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The World of Trade in 1897 by Jules Ferry

According to Ferry (1897), the world of trade changed significantly at that time due to the introduction of protectionism. Germany and the United States of America imposed sanctions and duties on the import of foreign goods. In such a situation, French traders could not access these two enormous markets, which hindered the possibilities of the French economy to develop. At that time, France was a well-developed industrial nation that generated a lot of different goods such as textile, clothes, flour, baked bread, steel, and other products. During Napoleon’s reign, France used to wage wars against its neighbors and forced them into buying their goods. After that, the French economy lost such an opportunity due to military failures. The option was either to slow down the pace of production or to seek other ways of trading. Therefore, the need for a foreign market persisted. In addition, the onset of global trade-exposed French products to fierce rivalry, which it could not sustain due to the lower quantity of their goods, which was why, as Ferry (1897) notes, the South American market was overrun with the products from the US. Additionally, world trade became diversified, and France suffered losses in that regard. Ferry tries to establish an understanding that the economic stagnation will bring dire consequences and will lead to downgrading France from its leading position to a developing country, which is certainly a loss of authority. These are the reasons why Ferry considers it urgent to establish colonies. That is the reason why Ferry considers it urgent to establish colonies.

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The main opponents of Ferry challenged him about the onset of slavery and inhuman treatment of the indigenous population that was widespread among colonist nations like the US and Spain (Power, 2014). They argued that it was inappropriate for France to become one of such countries. In addition, they opposed the imposition of trade on colonized people, as it was also considered a negative imperial trait. Ferry countered those arguments by stating that France will exhibit traits of a “higher race” (Ferry, 1897, p. 200). By that, he meant that their duty as an advanced and modern European nation was to enlighten mediocre races by bringing civilization to them. By fulfilling this duty, France will recommend itself as a generous, wealthy, and glorious country and juxtapose itself to the US and Spain who failed to civilize their colonies and turned to predatory practices.

When non-economic arguments are concerned, Ferry points out that without safe harbors and supplies for the navy, France risked endangering its positions at sea. Colonial outposts could provide fresh food, water and ammunition for the French forces that were much needed in long wars. In addition, he mentions that warships even with the most advanced equipment were still unable to sustain more than two weeks of travel (Ferry, 1897). By establishing foreign colonies across the ocean, France would be able to create a demand for naval technology, which was booming in other colonial countries. Such development gave them military and economic advantages, which could endanger French positions as one of the strongest countries in Europe. Given the recent defeat from Germany, this argument did seem timely. Another argument for establishing colonies in Madagascar and Tunisia was a mere adventurous spirit that needed to be encouraged and nurtured in order to stay competitive among other nations. Other countries may have had advantages in military strength or population but France’s power, as seen by Ferry (1897), was in the strength of its social and political institutions that upheld the law and value human life. By entering the colonial race, France would lead other nations with its own example and promote humanitarianism across the globe.


Ferry, J. F. C. (1897). Speech before the French Chamber of Deputies, In Discours et Opinions de Jules Ferry. (pp. 199-201). (R. Kleinman & J. Arkenberg, Tans.).

Power, T. F. (2014). Jules Ferry and the renaissance of French imperialism. New York, NY: King’s Crown Press.

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