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Britain in India (the Raj) to 1900

Before 1857, India had hundreds of independent states, with the British ruling less than half of India's total area. Commerce connected them somewhat. From India, Britain's manufacturers were receiving raw cotton, and the British were exporting back to India manufactured goods (one-tenth of Britain's exports were going to India.) With the introduction of rail lines, common Indians feared becoming overwhelmed by the British, and they feared that the British intended to Christianize them.


It was in the year 1857 that Indian troops serving the British rebelled — the Sepoy Mutiny — which lasted one year and six months. Violence against the British spread as landowners encouraged revolt among civilians, the landlords hoping to regain losses from land reform that the British had imposed on them. There were attacks on European civilians, with exaggerations in Britain's junk press describing the rebels as tossing British babies into the air and bayoneting them for sport. There were British women and children taken hostage at Kanpur when the rebels took control of that city, and on July 15, three days before an army under Britain's General Neill retook the city, the rebels slaughtered their hostages and threw the dismembered bodies into a deep well. Queen Victoria wrote about the horrors committed on women and children in India making "one's blood run cold."

The British public viewed their military officers serving in India as gentleman-warriors defending dignity, God's purposes and Britain's civilizing mission. There was talk of "the resolute vigor of the Anglo-Saxon race."

During the rebellion the British government took control of India from the East India Company. Britain's possessions in India were to be governed by a government-appointed viceroy and the British government's colonial office. And a more friendly policy toward the Indians was considered. Queen Victoria proclaimed her intention to preserve the rule of Indian princes in return for loyalty to the British crown. The people of India under British rule were to be British subjects, but they were promised their own governance in local affairs.

The rebellion made a stand in central India, under Tatya Tope, a Brahmin Maratha leader. He was captured and executed in April 1859, and in July the British described the rebellion as all but defeated. The British claimed that only a few thousand rebels were still in the field, men "belonging to the most guilty regiments and those which murdered their officers."

The British Expand Their "Burden"

Economic development continued. But unlike in Britain, where market risks for infrastructure development were borne by private investors, in India it was the taxpayer paying farmers and farm-laborers who endured the risks. And very little skilled employment was created for Indians. (By 1920, after sixty years of railway construction, only ten percent of the higher positions would be held by Indians.)

After 1861 the British became more enthusiastic about empire, and they annexed an additional 109,000 square miles of India's territory. In 1876, Prime Minister Disraeli pushed through Parliament the Royal Titles Act, and Queen Victoria became "Empress of India." Between 1891 and 1901 the British annexed 133,000 more square miles. These were territories divided among princes, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. But many of them were pulling together in a mutual hostility to British rule. Young people attending universities where joining in this hostility while learning the liberalism and freedom valued by the English.

In 1899, Rudyard Kipling wrote his poem "Take up the White Man's Burden:"

Take up the White Man's burden-- Send forth the best ye breed-- Go, bind your sons to exile To serve your captives' need; To wait, in heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild-- Your new-caught sullen peoples, Half devil and half child.

Britain's Conservative Party and its Liberals were embracing the ideology of imperialism, both satisfied that empire was good for commerce and that empire was producing profits rather than being a burden on the treasury. There was talk about Britain's "share in the partition of the world" and the "future of the race." The belief was widespread among the British that they were a race apart and chosen to distribute a superior civilization to other peoples.

This helped encourage a conservatism the left political leaders reluctant to do what Bismarck had been doing in Germany: regulate the hours of work, regulate working conditions and offer the social insurance. Woman's suffrage was largely a middle-class movement among a minority of intellectual women, and it was rejected. Women were not allowed to attend universities – Cambridge in particular. In Britain, social hierarchy was widely accepted across class lines.

Meanwhile, much of Britain’s investment abroad went to Latin America and North America. Manufacturing was declining in Britain relative to Germany and the United States as, according to some, British banks were focusing too much on investing abroad.

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