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Jules Ferry: On French Colonial Expansion Case Study

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Updated: Oct 25th, 2020

Introduction

Jules Ferry is a French politician who served during two terms as the Prime Minister of France in the times of the early Third Republic. He is known for some of the strategies that were developed at the time of his services, such as the strategy of secular education and that of France becoming a colonial empire. In fact, his name is related to the beginning of the French imperial expansion (Fitzmaurice, 2012).

His strategies were criticized by those who did not support imperialistic expansion. Nevertheless, Jules Ferry was an influential figure in the French Parliament and had a substantial impact on French foreign and domestic policies. Ferry was also famous for being a skilled speaker. One of the important historical debates he participated was about the necessity of French colonial expansion.

The Impact of World Trade Developments on France

The speech of Jules Ferry on French colonial expansion (1884) presents his ideas about the changes that were occurring in the world at that moment and his vision of France as a colonial state. Ferry justifies his imperial intentions and links the policy of colonial expansion to three sets of ideas, such as “economic ideas; the most far-reaching ideas of civilization; and ideas of a political and patriotic sort” (“Jules Ferry: On French colonial expansion (1884),” n.d., para. 1).

The ferry provided the data which justified the urgency of colonial expansion and stressed its necessity. The first reason related to world trade development he mentioned was the industrialization of European society. Ferry focused attention on the exceptional status of France as a “rich and hardworking country” (“Jules Ferry: On French colonial expansion (1884),” n.d., para. 2). The second important reason that demonstrated the necessity of colonial expansion for France was the need for new markets.

General industrial development increased the production of goods and France needed a place to export them. However, the neighboring countries, for example, Germany, had developed industries as well and could not be a place for active exports. More distant partners, such as the United States of America, had their own markets and did not welcome foreign exporters. Moreover, these countries could also enter the French market as importers. Consequently, the increased competition and the development of legislation in the sphere of trade, export of goods became a problem. Thus, Ferry introduced the colonies as a new export market and one of the ways to stimulate the development of the country’s economy.

Arguments Against Ferry’s Imperialistic Ideas

One of the major reasons to criticize Jules Ferry was his imperialistic ideas. A researcher Fitzmaurice (2012) calls him “a champion of the new imperialism” (p. 125). In one of his speeches during the Berlin Conference in 1884-1885, he announced that “the superior races have a right vis-a-vis the inferior races” (Fitzmaurice, 2012, p. 125). This statement was not supported by the audience because France was considered to be a country where “the rights of man were proclaimed” and respected (Fitzmaurice, 2012, p. 125).

Nevertheless, Ferry justified his declaration claiming that “the superior races have a right because they have a duty. They have a duty to civilize the inferior races” (Fitzmaurice, 2012, p. 125). The other reason for criticism was his neglect of the ideas of 1789 and 1848 Revolutions in France. This fact could be treated as the opportunity of return of the autocratic rule, which was not a desirable outcome for French society.

Ferry’s Non-Economic Arguments in Favor of Imperialism

Apart from economics, there were some other arguments in favor of imperialism announced by Ferry in his speech. One of these reasons was strategic and included changes in naval warfare circumstances. Ferry explained that the country needed new locations where the ships could find protection in case of any military actions and where they could be supplied with coal or food for the crews. In that way, he substantiated the necessity to keep colonies in Tunisia, Saigon, Madagascar or Indochina (“Jules Ferry: On French colonial expansion (1884),” n.d.).

Moreover, Ferry mentioned that in conditions of competition typical of Europe of that time and the surrounding rivals, “a policy of withdrawal or abstention is simply the high road to decadence” (“Jules Ferry: On French colonial expansion (1884),” n.d., para. 5). In that way, he explained the necessity to preserve colonies and provide sustainable development for France.

Conclusion

Although Jules Ferry was a controversial figure in French history, he had a significant impact on the country’s policy. The arguments with the other Republican radicals about the economic and social issues of France made his ideas popular. He contributed to the establishment of secular education in the country, which had a substantial influence on further reforms in the sphere of education and social policy. Nevertheless, he is most famous for interventions in the field of French colonial expansion. The political activity of Jules Ferry and his imperialistic ideas, which were implemented despite criticism and arguments against, had an impact on the economic, political, and social development of France.

References

Fitzmaurice, A. (2012). Liberalism and Empire in nineteenth-century international law. The American Historical Review, 117(1), 122-140.

. (n.d.). Web.

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