Discussion Topic

The policies and goals of imperial powers for their overseas colonies and their success


Imperial powers aimed to exploit their overseas colonies for economic gain, strategic advantage, and national prestige. Policies included resource extraction, establishment of trade monopolies, and cultural assimilation. Success varied; while some colonies were economically profitable and strategically beneficial, others faced resistance and rebellion, leading to costly conflicts and eventual decolonization movements.

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What policies did imperial powers use to govern colonies, and were they successful? (1850-1914)

Between 1850 and 1914, many countries were expanding their control around the world through the policy of imperialism. These countries had many reasons for following an imperialist policy. Some countries wanted to control land because they believed they should spread their religion, Christianity, to underdeveloped parts of the world. The United States believed it was our destiny or duty to spread our ways to other countries. The imperialistic countries wanted financial gain. They also wanted to be viewed as a strong country and in order for that to occur, they needed military bases.

One policy used by the United States was dollar diplomacy. This policy, mainly applied in Latin America, allowed us access to Latin American countries to keep stability. We had invested our dollars in these countries, and if that investment was threatened by instability or a threat of a change in government in a country, we would intervene to keep order and to protect our investment. This was done, for example, in Nicaragua in 1911.

Other countries followed a policy that was similar to the policy of mercantilism. The basis of this policy was that a colony was established to benefit the imperialist country. Imperial countries got resources from their colonies much cheaper than if they had to buy them from other countries. Then the imperial country would sell their products to their colonies, giving them a guaranteed market. The imperial country gained financially from this arrangement.

Imperial countries also established colonies for military reasons. Many people were influenced by Alfred Mahan’s book, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History: 1660-1783. This book explained how important it was for world power countries to protect their world trade. To do this, they needed to have colonies. These colonies could serve as ports where ships could refuel and resupply. The colonies could also serve as a military base in case of war. Countries wanted these colonies to enhance their power, especially their status as a world power.

The imperial powers had some success with these policies. The United States got Guam and Puerto Rico in 1898 as a result of the Spanish-American War. We still have some control over these places today. The British and other European countries controlled places for many years in Africa and Asia. For a period of time, these countries benefited in many ways from owning these colonies. However, in some places, the long-term success wasn’t so great. Many colonies eventually fought for their independence from the imperial power. While we controlled the Philippines for over 40 years, they weren’t happy when we first took control of the Philippines. We had to put down a rebellion there. Some Latin American countries today view us as a “big brother” because of our constant interference in Latin American countries. One of the causes of World War I was that people in various countries wanted to be ruled by their own people instead of being ruled by people of different ethnic backgrounds. Thus, while there were some successes with these policies, especially in the short term, there were also negatives associated with them in the long run.

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Describe the policies and goals of imperial powers for their overseas colonies. Were they successful?

Imperial powers use policies such as taxation, trade, governmental structures, and education. For example, in America, the British Parliament taxed U.S. products heavily (leading to the famous revolt at the Boston Tea Party). Imperialist nations can also use trade as a bargaining chip by lowering transaction costs at their own trading posts and taxing goods at others. For example, under the Navigation Acts, the U.S. colony could trade only with Britain, at which point Britain would trade the goods with other nations. Finally, imperialist nations can use a military presence in their colonies in order that individual persons loyal to the imperialist nation wield power in the colonies. Schools, too, while generally understood to be a liberating force, can in fact be a tool of imperialist powers. Britain famously set up western schools in their colonies in India, and even locals began to see a western education as the key to better themselves in order to revive their native Indian heritage.

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