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Nicholson, A Project of Empire, A Critical Study of the Economics of Imperialism, With Special Reference to the Ideas of Adam Smith

Nicholson, A Project of Empire, A Critical Study of the Economics of Imperialism, With Special Reference to the Ideas of Adam Smith

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The general advantages to Europe have been un-

doubted ; but when we come to the peculiar and

special advantages which each nation might have

been expected to derive from the possession of

colonies and dependencies the case is altered.

It is this part of the treatment of colonial policy

which has a vital interest at the present time.


The common advantages which every empire

derives from the provinces subject to its dominion

consist, first, in the military force which they furnish

for its defence ; and secondly, in the revenue which

they furnish for the support of its civil government.

The Roman colonies furnished occasionally both the

one and the other. The Greek colonies sometimes

furnished a military force, but seldom any revenue.

They seldom acknowledged themselves subject to the

dominion of the mother city. They were generally

her allies in war, but very seldom her subjects in

peace." But when we come to the colonies of Euro-

pean nations in modern times we find that they have

never yet furnished any military force for the defence

of the mother country. The military force has never

yet been sufficient for their own defence ; and in the

difi'erent wars in which the mother countries have been




engaged the defence of their colonies has generally-

occasioned a very considerable distraction of the

military force of those countries. In this respect,

therefore, all the European colonies have without

exception been a cause rather of weakness than of

strength to their respective mother countries." So

much for the increase of military power. As regards

revenue, "the colonies of Spain and Portugal only-

have contributed any revenue towards the defence of

the mother country or the support of her civil govern-

ment. The taxes which have been levied on those of

other European nations—upon those of England in

particular—have seldom been equal to the expense

laid out upon them in time of peace, and never

sufficient to pay that which they occasioned in time

of war. Such colonies, therefore, have been a source

of expense and not of revenue to their respective

mother countries."

As is shown at the conclusion of Book V., in the

two wars against Spain and France, the American

colonies cost Great Britain much more than double

the sum which the national debt amounted to before

the commencement of the first of them (1739). "


it not been for those wars the debt might and probably

would by this time (l 776) have been completely paid ;

and had it not been for the colonies the former of

these wars might not, and the latter certainly would

not, have been undertaken." This short commentary

has been developed in Seeley's popular essay on the

Expansion of England, and it is hardly necessary to

point out, with the South African addition to the




national debt still unpaid, tliat it is the colonies and

dependencies which still form the great source of

expense to Great Britain. At the conference of

colonial premiers in London in 1897 Mr. Chamberlain,

as Colonial Secretary, is officially reported as saying



You will find that every war, great or small, during

the reign of Victoria, in which we have been engaged

has had at bottom a colonial interest, that is to say,

either of a colony or of a great dependency like Lidia.

This is absolutely true, and is likely to remain true

to the end of the chapter. If we had no empire there

is no doubt that our military and naval resources

would not require to be maintained at anything like

the present level." ^

Eeverting to the main argument of Adam Smith,

it is clear that when he wrote the great colonising

nations of Europe, and notably England, had gained

nothing either in military strength or in revenue

from the possession of colonies, but on the contrary

had suffered loss and accumulated debt.

§ 9. Supposed Advantage of the Monopoly of

the Colonial Trade examined.

But at that time it was firmly believed that each

particular colonising country had gained a special

and peculiar advantage from the monopoly of its

colonial trade.

The greater part of the remainder of Adam Smith's

chapter on colonies is devoted to an examination of

this contention ; and the general result of the examina-


JReport of Proceedings, C—8596.




tion is that this boasted monopoly had itself also been

a source of loss to the mother country on the whole.

England, for example, in Adam Smith's opinion had,

it is true, by the maintenance of the monopoly against

foreign countries gained over them a certain relative

advantage in that branch of commerce ; but his main

point is that, in securing this relative advantage, an

absolute advantage of greater magnitude had been


The revolt and subsequent separation of the

American colonies was the beginning of the total

abandonment of the monopoly of the colonial trade,

and in the course of time the self-governing colonies

have acquired the right, and exercised it, of imposing

protective duties against the mother country.^ The

absolute change in policy is shown specially in the

case of manufactures. Under the old system the

colonies, with few exceptions, were not even allowed

to manufacture for themselves if they had the means

or the inclination ; they were regarded as the great

closed market for the manufacturers of the home

country. At the present time the manufactures of

the mother country are subject to very heavy import

duties, and the utmost relaxation consists in a pre-

ferential duty as compared with nations politically


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