Topic # 2 – Political Debates about Imperialsim

New imperialism resulted from a variety of fears and
ambitions, as these two documents illustrate. While
some advocates
of imperial expansion sought to
convert the world‘s populace to Christianity, others
insisted that overseas possessions strengthened a
nation‘s ability to compete with its rivals, not only in
the economic but also in the military, diplomatic,
and even cultural arenas.

Jules Ferry, Speech Before French National
Assembly, July 1883

Jules Ferry (7832-1893), who served two terms as premier (prime minister) of France, supported French imperial expansion. As the interruptions and objections to his speech reveal, Ferry faced opposition, particularly from socialist politicians.

M: JULES FERRY: Gentlemen …. 1 believe that there is some benefit in summarizing … the principles, the motives, and the various interests by which a policy of colonial expansion may be justified.

In the area of economics, I will allow myself to place before you … the considerations which justify a policy of colonial expansion from the point of view of that need, felt more and more strongly by the industrial populations … of our own rich and hard working country: the need for export markets …. Why? Because next door to us Germany is surrounded by barriers, because beyond the ocean, the United States of America has become protectionist …. because not only have these great markets … become more difficult of access for our industrial products, but also these great states are beginning to pour products not seen heretofore onto our own markets …

Gentlemen, there is a second point. .. the humanitarian and civilizing side of the ‘question. On this point the honorable M. Camille Pellatan [an anti-imperialist opponent of Ferry’s] has jeered in his own refined and clever manner; he  jeers, he condemns, and he says “What is this civilization which you impose with cannonballs?”’M.”; abbreviation for “Monsieur” (“Mister”).

What is it but another form of barbarism? Don’t these populations, these inferior races, have the same rights as you? Aren’t they masters of their own houses? Have they called upon you? You come to them against their will, you offer them violence, but not civilization.” …

Gentlemen, I must speak from a higher and more truthful plane. It must be stated openly
that, in effect, superior races have rights over inferior races. [Movement on many benches on the far left.]

M. JULES MAIGNE [a socialist opponent]:

Oh! You dare to say this in the country which has proclaimed the rights of man!

FERRY: I repeat that superior races have a right, because they have a duty. They have the
duty to civilize inferior races …. [Approbation from the left. New interruptions from the extreme left and from the right.] …

Gentlemen, there are certain considerations which merit the attention of all patriots. The conditions of naval warfare have been profoundly altered. [liVery true! Very true!”]! At this time, as you know, a warship cannot carry more than 14 days’ worth of coal … and a ship which is out of coal is a derelict on the surface of the sea, abandoned to the first person who comes along. Thence the necessity of having on the oceans provision stations, shelters, ports for defense and revictualling. [Applause at the center and left. Various interruptions.] And it is for this that we needed Tunisia, for this that we needed Saigon and the Mekong Delta, for this that we need Madagascar … and will never leave them! [Applause from a great number of benches.} Gentlemen, in Europe as it is today, in this competition of so many rivals which we see growing around us, … in a Europe, or rather in a universe of this sort, a policy of peaceful seclusion or abstention is simply the highway to decadence! …”These words were shouted out in the assembly by other legislators.


France … cannot be merely a free country … she must also be a great country, exercising all of her rightful influence over the destiny of Europe … she ought to propagate this influence throughout the world and carry everywhere that she can her language, her customs, her flag, her arms, and her genius. [Applause at center and left.]

*    *          *          *

Friedrich Fabri, Does Germany Need Colonies? (1879)

A pastor and theology professor, Friedrich Fabri (1824-7897) directed an interdenominational German missionary society that worked in southern
Africa and the East Indies. In
7879, Fabri published Does Germany Need Colonies? His answer was unequivocal.

In looking for colonial possessions Germany is not prompted by the desire for expanding its power; it wants only to fulfill a national, we may even say a moral duty ….

The German nation has long experience on the oceans, is skilled in industry and commerce, more capable than others in agricultural colonization, and furnished with ample manpower like no other modern highly cultured nation. Should it not also enter successfully upon this new venture? .. There is much bitterness, much poisonous partisanship in our newly united Germany; to open a promising new course of national development might have a liberating effect, and move the national spirit in a new direction.

Even more important is the consideration that a people at the height of their political
power can successfully maintain their historic position only as long as they recognize and
prove themselves as the bearers of a cultura1 mission. That is the only way which guarantees the stability and growth of national prosperity, which is the necessary basis for an enduring source of power. In past years Germany has contributed only its intellectual and literary work to this century; now we have turned to politics and become powerful. But if the goal of political power becomes an end in itself, it leads to hardness, even to barbarism, unless that nation is willing to undertake the inspirational, moral, and economic leadership of the times …. [L]ook around the globe and assess the ever-increasing colonial possessions of Great Britain, the strength which it draws from them, the skills of its administration, and the dominant position which the Anglo-Saxon stock occupies in all overseas countries …. It would be well if we Germans began to learn from the colonial destiny of our Anglo-Saxon cousins and emulate them in peaceful competition. When, centuries ago, the German empire stood at the head of the
European states, it was the foremost commercial and maritime power. If the new Germany wants to restore and preserve its traditional powerful position in future, it will conceive of it as a cultural mission and no longer hesitate to practice its colonizing vocation.


Jules Ferry, Speech before French National Assembly, 1883, in Ralph A. Austin (ed.), Modern Imperialism: Western Overseas Expansion and Its Aftermath, 1776-1965 (Lexington, Mass.: D.e. Heath, 1969),70-73.

Friedrich Fabri, Does Germany Need Colonies?(Gotha, Germany: Perthes, 1879). Translated by Theodore von Laue. In Perry et al., Sources of the Western Tradition, 4th ed, Vol. 2. (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1999), 235-237. Copyright © 1999 Wadsworth, a part of Cengage Learning, Ine. Reproduced by permission.

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