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In the Imperial Conference of 1911, one more attempt was made to set up a central governing authority in London. Sir Joseph Ward, of New Zealand, acting as the mouthpiece of the imperial federationists, urged the establishment, first of an Imperial Council of State and later of an Imperial Parliament. His proposals met no support. "It is absolutely impracticable," was Laurier's verdict. "Any scheme of representation--no matter what you call it, parliament or council--of the overseas Dominions, must give them so very small a representation that it would be practically of no value," declared Premier Morris of Newfoundland. "It is not a practical scheme," Premier Fisher of Australia agreed; "our present system of responsible government has not broken down." "The creation of some body with centralized authority over the whole Empire," Premier Botha of South Africa cogently insisted, "would be a step entirely antagonistic to the policy of Great Britain which has been so successful in the past . . . . It is the policy of decentralization which has made the Empire--the power granted to its various peoples to govern themselves." Even Premier Asquith of the United Kingdom declared the proposals "fatal to the very fundamental conditions on which our empire has been built up and carried on."
Stronger than any logic was the presence of Louis Botha in the conferences of 1907 and 1911. On the former occasion it was only five years since he had been in arms against Great Britain. The courage and vision of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman in granting full and immediate self-government to the conquered Boer republics had been justified by the results. Once more freedom proved the only enduring basis of empire. Botha's task in attempting to make Boer and Briton work together, first in the Transvaal, and, after 1910, in the Union of South Africa, had not been an easy one. Attacked by extremists from both directions, he faced much the same difficulties as Laurier, and he found in Laurier's friendship, counsel, and example much that stood him in good stead in the days of stress to come.
Not less important than the relations with the United Kingdom in this period were the relations with the United States. The Venezuela episode was the turning point in the relations between the United States and the British Empire. Both in Washington and in London men had been astounded to find themselves on the verge of war. The danger passed, but the shock awoke thousands to a realization of all that the two peoples had in common and to the need of concerted effort to remove the sources of friction. Then hard on the heels of this episode followed the Spanish-American War.* Not the least of its by-products was a remarkable improvement in the relations of the English-speaking nations. The course of the war, the intrigues of European courts to secure intervention on behalf of Spain, and the lining up of a British squadron beside Dewey in Manila Bay when a German Admiral blustered, revealed Great Britain as the one trustworthy friend the United States possessed abroad. The annexation of the Philippines and the definite entry of the United States upon world politics broke down the irresponsible isolation which British ministers had found so much of a barrier to diplomatic accommodations. With John Hay and later Elihu Root at the State Department, and Lansdowne and Grey at the Foreign Office in London, there began an era of good feeling between the two countries.
* See "The Path of Empire".
Ottawa and Washington were somewhat slower in coming to terms. Many difficulties can arise along a three thousand mile border, and with a people so sure of themselves as the Americans were at this period and a people so sensitive to any infringements of their national rights as the Canadians were, petty differences often loomed large. The Laurier Government, therefore, proposed shortly after its accession to power in 1896 that an attempt should be made to clear away all outstanding issues and to effect a trade agreement. A Joint High Commission was constituted in 1898. The members from the United States were Senator Fairbanks, Senator Gray, Representative Nelson Dingley, General Foster, J.A. Kasson, and T.J. Coolidge of the State Department. Great Britain was represented by Lord Herschell, who acted as chairman, Newfoundland by Sir James Winter, and Canada by Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Sir Richard Cartwright, Sir Louis Davies, and John Charlton, M.P.
The Commission held prolonged sittings, first at Quebec and later at Washington, and reached tentative agreement on nearly all of the troublesome questions at issue. The bonding privileges on both sides the border were to be given an assured basis; the unneighborly alien labor laws were to be relaxed; the Rush-Bagot Convention regarding armament on the Great Lakes was to be revised; Canadian vessels were to abandon pelagic sealing in Bering Sea for a money compensation; and a reciprocity treaty covering natural products and some manufactures was sketched out. Yet no agreement followed. One issue, the Alaska boundary, proved insoluble, and as no agreement was acceptable which did not cover every difference, the Commission never again assembled after its adjournment in February, 1899.
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The Canadian Dominion -by- Oscar D. Skelton