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Chapter 13: the dream of the republic

A question has lately come up which lies behind all other matters involved in either the Venezuelan or the South African question, and upon which all sensible men and women should form an opinion. Is there, after all, any advantage in living in a republic; and is it not better, in truth, to dwell in a colony, whose final control rests in some government a few thousand miles off, so that the colony will be well taken care of? How our grandparents or great-grandparents answered this question we know. They fought a seven years war to get rid of being a colony. The question, however, is what we think of it now. And if an independent republic is better, does this apply in general, or only to people who speak English and are Protestants? Or, on the other hand, is it true of all people, at any rate of all Christian people, leaving others for the moment [98] out of the question? Did all Central and Southern America, for instance, make a mistake when their successive states declared independence of various European nations and set up republics? Or would it have been better had they all remained — as Cuba is — under the government of Spain?

It is very common to see just now, in religious newspapers and in letters from professors, an expression of sincere regret that the Spanish-American republics generally are not becoming colonies of England. They would, it is thought, be in that case much more happy and prosperous; would have better roads, more shops, stricter laws, would speak a more intelligible dialect, and be less superstitious. They would have gunboats to protect them; a great many people would come from England to live among them and teach them manners; they would have pale ale; and there would always be a home government to settle questions. Would not that be better than to live in their own way and have occasional revolutions?

It is a curious fact that, in spite of all these obvious advantages of the colonial condition, it finds least approval among the very people who ought best to know its value — the colonists [99] who go forth from Europe. Great Britain is, indeed, the only European nation which sends forth its children on a really enormous scale. Now, these self-exiled people ought clearly, if they know what is good for them, to seek out some English colony. These colonies are to be found all over the world; there is no habitable zone where a person or a family leaving Great Britain may not settle down and find atmosphere, food, employment, to suit every sort of taste; there is a vast and alluring assortment of colonial conditions provided always under the British flag. What is the result? The result is that, according to Sir Charles Dilke, “three times as many natives of the United Kingdom are living in the United States as in the whole of our [British] colonies put together.” 1 “It is striking,” he adds, “to how considerable an extent British emigration fails to follow the flag.”

The verdict seems perfectly conclusive. There is evidently something in a self-governing republic which affords greater advantages for a desirable life than are found in colonies. Canada is, as Dilke points out, far more accessible to England than any other of its offshoots; [100] and yet all the resources of assisted emigration and subsidized railroads, though they can tempt natives of the United Kingdom there, cannot keep them there. If, now, those born in Great Britain itself prefer the life of the self-governing republic, why should not those also prefer it who had the misfortune to be born somewhere else-as, for instance, in Venezuela or in Mexico?

There remains only that general proposition, which Lowell satirized without mercy in his Biglow Papers fifty years ago, that all who do not speak English must needs be an inferior race, and that “Anglosaxondom's idea must break them all to pieces.” Yet there was a time when Bolivar was a recognized hero throughout this continent for rescuing first Venezuela and then Peru from the Spanish dominion; and when he died, in 1830, his name was associated in the public voice with that of Washington. We are now told that the South American states are unstable as to government and have occasional wars. But it is hard for any government to seem more unstable than our own seemed in 1861; and we shed more blood in our own civil war than they in all their “revolutions” put together. Their population is characterized by Sir [101] Charles Dilke as “an active and intelligent mixed race of Spanish, Indian, and negro blood,” with “an infusion of Italian, French, and Irish blood.” “We must look forward to an eventual protectorate,” he adds, “which, great as is the weight of the United States in the world, will bring to it an increase.” 2

These words, from the highest recognized English authority on such matters, may well make us pause and reflect whether we really desire to see these Hispano-American states exist as republics, and work out their own salvation; or whether we wish for them the probable fate of the Boer republic, as European colonies. Dr. Jameson, taking his way back to England nominally a prisoner, was immediately sung as a hero by the new poet-laureate, and came very near to being a petted lion in London society. It is a matter seriously to be considered by us whether it is best or not best that every Hispano--American state in America should have its Jameson. This at least may be said: The test of one's real love of liberty and of republican government is that one should not believe them to be the destiny of a single race or language only, but of all nations. [102] Grant that the South Americans are impetuous, turbulent, unsettled; they are not more so than the mixed races whom the Roman Empire left on the British Isles when it withdrew from them. To this day there are no roads on those islands so good, no walls so solid, as those built by the Roman conquerors. Shall we say that it would have been better if Great Britain had remained forever an outlying colony of Rome? Not at all; she has worked out her own salvation by being thrown on herself, and so must these South American republics.

We did not require Maximilian to leave Mexico for fear he would not govern vigorously under the direction of his master, Louis Napoleon; but we required it in order that Mexico should be free. See what progress Mexico has made since then-first under Juarez, a pure-blooded Indian, and since 1877 under Diaz! Brigandage has almost disappeared; the laws are administered; there is religious freedom; the army has been reduced. Yet there was a time when the very word “Mexican” was a synonym for disorder. Even a Hispano-American race, it seems, can fulfil the dream of the republic.


1 Dilke's Problems of Greater Britain, 1890, p. 17.

2 Dilke's Problems of Greater Britain, I890, p. 98.

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