The Imperial Federation lie [The Bulletin, 21 August 1886]

[Editor: This article about Imperial Federation (the proposed parliamentary union of the British Empire) was published in The Bulletin (Sydney, NSW), 21 August 1886.]

The Imperial Federation lie.

When Lord Tennyson, in his official capacity as poetic dancing skeleton to the Royal Family, wrote his famous ode on the opening of the Colonial and Indian Exhibition, he gave the cause of Imperial Federation a lift for which its advocates have every reason to be thankful.

The poet and the politician both work on the same theory — that Federation will weld all the subjects of the British Crown into one invincible nation, and they both avail themselves of a poetic license — a euphonious term for a poetic lie — in placing this view of the case before their converts. Unfortunately, however, a little reason and common-sense show clearly that federation must either remain woefully incomplete or must utterly overthrow the Anglo-Saxon supremacy over one-seventh of the habitable globe.

The picture placed before us is that of a Federal Parliament representing and governing a population of about 310,000,000 souls, but it is commonly for gotten that of this number nearly 260,000,000 are Asiatics who are not yet allowed even to govern themselves. If the native races of India be excluded from the league the supreme Legislature will only represent one-sixth of the Empire at the utmost; if they are admitted they will vote down all the rest of the mongrel federated nation and rule Britain, Canada and Australia by force of numbers. As it happens, however, they are but little inclined to submit to the gross injustice of exclusion.

The great silent movement in favour of Constitutional Government is still progressing and gaining strength among the Hindoo tribes; sooner or later a native Parliament must be granted, and that body will ultimately demand to be represented in the Federal Council, should such an institution ever by any evil fortune be created. The Oriental races have long since discovered that “Jan Bool” is not a potent Feringhee deity as they once supposed, but a peaceful, tow-headed citizen, whose claims to rule over them are based chiefly on treachery, lying, and good luck, and they are not inclined to submit to his domination so peacefully as of old.

It is now nearly 140 years since the first British conqueror proceeded to hang up his Aryan hat in the tents of Shem, and though the welcome of Shem himself was warm rather than courteous, things have gone well with the conquerors ever since. But now a confusion of tongues worse than that heard of old in the plains of Shinar is heard demanding Constitutional Government and should it be refused trouble may arise.

The establishment of a Federal Council from which he is excluded will mean to the Hindoo that, instead of being oppressed by Britain alone, be will be weighed down by all the British Empire outside of India. Either the dominant race must face the chance of an insurrection — not merely on the part of the army as before, but a rising of the whole nation — or else they must be content to see the Hon. Shikkamy Shaster, of Madras, or Shorabi Shoppurji, from some ten-syllable jungle township, running the whole Imperial machine in London, with a yellow-dog coloured Cabinet and a brown Semitic majority at his back. And if there is any meaning whatever in the talk about the “Federation of the Empire,” this is what the disciples of the new order of things already look forward to.

Everyone has heard of the coming millennium when 300,000,000 souls are to be joined in one league, and it is impossible to suppose that the men who rave of this deliberately mean all the while to leave 260,000,000 of these out; but not one federal apostle has yet had the honesty to point out that a white population of 40,000,000 cannot rule almost seven times their number of Asiatics by their votes alone. The Hong-Kong Chinaman, the Cape Hottentot, and the civilised portion of the Canadian Indians must also be represented on the same basis, and unless federation is a lie and a delusion a time may come when “Spotted Tail” from the Saskatchewan will form a Ministry in England, and Mr. Gladstone will go into the division lobby along with a man who smokes opium and plays fan-tan in the Commons’ card-room, and with another who bangs an assegai against a bull-hide shield by way of applause in an exciting debate.

In these happy days of the future the British representatives may congratulate themselves when they succeed in carrying a resolution by coalescing with discontented Moslems and Malays, African K.C.M.G.s, and Obi men from Barbadoes and Jamaica, and a fierce discussion in the supreme legislature of the Empire will be interspersed with strange federal oaths in Tamil and Gujarati dialects, mixed with recriminations from Chung Fat, the ennobled Chinese washerman from the Far East.

And on the other hand, if none of these things are to come to pass, the Empire will not be federated after all, the boasted union of 300,000,000 British subjects will vanish into thin air, and the league of brotherhood will be merely a combination of the dominant race, to enable them the more effectually to keep in subjection an enormous population, which is already demanding to be freed from its servitude.

There are only two alternatives to this great question — either federation is a stupendous lie, or it involves the total ruin of Anglo-Saxon supremacy in the British dominions.

The Bulletin (Sydney, NSW), 21 August 1886, p. 3 (columns 3-4)

[Editor: The original text has been separated into paragraphs.]

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