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Expansion Of Europe: Imperialism

Expansion Of Europe: Imperialism


  • One of the remarkable features of the nineteenth century was the feverish attempt of the European Powers to extend their control over the non-European world. It was a century during which the white races seized whatever regions of the earth still remained unappropriated, or were too weak to preserve themselves inviolate. Increasingly large areas inhabited by backward people who were incapable of opposing any effective resistance to the deadly weapons of modern civilisation, were brought under European control, and even lands of ancient civilisations were not immune from the grasping tentacles of European imperialism. The outcry for-colonies and spheres of influence is strikingly illustrated by the “scramble for Africa” and the attempted partition of China. It had transferred the rivalry of the European nations from Europe to other parts of the world, but mainly to Africa and Asia. Europe was no longer the stage of history. Foreign policy tended more and more to become world policy and the whole world was now the field of active diplomacy. Concerns of remote lands became matters of supreme moment to the European Powers. The era of world-politics dawned, and the world was in the process of being Europeanised.
  • The expansion of Europe was, however not a novelty. From the fifteenth century Europe had turned her eyes upon the non-European world and in the course of the next two centuries Spain, Portugal, Holland, England and France laid the foundations of their colonial empires. Much of the history of Europe during this period was taken up with the rivalries of European nations for colonial and commercial expansion. But in the early part of the nineteenth century the colonial movement seemed to have lost much of its vitality. This was due to the fact that the colonial empires built up by European nations were crumbling to pieces on all sides. Between 1763 and 1825 there was not an empire which did not suffer serious loss, and with the exception of the British Empire, all others fell into ruin. Great Britain had lost her thirteen American colonies in 1783. Early in the nineteenth century the Spanish colonies in America likewise revolted, and Brazil established its independence of Portugal in 1822. These colonial disasters confirmed the growing conviction in the mind of statesmen that empire-building was hardly worth the trouble and money expended upon it. Disraeli echoed the prevailing mood of apathy and discouragement when he said, “These wretched colonies will be independent in a few years and are like a millstone around our necks.” Lastly, the mercantile theory that colonies were beneficial and necessary to the mother-country was gradually losing its appeal on account of the sharp criticisms directed against it by Turgot and Adam Smith who stood for the new economic theory of laissez-faire. With the growth of the Free Trade movement the very foundation of the old colonial policy based upon mercantilism, was undermined. People began to lose faith in the value of colonies. Expansion Of Europe: Imperialism
  • But as the century progressed several forces were found at work, which created a new impetus for colonial expansion. This revival of imperialism (the New Imperialism as it is called) was largely the result of the new economic conditions produced by the Industrial Revolution. The brilliant triumphs of modern science and engineering immensely improved transport facilities and thereby speeded up communication. The result was that the conquest and occupation of distant lands became infinitely more feasible, the requirements of modern industries led to enormously increased demands for raw tropical products and thereby enhanced the value of colonies as sources of supply. Besides, with the Industrial Revolution came large-scale production which demanded new and wider markets. But the market for manufactured goods, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, instead of expanding was in the process of rapid shrinkage owing to the adoption of protective tariffs by the leading industrial nations except Great Britain. The ideal of the protectionist creed was (and still is) national self-sufficiency. But this was impossible for industrialised Europe without controlling those undeveloped tropical regions which produce some of indispensable raw materials. Hence the economic policy of protection gave a mighty stimulus to imperialism. It is noteworthy that the last quarter of the nineteenth century which saw the adoption of high protective tariffs by most of the European nations, was the very period of rapid colonial expansion. The need of colonies was also felt as outlets for expanding population. Economic distress and periodical recurrence of unemployment led millions of Europeans to emigrate from Europe to find new homes and careers abroad. To the ardent nationalists this loss of nations’s manhood was highly deplorable. Lastly, like surplus population, surplus capital sought investment in newly opened up countries where greater returns could be had. This sort of economic penetration was often the forerunner of political control, as in the case of Egypt.
  • The economic factor, although the most powerful and fundamental, was not the sole cause of modern imperialism. There were also political motives which supplied powerful incentives to imperial expansion. Nations which had already acquired a far-flung empire felt the urgent necessity of having naval bases and coaling stations. Secondly, as the temper of the age grew more militaristic the nations of Europe came to realise that the colonies might have a military value. During the nineteenth century thousands of emigrants left Europe for America, Brazil and other countries. This meant the passing away of so many citizens under an alien flag and the consequent loss of the military manhood of a nation. Hence to conserve the man-power of a nation it was found necessary to have colonies where the emigrants might remain under the allegiance of the mother-country. This was the argument which appealed most strongly to Germany and in a less degree to Italy, as both of them were losing by emigration millions of their subjects. In the second place, conquered subjects of comparatively backward races might be turned into an efficient military force available for the use of conquering power. This motive appealed very strongly to France whose stationary population contrasted unfavourably with the rapid increase of population in Germany. Expansion Of Europe: Imperialism
  • Lastly, the spirit of national pride and hunger for prestige supplied a very strong incentive to colonial expansion. This spirit was especially strong in the two new states of Italy and Germany. In the exuberance of patriotic pride which followed the achievement of their national unity, they wanted to establish their status as world-power. The huge colonia empire of Britain had set a standard and the idea was growing that the possessions of colonies was part of the proper equipment of a great Power. Otherwise they would appear like dwarfs before giants. With the entry of these two states the competition for overseas possessions became keener. Everywhere nationalism became aggressive and patriotism “developed from love of country into love of more country.” Expansion Of Europe: Imperialism
  • Along with the economic and political motives of imperialism there were also religious and humanitarian considerations. The desire to spread Christianity has always been a striking characteristic of the Christian Church in all ages. Foreign missions became in many cases the forerunners of official penetration, and the need of the official protection was often requested by the missionaries themselves. In Africa and in the islands of the South Sea the missionaries often led the way for the merchants and then for the military. In many cases, there was undoubtedly a serious desire to raise the civilisation of backward peoples and to teach them principles of health and sanitation. But unfortunately the civilising propaganda of the missionaries had very often been neutralised by the shameless immorality and heartless cruelty exhibited by European officials and merchants in their dealings with the subject peoples. Be that as it may, missionary propaganda had done much to further the cause of imperialism. Expansion Of Europe: Imperialism

