European Imperial Regimes


Figure 1.--Popular Western concepts about empire building are largely based on what occurred in the Americas and Afrrca. Actually the Europeans as they moved into Asian encountered powerful kingdoms that they had great diifivulty ovrcoming. And in India and China this did not occur until the Industrial Recolution probided then unparalled fire power. The Lingdom of Kandy never surrendered to the Portuguese and fought fierce battles (16th century). This is a modrn depiction of tgesur=ege of Colombo by King Rajasinghe I. He is reported to have 150 pieces of bronze cannon for the siege. In addition he also had Sinhala artillery consisting of kodithuwakku (grass hopper cannons) and rockets. Notice the Dutch officer assisting the Kandy forces.

The actual colonial regimes varied from country to country. Perhaps the most pernicious was the Belgian rule of the Congo. But the desire to exploit the colonies economically and the prevalent doctrines of religious intolerance, social Darwinism, and white superority created situations in which great harm was done to colonial peoples. The colonial regimes were often justified by paternalistic Victoriam morality, but rarely did pious good intentions result in imrovements in regimes benfitting native people. In the post-colonial era, the European colonial empires with considerable validity were throughly criticised if not vilified. Yet an unbiased assessment of the British Empire shows that there were major positive influences. Considerable long term investment helped to create modern infrastructures in not onle Empire countries, but countries like America and Argentina. Other influences such as the rule of law, representative and honest government were enormous forces for good. The importance of these institutions was one that was perhaps not fully understood at the time of independence. Many post-colonial elites were strongly influenced by socilaist idelology and and impressed by the seemingly rapid progresses ofstate managed econonomies. Another major force was free trade. Ironically, one of the major reasons America revolted in the 18th century was trade restrictions and limitations on economic development. Notably today the two most pernicious trends impeding economic development in the Third World are arguably the lack of the rule of law and honest government. Missionaries

Countries

The major European imperial nations to build colonia empires were those located on the perifery of Europe with Atlantic coastlines. These were the important maritime countries. Even small countries like Portugal and the Netherlads built colonial empires. Possession of a fleet was an important prerequisite. Countries without important navies (the Danes and Sweedes ) were unable to hold on to their colonies. The Portuguese and Spanish were the first to establish important colonies. The British, French, and Dutch built navies able to carve out colonial empires, in some case by seizing Portuguese and Spanish outposts. The British built the largest empire, but the empire lrgely evolved rather than being created from a central plan. France lost most of its empire to the British and sold a large part of North America to the United States, but after the Napoleoniv Wars in the 19th century, created a new empire in Zfrica and Asia. The Dutch built a small empire in the Caribbean and East Indies--the most important being the Dutch East Indies. The new nations of Germany and Italy were late to the game, but built small empires.

Belgium

Perhaps the most pernicious colonial regime was the Belgian rule of the Congo. The colonial era was launched by one of Europe's smallest countries--Belgium. King Leopold II, who proved to be the most brutal colonizers launched the colonial race in Africa. Belgium was a new country and had not participated in the colonial competition of the 16th and 17th century. Now Leopold declared, "Belgium must have a colony". The colony Leopold founded, the Belgian Congo, was a far cry from the humanitarian inpulse with which the Victorians justified colonialism. Leopold administered the Congo as his personal property and not a national colony. The people in the the Congo Free State were essentilly turned into slaves worked to enrich Leopold persnally. They were subjected to horendous abuses. As reports filtered out describing the terrible abuses, King L�opold eventually relinguished personal control of the Congo. Belgium annexed the Congo with a Treaty (November 28, 1907). The Belgian Colony was administered by a governor-general at Boma. A Colonial Council and colonial minister in Brussels set policy. The Congo was divided into 15 administrative districts. The new colonial adminstration made many improvements. The Belgians to redeam their national reputation attempted to turn the Congo into a "model colony". The Belgiand opened primary and high schools. Unlike some colonial powers, many of the ethnic laguages were used in the new schools. Belgian doctors and medics worked on tropical diseases, an eradicated the sleeping disease. The Belgians set up perhaps the most comprehensive medical infrastructure in Africa. The Belgians developed the Congo economicallt, building railways, ports, roads and opening mines and plantations. At the time of indepence, the Comgo had Africa's highest gross national product was the highest in Africa. The wealth was not, however, well distriubuted nd the Belgian Government did very liitle to prepare the colony for self government.

