(BRITISH IMPERIALISM and ASIA, to 1900 – continued)

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BRITISH IMPERIALISM and ASIA, to 1900 (4 of 9)

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Britain's View of Empire

England supplied 90 percent of its own food, and it had an abundance of coal and iron. Great Britain entered the 1800s with a virtual monopoly on the techniques of steam power. It emerged victorious from the Napoleon wars and its navy considered an ultimate arbiter of world affairs. According to the British historian Jan Morris, "To liberals everywhere England had replaced Napoleonic France as the hope of mankind. Beethoven in his later years assiduously followed the debates at Westminster." note40

According to Morris:

Alone among the Powers, Britain possessed freedom of action, but her statesmen did not covet the mastery of the world. It was only fifty years since they had lost an empire, in America, and they did not wish to acquire another. note41

Following the Napoleonic Wars the aim of British statesmen was, according to Morris, "a balanced peace, enabling the British people to seek their fortunes wherever they chose without undertaking vast new responsibilities of defense or administration."

Accordingly, Britain gave back most of the territories they had taken during its recent wars, but they kept points of territory they thought necessary for naval security, among them the island Heligoland in the North Sea near Denmark and Germany, and a base on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean.

Morris writes that the British as a whole in 1837 "were not much interested in their colonies." The idea of empire, he writes, was suspect and was associated with "foreign despotism and aggressors." note42

Morris adds: "...British capital tended to prefer American to colonial investment – the risks might be greater, but so were the profits." note43

But the British were ensconced in India, their big imperial possession. This had happened with Britain's East India Company, a private company, going to India intent on making money, not an empire. But in establishing its presence and in protecting itself, the company had gradually increased its holdings until by 1830s most of the Indian subcontinent had come under British suzerainty, with 50,000 Britons lording it over more the 90 million others.

And by the 1830s, circumstances were influencing the British toward involvement in territory neighboring India: Afghanistan.


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