European Imperialism in the 19th Century
WHAT IS IMPERIALISM?
HOW DID IT DEVELOP IN EUROPE IN THE LATE 19TH CENTURY? WHY?
Racism: HOW DID MOST EUROPEANS EXPLAIN THEIR ABILITY TO CONQUER LARGE AREAS OF THE WORLD?
Imperialism is empire building.
Expansion occurs when one state is more
powerful than are the obstacles to expansion. The obstacles may be other states or peoples, or they may be geographic or physical or technological obstacles.
The central core of the empire may be a nation-state, or in ancient times, a city state or a tribe.
European civilization experienced a period of unprecedented rapid expansion around the globe during the last third of the nineteenth century. European nation-states had become very powerful because of industrialization and because of the organizational efficiency of the nation-state.
European global expansion had actually begun in the fifteenth century, but the process greatly accelerated in the nineteenth century.
Latin America and the seaports of Asia and Africa were the first to be colonized by Europeans. Native Americans were liquidated or thoroughly subjugated to European rule. Most Latin American descendents (Latinos) of the Spanish conquerors gained independence from Spain by the early 19th century, while many indigenous peoples remained subject.
The African climate, disease and geography delayed most European colonization until the 19th century, although the descendents of Dutch settlers, known as Afrikaans or Boers, came to South Africa as early as the 16th century.
Slavery took a heavy toll on African development ever since the 16th century. Millions of young people of working age were taken away. Great conflict ensued.
Asia's population was too great, its civilization too firmly established for Europeans to rule it directly. The Europeans did establish control over seaports and trade. In places like India and Indonesia, Europeans ruled indirectly through their domination of the local aristocracy.
England was the leading European colonial power and had already established much of its overseas empire by the beginning of the 19th century.
France was second, with
its holdings in Southeast Asia and in North Africa, both
of these being established during the 19th century.
Portugal, Spain and Holland
retained some colonies because they had been
the earliest colonial powers, and still retained some of them in the 19th century.
Germany and Italy were late
arrivals on the colonial scene because they
had only unified themselves in the 1860's.
The United States became a colonial power at the end of the 19th century, after having spent the century moving across the North American continent to the Pacific Ocean. Defeat of Spain in the Spanish-American War led to the establishment of American colonies in the Caribbean and in the Philippines. The Hawaiian Islands were conquered at the sametime. (1890's)
Japan was the first Asiatic
nation to become a colonial power. Long isolated and refusing to trade
with Europeans, except for a limited, controlled trade with Holland, the
Japanese were forced to trade by a United States naval squadron in 1845.
Subsequently, the Japanese experienced a political revolution. The new
leadership modernized rapidly
by adopting European technology and organization.
The British forced China to open itself to the Opium trade in the 1840's. China also experienced social upheaval (The Tai Ping rebellion), and was unable to prevent foreign domination of its trade. By the end of the 19th century, England, Germany, Russia, Japan, and the United States had all compelled China to trade with them. Russia occupied Manchuria and Port Arthur, Japan was in Korea, Germany was in the Shantung peninsula, and the British were in Hong Kong.
The French, the British, the Germans and the Italians competed with each other in the last third of the 19th century to lay claim to Africa. The Belgian king Leopold was also extensively involved. The only remaining areas of Africa not colonized by the end of the century were Ethiopia in the horn of Africa and Liberia on the Atlantic coast.
Another aspect of European
expansion in the last half of the 19th century involved the emigration
of large numbers of Europeans to other parts of the world. European population
had been increasing more rapidly than non-European populations during this
time. Population pressure combined with improved overseas transportation
led to the greatest migration in history up to that time.
The ease with which Europeans dominated non-European areas of the world is explained by the power they had resulting from industrialization and the nation-state organization.
But the explanations that
Europeans made to themselves were that they
were superior to non-European peoples. There were a number of racist ideas widely believed by Europeans:
Whites were superior to non-whites. One variation was Rudyard Kipling's idea of the White Man's Burden. The white man had the burden and responsibility of bringing the blessings of their superior civilization to the savages of the non-European world.
Another was a variation of Social Darwinism in which white Europeans were considered more fit in the struggle for survival. Another variation was that Christianity was the only true religion.
Racist attitudes also separated northern Europeans from southern Europeans, Anglo-Saxons, Nordics and Teutons from Latins, and Aryans from Semites.
Anti-Semitism had traditionally
been interpreted on the basis of religion with Jews considered to be Christ-killers.
A new anti-Semitic concept of Jews as an inferior race, which endangered
the purity of Aryans, developed in the late 19th century, particularly
Vienna, as the capitol of the multi-ethnic Austrian Empire, was a particular site for the greatest variety of anti-Semitic writings.
Racism and anti-Semitism
was a virulent motivating force in 19th century Europe, which boded ill
for the future.