European Imperialism (extracts from primary sources)


1. Cecil J. Rhodes and service under the Empire (1877)

Rhodes, Cecil (John)
b. July 5, 1853, Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, Eng.
d. March 26, 1902, Muizenberg, Cape Colony
financier, statesman, and empire builder of British South Africa. He was prime minister of Cape Colony (1890-96) and organizer of the giant diamond-mining company De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd. (1888). By his will he established the Rhodes scholarships at Oxford (1902).

'It often strikes a man to enquire what is the chief good in life. To one the thought comes that it is a happy marriage, to another great wealth, to a third travel, and so on; and as each seizes the idea, he more or less works for its attainment for the rest of his existence. To myself, thinking over the same question, the wish came to render myself useful to my country.
I contend that we are the first race in the world, and that the more of the world we inhabit, the better it is for the human race. I contend that every acre added to our territory provides for the birth of more of the English race, who otherwise would not be brought into existence. Added to which the absorption of the greater portion of the world under our rule simply means the end of all wars'.
[Rhodes, already a man of some fortune, therefore left the whole of his estate] '.... for the establishment, promotion and development of a Secret Society, the true aim and object whereof shall be the extension of British rule throughout the world, the perfecting of a system of emigration from the United Kingdom and of colonization by British subjects of all lands wherein the means of livelihood are attainable by energy, labour and enterprise, and especially the occupation by British settlers of the entire Continent of Africa, the Holy Land, the valley of the Euphrates, the Islands of Cyprus and Candia, the whole of South America, the islands of the Pacific not heretofore possessed by Great Britain, the whole of the Malay Archipelago, the seaboard of China and Japan, the ultimate recovery of the United States of America as an integral part of the British Empire, the consolidation of the whole Empire, the inauguration of a system of Colonial Representation in the Imperial Parliament which may tend to weld together the disjointed members of the Empire, and finally the foundation of so great a power as to hereafter render wars impossible and promote the best interests of humanity'. 
Source : J.G. Lockhart & C.M. Woodhouse, Rhodes. London. 1963. 

2. Cecil Rhodes Obtains a Concession in Southern Rhodesia from Lo Bengula, October 30 1888

Cecil John Rhodes (1853-1902), born in Hertfordshire, went to Natal in 1870, where he soon acquired a tremendous fortune. In 1888 he sent three of his personal agents to meet Lo Bengula, the native king of Matabeleland, Mashonaland, and adjacent territories. The agents negotiated the grant reprinted here. After receiving this concession, Rhodes went to London and obtained a charter for the British South Africa Company to develop the lands over which Lo Bengula ruled. This procedure was typical of Cecil Rhodes' manipulations as well as of his single-mindedness in promoting British imperial interests. 

Know all men by these presents, that whereas Charles Dunell Rudd, of Kimberley; Rochfort Maguire, of London; and Francis Robert Thompson, of Kimberley, have covenanted and agreed . . . to pay me . . . the sum of one hundred pounds sterling, British currency, on the first day of every lunar month; and further, to deliver at my royal kraal one thousand Martini-Henry breech-loading rifles, together with one hundred thousand rounds of suitable ball cartridges . . . and further to deliver on the Zambesi River a steamboat with guns suitable for defensive purposes, or in lieu of the said steamboat, should I elect, to pay to me the sum of five hundred pounds sterling, British currency. On the execution of these presents, I, Lo Bengula, King of Matabeleland, Mashonaland, and other adjoining territories . . . do hereby grant and assign unto the said grantees . . . the complete and exclusive charge over all metals and minerals situated and contained in my kingdoms . . . together with full power to do all things that they may deem necessary to win and procure the same, and to hold, collect, and enjoy the profits and revenues, if any, derivable from the said metals and minerals, subject to the aforesaid payment; and whereas I have been much molested of late by divers persons seeking and desiring to obtain grants and concessions of land and mining rights in my territories, I do hereby authorize the said grantees . . . to exclude from my kingdom . . . all persons seeking land, metals, minerals, or mining rights therein, and I do hereby undertake to render them all such needful assistance as they may from time to time require for the exclusion of such persons, and to grant no concessions of land or mining rights . . . without their consent and concurrence.... This given under my hand this thirtieth day of October, in the year of our Lord 1888, at my royal kraal. 
Lo Bengula X his mark
C. D. Rudd
Rochfort Maguire
F. R. Thompson 

