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British public opinion and the rise of imperialist sentiment in relation to expansion in Africa, 1880-1900

By Patricia Knight


The thesis traces the rise of popular Imperialist sentiment, which developed via Conservative clubs and fringe groups such an the Primrose League. Pressure for expansion reached a peak, in the Sudan campaign of 1884-5 and the mass eulogy of General Gordon. An uninhibited and aggressive belief in expansion overlapped with jingoism which reached a height during the Boer War with violently patriotic displays.\ud \ud Humanitarian pressure groups such as the Anti-Slavery Society and the Missions were important in the development of an Imperialist position. Humanitarians demanded the annexation of East/Central Africa and Uganda in order to put an end to the slave trade, to help the spread of Christianity or to provide benefits for the native population. The agitation for the retention of Uganda in 1892, wan largely organised by the Church Missionary Society.\ud \ud Commercial arguments for expansion played only a minor part in public opinion; though a small group of chartered company promoters and African enthusiasts were thinking in terms of now markets and raw materials. But popular Imperialism was best defined as an expreasion of nationalism and hostility to foreigners, culminating in aggressively militaristic stands over certain issues, - notable the Sudan campaign of 1884-5, Fashoda in 1898 and the Boer War 1899-1900.\ud \ud The strongent opposition to expansion in Africa came from Nonconformists and Gladstonian Radicals or Socialists. This did not always imply hostility towards all Empire however; the Empire of the self-governing colonies and respectable dependencies was widely accepted by 1900, and even expansion was not opposed on principle so much as on the merits of each individual case.\ud \ud The intervention of the Liberal Government in Egypt and the Sudan in 1882-5 helped to reconcile a number of Liberals to interference in Africa. There was a noticable absence of opposition to the annexation of Uganda and of the Sudan in 1898, Nonconformists and Liberals made a strong stand against the impending Boer war of 1899, but after war broke out the opposition disintegrated, - Socialists and Gadstonian Nonconformists had little in common apart from dislike of the war.\ud \ud The period thus shows an erosion of Liberal anti-Imperialism. Liberals who started in the full flush of Midlothian opposition to Disraelian Foreign Policy, began to absorb a Good many imperialist assumptions by the end of the century

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