England/Britain

The British built the largest European colonial empire, perhaps only exceeded in history by the Mongol Empire. The British empire largely evolved rather than being created from any central plan. The first British colonies were the modest enterprises along the Atlantic coast of North America. The first permanent colony was Jamestown in Virginia (1607). They also acquired Caribbean sugar islands and French Canada. Britain obtained large areas of India from France at the samr time it obtained Canada. This first British Empire was closed empire which resticted economic activity and trade in the colonies. Much of that empire was lost in the American Revolution (1776-83). The loss of America was a learning experience for the British. They changed their policies and adopted colonial policies that did not restrict economic activity. They also with a few exceptions adopted free trade policies. Than beginning with the the Napoleonic Wars Britain in the 19th century gradually added colony after colony. Many were acquired in the process of protecting other colonies. The destruction of the Spanish-French fleet at Trafalgur (1805) had left Britain the preminent naval power of the age. The Royal Navy thus played a key role in building the Empire. Two of those colonies were like the early United States and were colonized by people of British stock--building prticularly close ties. Britain has been criticized for its colonialization effort and often rightly so. It is also true that Britain brought the modern world to many areas of the globe. There were many failures, but also a number of successes. The nmost obvious is America, but another is India. The vibrant Indian democratic system and thriving free enterorise economy are both part of the British inheritance.

Denmark

Denmark is today a small rather pacifust orinted country in northern Europe. It was at one time a major and very war-like country. It was inhabited by the norther Germans and beyond the knowlege of the Romans. During the medieval era, Demark became a major European power with the Viking outburst from Scandanavia (9th century). It suceeded in conquering much of England. The Danelaw at one time extended over almost all of England, except for Wessex in the southwesr. King Harold ended Denmark's efforts to conquer England (1066). During the Viking era, colonies were establshed in he Atlantic Ocean: the Faroese, Iceland, and Greenland and later the Shetland and Orkney Islands (1380-1469). These colonies were important for Danish seapower. Eventually they evolved as important for whaling and fishing. After the NAZI invasion of Denmark (1940), Britain occupied Iceland. The isand declared itself as an independent republic (1944). Greenland continues as an autnomous part of the Danish kingdom. Denmark participated in the European maritime expansion and began building a small, but wide-flung empire (16th century). Ultimately this was an effort that was comprised by losses in the Thirty Years War (1618-48) and Great Norther War (1700-21). They acquired outposts in Asia. Danish West India was in the Karibik (1666-1917). Danish West India was important for Danish and Schleswig-Holstein farmers. They used enslaved Africans to grow sugar cane which was refined in Flensburg and Copenhagen. Danish East India included: Nikobaren--Ny Danmark - New Denmark/Nicobar Islands (1756-1848/1868), Serampore--Frederiksnagore in Bengalen (1755-1845), and Tranquebar Drink bar (1620-1845). Denmar's African outposts were located along what the British called the Gold Chost and is the modern country oif Ghana. Here the Danes established bases and ports that were involved in the slave trade (17th-18th centuries). The Danes also had European colonies: Danish Estonia (1206-1645), and the Bishopric of Courland (1559-85). In the Americas, Denmark established the Caribbean Virgin Islands as the Danish West Indies (1666). They sold them to the United States during World War I (1917). i