3. Lo Bengula Protests to Queen Victoria, April 23, 1889

Shortly after Lo Bengula affixed his seal to the Rudd concession [see preceding document], his people became convinced that their ruler had been induced unfairly to part with their rights. Lo Bengula, after having his fears confirmed by friendly British missionaries, executed his Head Counsellor and sent a mission to Queen Victoria. The British Secretary of State answered in the Queen's name on March 26,1889: 

Lo Bengula is the ruler of his country, and the Queen does not interfere in the government of that country. But as Lo Bengula desires her advice, Her Majesty is ready to give it.... In the first place the Queen wishes Lo Bengula to understand distinctly that Englishmen who have gone to Matabeleland to ask leave to dig for stones have not gone with the Queen's authority, and that he should not believe any statement made by them, or any of them, to that effect. The Queen advises Lo Bengula not to grant hastily concessions of land, or leave to dig, but to consider all applications very carefully. 

 On April 23, 1889, Lo Bengula sent a formal protest to the Queen, a passage of which is reproduced below. This pathetic appeal from the untutored African ruler, apparently a victim of trickery, had no effect on the course of events. He was now told by the Queen's Advisor that it was "impossible for him to exclude white men." The letter went on to say that the Queen had made inquiries as to the persons concerned and was satisfied that they "may be trusted to carry out the working for gold in the chief's country without molesting his people, or in any way interfering with their kraals (villages), gardens (cultivated fields), or cattle." 

Some time ago a party of men came to my country, the principal one appearing to be a man called Rudd. They asked me for a place to dig for gold, and said they would give me certain things for the right to do so. I told them to bring what they could give and I would show them what I would give. A document was written and presented to me for signature. I asked what it contained, and was told that in it were my words and the words of those men. I put my hand to it. About three months afterwards I heard from other sources that I had given by that document the right to all the minerals of my country. I called a meeting of my Indunas [counsellors], and also of the white men and demanded a copy of the document. It was proved to me that I had signed away the mineral rights of my whole country to Rudd and his friends. I have since had a meeting of my Indunas and they will not recognise the paper, as it contains neither my words nor the words of those who got it.... I write to you that you may know the truth about this thing. 

4. Joseph Chamberlain Preaches the Doctrine of Commercial Imperialism, 1893

Joseph Chamberlain (1836-1914), an aggressive and highly successful Birmingham manufacturer and an outspoken champion of British imperialism, was convinced that the "British Empire is commerce." British workingmen could have employment, he was sure, only if there were a market for the products they made. The British colonies would afford that market then and for posterity. In the following speech Chamberlain made his views known to a Birmingham audience composed mostly of manufacturers and workingmen. In 1895 Chamberlain took over the Colonial Office. In 1903 he shocked both friends and foes alike by his schemes for preferential treatment of colonial imports and protective legislation to assist native manufacturers and prevent dumping of foreign goods in British markets. 

