What Role Did the “Civilizing Mission” Play in the Expansion of Britain’s Empire in the 19th Century?

1920 Words Nov 29th, 2011 8 Pages
What role did the “civilizing mission” play in the expansion of Britain’s empire in the 19th century?
At the close of the 19th century Rudyard Kipling preserved the prevailing attitude of Britain’s intellectual elite in a poem - “The White Man’s Burden”. In his work Kipling confirms the hubris of a generation of Britons who were entirely convinced that they were culturally, rationally, and morally superior to the “new-caught…Half-devil and half-child” natives of the British colonies. This belief in the superiority of western values manifested in the flight of thousands of philanthropically minded Victorians across the British Empire. These emigrants consisted of a section of society driven to do their duty and fulfil the “national
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Enrolment in Trinidad's schools climbed from 2,836 in 1868 to 19,855 in 1890” and from 1868, £20,300 a year was being spent on promoting Christianity in the West Indies. (Patterson Smith, 1995: 260/264) This increased effort was due to the realisation that religion could be used as a “tool of social order” and social order was essential if any profit was to be made through trade. For only if the “very large bodies of dark labourers" could be induced to "work willingly under a few European supervisors”” was trade possible. (The Economist 23 (December 1865): 1487-89, cited in Patterson Smith, 1995: 259)
It is clear then that a key role of the “civilizing mission” was to aid British expansion by ensuring the co-operation of the empire’s indigenous people. However, some would argue that the main role the “civilizing mission” played in aiding expansion was to ensure politicians had the necessary domestic support for imperialism.
Evidence for this comes in the form of a speech made by the colonial secretary, Joseph Chamberlain. In 1895 Chamberlain admitted that crown colonies were “no longer a source of revenue” but argued that there was a justifiable reason for occupation. His words were that:
“In carrying out this work of civilization we are fulfilling what I believe to be our national mission, and we are finding scope for the exercise of these faculties and qualities which have made of us a great governing race.” (Chamberlain, 1895)
It is arguable that
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