Compare and contrast British and French imperialism regarding such things as governing philosophies and the impact upon the colonial populations.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The British and French took extremely different approaches to their treatment of colonial populations while pursuing their imperialist ambitions. Under the French, the colonial populations were ostensibly more easily integrated into the general French population. However, this could only occur if local people learned to speak French and adopted French...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The British and French took extremely different approaches to their treatment of colonial populations while pursuing their imperialist ambitions. Under the French, the colonial populations were ostensibly more easily integrated into the general French population. However, this could only occur if local people learned to speak French and adopted French customs. According to the New York Times,

Where the British, personified in the aloof district officer, clad in starched knee-shorts and pith helmet, kept a reserved distance between the rulers and the ruled, the French sought to implant their notions of culture and civilization to a much deeper level, imposing a style of rule that was intended to stamp a sense of ''French-hood'' on territories and people far distant from Paris.

The British overall were distant from local people, viewing colonial populations as essentially different from European populations. By comparison, the French imperialists gave lip service to the view that colonial populations could become French citizens if they assimilated. In fact, a 1902 book titled A Practical Guide for Europeans in West Africa described intermarriage between colonial officers and African women as a way to “Gallicize” (make French) West Africa.

However, it was only a small percentage of the total population that actually ever attained French citizenship. In West Africa/Senegal, for instance, some locals in the then-capital of Saint Louis became French citizens. Specifically, in 1848, slavery in French colonies was abolished. Many former slaves in Senegal attained French citizenship. That same year, suffrage was extended to the men in French Senegal, including newly-freed slaves who were able to participate in the national elections of 1848.

Nevertheless, reflecting their different philosophies, much greater numbers of French continued to live in former colonies than British in theirs. In part, this also reflected greater economic ties between France and its former colonies, including as trading partners and through France’s economic aid to its former colonies.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The main similarity was that both the British and the French sought to get as much wealth from their colonial possessions as possible. For the French, this meant trade with the Native Americans for furs. The British used their American colonies for food production and timber. Over time, they would use colonies in Africa and Australia for gold.

Britain used their colonies primarily as a dumping ground for people who would otherwise be troublemakers or burdens to society at home. Australia served as a place for convicts. New England was a place to dump meddlesome Calvinists where they could practice their religion. Jamestown served as a place where young men of ambition could try to make their fortune.

Compared to Britain, fewer people from France sought to go to the colonies. Those that did were either missionaries or traders. While they occupied the New World, they treated the Native Americans better than the English did, printing bibles in native languages. The French experience was different later in history as French territorial governors in Indochina sought to clamp down on nationalist movements.

Full British citizenship was usually only conferred to white citizens from Britain or their offspring. With the American colonies, Britain had a series of navigation acts and other duties meant to keep the colonies under control. These backfired with the colonies resenting tightening control, thus sparking the American revolution. French colonial administrators were more lenient, and people from other races could become French citizens.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Both France and Great Britain were colonial powers. There were some differences and some similarities with their policy of imperialism. I will focus mainly on the North American colonies that both countries had established to support this answer.

There were some differences between the French colonies and the British colonies. While the British established thirteen permanent colonies in North America, the French had few permanent settlements. The French were very friendly with the Native Americans. They traded with them, married them, and converted them to Christianity. They weren’t very interested in taking away the lands of the Native Americans. The British didn’t have as good of a relationship with the Native Americans. Most Native American tribes feared the British. In the French colonies, only nobles could own the land. Also, only Christians were allowed to settle in the French colonies, and the colonists had very little freedom. As a result, fewer people settled in the French settlements than in the British settlements in North America.

Some of these differences can also be seen in the colonies each country had around the world. The French were more interested in treating people in their African colonies equally. If the people in the colonies learned French and followed French cultural practices, they were treated very well. It might be possible for them to become French citizens. The British viewed the people in Africa very differently. They were less likely to be treated as equals or to become British citizens.

There were some similarities with the British and the French colonial policies. Both countries wanted to profit economically from their colonies. The French did very well with the fur trade in North America. The British sold many products to their colonies and used the resources from their colonies to help their industries grow. They also benefited by getting products from some of the farms in the colonies. Both countries enhanced their world power status by having colonies in the Americas and throughout the world. Both countries could also use their colonies to serve as a military base if necessary.

There were similarities and differences in the British and French views of imperialism.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

British and French styles of imperialism were both similar to and different from one another.  The major similarity is that both countries meant to use their imperial possessions for their own good.  That meant that the main goal of both countries was to help themselves, not to help those they conquered.

However, the French seemed to take the idea of a "civilizing mission" somewhat more seriously than the British did.  The French, for example, were willing to allow their African subjects to become French citizens and even to participate in politics.  This is something that the British were not willing to do.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team