Areas Of Expansion: Asia And Africa | Expansion Of Europe: Imperialism

  • The two regions of the world which had been subjected most to European exploitation were Asia and Africa. The latter had been completely partitioned among European Powers so that with the exception of Liberia, a small republic state created for the settlement of liberated Negro slaves, there was no independent country in Africa. The ancient empire of Abyssinia or Ethiopia maintained its independence but had to succumb to the rapacity of Fascist imperialism. In Asia the impact of Europe was also very great in every direction. In the north, Russia built up a great empire extending from the Urals to the Pacific, while in the south Britain extended her possessions in India and Burma, and France sliced off Indo-China. China was opened up by the European Powers, with the United States’ co-operation. But the tide of European intervention was checked by the rise of Japan who by her victory over Russia became the leading Asiatic state and stirred up the forces of nationalist feeling in Asia. Persia and Central Asia became European spheres of influence, and the Ottoman empire in Asia was also exposed to European penetration, a process in which Germany was to take no small share. Expansion Of Europe: Imperialism

Russian Expansion in Asia | Expansion Of Europe: Imperialism

  • By far the greatest expansion of the European countries into Asia was that made by Russia. She sought here what she had long been seeking in Europe viz., contact with the ocean. Baffled in her attempts to secure this in Europe by her defeat in the Crimean War, she turned her serious attention to Asia in order to secure the long-wished-for outlet to an ice-free sea. From the middle of the nineteenth century she began to advance in two directions—southwards in the direction of Persia and Afghanistan and eastwards into China. In the course of her southward advance she conquered the Trans-Caspian region and came within striking distance of India. This aroused the keenest apprehension in Great Britain and made Anglo-Russian relations very critical during the last three decades of the nineteenth century. In Central Asia the main stages of the Russian progress were marked by the occupations of Tashkent (1864), Samarkand (1866) and Khiva (1873). At the time of Treaty of Berlin the frontier of Afghanistan had been reached. This expansion caused difficulties between Britain and Afghanistan with the result that an Anglo-Afghan war followed (1871 -79). It had the effect of checking Russian advance in the direction of India by placing on the throne of Afghanistan an Amir friendly to Britain and heavily subsidised by the Indian government. Expansion Of Europe: Imperialism
  • But in the east Russia pushed her way towards the Pacific when it forced a Treaty of Aigun (1858) on China, which was already embarrassed by France and Great Britain. This brought Russian boundary into touch with Korea. Expansion Of Europe: Imperialism

The French in Indochina | Expansion Of Europe: Imperialism 

  • French imperialism during Napoleon III led it to occupy Cochinchina, Annam and Tonkin the latter two after a war with China in 1885. Kwangcho Wan, another territory was wrested in 1898 from China.  Expansion Of Europe: Imperialism

Middle and Near East | Expansion Of Europe: Imperialism

  • Southward expansion of Russia brought her to the border of Persia, and Persia came under Russian influence. But Britain was alarmed with this event and wanted to prevent Persian Gulf into falling under Russian sphere owing to fear over losing India. So she became active in Southern Persia. Frictions continued till 1907 when the Anglo-Russian Convention demarcated north Persia under Russian sphere and the south Persia under British sphere economically, though without any consultation with Persia.
  • In Asiatic Turkey, Russia rounded off the eastern end of Black Sea, France focused on Syria, Germany posed as a protector of Turkey, and British thoughts were to protect Ottoman empire as her communication to India lay across it.  Expansion Of Europe: Imperialism

World History

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