Imperialism: A Study

Hobson, John A.
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First Pub. Date
New York: James Pott and Co.
Pub. Date
1st edition.


Part I, Chapter I

The Measure of Imperialism


Quibbles about the modern meaning of the term Imperialism are best resolved by reference to concrete facts in the history of the last thirty years. During that period a number of European nations, Great Britain being first and foremost, have annexed or otherwise asserted political sway over vast portions of Africa and Asia, and over numerous islands in the Pacific and elsewhere. The extent to which this policy of expansion has been carried on, and in particular the enormous size and the peculiar character of the British acquisitions, are not adequately realised even by those who pay some attention to Imperial politics.


The following lists, giving the area and, where possible, the population of the new acquisitions, are designed to give definiteness to the term Imperialism. Though derived from official sources, they do not, however, profess strict accuracy. The sliding scale of political terminology along which no-man's land, or hinterland, passes into some kind of definite protectorate is often applied so as to conceal the process; "rectification" of a fluid frontier is continually taking place; paper "partitions" of spheres of influence or protection in Africa and Asia are often obscure, and in some cases the area and the population are highly speculative.


In a few instances it is possible that portions of territory put down as acquired since 1870 may have been ear-marked by a European Power at some earlier date. But care is taken to include only such territories as have come within this period under the definite political control of the Power to which they are assigned. The figures in the case of Great Britain are so startling as to call for a little further interpretation. I have thought it right to add to the recognised list of colonies and protectorates the "veiled Protectorate" of Egypt, with its vast Soudanese claim, the entire territories assigned to Chartered Companies, and the native or feudatory States in India which acknowledge our paramountcy by the admission of a British Agent or other official endowed with real political control.


All these lands are rightly accredited to the British Empire, and if our past policy is still pursued, the intensive as distinct from the extensive Imperialism will draw them under an ever-tightening grasp.


In a few other instances, as, for example, in West Africa, countries are included in this list where some small dominion had obtained before 1870, but where the vast majority of the present area of the colony is of recent acquisition. Any older colonial possession thus included in Lagos or Gambia is, however, far more than counterbalanced by the increased area of the Gold Coast Colony, which is not included in this list, and which grew from 29,000 square miles in 1873 to 39,000 square miles in 1893.

Date of
Square Miles.

Cyprus 1878 3,584 227,900
Zanzibar and Pemba 1888 brace bracket 100,000 brace bracket 200,000
East Africa Protectorate 1895 2,500,000
Uganda Protectorate 1894-1896 140,000 3,800,000
Somali Coast Protectorate 1884-1885 68,000 (?)
British Central Africa Protectorate 1889 42,217 688,049
Lagos to 1899 21,000 3,000,000
Gambia to 1888 3,550 215,000
Ashantee 1896-1901 70,000 2,000,000
Niger Coast Protectorate 1885-1898 400,000 to 500,000 25,000,000 to 40,000,000
Egypt 1882 400,000 9,734,405
Egyptian Soudan 1882 950,000 10,000,000
Griqualand West 1871-1880 15,197 83,373
Zululand 1879-1897 10,521 240,000
British Bechuanaland 1885 51,424 72,736
Bechuanaland Protectorate 1891 213,000 200,000
Transkei 1879-1885 2,535 153,582
Tembuland 1885 4,155 180,130
Pondoland 1894 4,040 188,000
Griqualand East 1879-1885 7,511 152,609
British South Africa Charter 1889 750,000 321,000
Transvaal 1900 119,139 870,000
Orange River Colony 1900 48,826 207,503
Hong Kong (littoral) 1898 376 100,000
Wei-hai-wei ... 270 118,000
Socotra 1886 1,382 10,000
Upper Burma 1887 83,473 2,046,933
Baluchistan 1876-1889 130,000 500,000
Sikkim 1890 2,818 30,000
Rajputana (States) brace bracket since 1881 brace bracket 128,022 12,186,352
Burma (States) 62,661 785,800
Jammu and Kashmir 80,000 2,543,952
Malay Protected States 1883-1895 24,849 620,000
North Borneo Company 1881 31,106 175,000
North Borneo Protectorate 1888 ... ...
Sarawak 1888 50,000 500,000
British New Guinea 1888 90,540 350,000
Fiji Islands 1874 7,740 122,676


