Empire & Commonwealth: Studies in Governance and Self-Government in Canada

By Chester Martin | Go to book overview
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THE six studies in this series, though self-contained essays in Canadian history, will be found to follow a very clearly marked theme. The first three relate to the first Empire and the disaster which overtook it at the American Revolution; the last three to the truly British solution of 'the American question' in the practice of responsible government. The slow but steady growth in the scope of responsible government has culminated in the Commonwealth as we know it to-day. Taken together these stages mark the transition from governance to full self-government; and it is a curious coincidence that the recurring cycles in the process have come at almost exactly equal intervals of seventy-five years--from the beginning of the American Revolution which destroyed the first Empire to the achievement of responsible government in Nova Scotia and in Canada which saved the second, and from the full concession of responsible government to the culmination of that process in the report of the Committee on Inter-Imperial Relations at the Imperial Conference of 1926.

The pursuit of such a theme is not without its dangers. Much of the unity and inevitableness of history is lost when the attempt is made to break it up, like a ray of white light, into its component prismatic colours. For a variety of reasons, however, a comprehensive history for Canada may long remain a counsel of perfection. Canadian history is highly complex, and in truth it is only by focusing broken lights and by fusing all the cardinal colours that it is ever likely to be reconstructed in its entirety. Much of it has been the by-product of larger issues. Many issues that were Canadian in their origin have been distorted almost beyond recognition by external influences. Many, too, have complicated each other by appearing at the same time, thus forcing an attempt at simultaneous solution under conditions which invited disaster for them all.

Of the three or four major problems in Canadian political history --the fundamental issues of colonial government inherited from the first Empire, the problem of race after 1763, the project of combining scattered British provinces into a transcontinental Dominion--not one, it would be safe to say, was singled out for


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