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Jules Ferry’s Speech “On Colonial Expansion”


Jules Ferry’s speech on “On Colonial Expansion” from 1884 addresses his thoughts on the need for imperial expansion of France. His speech covers a variety of arguments for expansion from economic to military ones. It outlines the issues that he believes need to be solved through imperial expansion and addresses some arguments from his critics. This paper will provide an outline of recent developments in world trade that he is concerned with, his answers to critics, and non-economic reasons for imperialist expansion.

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Recent Developments

The main developments on the world market that stand behind the arguments of Jules Ferry are related to the diminishing ability of France to provide exports to other countries. He specifically mentions the issues with German development of trade barricades and the protectionist tendencies of the United States of America. Other issues are caused by competition of imports that provide products that were previously unavailable in France (Conklin, Fishman, & Zaretsky, 2015). This created an issue with the domestic market as the agriculture industry as well as others was not able to compete. As a solution to this issue Ferry proposes a change to the colonial policy (Ferry, 2018).

Arguments and Answers of Jules Ferry

Critics of Jules Ferry argued that his colonial ambitions may bring the same type of injustice as the Spanish introduction of slavery to Central America and the actions of soldiers in South America. In response, he states that the “superior races” have a responsibility to civilize the “inferior races.” He criticizes the actions of Spaniards and states that they did not fulfill their obligation of civilizing others. He ends his answer with the notion that the errors of the past would not be committed in French colonies and the generosity of people from the European Nations would lead to positive civilizing results (Ferry, 2018).

Non-Economic Arguments

The majority of the non-economic arguments Ferry proposes are related to military concerns of the French navy. His first argument is that while the French fleet is great and advanced, it still needs to have a sufficient number of safe harbors around the world to function efficiently, as well as be supplied and defended in any part of the world. His second argument is tied to the technical limitations of ships. Ferry states that despite advancements in design, a battleship is unable to carry more than two weeks’ supply of coal. Without coal, the ship itself is useless, and to prevent it they need to be resupplied from colonies. The third argument comes from the increasing rivalry between European countries in military and naval abilities. Ferry believes that a policy of withdrawal at that moment would be a sign of decadence. He calls for the need to show how the actions of France could show the good qualities of French institutions (Ferry, 2018).


Jules Ferry’s speech can be seen as an example of how imperialism spread through Europe through a rivalry between nations. France was experiencing a difficult moment in its economy and Ferry saw imperialism as a solution to this issue. The growing military power of neighboring nations was also seen as a potential threat to the country that had to be resolved through the strategic use of colonies. An alarming notion of “superior” and “inferior” races that Ferry used as a response to his critics is exemplary of the period, but its falsehood could lead to more atrocities being committed in the colonies.


Conklin, A. L., Fishman, S., & Zaretsky, R. (2015). France and Its Empire since 1870. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Ferry, J. (2018). Modern history sourcebook: Jules Ferry (1832-1893): On French colonial expansion. Web.

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