The list is by no means complete. It takes no account of several large regions which have passed under the control of our Indian Government as native or feudatory States, but of which no statistics of area or population, even approximate, are available. Such are the Shan States, the Burma Frontier, and the Upper Burma Frontier, the districts of Chitral, Bajam, Swat, Waziristan, which came under our "sphere of influence" in 1893, and have been since taken under a closer protectorate. The increase of British India itself between 1871 and 1891 amounted to an area of 104,993 square miles, with a population of 25,330,000, while no reliable measurement of the formation of new native States within that period and since is available. Many of the measurements here given are in round numbers, indicative of their uncertainty, but they are taken, wherever available, from official publications of the Colonial Office, corroborated or supplemented from the "Statesman's Year-book." They will by no means comprise the full tale of our expansion during the thirty years, for many enlargements made by the several colonies themselves are omitted. But taken as they stand they make a formidable addition to the growth of an Empire whose nucleus is only 120,000 square miles, with 40,000,000 population.


For so small a nation to add to its domains in the course of a single generation an area of 4,754,000 square miles,*4 with an estimated population of 88,000,000, is a historical fact of great significance.


Accepting Sir Robert Giffen's estimate*5 of the size of our Empire (including Egypt and the Soudan) at about 13,000,000 square miles, with a population of some 400 to 420 millions (of whom about 50,000,000 are of British race and speech), we find that one-third of this Empire, containing quite one-fourth of the total population of the Empire, has been acquired within the last generation. This is in tolerably close agreement with other independent estimates.*6


The character of this Imperial expansion is clearly exhibited in the list of new territories.


Though, for convenience, the year 1870 has been taken as indicative of the beginning of a conscious policy of Imperialism, it will be evident that the movement did not attain its full impetus until the middle of the eighties. The vast increase of territory, and the method of wholesale partition which assigned to us great tracts of African land, may be dated from about 1884. Within fifteen years some three and three-quarter millions of square miles have been added to the British Empire.*7


Nor does Great Britain stand alone in this enterprise. The leading characteristic of modern Imperialism, the competition of rival Empires, is the product of this same period. The close of the Franco-German war marks the beginning of a new colonial policy in France and Germany, destined to take effect in the next decade. It was not unnatural that the newly-founded German Empire, surrounded by powerful enemies and doubtful allies, and perceiving its more adventurous youth drawn into the United States and other foreign lands, should form the idea of a colonial empire. During the seventies a vigorous literature sprang up in advocacy of the policy*8 which took shape a little later in the powerful hands of Bismarck. The earliest instance of official aid for the promotion of German commerce abroad occurred in 1880 in the Government aid granted to the "German Commercial and Plantation Association of the Southern Seas." German connection with Samoa dates from the same year, but the definite advance of Germany upon its Imperialist career began in 1884, with a policy of African protectorates and annexations of Oceanic islands. During the next fifteen years she brought under her colonial sway about 1,000,000 square miles, with an estimated population of 14,000,000. Almost the whole of this territory is tropical, and the white population forms a total of a few thousands.


Similarly in France a great revival of the old colonial spirit took place in the early eighties, the most influential of the revivalists being the eminent economist, M. Paul Leroy-Beaulieu. The extension of empire in Senegal and Sahara in 1880 was followed next year by the annexation of Tunis, and France was soon actively engaged in the scramble for Africa in 1884, while at the same time she was fastening her rule on Tonking and Laos in Asia. Her acquisitions since 1880 (exclusive of the extension of New Caledonia and its dependencies) amount to an area of over three and a half million square miles, with a native population of some 37,000,000, almost the whole tropical or sub-tropical, inhabited by lower races and incapable of genuine French colonisation.


Italian aspirations took similar shape from 1880 onwards, though the disastrous experience of the Abyssinian expeditions has given a check to Italian Imperialism. Her possessions in East Africa are confined to the northern colony of Eritrea and the protectorate of Somaliland.


Of the other European States, two only, Portugal*9 and Belgium, enter directly into the competition of the new Imperialism. The African arrangements of 1884-6 assigned to Portugal the large district of Angola on the Congo Coast, while a large strip of East Africa passed definitely under her political control in 1891. The anomalous position of the great Congo Free State, ceded to the King of Belgium in 1883, and growing since then by vast accretions, must be regarded as involving Belgium in the competition for African empire.


