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223 earnest protest; after enforcing which he went on to say : “I believe in the stern, efficient, vigorous prosecution of the war to its natural end, but I believe that its natural end is a regular peace and a regular settlement. Therefore, I should not be deaf to any overtures of peace that came from any responsible authority, more specially if they came from the exiled Government, which now exists somewhere in the Low Countries, and which surrounds ex-President Kruger. You may say that it is a discredited Government. I really do not know if it is discredited by its own people, but I do know this, that it is the only Government, that it is the Government which went to war with us, and must, even in Belgium or Holland, in the absence
any other, retain some vestige of its former authority. You cannot negotiate with the scattered centurions in the field, for they have no authority, and you do not know where to find them. You cannot negotiate with the other ex-President-President Steyn -because he is lost somewhere in that infinite space which is now the theatre of war in South Africa, and therefore I say, that if the Government that is now in Europe, that scattered and dejected Ministry, should make any overtures of peace directly or indirectly to his Majesty's Government, if I were a Minister I should not turn a deaf ear to them. I do not mean, of course, that a Boer Ambassador should come to London, or that the King should send an Ambassador to Holland. I mean nothing of that kind, but some of the greatest peaces, the greatest settlements, in the world's history have begun with an apparently casual meeting of two travellers in a neutral inn, and I think it might well happen that some such fortuitous meeting might take place under the auspices of his Majesty's Government and of the exiled Boer Government which might lead to very good results." Having enforced his position on this point by historical references, Lord Rosebery, however, went on to say : “I beg you to understand that by this I have no idea of making any overtures of peace to the Boers. My policy is a passive policy of peace, and not an active policy. I think if you were to make overtures of peace to the Boers you would commit the greatest possible mistake in your own interest. It would be mistaken for a fatal act of weakness, and it would encourage the flagging forces of the enemy. Nor am I in favour, as some of my friends are, of indicating the terms on which I would make peace. I will tell you why. There is a great deal to be said for it, but as a matter of fact the Boers know perfectly well the terms on which they could have peace. When Lord Kitchener and General Botha initiated their negotiations last March, terms were agreed upon which should be offered to the Boers, and, though I admit that the Government declared that those terms were no longer open, the revocation after all is only formal, and the Boers, who are a shrewd race, are perfectly well aware that in case they wish for peace those terms are still open to them." Lord Rosebery admitted that there were obstacles
to peace. He did not, however, believe that nothing but independence would satisfy the Boers, and ventured to say that “there is not a sane Boer, who is not under the influence of fanaticism, who does not know, as well as you or I do, that their independence is gone for ever." Lord Rosebery did not doubt that it would be very disagreeable to the Boers to receive terms of peace at the hands of Lord Milner and Mr. Chamberlain, to whom they had a very strong objection, but, for all that, he did not understand the policy that was advocated by some of getting rid of Mr. Chamberlain and Lord Milner. cannot,” continued Lord Rosebery, “get rid of Mr. Chamberlain or Lord Milner without getting rid of his Majesty's Government, and having just given his Majesty's Government a majority of 200 over the Liberal Opposition, you are not likely to find yourself in a position to eject them. And I think as regards Lord Milner, at any rate, you might find yourselves, if you recalled him, out of the frying pan into the fire. I do not admit by that metaphor of the frying pan that Lord Milner has done anything to deserve your censure in any way. He deserves our confidence so far as I know in the transactions that have occurred. You will find yourselves in a worse position if you recall him. Lord Milner has not the confidence of the Boers. We could not expect it, but he has in a remarkable degree the confidence of the loyalists of South Africa, and if you were to recall Lord Milner now it would be held throughout South Africa as a lowering of the flag, as a change of policy in regard to the war, and would have, I believe, a most fatal and farreaching effect throughout the vast community. And, for the same reason, I must state quite frankly, that I am not in favour of sending a High Commissioner to negotiate terms of peace with the Boers or to re-settle South Africa. . . . The Boers can make peace with Lord Kitchener.”
The real difficulty, Lord Rosebery continued, was the question of amnesty. “I am," he said, "for as large and as liberal an amnesty as it is possible to give.
Of course, there will be cases which must be excepted which do not fall within the rules of warfare. There may be necessarily temporary disfranchisements, but on the broad policy of a large and liberal amnesty I am as clear and convinced as on any subject of politics at the present time, and, what is still more, that no other policy is practicable. . . . I will go so far as to give full civil rights to all Boers who took and signed a definite and drastic oath of allegiance. I believe that the sooner you put them in a position of civil responsibility, of honourable loyalty to yourselves, the better it will be for yourselves and South Africa. I do not believe that as regards representative government you can settle that at once. I believe you must wait till the country is re-settled, till the farms are rebuilt, and until the country is once more inhabited. Till then I would have a commission of four or five rough and
1901.] Favourable Reception of the Chesterfield Speech. [225 ready administrators of the Indian type to settle the country in the name of the High Commissioner, Lord Milner. I would have them assisted by a representative committee in which our own people should, of course, be in the majority, but in which there should also be a Boer element, and I would hasten as soon as possible the era at which responsible government could be granted. And with regard to all transactions which involved money, such as the re-settlement of the farms, the re-stocking of the farms, the rebuilding of the farms, I would act with the most lavish liberality.” In conclusion, having briefly summed up his points, Lord Rosebery said: “Well, gentlemen, that policy represents the best advice that I can give the country to-night. What I can do to further it I will do, for my services are, as they have always been, as far as health and strength can permit—as the services of all British: subjects are—at the disposal of my country. I am quite aware that my policy does not run on party lines; but it is not to party that I appeal. Party in this matter can avail little or nothing. I appeal unto Cæsar from Parliament with its halfhearted but overwhelming Government supporters and a distracted and disunited Opposition. I appeal to the silent but supreme tribunal which shapes and controls, in the long run, the destinies of our people, I mean the tribunal of public opinion, that of common sense.”
