Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTEE LIII: the country and its first half century of history - Modern Democracies, vol. 2.
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CHAPTEE LIII: the country and its first half century of history - Viscount James Bryce, Modern Democracies, vol. 2. 
Modern Democracies, (New York: Macmillan, 1921). 2 vols. Vol. 2.
Part of: Modern Democracies, 2 vols.
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the country and its first half century of history
Of all the British self-governing dominions New Zealand is that best suited by climate to be a home for men of British stock. Small as it is in comparison with Canada, Australia, or South Africa, it has a larger proportion of its total area available for the service of man, and it is unsurpassed, if indeed equalled, by any of these countries in salubrity and in natural beauty. Europeans and Americans are apt to associate it with Australia, because the two countries lie only twelve hundred miles apart. But they are very different countries, unlike in physical aspect, unlike in climate, unlike in their fauna and flora, unlike in the character of the aborigines whom the settlers found, and like only in the character of their white population and in the British traditions which it brought to a new land.
The country, consisting of two long islands and one much smaller isle to the south of the Southern island, measures 900 miles from north to south, and is so narrow that no point on it is more than seventy-five miles from the sea. The northernmost part has the climate of Lisbon or Gibraltar, the southernmost the climate of Edinburgh. Large parts are mountainous, the highest peak of the South Island reaching 12,349 feet, and those of the North Island — where the loftiest are extinct volcanoes,— exceeding 9000 feet. Of the total area 104,471 square miles, about two-thirds, are deemed fit for agriculture or pasture, and of the residue a large part is still covered by forests of considerable economic value as well as great beauty. There is a copious rainfall, plenty of water-power, and mines of gold, silver, and coal. A comparatively small part of the land has been brought under tillage, for the chief industry is the keeping of sheep (about 26,000,000, (1919) and cattle (over 3,000,000), but in large parts of the island the native herbage is so innutritious that it is necessary to sow European grasses, and in some regions the process is repeated every seventh year. Nature, while making ample provision for a very large population, has indicated pasture and agriculture as the chief occupations, for the coal deposits are not sufficient to provide fuel for great manufacturing industries, and New Zealand lies so far away from any large markets that manufacturers could not hope to do much more than supply the needs of the home consumer. Sheep-keeping is, moreover, pursued more profitably on a great than on a small scale, so that Nature might seem to indicate that economic causes, if left their full play, would make the country one of fairly large rather than of small holdings. An important development of pastoral industry, however, has recently appeared in the form of moderately sized dairy farms, worked on the co-operative system, and exporting butter and cheese to European markets. A study of the natural resources of New Zealand and of the economic phenomena springing from them suggests that the population will remain rather rural than urban, pretty dense in the arable, dairying, and fruit-raising districts, much more sparse in the pastoral and forest-covered lands. So, too, the towns will be important chiefly as ports for the shipping to foreign markets of agricultural and pastoral products, and as the two islands have a coast line about 4300 miles in total length, harbours are fairly numerous. No one of these ports, except perhaps Auckland in the north, the nearest point to the Panama Canal, and with a spacious haven, seems likely to outclass the others to the same extent as Sydney and Melbourne dwarf the other seaports of South-Eastern Australia.
These are the advantages Nature has bestowed on the country. What one may call the human conditions under which the white colony began were scarcely less favourable. The Maori aborigines belonged to one of the most intelligent branches of that brown Polynesian stock which is perhaps the most attractive primitive race that has ever been discovered. Though they were bold as well as chivalrous fighters, and had, unluckily, been allowed to obtain firearms, they were not numerous enough to be permanently formidable to a European population constantly recruited from without.
The first white settlers were of an exceptionally high quality, with no convicts among them. A good many belonged to old English county families, and not a few were persons of exceptional talent and character. No British colony ever started on its career under brighter auspices, with a larger promise of an equal distribution of wealth, ampler opportunities of prosperity for every industrious man, and greater freedom from the disturbing influences and bad habits of the European world.