We must look this matter in the face, and must recognize that in order that we may have more employment to give we must create more demand [hear, hear]. Give me the demand for more goods and then I will undertake to give plenty of employment in making the goods; and the only thing, in my opinion, that the government can do in order to meet this great difficulty that we are considering, is so to arrange its policy that every inducement shall be given to the demand; that new markets shall be created, and that old markets shall be effectively developed [cheers].
You are aware that some of my opponents please themselves occasionally by finding names for me [laughter], and among other names lately they have been calling me a Jingo [laughter] I am no more a Jingo than you are [hear, hear]. But for the reasons and arguments I have put before you tonight I am convinced that it is a necessity as well as a duty for us to uphold the dominion and empire which we now possess [loud cheers]. For these reasons, among others, I would never lose the hold which we now have over our great Indian dependency [hear, hear], by far the greatest and most valuable of all the customers we have or ever shall have in this country. For the same reasons I approve of the continued occupation of Egypt, and for the same reasons I have urged upon this government, and upon previous governments, the necessity for using every legitimate opportunity to extend our influence and control in that great African continent which is now being opened up to civilization and to commerce; and, lastly, it is for the same reasons that I hold that our navy should be strengthened [loud cheers] until its supremacy is so assured that we cannot be shaken in any of the possessions which we hold or may hold hereafter. 
Believe me, if in any one of the places to which I have referred any change took place which derived us of that control and influence of which I have been speaking, the first to suffer would be the workingmen of this country. Then, indeed, we should see a distress which would not be temporary, but which would be chronic, and we should find that England was entirely unable to support the enormous population which is now maintained by the aid of her foreign trade. If the workingmen of this country understand their own interests, they will never lend any countenance to the doctrines of those politicians who never lose an opportunity of pouring contempt and abuse upon the brave Englishmen, who, even at this moment, in all parts of the world are carving out new dominions for Britain, and are opening up fresh markets for British commerce and laying out fresh fields for British labor [applause]. If the "Little Englanders" had their way, not only would they refrain from taking the legitimate opportunities which offer for extending the empire and for securing for us new markets, but I doubt whether they would even take the pains which are necessary to preserve the great heritage which has come down to us from our ancestors [applause].
When you are told that the British pioneers of civilization in Africa are filibusters, and when you are asked to call them back, and to leave this great continent to the barbarism and superstition in which it has been steeped for centuries, or to hand over to foreign countries the duty which you are unwilling to undertake, I ask you to consider what would have happened if, one hundred and fifty years ago, your ancestors had taken similar views of their responsibility? Where would be the empire on which now your livelihood depends? We should have been the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland but those vast dependencies, those hundreds of millions with whom we keep up a mutually beneficial relationship and commerce would have been the subjects of other nations, who would not have been slow to profit by our neglect of opportunities and obligations [applause].... 

5. Friedrich Fabri Urges Imperialism on Germany "If She Would Live," 1879

A representative German propagandist for imperialism in the 'seventies and 'eighties was Friedrich Fabri, who had seen long service as an inspector of the Barmen Rhine Mission in South West Africa. In a popularly written little book titled Does Germany Need Colonies? ("Bedarf Deutschland der Kolonien?") [1879], Fabri argued that Germany must have colonial markets, new areas for investment, and outlets for her surplus population. 

Should not the German nation, so seaworthy, so industrially and commercially minded, more than other peoples geared to agricultural colonization, and possessing a rich and available supply of labor, all these to a greater extent than other modern culture-peoples, should not this nation successfully hew a new path on the road of imperialism? We are convinced beyond doubt that the colonial question has become a matter of life-or death for the development of Germany. Colonies will have a salutary effect on our economic situation as well as on our entire national progress. 

Here is a solution for many of the problems that face us. In this new Reich of ours there is so much bitterness, so much unfruitful, sour, and poisoned political wrangling, that the opening of a new, promising road of national effort will act as a kind of liberating influence. Our national spirit will be renewed, a gratifying thing, a great asset. A people that has been led to a high level of power can maintain its historical position only as long as it understands and proves itself to be the bearer of the culture-mission. At the same time, this is the only way to stability and to the growth of national welfare, the necessary foundation for a lasting expansion of power. 

At one time Germany contributed only intellectual and literary activity to the tasks of our century. That era is now over. As a people we have become politically minded and powerful. But if political power becomes the primal goal of a nation, it will lead to harshness, even to barbarism. We must be ready to serve for the ideal, moral, and economic culture-tasks of our time. The French national-economist, Leroy Beaulieu, closed his work on colonization with these words: "That nation is the greatest in the world which colonizes most; if she does not achieve that rank today, she will make it tomorrow" 
No one can deny that in this direction England has by far surpassed all other countries. Much has been said, even in Germany, during the last few decades about the "disintegrating power of England." Indeed, there seems to be something to it when we consider the Palmerston era and Gladstonian politics. It has been customary in our age of military power to evaluate the strength of a state in terms of its combat-ready troops. But anyone who looks at the globe and notes the steadily increasing colonial possessions of Great Britain, how she extracts strength from them, the skill with which she governs them, how the Anglo-Saxon strain occupies a dominant position in the overseas territories, he will begin to see the military argument as the reasoning of a philistine. 
The fact is that England tenaciously holds on to its world-wide possessions with scarcely one-fourth the manpower of our continental military state. That is not only a great economic advantage but also a striking proof of the solid power and cultural fiber of England. Great Britain, of course, isolates herself far from the mass warfare of the continent, or only goes into action with dependable allies; hence, the insular state has suffered and will suffer no real damage. In any case, it would be wise for us Germans to learn about colonial skills from our Anglo-Saxon cousins and to begin a friendly competition with them. When the German Reich centuries ago stood at the pinnacle of the states of Europe, it was the Number One trade and sea power. If the New Germany wants to protect its newly won position of' power for a long time, it must heed its Kultur-mission and, above all, delay no longer in the task of renewing the call for colonies. 