France

France began to build a vast colonial empire in the 17th century. It established colonies in North America, the Caribbean, and India. It could have been France that settled North America and that would have had enormous geo-political implications for the 20th century. In the end, not very many Frenchmen wanted to leave the comforts of France and settle in the North America wilderness. In sharp contrast, quite a number of British people decided to cross the Atlantic for a mix of ecoonomic and religious reasons. The larger English population, the Royal Navy, and Britain's superior political and financial system proved decisive. France lost North America in the French and Indian War (1754-63), the North American segment of the Seven Years War (1756-1763). Most Europeans at the time thought it was a minor colonial conflict, it turned out to be perhaps the most significant war of the 18th century. France also lost India to the British. Napoleon after obtaining Louisana from the Spansh, for a time toyed with the idea of restablishing a North American empire. In the end, largely because of the destruction of the French army in Haiti, he abandoned the idea and sold Louisiana to the United States (1803). After the Napoleonic Wars in the 19th century, Fance set about building a new empire. The first step was seizing Algeria (1830). Tunisia and Morocco followed later. France was also a major player in the late-19th century Scramble for Africa. France had two colonial regions in Africa. Afrique occidentale fran�aise (French West Africa--AOF) consisted of eight colonies: Mauritania, Senegal, French Sudan (today Mali), French Guinea, Ivory Coast, Niger, High-Volta (Burkina Faso) and Dahomey ( Benin). Afrique �quatoriale fran�aise (French Equitorial Afric--AEF) included four colonies: Gabon, Middle Congo (Republic of Congo), Oubangui-Chari (Central African Republic) and Chad. The AEF had less infrastructures than AOF because of the equatorial forest, but especially because there are less raw materials. France also acquired Indo-China and Pacific island colonies. One of these was New Caledonia (1853). After World War I, France acquired two Lague of Nations mandates in the Middle East--Lebanon and Syria. After World war II, France attempted to piece together its empire, but fought two disasterous colinal wars (Viet Nam and Algeria).

Germany

The new nations of Germany and Italy were late to the colonial game, but built small empires. Germany was not unified until 1871. It is only after that time that Germans could think about building an overseas empire. An even then Germany did not immediaitely set upon empire building, in part because Bismarck did not see it as advisable. Other Germans, however, craved a colonial empire. The young Kaiser Wilhelm II in particular wanted both a modern highseas fleet and colonial empire. The Kaiser began building a modern navy, but the the potential for empire was limited because much of the world had alreadby been carved up by the older, established colonial powers. Germany in the late-19th century acquired a number of scattered colonies in both Africa and the Pacific. The German colonies were mostly largely unsettled lands of little interest to the other European powers. Germany did not retain its new colonies very long. After World War I broke out, Britain's command of the sea allowed it to seize the various German colonies. Japan participated in this effort in the Pacific. The Versailles Treaty stripped Germany of its colonies assigning trusteeships to Ausrealia, Britain, Belgium, France, Japan, New Zealand, and South Africa. Japan proceeeded to fortify the Pacific islands it obtained. Truk became the Gibraltar of the Pacific. While virttually unknown to the general public, these islands became important in the World War II Pacific campaign (1941-45). The revanchist spirit of the NAZIs included a desire to regain the lost colonies, but NAZI foreign policy restrained this initiative. Hitler's desire was for colonies in the East. Before launching on that enterrprise, however, there was one little-remembered NAZI colonial adventure--Neuschwabenland (New Swabia). Antarctica was in the 1930s the only part of the world that had not been colonized. The NAZIs conducted an Antarctic expedition (1939). SS Commander Himmler launched exotic expeditions to the Himilayas. It was Reich F�herer Hermann G�ring who backed the Antarctic expedition. It was commanded by Captain Alfred Ritscher. The German airline Lufthansa at Himler's behest provided one of its ships, the Schwabenland for the expedition.

Italy

Italy was a relatively new European country. It became a unifed nation only in the 1860s. There was no nariin state tgat could fund colonial adventures. The Itakian cityb states were more concerned woth expnsive viyages of exploratiion and colonial advntures. And although the Ottomans and Arabs blocked the SilknRas abd Spice Route, Benice and Itakian states benefotted bu challening thvvaluabke trade goofs into Europe. Some Itakians, hiwever, wee involbed as atthe time if the Viyages of fisciverty, Italains had nabugatiinal skills that many Ruropean kingdoms lacked. Asa resilynmanu rarlu explorerswerevItakian,including John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto), Cristobal Coumbus, and Amerigo Vespucci among others. I taly got a late start on building colonial empire. There outreach was primarily in Africa (North Africa and East Africa). They attempted to acquire European colonies in World War I and briefly occupied areas in the Balkans during World war II.