The early history of the colony may be dismissed in a few words. In 1840 the islands were formally annexed by Great Britain and a treaty made with the leading Maori chiefs, by which they recognized British sovereignty, while the enjoyment of their lands was guaranteed to them. Disputes about landownership inevitably arose as the settlers spread out, and induced a series of wars, the last of which ended in 1870, since which time the natives have lived at peace with the whites, having a considerable region reserved to them, along with the right of returning four members to the House of Representatives. It has been customary to have one Maori in the Cabinet.1
In 1853 an Act of the Imperial Parliament created an elective Legislature, and 1856 a Ministry responsible to the Legislature, on the English model, was set up. This Parliament presently became a powerful centralizing force, for up to 1876 a large party of the functions of government had been discharged by Provincial Councils, one for each of the provinces (at first six, afterwards nine), into which the country was divided, and these councils had done good service by creating an interest in efficient government, and training not a few men for public life. In 1861 gold was discovered, first in Otago, a little later on the west coast of the South Island, still later on the east coast of the North Island, and this brought in a good many immigrants of a new type, for the most part rough and uneducated, but hard working and kindly. With the year 1870, however, there began a new era. Sir Julius Vogel, then Minister of Finance, seeing the need for land communication between the widely separated centres of settlement, carried through Parliament a plan for borrowing £10,000,000, to be expended in public works, and especially on railways. As the country had then barely 250,000 white inhabitants, besides 45,000 Maoris, this was a bold venture, but Parliament went further, and within the next ten years the debt of the colony had risen from £7,841,-000 to £27,000,000. Long stretches of railway were built, many of which are said to have been laid out unsystematically and constructed wastefully. The expenditure of so many millions created a demand for labour, and drew into the country a swarm of immigrants so large as nearly to double the population between 1871 and 1881. Land values rose rapidly, the influx of miners continued, new industries were started and towns grew. A period of wild speculation in land and in business generally was naturally followed by a collapse and general depression, from which the colony did not recover for many years. Then first was it that distress and pauperism appeared, then first the unlucky immigrants whose hopes had been disappointed began to look to the Government for help. As the heavy debt compelled an increase in taxation, the duties on imports were raised, and a foundation laid for the protective tariff now in force.
The functions of the Parliament of the colony having grown more important after the Provincial Councils had vanished, party divisions in the Legislature became more marked, though for a good while there was hardly any electoral organization in the constituencies, while in the Assembly the tie of party allegiance was loose. For the next fifteen years the reins of government were usually in the hands of those who were then deemed Conservatives, and who defended the interests of the larger landowners and the wealthier business men. Among the opponents of this party, calling themselves Liberals, the most prominent figure was Sir George Grey (in earlier days twice Governor, and now a party leader), a remarkable man, radical in opinion, authoritarian by temper, brilliant by his intellectual gifts, but without the tact and forbearance which the conduct of business in an Assembly requires. His advocacy, while Prime Minister, of an enlargement of the franchise, compelled his successor to pass in 1879 an Act establishing manhood suffrage, and this, followed some years later by the abolition of plural voting, made New Zealand a democracy. At first, however, no great change in legislation was visible. The subjects that occupied Parliament were chiefly land questions and various financial difficulties which the growth of the debt and the depression in business had made acute. Some measures designed to benefit the working men were passed, and the disposition to play for their votes became more evident. Ministers and members, however, to whichever party they belonged, came almost exclusively from the richer and more educated classes. They were landed proprietors, merchants, lawyers, and other professional men, some more advanced in their views and sentiments than others, but not separated among themselves by any sharp lines either of social sympathy or of political opinion. Very few were radicals by theory, if indeed one can talk of theory at all among New Zealand politicians. They were occupied by the issues of the hour, and inevitably also by the getting and keeping of office, for the balance of party strength frequently shifted, and a disproportionate amount of time and effort was spent on the incessant game of replacing the Ins by the Outs.
In that game the working men had not yet begun to take a hand. They had, of course, voted since the suffrage had been extended to them, and most of them voted for the party called Liberal. But they were not keen politicians, their leaders being far more directly interested in the building up of the trade unions and the conduct of strikes and other labour disputes, these having grown more frequent with the increase of the wage-earning class.
This was the position when that election of 1890 which proved fateful for New Zealand was approaching. The Constitution had then already taken the completely popular character which now marks it, and as it has remained unchanged (except in two details to be presently noted) since 1890, this is a convenient point for a brief description of its main features as it stood when the days of effective democracy began.