6. Jules Ferry's Defense of French Imperialism, 1890

Jules François Camille Ferry (1832-1893) twice Premier of the Third French Republic between 1880 and 1885 originally held strong anti-imperialist views. But as French Premier he resided over the building of the new French colonial empire and was responsible for the annexation of Tunisia. In his preface to his book on Tonkin (1890) he defended colonial expansion as international manifestation of the eternal laws of competition". 

Colonial policy is the child of the industrial revolution. For wealthy countries where capital abounds and accumulates fast, where even agriculture must become mechanized in order to survive, exports ale essential for public prosperity. Both demand for labor and scope for capital investment depend on the foreign markets. Had it been possible to establish, among the leading industrial countries, some kind of rational division of production, based on special aptitudes and natural resources, so that certain of them engaged in, say, cotton and metallurgical manufacture, while others concentrated on the alcohol and sugar-refining industries, Europe might not have had to seek markets for its products in other parts of the world . But today every country wants to do its own spinning and weaving, forging and distilling. So Europe produces, for example, a surplus of sugar and must try to export it. With the arrival of the latest industrial giants, the United States and Germany; of Italy, newly resurrected; of Spain, enriched by the investment of French capital; of enterprising little Switzerland, not to mention Russia waiting in the wings, Europe has embarked on a competitive course from which she will be unable to turn back. 
All over the world, beyond the Vosges, and across the Atlantic, the raising of high tariffs has resulted in an increasing volume of manufactured goods, the disappearance of traditional markets, and the appearance of fierce competition. Countries react by raising their own tariff barriers, but that is not enough... The protectionist system, unless accompanied by a serious colonial policy, is like a steam engine without a safety valve. An excess of capital invested in industry not only reduces profits on capital but also arrests the rise of wages This phenomenon cuts to the very core of society, engendering passions and countermoves. Social stability in this industrial age clearly depends on outlets for industrial goods. The beginning of the economic crisis, with its prolonged, frequent strikes-a crisis which has weighed so heavily on Europe since 1877-coincided in France, Germany, and England with a marked and persistent drop in exports Europe is like a commercial firm whose business turnover has been shrinking for a number of years. The European consumer-goods market is saturated; unless we declare modern society bankrupt and prepare, at the dawn of the twentieth century, for its liquidation by revolution (the consequences of which we can scarcely foresee), new consumer markets will have to be created in other parts of the world... Colonial policy is an international manifestation of the eternal laws of competition. 

Without either compromising the security of the country or sacrificing any of its past traditions and future aspirations, the Republicans have, in less than ten years, given France four kingdoms in Asia and Africa. Three of them are linked to us by tradition and treaty. The fourth represents our contribution to peaceful conquest, the bringing of civilization into the heart of equatorial Africa. Suppose the Republic had declared, with the doctrinaires of the Radical school, that the French nation ends at Marseilles. To whom would Tunisia, lndochina, Madagascar, and the Congo belong today? 

7. President McKinley Explains His Attitude toward the Philippines, 1900

In an interview President William McKinley (1843-1901) told how he came to accept the acquisition of the Philippines. This passage reveals his ambivalent attitude toward imperialism. 

