Imperial Federation League

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The Imperial Federation League was a 19th-century organisation which aimed to promote the reorganisation of the British Empire into an Imperial Federation.


It was founded in London in 1884. Branches were established in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Barbados and British Guiana. It aimed to promote Imperial Federation, similar to how the majority of British North America confederated into the Dominion of Canada in the mid-19th century. The United States and Canada were concrete examples of how vast territories could be effectively managed while maintaining a central representative authority.

While the proposal was often associated with segments of the British Conservative Party, it was also popular among proponents of Liberal or New Imperialism such as W. E. Forster. The movement was also a vehicle for British ethnic nationalism and ideas of a greater Britain encompassing the largely white self-governing colonies and dominions. Its modern descendants are those who favour closer ties between the Old Commonwealth.

In 1884 the Imperial Federation League combined politicians, journalists, and intellectuals, like Sir John Robert Seeley, James Bryce, and Froude.


The league promoted the closer union of the British Empire and advocated the establishment of an Imperial parliament composed of Britain and the self-governing members of the Empire.[1]

The Imperial Parliament (Westminster, stripped of its local responsibilities) would handle foreign affairs, the army, the navy, and those colonies (including India) which had a population the bulk of which was "alien". The centre would also have a final court of appeal. Local Parliaments would exercise control over Home Affairs, the police and education.[2]

Supporters of Imperial Federation presented the argument that the two choices for Britain were Imperial unification or Imperial disintegration. In their view, the future importance of Britain depended on it federating what is now called the "Old Commonwealth".[3]

The League was divided between those who wanted to establish a clear pathway for Imperial Federation and those whose view was that the programme could best be advanced by general discussion, aiming to move opinion in favour of federation with specifics to be worked out later (Parkin, in Canada, argued that that was the method used to bring about Canadian Confederation).[4]

Another point of division within the League was the question of free trade or tariff protection.

United Kingdom[edit]

Francis Labilliere, William Westgarth and John Dennistoun Wood served on a committee of six to draft the prospectus of the Imperial Federation League.[5] Lord Rosebery (Prime Minister from March 1894 to June 1895) was Chairman of the English Branch from 1885 until 1892.[6]

In Britain the League had a concrete accomplishment in the calling of the First Colonial Conference in 1887 at the time of Queen Victoria's golden jubilee. The branch was dissolved in 1894.


Whilst branches of the Imperial Federation League spread throughout the Empire, a large branch formed in Toronto in 1887. It was spurred on by a United States initiative for a commercial union between the US and Canada.[7] MP Dalton McCarthy was a founder of the IFL. A Conservative MP initially, he ran a slate of McCarthyite candidates in the 1896 federal election on an anti-Catholic platform but was the only one elected.


A branch of the League was established in Victoria in 1885.

Alfred Deakin was a supporter of the League and in 1905 became the President of the Victorian branch.[8]

Partly through the efforts of Henry D'Esterre Taylor the Victorian branch survived the dissolution of the London branch.

The Victorian Branch was a supporter of the notion that Imperial Federation could be encouraged best by not enunciating a clear plan.

"Most of the supporters of Imperial Federation have hitherto indulged in very vague generalities. The Victorian branch of the league weds itself to no scheme, and will have nothing to do with ways and means to effect its object. … This promised land seems just a little indefinite."[9]

Many in the Victorian branch regarded the Federation of Australia as the first step towards Imperial Federation.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Australian Dictionary of Biography
  2. ^ Morris p. 17ff
  3. ^ Morris p. 10
  4. ^ Review of Parkin
  5. ^ Penny, B. R. "Labilliere, Francis Peter (1840–1895)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 10 December 2013. 
  6. ^ Commonwealth miscellanea
  7. ^ Parkin
  8. ^ Papers of Alfred Deakin
  9. ^ Morris, p.4
  10. ^ Morris p.10

External links[edit]