During the C18th, France and Britain fought for colonial possessions, Europe expanded into the rest of the world.
Post 1815 though, the lust for possession and maintenance of colonies diminished.
- By the 1860’s Britain had renounced her protectorate over the Ionian Islands, the federation of the Canadian provinces seemed a step towards friendly separation, Russia had given up its American possessions to the United States and there seemed to be a more accepting and harmonious attitude to free trade.
- Bismark in Germany remarked ‘Colonies are no more use to us than a sable fur to a Polish nobleman who has no shirt’
By the 1860’s and 1870’s though, a wind of change blew, several factors converged to make Europe look to the greater world again.
- The Industrial Revolution had spread beyond the confines of Britain, into Europe.
- Advancing techniques allowed mass production and European countries began to compete for foreign markets.
- To guard against competition from their European neighbours, countries began to close their markets by introducing tariff barriers and to seek new markets
- The fear was over production and by the end of 1870, any semblance of free trade was abandoned.
The European countries, mainly France and Germany, adopted new and aggressive policies of colonial expansion.
- Britain was forced to accept that unclaimed territories would sooner or later succumb to other European nations
- Britain adopted a policy which was, to keep others out of existing colonies and protect the route to India.
Britain wanted to avoid any further commitment in tropical Africa.
Without doubt though, the biggest push for the new colonialism was the construction of the Suez canal, opened in 1869. It had created a new highway for goods, cutting transport time and costs drastically and made new trade routes possible. Protection of the markets became more complex as competition increased. The world was changing fast and Europe needed to react quickly to exploit what it could.