Prime Minister Alfred Deakin’s 1903 election ‘Ballarat cry’ of ‘fiscal peace and preferential trade for a white Australia’ provided a peroration that he deployed in speeches throughout the campaign to rally popular support for his nation-building programme. A narrative of trade and race was designed to avoid an unstable or hostile future by reconstituting security within the British Empire and white identity, buttressed by immigration restriction and tariff barriers. The narrative sought to satisfy a teleology of progress stimulated by a sense of exceptionalism as a young nation experimented with public policy innovations. Key elements of trade and race in the Deakinite nation building programme were deeply contested during the election campaign, reflecting unresolved conflicts over these issues at work across the post-Federation period and challenging an ‘Australian Settlement’ assumption of consensus. With its appeal to both innovation and the security of tradition and identity, Deakin’s narrative reflected an attempt to overcome the sense of loss and disconnection with the past, and anxiety over the future that characterised modern experience. The disruptive elements of the campaign reflected the conditions of modernity shaping post-Federation Australia, defining the unsettled policy-making task and the turbulent exercise of democracy.