Hold a moment longer! Not quite yet, gentlemen! Before you go I would like to say just a word about the Philippine business. I have been criticised a good deal about the Philippines, but don't deserve it. The truth is I didn't want the Philippines, and when they came to us, as a gift from the gods; I did not know what to do with them. When the Spanish war broke out Dewey was at Hongkong, and I ordered him to go to Manila and to capture or destroy the Spanish fleet, and he had to; because, if defeated, he had no place to refit on that side of the globe, and if the Dons were victorious they would likely cross the Pacific and ravage our Oregon and California coasts. And so he had to destroy the Spanish Fleet, and did it! But that was as far as I thought then. 
When next I realized that the Philippines had dropped into our laps I confess I did not know what to do with them. I sought counsel from all sides - Democrats as well as Republicans - but, got little help. I thought first we would take only Manila; then Luzon; then other islands perhaps also. I walked the door of the White House night after night until midnight: and I am not ashamed to tell you, gentlemen, that I went down on my knees and prayed Almighty God for light and guidance more than one night. And one night late it came to me this way - I don't know how it was, but it came: (1) That we could not give them back to Spain - that would be cowardly and dishonorable; (2) that we could not turn them over to France or Germany - our commercial rivals in the Orient - that would be bad business and discreditable; (3) that we could not leave them to themselves - they were unfit for self-government - and they would soon have anarchy and misrule over there worse than Spain's was; and (4) that there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God's grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow-men for whom Christ also died. And then I went to bed, and went to sleep, and slept soundly, and the next morning I sent for the chief engineer of the War Department (our mapmaker), and I told him to put the Philippines on the map of the United States [pointing to a large map on the wall of his office], and there they are, and there they will stay while I am President! 

8. Russia's landward expansion (1864)

While improvements in marine navigation facilitated nineteenth-century European expansion especially by Britain and France, large interior land masses were also being opened up. The North American frontier was in some ways paralleled in the Old World; Britain had her own type of frontier problems on the northern borders of India but it was Russia which made the most dramatic advances in the central and eastern parts of the Asian land mass - advances which sometimes brought her into contact with Britain's Indian interests. At the time when her army was operating in Turkestan capturing Tashkent and tackling the Muslim Khanates of Khiva and Bukhara, Russia's foreign minister explained the dilemma facing the civilised power on a frontier. 

Circular despatch addressed by Prince Gortchakoff to Russian representatives abroad, 21 November / 3 December 1864 
[1] ...The position of Russia in Central Asia is that of all civilised States which are brought into contact with half-savage, nomad populations possessing no fixed social organisation. 
[2] In such cases it always happens that the more civilised State is forced, in the interest of the security of its frontier and its commercial relations, to exercise a certain ascendancy over those whom their turbulent and unsettled character make most undesirable neighbours. 
[3] First, there are raids and acts of pillage to be put down. To put a stop to them, the tribes on the frontier have to be reduced to a state of more or less perfect submission. This result once attained, these tribes take to more peaceful habits, but are in their turn exposed to the attacks of the more distant tribes. 
[4] The State is bound to defend them against these depredations and to punish those who commit them. Hence the necessity of distant, costly, and periodically recurring expeditions against an enemy whom his social organisation makes it impossible to seize. If, the robbers once punished, the expedition is withdrawn, the lesson is soon forgotten; its withdrawal put down to weakness. It is a peculiarity of Asiatics to respect nothing but visible and palpable force; the moral force of reason and of the interests of civilisation has as yet no hold upon them. The work has then always to be done over again from the beginning. 
[5] In order to put a stop to this state of permanent disorder, fortified posts are established in the midst of these hostile tribes, and an influence is brought to bear upon them which reduces them by degrees to a state of mote or less forced submission. But soon beyond this second line other still more distant tribes come in their turn to threaten the same dangers and necessitate the same measures of repression. The State thus finds itself forced to choose one of two alternatives, either to give up this endless labour and to abandon its frontier to perpetual disturbance, rendering all prosperity, all security, all civilisation an impossibility, or, on the other hand, to plunge deeper and deeper into barbarous countries, where the difficulties and expenses increase with every step in advance. 
[6] Such has been the fate of every country which has found itself in a similar position. The United States in America, France in Algeria, Holland in her Colonies, England in India - all have been irresistibly forced, less by ambition than by imperious necessity, into this onward march, where the greatest difficulty is to know when to stop... 