Spain may be said to have definitely retired from imperial competition. The large and important possessions of Holland in the East and West Indies, though involving her in imperial politics to some degree, belong to older colonialism: she takes no part in the new imperial expansion.


Russia, the only active expansionist country of the North, stands alone in the character of her imperial growth, which differs from other Imperialism in that it has been principally Asiatic in its achievements and has proceeded by direct extension of imperial boundaries, partaking to a larger extent than in the other cases of a regular colonial policy of settlement for purposes of agriculture and industry. It is, however, evident that Russian expansion, though of a more normal and natural order than that which characterises the new Imperialism, comes definitely into contact and into competition with the claims and aspirations of the latter in Asia, and has been advancing rapidly during the period which is the object of our study.


The recent entrance of the powerful and progressive nation of the United States of America upon Imperialism by the annexation of Hawaii and the taking over of the relics of ancient Spanish empire not only adds a new formidable competitor for trade and territory, but changes and complicates the issues. As the focus of political attention and activity shifts more to the Pacific States, and the commercial aspirations of America are more and more set upon trade with the Pacific islands and the Asiatic coast, the same forces which are driving European States along the path of territorial expansion seem likely to act upon the United States, leading her to a virtual abandonment of the principle of American isolation which has hitherto dominated her policy.


The following comparative table of colonisation, compiled from the "Statesman's Year-book" for 1900 by Mr. H. C. Morris,*10 marks the present expansion of the political control of Western nations:—

Number of Colonies Area. Square Miles.
Colonies, &c. Mother
Colonies, &c.

United Kingdom 50 120,979 11,605,238 40,559,954 345,222,239
France 33 204,092 3,740,756 38,517,975 56,401,860
Germany 13 208,830 1,027,120 52,279,901 14,687,000
Netherlands 3 12,648 782,862 5,074,632 35,115,711
Portugal 9 36,038 801,100 5,049,729 9,148,707
Spain 3 197,670 243,877 17,565,632 136,000
Italy 2 110,646 188,500 31,856,675 850,000
Austria-Hungary 2 241,032 23,570 41,244,811 1,568,092
Denmark 3 15,289 86,634 2,185,335 114,229
Russia 3 8,660,395 255,550 128,932,173 15,684,000
Turkey 4 1,111,741 465,000 23,834,500 14,956,236
China 5 1,336,841 2,881,560 386,000,000 16,680,000
U.S.A. 6 3,557,000 172,091 77,000,000 10,544,617

Total 136 15,813,201 22,273,858 850,103,317 521,108,791


The political nature of the new British Imperialism may be authoritatively ascertained by considering the governmental relations which the newly annexed territories hold with the Crown.


Officially,*11 British "colonial possessions" fall into three classes—(1) "Crown colonies, in which the Crown has the entire control of legislation, while the administration is carried on by public officers under the control of the Home Government; (2) colonies possessing representative institutions, but not responsible government, in which the Crown has no more than a veto on legislation, but the Home Government retains the control of public affairs; (3) colonies possessing representative institutions and responsible government, in which the Crown has only a veto on legislation, and the Home Government has no control over any officer except the Governor."


Now, of the thirty-nine separate areas which have been annexed by Great Britain since 1870 as colonies or protectorates, not a single one ranks in class 2 or 3. The new Imperialism has established no single British colony endowed with responsible government or representative institutions. Nor, with the exception of the three new States in South Africa, where white settlers live in some numbers, is it seriously pretended that any of these annexed territories is being prepared and educated for representative, responsible self-government; and even in these South African States there is no serious intention, either on the part of the Home Government or of the colonists, that the majority of the inhabitants shall have any real voice in the government.


It is true that some of these areas enjoy a measure of self-government, as protectorates or as feudatory States, under their own native princes. But all these in major matters of policy are subject to the absolute rule of the British Government, or of some British official, while the general tendency is towards drawing the reins of arbitrary control more tightly over protectorates, converting them into States which are in substance, though not always in name, Crown colonies. With the exception of a couple of experiments in India, the tendency everywhere has been towards a closer and more drastic imperial control over the territories that have been annexed, transforming protectorates, company rule, and spheres of influence into definite British States of the Crown colony order.


