Jules Ferry: A Defense Of French Imperialism Essay


According to Ferry, what recent developments in world trade have made it urgent for France to have colonies? What arguments against imperialism have been raised by Ferry's critics? How does he counter them? What non-economic arguments does Ferry offer in favor of imperialism?


Imperialism reemerged in the west with the birth of modern states and age of industrialization, discovery, and exploration. The term imperialism is therefore restricted to this concept of building the modern empire. As a result, colonies were established in places such as Africa, Asia, South and North America (Power, 2014). Europeans settlers immigrated to these continents with a superiority attitude thus, taking control over the natives of these regions. Jules Ferry (1832-1893) was the French Prime Minster for the duration of the Third Republic and a pious supporter of French imperialism. On March 28, 1884 he gave a speech at French Chamber of Deputies categorically highlighting his reasons to defend French imperialism (Ferry, 1897). The objective of the paper is to analyze the speech and answer specific questions which include; what recent advancement in the world trade according to Ferry which made it pressing for France to establish its colonies. Further, the paper will point out the arguments raised against Ferry by his critics and how he answers to the criticism. Lastly, the paper will focus on the non-economic arguments raised by Ferry in defense of imperialism.

According to Ferry, industrial advancement was one of the factors pressing France to establish its colonies with the intention of generating an export market for their products. The need to explore new market was necessitated by the fact that French neighbors and especially Germany had erected barriers which hindered trade free trade the two countries. To this extent, Ferry thought that the only way France could keep its economy in operation was to establish its economic and political territories (Ferry, 1897). From this argument it is, therefore, evident that France established colonies to salvage its economy but not to aid the local economies. As a result, they exploited the local natural and human resources to develop and build their industries as well as their economies (Goldberg, 2009).

Also, Ferry had observed that other Nations such as Germany and United States were exporting more products compared to France. However, these countries had implemented strategies to protect their markets hence denying France an opportunity to participate in the export market of these territories (Betts, 2010). To demonstrate that France trade with other European countries was on decline he quoted the 1860-1861 treaties on export and illustrated how these treaties had facilitated to decline of other outlets o their goods. Additionally, he also illustrates that other European countries were exporting other good such agricultural products to their country hence greater competition with the local products. Further, Ferry had become cognizant of the fact that trade and competition were diversifying beyond European boundaries.

Ferry critics led by M. Julies and De Guillotte raise genuine arguments against his defense of imperialism. Some of the arguments included questioning how Ferry would dare suggest such actions in a country that uphold and proclaim human rights. Further, his critics saw Ferry proposal as a validation of slavery and slave trade (Winnacker, 2008). His critics, therefore, held that it was unreasonable to impose commerce on a group people. In responding to his critics, Jules Ferry argues that he has a duty to impose trade upon colonies because superior races have a duty and a right to enlighten the mediocre races. To dispel the fears of justifying slavery and slave trade Ferry is quick to point out that introduction of slavery by the Spanish soldiers in Central America was a deviation from their duty as a superior race (Ferry, 1897). Instead, Ferry argues that European imperialism should be illuminated with grandeur, sincerity, and generosity of the superior races to civilize the mediocre races.

The non-economic arguments raised by Ferry in defense of imperialism was that French colonial policy was inspired by the fact that it was necessary for France Navy to operate from safe harbors, and defend themselves from supply centers located in the high seas. Hence there was need to establish colonial territories such as Madagascar, Saigon, Tunisia and Indochina (Ferry, 1897).

In conclusion, Ferry felt that his arguments to support French imperialism were valid and reasonable thus, deserved support and considerations of the Patriots. Competition and advancement from the rivals caused anxiety to Ferry that made him predict that If France were not to adopt the imperial policy, it would sink in rank in future (Halsall, 2008).


Betts, R. F. (2010). Assimilation and Association in French Colonial Theory, 1890-1914 (No.

604). University of Nebraska Press.

Ferry, J. F. C. (1897). Speech before the French Chamber of Deputies, March 28, 1884. Discours

et Opinions de Jules Ferry, trans. Ruth Kleinman and JS Arkenberg, 199-201.

Goldberg, H. (2009). French colonialism: progress or poverty?. Rinehart.

Halsall, P. (2008). Modern History Sourcebook: Jules Ferry (1832-1893): On French Colonial


Power, T. F. (2014). Jules Ferry and the renaissance of French imperialism. King's Crown Press.

Winnacker, R. A. (2008). The Third French Republic: 1870-1914. The Journal of Modern

History, 10(3), 372-409.

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