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100 years ago: Empire Day thoughts

24 May 2024

May 23rd, 1924.

EMPIRE DAY is a very modern festival. We cannot imagine its existence in the eighteenth century. At that time there were a good many empires of a similar sort in various parts of the world, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and French, and Englishmen thought little of empires. The object of our veneration at that time was the British constitution. England differed from the other great states of Europe not because she possessed an empire, but because she enjoyed a sort of liberty tempered by autocracy. Nor were things essentially different in the early Victorian days. It is true that by that time most of the continental colonial empires had disappeared, but there was little belief that the British colonial empire would be more lasting. In fact, men like Disraeli and Goldwin Smith regarded the colonies as millstones round the neck of the mother country. Probably the general indifference to the empire in its day was useful. The Indian Empire, so far as it was a commercial speculation, was built up by men like Warren Hastings, Dalhousie, and perhaps we may add Macaulay, who were essentially classicists. They knew their Roman history and consciously imitated the Roman models. In a word, they were Romans and their subjects were barbarians, but their subjects were entitled to a just and tolerant government. Even those who, like Burke, attacked the government of India attacked its oppressions much in the style that Cicero thundered against Verres. The system gave for a time peace and order, but the English had not sufficient racial pride to make it permanent. India has not been Anglicized, but she is drifting to democracy. With the English-speaking colonies a common civilization and common needs have created an imperial loyalty, and England at last has discovered her empire. The discovery will do us no harm, indeed it may save us from materialism, if we remember that, great as is our duty to the Empire, our duty to Christendom is greater.

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