This is attributable, not to any greed of tyranny on the part of the Imperial Government, but to the conditions imposed upon our rule by considerations of climate and native population. Almost the whole of this new territory is tropical, or so near to the tropics as to preclude genuine colonisation of British settlers, while in those few districts where Europeans can work and breed, as in parts of South Africa and Egypt, the preoccupation of the country by large native populations of "lower races" precludes any considerable settlement of British workers and the safe bestowal of the full self-government which prevails in Australasia and Canada.


The same is true to an even more complete extent of the Imperialism of other continental countries. The new Imperialism has nowhere extended the political and civil liberties of the mother country to any part of the vast territories which, since 1870, have fallen under the government of Western civilised Powers. Politically, the new Imperialism is an expansion of autocracy.


Taking the growth of Imperialism as illustrated in the recent expansion of Great Britain and of the chief continental Powers, we find the distinction between Imperialism and colonisation, set forth in the opening chapter, closely borne out by facts and figures, and warranting the following general judgments:—


First—Almost the whole of recent imperial expansion is occupied with the political absorption of tropical or sub-tropical lands in which white men will not settle with their families.


Second—Nearly all the lands are thickly peopled by "lower races."


Thus this recent imperial expansion stands entirely distinct from the colonisation of sparsely peopled lands in temperate zones, where white colonists carry with them the modes of government, the industrial and other arts of the civilisation of the mother country. The "occupation" of these new territories is comprised in the presence of a small minority of white men, officials, traders, and industrial organisers, exercising political and economic sway over great hordes of population regarded as inferior and as incapable of exercising any considerable rights of self-government, in politics or industry.


Expansion of Chief European Powers since 1884.


Table. Click to enlarge in new window. Table. Click to enlarge in new window.


Map of British Africa in 1902. Click to enlarge in new window. Map of British Africa in 1873. Click to enlarge in new window.

Notes for this chapter

Sir R. Giffen gives the figures as 4,204,690 square miles for the period 1870-1898.
"The Relative Growth of the Component Parts of the Empire," a paper read before the Colonial Institute, January 1898.


Square Miles.
Estimated Population.

India (1,800,258 square miles,287,223,431 inhabitants) brace bracket 1,827,579 291,586,688
Others (27,321 square miles,4,363,257 inhabitants) .
AFRICAN COLONIES 535,398 6,773,360
AMERICAN COLONIES 3,952,572 7,260,169
Total 9,491,508
Asia 120,400 1,200,000
Africa (including Egypt, EgyptianSoudan) 3,530,000 54,730,000
Oceania 800
Total Protectorates 3,651,200
Grand total 13,142,708 366,793,919

(Compiled from Morris' "History of Colonisation," vol. ii. p. 87, and "Statesman's Year-book," 1900.)

"Liberalism and the Empire," p. 341.

1884-1900. Area.
Square Miles.

British New Guinea 1884 90,540 350,000
Nigeria 1884 (?) 450,000 (?) 30,000,000
Pondoland 1884 4,040 188,000
Somaliland 1884 68,000 (?)
Bechuanaland 1884-1885 264,000 272,000
Upper Burma 1886 83,470 2,947,000
British East Africa 1886 860,000 2,500,000
Zululand (with Tongaland) 1887 15,000 240,000
Sarawak and Brunei 1888 65,000 545,000
Pahang (Straits Settlements) 1888 10,000 57,000
Rhodesia 1889 470,000 718,000
Zanzibar 1890 1,020 200,000
British Central Africa 1891 42,217 900,000
Uganda 1894 150,000 4,000,000
Ashantee 1896 21,000 (?) 3,000,000
Wei-hai-wei 1898 270 118,000
Kow-lung 1898 400 100,000
Soudan 1898 950,000 (?) 10,000,000
Transvaal and Orange River Colony 1900 167,000 1,301,000


Total area, British Empire, January 1884—square miles, 8,059,179. Population, 248,000,000.

Fabri's Bedarf Deutschland der Colonien was the most vigorous and popular treatise.
Portugal's true era of Imperialism in Africa, however, dates back two centuries. See Theal's fascinating story of the foundation of a Portuguese Empire in "Beginnings of South African History" (Fisher Unwin).
Cf. his "History of Colonisation," vol. ii. p. 318 (Macmillan & Co.).
See the "Colonial Office List."

Part I, Chapter II

End of Notes

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