In 1867, Britain united most of its North American colonies as the Dominion of Canada, giving it self-government and responsibility for its internal affairs. Britain handled foreign policy and defence.
The second half of the 19th century saw a huge expansion of Britain’s colonial empire in Asia. In the “Scramble for Africa” the boast was having the Union Jack flying from “Cairo to Cape Town.” Britain defends its empire with the world’s dominant navy, and a small professional army. It was the only power in Europe to have no conscription.
The rise of the German Empire after 1871 posed a new challenge, for it (along with the United States) threatened to take Britain’s place as the world’s foremost industrial power. Germany acquired a number of colonies in Africa and the Pacific, but Chancellor Otto von Bismarck succeeded in achieving general peace through his balance of power strategy. When William II became emperor in 1888, he discarded Bismarck, began using bellicose language, and planned to build a navy to rival Britain’s.
Ever since Britain took control of South Africa from the Netherlands in the Napoleonic Wars, it did run afoul of the Dutch settlers who further away had created two republics of their own. The British imperial vision called for control over the new countries and the Dutch-speaking “Boers” (or “Afrikaners”) fought back in the War in 1899–1902. Outgunned by a mighty empire, the Boers waged a guerrilla war, which gave the British regulars a difficult fight, but weight of numbers, superior equipment, and often brutal tactics eventually brought about a British victory. The war had been costly in human rights and was widely criticised by Liberals in Britain and worldwide. However, the United States gave its support. The Boer republics were merged into Union of South Africa in 1910; it had internal self-government but its foreign policy was controlled by London and was an integral part of the British Empire.
Free trade imperialism
Britain in addition to taking control of new territories, developed an enormous power in economic and financial affairs in numerous independent countries, especially in Latin America and Asia. It lent money, built railways, and engaged in trade. The Great London Exhibition of 1851 clearly demonstrated Britain’s dominance in engineering, communications and industry; that lasted until the rise of the United States and Germany in the 1890s.
In 1890–1902 under Salisbury Britain promoted a policy of Splendid isolation with no formal allies.
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