Colonialism 1815-1849

During the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Years, a number of changes took place which changed the situation of the colonies and colonial policy fundamentally.

(1) The plantation colonies - mainly the sugar plantation colonies in the Caribbean - suffered from the Continental System (1806-1813), for they temporarily lost access to the continental European market; the changed market conditions caused the British parliament to ban slave trade (1807), and during the Continental System years, in Europe the beet sugar industry emerged. The main French sugar plantation colony of Haiti even experienced a revolution, in the course of which the colony's plantation owners were killed. The sugar plantation industry never recovered her previous affluence.

(2) The ban on slave trade mainly affected Transatlantic slave trade, which the British navy could attempt to interrupt. Slave trade continued in the Americas, but - except for a smuggle trade with African slaves - only persons born slaves were traded. In 1834 Britain abolished slavery altogether; in this she was joined by France in 1848. Britain established the settlement of Freetown (Sierra Leone) for liberated slaves; France founded Libreville (Gabon) for the same purpose. While the United States did not abolish slavery until 1863, American abolitionists established Liberia as a settlement colony for freed slaves returning from America.
European interest in the Africa trade decreased, because with slaves the main commodity disappeared from the list of legal trade goods. The British encouraged their African trade partners to plant oil palm trees to make up for lost revenue, and introduced the cloves to Zanzibar. Both measures proved profitable (though less profitable than the slave trade, which did continue, both as an overseas smuggle trade and as an inner-African slave trade. Missionaries discovered Africa as a field of activity; beginning at the coast, they penetrated into the African interior, missionaries thus also becoming discoverers.

(3) Due to the long interruption of connections between Spanish Latin America and Spain, an independence movement got organized, to a certain extent supported by Britain. In a protracted war, 1814-1826, the Spanish were expelled from the continent (although Spain did not recognize the Latin American republics until 1879). US President James Monroe in 1823 proclaimed the Monroe Doctrine (the intention of the US to fight any European power that would attempt to establish a new colony on the American continent). Brazil achieved independence from Portugal peacefully; only British Honduras, the Guyanas, the Caribbean islands, Alaska, Greenland, Canada, Newfoundland and St. Pierre et Miquelon remained colonies in the Americas.

(4) Until the end of the 18th century, colonies had exclusively been operated by private companies, chartered by their respective home country, protected by the home country's navy against foreign enemies, by a monopoly against domestic competition. In the years of the French Revolution and the Continental System, most of these companies had experienced bankrupcy and were succeeded by the respective state, which took the colonies under state administration (Colonial Office). The economically most important colony experiencing such a change of administration was the Dutch East Indies; the new administration introduced new plantation cultures - tea, coffee, tobacco. With the exception of France (Algeria, Pacific, Comores) and Russia (Central Asia, Siberia), European governments administrated their colonies, but did not strive to establish new ones. Denmark sold her colonies in India to the EIC in 1845, in 1850 the Danish Gold Coast establishments to Britain.
The (English) East India Company had not only survived the series of bankrupcies which befell her competition, but, in the 1800s-1840es, expanded the territory under her rule in India dramatically. They also introduced new plantation cultures, most successfully tea (since the 1820es) and opium, the latter grown to be sold in China, a trade which provided the cause for the infamous Opium War (1839-1842) with China.

(5) In Asia, the superiority of western weaponry became obvious; the wars the East India Company fought, were rather single-sided affairs.

(6) European missionaries discovered Africa, Asia and the Pacific as mission fields. European governments, in treaties with non-European states, insisted on the permission for missionaries to enter the country and proselytize. When missionaries were killed, the respective European power from where the missionary originated, felt entitled to strike militarily.

(7) European governments, in treaties with non-European states, insisted on the opening of trade, on the protection of European merchants. In the treaty concluding the Opium War (1842), China non only had to open treaty ports to British trade, but to merchants from anywhere. As European powers were militarily superior, treaties of that kind reflected the European interests, and were single-sided in nature. The Chinese refer to such treaties as INEQUAL TREATIES.

(8) The invention of the steamship (1817) was to have consequences for the connection between the colonies and the European countries; however this impact came gradually, in full force in the second half of the century.


This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on October 5th 2003, last revised on November 16th 2004

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