Page:1902 Encyclopædia Britannica - Volume 26 - AUS-CHI.pdf/19

This page needs to be proofread.



have been shrivelling away, if they have not become absolutely moribund, which under a protective policy have gained ground in every leading foreign country. Market after market has been closed to British trade by the imposition of prohibitive duties abroad; and though the rate of wages has kept up, the fear that any falling-off in British industry may possibly lead to a general lowering of wages has for some time haunted the minds of labourers, mill-hands, artisans, and miners. This fear has afforded an opening ol which the partisans of Imperialism have not been slow to avail themselves. They advocated the necessity of providing fresh markets for British industry, by fostering colonial development, by “ pegging-out ” new claims, by subsidizing enterprises calculated to bring the colonies into closer communication with the mother country, and by adopting the policy of Federation, of which Mr Chamberlain has been the most prominent advocate. If once the British working-classes get it into their heads, with or without reason, that a British Zollverein—the probable result of Imperial Federation—would conduce to the augmentation of their wages, or at any rate to the maintenance of the present rates of payment for labour, they would be led by self-interest to espouse the cause of Federation. The influence of self-interest would be augmented by the force of sentiment—of patriotism, Jingoism, or whatever one may choose to call it,— which is certainly not less powerful in the lower classes of British society than in the upper. It is significant that the most important legislative act of the last year of the 19 th century should have been the passing of the Act authorizing the Australian Colonies to form themselves into an Australasian Commonwealth. Whatever may have been the case in Australia, this measure was deemed in the old country to owe its chief importance to the fact that it was regarded as an initial step towards the ultimate formation of an Imperial Federation embracing all parts of the British Empire. The note of Imperialism was first heard in British politics at the commencement of the period with which we are dealing. It was in the last days of 1875 that Disraeli purchased for Great Britain the Khedive Ismail Pasha’s interest in the Suez Canal, and thereby committed her to an intervention m the affairs of Egypt, which gradually eventuated, as all intervention is apt to eventuate, in the establishment of a virtuaf protectorate over the country in whose affairs the intervention was employed. A year later Queen Victoria, by Disraeli’s advice, added to her titles that of Empress of India. In pursuance of the policy indicated by this change of appellation, the then Premier brought Indian troops to Europe in order to garrison Malta during the period when a war between Great Britain and Bussia seemed to be on the cards in consequence of the invasion of Bulgaria by the armies of the Tsar. A further step towards the development of British Imperialism was taken in the attitude which Lord Beaconsfield adopted at the Berlin Conference, and by the convention he formed with Turkey, m virtue of which Great Britain obtained practical possession of Cyprus, and pledged herself to defend Asia Minor m the event of this portion of the Ottoman dominions being invaded by Russia. There can be no doubt that the acquisition of Cyprus was intended by its author to enable Great Britain to make Cyprus a place d'armes, and thereby to forestall any possible despatch of French troops to Egypt, and to protect the port of Alexandretta, which was to have been the terminus of the projected Euphrates Valley Railway to the Persian Gulf. Lord Beaconsfield’s Imperialist policy laboured under two fatal defects; first, that owing to advancing years he was not prepared to carry it through, in the face of the active antagonism of his opponents and the lukewarm sympathy of his supporters; and, secondly, that the ideas which lay at the bottom of his policy had not yet appealed to public opinion at home. Indeed, popular sentiment, excited by the Bulgarian atrocities, had turned against any alliance with Turkey; and the result of Mr Gladstone’s Midlothian campaign was the decisive defeat of the Conservatives at the General Election of 1880, and the return to power of the Liberal party under Mr Gladstone. For a time Imperialism was at a discount; indeed, it may fairly be said that to the end of his career the ideas which underlie Imperialism were distasteful to the great Liberal leader. But the force of events soon compelled a Liberal Government to resume the system of active intervention in foreign affairs, against which they had protested so warmly in the days of their predecessors. Two years after his accession to office Mr Gladstone had to send troops to Egypt in order to suppress the Arabi insurrection, to occupy Cairo, to abolish the Franco-British dual control, and to undertake the provisional administration of the country. We entertain no doubt as to the perfect good faith with which Mr Gladstone protested that the British