9. Civilisation through the bed: the French in West Africa (1902) 
Source . Dr. Barot, Guide Pratique de l'Europeen dans l'Afrique Occidentale (1902)

In the dark continent, as in Europe, women play a great role in social life. Many mysterious dramas of the red Sudan have been provoked by native women: despite their inferior status they succeed in playing their part in all aspects of life, palavers, assemblies, etc., and in influencing the decisions taken there. 
Temporary Unions 
How should the European conduct himself in West Africa? For those who lack the moral strength necessary to endure two years of absolute continence, only one line of conduct is possible: a temporary union with a well-chosen native woman. Such a union generally lasts throughout a tour of duty. The reasons which make it necessary are: 
Health Precautions 
A woman chosen in these conditions is generally healthy; while black prostitutes, not being submitted to medical inspection, are almost always infected. Many black women, especially Fulas, are relatively faithful, whatever may have been said about them; whether out of self-esteem or honesty they do not deceive the European whom they have agreed to marry temporarily. 
A marriage contracted with an influential chief's daughter may serve to tighten the bonds of sympathy which bind the Negro to the European and to facilitate the administration of the country. Among certain peoples, the Baoulé for example, the women, who are all-powerful, come readily to us, and will be one of our strongest instruments of pacification. It should be remembered that most of the treaties signed with great Negro chiefs have been ratified by a white man's marriage with one of their daughters. 
The European who has no native wife is not well regarded by soldiers, servants and married natives placed under his orders, who are always afraid that he will abuse his position. The Negroes are very jealous of their wives and examples may be cited of Europeans who have met their death through having, in a moment of aberration or oblivion, sought to possess married negresses. 
The European who has a native wife, if she is not too unintelligent, finally becomes a little attached to her; she diverts him, cares for him, dispels boredom and sometimes prevents him from indulging in alcoholism or sexual debauchery, which are unfortunately so common in hot countries. 
Finally, a union with a native woman is one of the surest ways to learn the native language quickly, to penetrate to the heart of secret customs, to learn the songs and legends of these peoples (which are often very pretty) - in a word, to understand the black soul. For all these reasons such unions have long been accepted within the colonial moral code. 
After deciding to take a wife, one conforms to the custom of the country in which one finds oneself. The parents or masters of the young lady are asked for her hand. The amount of bride-price payable is settled with them, and when agreement is reached the woman is taken away without further formality. This act must always be brought to the notice of the local Commandant. 
The love feasts and festivities usual in Negro marriages are not appropriate when Europeans are involved. 
On returning to France one sends the young lady back to her family, after making her a present which will immediately assure her of a husband. Former wives of Europeans are in great demand among the Negroes and can generally make very good marriages. 
Certainly, from the point of view of strict morality these unions are to be condemned; but one must take account of the differences of civilisation and environment of the country and of the conditions of life in which one finds oneself in the colonies and apply to these temporary unions the formula we used about polygamy: a necessary evil. 
Of course, if these unions should lead to the birth of children, the father (if he is sure of the fact) will have to concern himself with their future. Two establishments subsidised by the State are intended to receive and bring up mulatto boys and girls, one at Kita, one at Dinguiray. Here for a modest sum, children of Europeans are brought up and taught-manual trades, according to their aptitudes. 

The whole problem of adapting our races to these climates lies there; it is by creating mulatto races that we most easily Gallicise West Africa. 
Permanent Unions 
When at last colonists decide to settle in Africa, we shall advise them to choose a native wife, and to found on the spot families which will be stronger and more resistant than those who might go out to establish themselves there. We do not believe it will be possible for a long time yet for white children to be born and brought up in the equatorial or tropical climates of Africa. 
Initial cross-breeding between Europeans and Negroes, later successively attenuated by unions of whites and mulattoes, seems to us the essential condition of acclimatisation. These new stocks may be beautiful, strong and intelligent. We believe that if relations with us have made an unfavourable impression the fault lies partly in the undeserved contempt which Europeans have shown them, partly in the feelings of mistrust towards them on the part of the Negroes. Hybrid individuals, isolated between two human groups, slighted by one and disowned by the other, they have had to become inflexible to defend themselves; we are responsible for their state of mind, and must do all we can to correct it. Those who dogmatically effect to despise Negroes or mulattoes reveal their own conceit and unintelligence: to deny the perfectability of a living soul is to deny life itself, since human intelligence is only a supreme example of the adaptation of living things to their environment in order to improve their way of life.