The Parliament or “General Assembly” consisted of two Houses. The House of Representatives had, and still has, seventy-six members (besides four representing the Maori aborigines), elected by universal (then manhood) suffrage for three years, and for districts approximately equal in population. Each member has received a salary of £300 a year. No elector can vote in more than one district.
The Legislative Council contained in 1890 thirty-four members, appointed for life by the Governor, i.e. by the ministry in power at the time when vacancies occurred. It had practically no power in financial matters, and it did not make or unmake ministries, but otherwise its functions in legislation were legally the same as those of the popular House. The number of its members was not limited by law. As we presently shall see, this provision has been changed.
Executive authority was vested nominally in the Governor appointed by the British Crown (with a term of office usually of five years), but practically in the Ministry, i.e. the leaders of the majority in the House of Representatives. This is the regular form of government in all the self-governing Dominions of Britain, and it places the ultimate seat of power in the majority of citizens voting at an election, this power being exercised through the majority in the popular House and the Ministry which it supports. Its democratic quality was limited by only one check, viz. the right of the Legislative Council to amend or reject Bills other than financial.
The bulk of the voters, however, which here as elsewhere consisted of the poorer classes, had not realized how great their power was, just as the English working class did not realize theirs for many years after the Act of 1867. But now, in 1890, the awakening came. There was much discontent among the masses. The agricultural element among them had been disappointed at their failure to obtain those small holdings for which they had been calling during thirty years. They blamed the improvidence that had allowed most of the good land to get into the hands of large proprietors, and the ineptitude of successive Ministries whose plans for selling or leasing Crown lands in small blocks had failed to satisfy the legitimate desires of the people. The depression which followed the “boom” of the early 'seventies had never quite passed away, although the great sheep-masters were now prosperous through their wool exports, and beginning to profit by the newly discovered methods of sending frozen mutton to Europe, circumstances which raised the price of land against the small buyer. The considerable working-class population which had grown up in the towns since the days when loans had brought money and, for a time, plenty of employment into the country, was restless and unhappy. While many of those who had arrived in the “boom days” were emigrating, there was distress among those who remained, and what is called “sweating” was complained of in some trades. The efforts of their chiefs had hitherto been devoted to the raising of wages and the improvement of labour conditions generally by means of strikes. But the greatest strike yet ventured on, due to an attempt to prevent the use by the shipping companies of non-Union labour, had just failed, after having nearly drained the resources of the Unions. They were disheartened; and hard times made them ready for some new and more promising line of action. There was a sense in the air of coming change, a feeling in all classes that a crisis in industrial problems was at hand. In this situation the leaders of the Liberal party, having already many adherents among the small farmers, turned naturally for support to the leaders of the wage-earners, and the latter gladly joined hands with them, thinking, as were the Australians at the same time, that what they could not get by strikes they must seek in some other way. The election of 1890 gave a majority against the Conservative Ministry, and brought in five working men as supporters of the Liberal Government formed by Mr. Ballance as Prime Minister. When the bold programme of legislation which he set himself to carry out was arrested by the action of the Legislative Council, which rejected or materially altered some important Bills, he resolved to deal with the Council itself, and passed through the House a measure reducing the tenure of office of the councillors from life to a period of seven years. The Council, in which there were then only six Ministerialists out of a total of thirty-four, rejected the measure, whereupon the Ministry requested the Governor to appoint twelve new members, there being, it will be remembered, no limitation to the numbers of the Council. The Governor, who thought this change too large, declined to appoint more than nine. The matter was referred to the British Government at home, which, adhering to its general principle of letting the self-governing colonies settle their internal affairs for themselves, directed the Governor to comply. The twelve new councillors, four of whom were working men, were thereupon appointed, and the Bill reducing the term of a councillor's office to seven years was passed. Since this change the Council, though for a time it showed fight, and though it continues to meet and debate, has practically counted for little, and constitutes no effective check on the action of the popular House. In 1893 another general election gave the Liberals a majority of 22 in that House. The Ministry now had the ball at their feet, and threw themselves with redoubled energy and confidence into that policy of extending the action of the State in many new directions which has made New Zealand's legislative experiments a subject of curiosity and interest to the world. This was done under a new Prime Minister, Mr. Richard John Seddon, one of the most remarkable leaders of the people modern democracy has produced.
The Civil List Act of 1908 provides a salary for two Maoris as members of the Executive Council not holding ministerial posts.