(The) Netherlands

The tiny Netherlands managed to become a world power through trade. They followed the Portuguese to China, but were unable to command the China trade as the Portuguese had established a commanding presence. Almost by accident, the Dutch managed yo established a profitable colony in the East Indies--modern Indonesia. When the Shogun expelled the Portuguese and other Europeanscfrom Japan, the Dutch were allowed to maintain a small trading outpost. The Dutch also tried to establish an American empire. They tried to seize Portugal's Brazilian empire, but failed. Their north American colony was seuized by the English. The Dutch managed to retain severa Caribbeab islands.

Ottoman

The Ottoman Empire is often not thought of as an European e,pire. but the Empire eventually include a large area of Europe primarily centered on the Balkans.

Portugal

The Portuguese led the Europeann outreach with voyages south along the Atlantic coast of Africa. The primary interest at this time was to establish outposts for trade and to provide secure ports to support voyages further south. The ultimate goal was to establish a sea route to trade with the East--India and China. At the time trade with the East passed through Arab and Ottoman lands, giving them highly advantageous control over this emenselly valuable commerce. It was the Portuguese who first rounded the Cape of Good Hope and established trade with first India and eventually China and Japan. There were more than commercial consequences. The character of Islam was changing from an emlighted outlook oromoting enquiry and learning to a closed theocratic society that supressed secukar learning. Portugal was one of two tiny European countries that were able to establish vast trading and colonial empire. The Portugese eventually built one of longest-lived empires in history, enduring nearly 6 centuries. The Portugese Kingsom was fouded durung the Reconquista (1139). The Kingdom's Empire began with the seizure of Ceuta in North Africa (1415), but this was more an extension of the Reconquista. The creation of an empire beagn as part of Age of Discovery. The foundation of the Empire began in the 15th century and from the early 16th century it stretched across the globe, with possessions in the Americas, Africa, Asia, amd extending into Oceania, mearly encircling the globe. Fired with the Catholic spirit of the Reconquista and the knowlwdge acquired by Prince Henry the Navigator and his School of Navigation, Portuguese sailors began temtatively exploring the coast of Africa and Atlantic Atlantic islands (1418-19). They benefitted from developments in navigation, cartography and maritime technology in which they played annimportant role. This led to the famed caravel which the Portuguese used to find a sea route to the East seeking spices, silks, porrcelin and other valuable products. As Portuhguese navigators moved south aling the African Atlanric ciast it set up trading posts which evebtually became collomies. As Brazil bulges out into the Atalantic, they also discobered the America at about the same time Columbus made his famous voyage, perhaps earlier. After Vasco de Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope (1498) the Portuguese began to expand east. The destruction of Arab sea power at the Battle of Diu left Portugal in control of the India Ocean (1509). Bartolomeu Dias finally reached the Cape of Good Hope (1488). Vasco da Gama reached India (1498). Pedro Álvares Cabral discovered Brazil (1500). Some believe Brazil was actually discivered earlier. It was tiny Portugal that first reached China and first dominated the Oriental trade (16th and 17th century). Portugal ammased a huge empire, but in the long run it could not match the power of the other European maritime countries. This was in part becuause Portugal was a small country, but size was not the only factor. Portugal was first displaced in many areas by the eqaually small, embattled Dutch Republic. The Porthugese Empirev essetially ended with the indeprndence of Angola and Mizambique (1970s). The final outpost, Macau, was returndto China (1999).

