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Jules Ferry’s Defense of French Colonialism

Jules Ferry left his mark in the history of France as a gifted politician famous for promoting anti-clerical education and, which is the matter of our current interest, the expanse of the French colonies (Jules Ferry, n.d.). In his speech delivered in the French Chamber of Deputies in 1844, Jules Ferry offered reasoning for the deployment of the colonization policy and imperialism.

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As a matter of fact, Jules Ferry strongly disapproved of the situation in the world trade he had to face. In his speech, the politician unambiguously pointed out his negative attitude concerning the global market setup. He stated that the extension of export (or outlets, as he put it) was a primary need of French economics. The more so, Ferry expressed his concerns about the lame export policy of his motherland as opposed to that of the other countries.

Germany, he pointed out, was setting up boundaries for trade. On the other hand, America was simultaneously closing the channels of import and extending her export; Ferry claimed that the US market has become practically impossible to get hold of and, at the same time, the French market was ridden with American goods. As per Ferry, the need for export was a justification of colonialism since, as he anticipated, at such rate, the South American market could be seized from France (Jules Ferry: On French Colonial Expansion, n.d.).

Another reason for Ferry’s active promotion of colonial imperialism was his vision of the superior races’ duty in relation to the inferior ones. He stated that the duty did not consist in the exploitation of the “lower races” but, on the contrary, in the enlightenment of the latter. The colonization was justified, as Ferry put it since the European nations (especially the French one) were positioned on the world scale as grand, generous, and sincere.

This, as per Ferry, seemed reasonable enough to set up the French Protectorate in Tunis, as well as occupy Madagascar and invade other regions that later became Vietnam. Indeed, formulating acceptable reasons for these violations, Jules Ferry relied on the concept of “spreading the light.” However, in his speech, a purely pragmatic intention can be seen under the Prime Minister’s patriotic altruism. He clearly stated that the French naval warfare left much to be desired and that it was needed to develop extra harbors and defense forces – by means of the colonies. Ferry regarded the situation in Europe as an arms race and admitted that France was lagging behind (Jules Ferry: On French Colonial Expansion, n.d.).

The main argument against Ferry’s politics was put forward by Georges Clemenceau, his political opponent. Clemenceau stated that it was immoral of Ferry to promote slavery; the same point of view was shared by Jules Maigne and Raoul Duval, who were shocked that such a policy should be adopted by the country that promoted human rights. Nevertheless, when Ferry announced the need to expand the fleet and defense posts, the discontent subsided (Lecomte & Stuart, 2010).

Thus, the Prime Minister’s explanations mainly concerned the lack of export as an economic perspective. As a non-economic grounding for imperialism, Jules Ferry offered his eugenic vision of the French as the superior race. His opponents seriously doubted the moral grounds of Ferry’s policies. However, such policy seemed tolerable after the Prime Minister emphasized the need to strengthen the forces of defense.

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Jules Ferry. (n.d.). In Encyclopædia Britannica online. Web.

Jules Ferry: On French Colonial Expansion. (n.d.). Web.

Lecomte, G., & Stuart, D. C. (2010). Georges Clemenceau, the Tiger of France. Charleston, South Carolina: Nabu Press. Web.

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