The immediate reception of this remarkable utterance was extremely favourable. When, in his eloquent peroration, Lord Rosebery intimated that he personally would do what he could to further the advice he had given, the great audience was: moved to a display of passionate enthusiasm. When he sat down Mr. Asquith first, and then Sir E. Grey, rose to indicate their cordial adhesion to the policy expounded by Lord Rosebery. That, perhaps, might have been expected, for although there were doubtless points in Lord Rosebery's speech which would not have been looked for from either of the other two politicians, both of them were accustomed to recognise his authority, especially in the domain of Imperial affairs, and there was a practical identity of general scope and aim in his address with the policy which they had been steadily advocating. The comments of the Unionist Press on the Chesterfield speech were, not indeed in all cases, but generally complimentary, and the Times in particular was warm in its praise of the manner in which Lord Rosebery had used his opportunity.. So favourable did the impression made among Unionists appear to be that the hope was undoubtedly awakened among the Imperial wing of the Liberal party that many Liberals who had left Mr. Gladstone on the Irish question would be willing to join the flag of Lord Rosebery, to the cry of Imperial efficiency. A more surprising thing was the, at least temporarily, considerable effect which the speech appeared to have produced among the anti-war, or “pro-Boer,” section of the Liberal
party. After a little hesitation they set themselves, in many cases, to the discovery of points of agreement between their own views and those set forth by the ex-Premier at Chesterfield. The result was that they found enough which they could applaud, even though inextricably blended with much that was distasteful to them, to make it seem possible that in considerable numbers they might see their way to the acceptance of his leadership. Indeed, it was quite true that, as Mr. Asquith—perhaps a little cynically—observed, speaking at Bilston (Dec. 19), “people of the most diverse views were hastening to declare that Lord Rosebery had expressed, perhaps in slightly different language from their own, what they had all the time been thinking.” The speculation excited by the prevalence of the temper thus indicated caused the Christmas season to be exceptionally full of political interest. On one thing all commentators on the Chesterfield speech were agreed, and that was that, if it was to produce any permanent effect towards the reuniting of the old Liberal party, or the construction of a new political connection, it must be steadily followed up by Lord Rosebery himself; and, on the whole, there seemed to be grounds for supposing that he recognised that truth himself and intended to act upon it.
The shadow of continued war under which, contrary to all expectation at its opening, the year 1901 came to an end was deepened by the news of a too successful exploit of De Wet. His surprise of a British column at Tweefontein, in the dark early hours of Christmas Day, was one of the most skilful and daring of the achievements of the Boer guerilla leader, of whom for many weeks very little had been heard. Still, the general tenour of the South African intelligence had pointed to a steady contraction of the enemy's power for mischief, and a corresponding advance in the establishment of the conditions of prosperous civil life for the white population, while the new regulations for native labour, put into force at Johannesburg under Lord Milner's authority, showed that British responsibility towards the coloured races in the new Colonies was being discharged with equal intelligence and resolution. And while the South African prospect remained a chequered one, the closing weeks of the year contained fresh and most gratifying evidence of the loyal readiness of the distant Colonies to give all the assistance that could possibly be required for the completion of the great Imperial enterprise into which they had thrown themselves in partnership with the Mother country. Never, indeed, had the Empire, as a whole, appeared more effectively united than at the end of the first year of the reign of King Edward VII.
So many events happening in Scotland, but possessing interest to the British nation as a whole, have been recorded in previous chapters, that what is necessary to be said as to matters of specially Scottish concern may be brought within very limited compass. Throughout the year the strongly Imperial quality of Scottish feeling in regard to the war in South Africa and the settlement to ensue on it was abundantly manifest. Very few Scottish Members of Parliament were found going into the lobby in support of motions by opponents of the war, and the ambiguous attitude of Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman, and his repeated employment of phrases like "methods of barbarism" as to the conduct of the war, needed all his personal popularity to prevent an unfavourable reaction on his own position. Those who knew the country well saw by all kinds of signs that its heart was set towards the resolute prosecution of the war to its natural end in the incorporation of the former Boer Republics within the Empire and the establishment of peace on the basis of equal rights for all white men and protection for the natives. Evidences of this firm resolve were afforded at Town Council meetings and Church Courts, where they would not have shown themselves unless the feeling beneath them had been strong and deep. In the Presbyterian churches that feeling was all but universal-a result doubtless due in large measure to the rery emphatic views expressed by prominent Scottish missionaries in South Africa like Dr. Stewart, the head of the great educational In:ssion at Lovedale, and formerly Moderator of the Free Church. Scotland continued to send large numbers of her sons to aid in bringing the war to a conclusion. In addition to her proportional share of active service companies from Volunteer Corps, she equipped and despatched numerous bodies of Yeomanry and Mounted Infantry, which gave a good account of themselves, and large sums of money were collected for the widows and orphans of those who fell, the fund of one newspaper alone amounting to some 55,0001.
The general factory legislation of 1901 was naturally followed with interest north of the Tweed, and an Education (Scotland) Act, of no slight importance, was evolved by the co-operation of the Government with Members of all parties. Its effect was to abolish all granting of exemptions from school attendance under the age of twelve, and while empowering School Boards to grant partial exemption between twelve and fourteen, on such conditions as they might think fit as to further attendance up to the latter age, to make such permission dependent on the existence of special circumstances in each case, justifying cur