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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 63

Chapter I

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Chapter I.

Breathes there the man with soul so dead
Who never to himself hath said
This is my own, my native land."
Lay of the Last Minstrel.—Scott.

The present condition of New Zealand demands the best consideration of her children. And this consideration must not only be earnest and thorough, it must be instant also. The position is one of extreme gravity, and a few false steps may land the whole colony in bankruptcy or civil war. Mutterings of discontent, both loud and deep, like the distant thunders of an approaching tempest, are bursting and echoing both, in the North and in the South. Nor are these idle sounds. They are not the voices of a summer storm passing over us upon swift wings, scarcely clouding the skies as it soars away, leaving the air cool, the earth glittering with its grateful shower, and heaven spanned with its radiant arch. They are rather the rattling volleys of the tempest's advance guard, at whose sound the sailor furls his sails, and the traveller quickens his pace to gain some friendly roof. We are told by historians that after great battles there come as a rule great storms of rain. The silence which succeeds the strife of embattled hosts is broken by the artillery of heaven, and elemental war treads swiftly on the heels of human strife. So every struggle in any representative Assembly is followed by a contest equally fierce among the different portions or sections of the people. The past teems with examples. Greece, Rome, Carthage, England, France, and the United States afford to the philosopher or student numerous great occasions which fully illustrate and enforce the comparison. And so New Zealand, on an infinitely small scale indeed, is at the present adding its tiny rill to the mighty stream of history. And yet not to us small, for is not the theatre our country, and is not the contest a contest upon the results of which depends our political honor, nay, perhaps, our political existence? Two months since, or even less, and the political world of New Zealand was asleep. There was a dull stagnancy in the Legislature. Most men foresaw a period of trial, but no one imagined that it was near at hand. Members of the Assembly were already preparing to take wing towards their homes, and the constituencies were flattering themselves that they could see the close of another session, and as yet there was no crisis. When suddenly—as the boom of the cannon echoed thro' the streets and halls of Brussells on the eve of Waterloo—the Premier, the Hon. Julius Vogel, threw down upon the table of the House of Representatives his three celebrated resolutions.

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The echo of the Premier's voice had scarcely died away upon the hangings of the Representative Chamber in that address when Mr. Vogel promised the House and the country that no constitutional change should be introduced during the session. But in the debate on a Bill for the Conservation of Forests, the Premier was so deeply stung by a speech made the Superintendent of Wellington, Mr. Fitzherbert, that he threatened in anger to bring down a Bill which would do away with the province of Wellington altogether. It is probable that this was but an idle threat, spoken in the heat of the moment when the Premier was smarting under a most severe attack. But—

There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough hew them how we will.

It so happened that at this time there was in Wellington a gentleman well known to New Zealand politics, Mr. Thomas Russell. This gentleman, by dint of many enquiries among the members of the House of Representatives, had ascertained that there was a majority of the members in favor of such a measure as that hinted at by the Premier. For what purpose or with what object Thomas Russell pursued these enquiries, and then confided his acquired knowledge to the Premier, it is difficult to say. Rumour, however, with its busy tongue whispered that Mr. Russell had been commissioned by the Premier to propose to Mr. Stafford a coalition before never dreamed of—for few men thought that, even amidst the changes of New Zealand politics, Vogel, Fox, and Stafford would ever be found side by side. Stafford declined the doubtful honor, but for the occasion at any rate was found ready to fight shoulder to shoulder with his political antagonists. And so it came to pass that, from an angry threat, a series of resolutions destined to figure largely in New Zealand's history, which indeed marks the third important epoch in the progress of this colony, came into existence, and were obtruded upon the notice of Parliament and people. The future historian will note the foundation of New Zealand as a colony, the receipt by it of a constitutional and representative government, and the organic change by which Provincialism was swept away—and the people and their rulers left face to face—as the three great steps of our early existence.: For it needs no prophet's vision to forsee that New Zealand is committed to a struggle which must end in the total abolition of the Provincial system of government. Before considering the resolutions and the circumstances which immediately introduced and surrounded them, it may be wise for us to glance back and trace so far as we are able the growth of those principles and events which have ultimately led to our present position.