Spain

Spain began building a colonial empire even before completing the Recoiquista or unification (1492). The first overseas possession was the Canary Islands (beginning 1402) and it served as a template for the counry's future imperial expansion. Spain was formed primarily by the fusion of Castille and Aragon after the marriahe of Isabella and Ferdinand who ruled as joint soverigns. Castille had no maritime tradition, but Aragon did aloing with a Meditrrranean empire. Efforts to establish North African colonies was met with determined resistance by the Islamacized popultion. Efforts in the Indies beginning with Columbus' voyage (1492) met with far greater success. The fact that a Genoan navigator led the expedition attests to the limited maritime tradition of Castille. The Spanish proceeded to build one of the great world empires, the first truly global empire. Previous empires had been either regionl or like the Mongol Empire apurely terestrial trritirial expansion. Spain established colonies on all continents except Antartica or Antarctica. Great wealth from the Americas flowed into Spain, but it did not suceed in building a great world power. After a century of empire building and efforts to destroy the Reformation, Spain began along slow decline. This culminated in a bloody military campaign against French occupation and loss of most of its empire (early-19th century). The Spanish Empire (Spanish: Imperio Espa�ol) comprised territories and colonies arond the globe administered directly by the Spanish Crown. Spanish conquistadores, navigators,and priests founded colonies in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania. This resulted from the Age of Discovery launched by the Portuguese. After Ferdinand and Isabella, uUnder the Spanish Habsburgs, Spain with the wealth flowing in from the new Empire became the superpower of the age with vast, political, milurary, and economic power. The Spanish overseas expansion began at roughly the same time as the Reformation (1517). Much of the strength of the empire was devoted to a costly and ultimately uncucessful effprt to stamp out Protestantism. The bullion flowing into Spain had massive economic consequemves throughut Europe. The Spanish and Portuguese Empires were established at about the same time with at first little competition from their European rivals. This ushered in the modern global era (globelixation in modern parlance) and the rise of Western dominance in global affairs. The Spamish empire Spain's territorial reach beyond Europe spanned five centuries, although it was sharply reduced with the American wars of independemce (early-19th century). The ls mjor possessions were lost as a result of the Spanish-Amerivan War (1898-99). The last African colonies were given indpendence (1975).

Russia

Russia built two colonial empires. The first is the best know one, the Tsarist empire. This included large areas of Eastern Europe, the Caucauses, Central Asia, and Siberia. For a time it included parts of North Aamerica, but eventually sold Alaska to the United States (1867). The sale was in part motivated by the fear the British might seize it. Often ignored (in part for ideological reasons) is the Soviet Empire. The Bolshevicks mananaged to pirce together much of the old Tsarist Empire after World war I. Stalin seized most of what the Bloshevicks failed to achieve (except Finland) as a result of the NAZI-Soviet Non-Agression Pact (1939). After the War, the counties of Eastern and Central Europe were added to the new Soviet Russian Empire.

Sweden


Motivation

The desire to exploit the colonies economically was an important factor in building a colonial empire.

Religious and Social Ideology

The prevalent doctrines of religious intolerance, social Darwinism, and white superority created situations in which great harm was done to colonial peoples. The colonial regimes were often justified by paternalistic Victoriam morality, but rarely did pious good intentions result in imrovements in regimes benfitting native people.

Decolonization

In the post-colonial era, the European colonial empires with considerable validity were throughly criticised if not vilified. Yet an unbiased assessment of the British Empire shows that there were major positive influences. Considerable long term investment helped to create modern infrastructures in not only Empire countries, but countries like America and Argentina. Other influences such as the rule of law, representative and honest government were enormous forces for good. The importance of these institutions was one that was perhaps not fully understood at the time of independence. Many post-colonial elites were strongly influenced by socilaist idelology and and impressed by the seemingly rapid progresses ofstate managed econonomies. Another major force was free trade. Ironically, one of the major reasons America revolted in the 18th century was trade restrictions and limitations on economic development. Notably today the two most pernicious trends impeding economic development in the Third World are arguably the lack of the rule of law and honest government.









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Created: 3:42 AM 9/29/2007
Last updated: 5:27 PM 5/23/2020