to the task their courage, their fineness of temper, their enthusiasm are passing away. Of the fathers of confederation, a handful remain, and the greatest has only for a few years rested from his labours. The death of Sir John A Macdonald marked the close of an epoch in Canadian history, and the dulness and want of spirit which has supervened upon our politics are the sign that the [page 41] old leaven has done its work. The dream of the union of the provinces has become a reality, and we have arrived at a point from which we must proceed toward our destiny, our “manifest destiny.” Time was when this term bore a sinister meaning for Canadians, and was deeply tinged with a traitorous colour. But it may well be saved from contempt and infused with new power, as the formula explaining a desire wider and more daring than the spirit which led to its adoption in American politics.
The manifest destiny of Canada is to be one of the greatest powers in the Federated Empire of England. Twenty years ago this idea would have been stoned as impractical, visionary, and even undesirable. The idea of Canadian independence would have been received with greater favour. English politicians would have condescendingly waived the proposition as not worthy of a passing discussion, and the English public would have stopped its ears and wrapped itself in its cloak of jealous self-interest. The indifference with which the colonies have been treated in the past by the English people and its government is almost inconceivable; and Canada has suffered peculiarly from the apathy and want of heart which seems to pervade all dealings with colonial dependencies. To such an extent has this been the case that it has caused restlessness, bitterness, and sometimes open expressions of irritation.
It is hardly strange that England with her innumerable interests, domestic and foreign, should have failed for years to perceive the overtopping importance of her colonies as sources from which her vigour might be renewed and her power sustained and increased. The sense of this importance grew up in the colonies and was fostered there, and for years no emergency has arisen in which England has not received prompt and hearty offers of help from Greater England. This spirit was bound sooner or later to break down the traditional indifference, and it only required the occurrences of the last few years to open the eyes of English politicians to the unforeseen destiny which the spirit of settlement and colonisation had prepared for the Empire. Such has been the growth of opinion and the desire for action in the direction of closer union, that hardly two years lie between the meeting of the Colonial Conference, at Ottawa and the proposal of Mr. Joseph Chamberlain to call a meeting of colonial delegates in London to discuss the basis of a zollverein between England and her dependencies. [page 42]
In such a scheme Canada is deeply interested, and upon its successful issue depends in large degree her future prosperity; for it is impossible to satisfy the aspirations of the new generation of Canadians and at the same time allow the old policy of laisser-faire to obtain in intercolonial relations.
If the fathers were ever troubled by a desire for commercial union with the United States, their sons against this have most earnestly set their faces. They dread too thoroughly the outcome of this policy, the extinction of the national spirit; and rather than pay such a monstrous fee for cheaper living, they would remain as they are for limitless years. But they are not content to remain as they are, and the one alternative looms with features of such gigantic import that before long it must become the ideal of every true Canadian.
There are many and great difficulties to surmount, but Canadians have never been dismayed before difficulties. In five minutes a lively brood of objections to any scheme for a zollverein between England and the colonies will spring into the mind of the village publicist; but obvious as many of the obstacles are, and strong as they are, they can be cast down. Canada, one of the group of colonies in whose interests this scheme of Imperial Federation must be accomplished, will demand from her statesmen the insight, the courage, and the tenacity which will render it possible to conciliate all differences. At the present time there is evidence of the increasing interest which Canadian public men and Canadian journals are taking in this subject. The question of a preferential tariff, coupled with a proposal for Imperial defence, has been debated during the present session of the Dominion Parliament, and the leading Canadian weekly has adopted the principles of the resolution, which gave rise to the discussion in the House, as the main plank in a new party platform.
It is never wise to alienate friendly feeling or to break down any cordial interest, and the hope of a united and invincible British Empire does not carry with it the arrogant idea that, in the happy years of its fulfilment, we will begin to live regardless of the friendship of other great powers.
But when the task is achieved, the vision of the Battle of Dorking and the rush of the spiked helmets upon London need not any more trouble the imagination of the American who has learned to hate England by reason of the crassness of ill-mannered Englishmen; for in her hour of danger she will be compassed about by the multitude [page 43] of her strong sons, and converging from every quarter of the world there will come the rush of help, and the sound of succour will arise mightily in all her lands. [page 44]