Britain’s treatment of India vs their treatment of America

On friday in class, somebody asked why it was that while Britain had left the colonies alone for the most part, they generally kept very strict control over India. Although we discussed the answer somewhat, I still was not totally sure why this was. Some ideas were that they learned from their mistakes with America; one of the main reasons for the American Revolution was the sudden shift from salutary neglect to an attempt at controlling the colonists, so with India perhaps they thought it would be better to impose strict authority over the colony to begin with, in order to avoid the negative reactions that would come with a change. However, I don’t feel this completely explains their actions in India. It doesn’t seem like a strong enough reason for such a stark difference in the way things were ran. Perhaps it had to do with the characteristics of the colony itself, as India proved to be much more valuable and profitable than America was, and therefore they would have had greater interest in making sure everything went according to plan. Also, the difference could be explained that while in America the people they were responsible for governing were primarily white colonists who had previously come from Britain, in India they mostly had to deal with foreigners who could very well have been completely unfamiliar with and unwelcoming to their way of life.

What do you all think? Do you agree with my reasoning, and if not, why do you think it was that India was treated so differently than America?

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5 Responses to Britain’s treatment of India vs their treatment of America

  1. Elliot F says:

    While I do think that the example of salutary neglect in America did prompt the British government to strengthen their control over their other colonies, I do not believe that it was the main reason why they had such radically different policies towards India. During the time that this all occurred, there was a very arbitrary, yet quite pressing, sense that the territory that a nation owned or occupied was directly linked to how powerful that country was. By keeping a tight control on India, they were in effect ensuring that they remained strong and powerful in international politics. This correlation between land and power though, was not solely due to patriotic expansion, but rather that these new territories did provide for the mother country a new supply of raw materials, which the parenting nation could acquire without having to import it from a rival country. To the British, India was the physical representation of their power and influence in the world, and maintaining that territory became a top priority in the eyes of British Nationals. By controlling India, Brittian was trying to further secure its place as a dominant world figure, not just a petty country with few to none colonies.

    • Dr. K says:

      But wouldn’t all that have been true of the colonies in America during the 18th century? That they were a means to increase British power? After all, that was the fundamental goal of mercantilism.

    • Nick says:

      I agree with you Elliot that another reason was definitely the differing world climates in the two time periods regarding colonies. In the 18th century, while mildly important, there was not nearly as large of an emphasis and obsession with overseas colonies. However, there was a huge rush to claim all known land for Europeans toward the late 19th century, when Britain had control of India. I see now that this was definitely a major factor in the stricter rule of India; there was now more at stake, as if Britain didn’t hold onto India, it was very likely that one of their rival European countries would take it instead. Therefore, like you said, the measure of a country’s power and influence became very closely correlated to the amount and value of the colonies it possessed, and Britain, obviously desiring to be regarded as one of if not the most powerful countries in the world, could not miss out on the era of the New Imperialism.

      • Josh Leiner says:

        Great post Nick! While I do agree with you that the British felt compelled to monitor the Indians more closely because they were foreigners, I think that the salutary neglect of the colonies was more due to colonist loyalty. The colonist were very loyal to the British right up to the start of the revolution. In 1774, just two years before the Revolution at the first continental congress, the delegates toasted to King George. The British felt as if they did not need to keep an eye on the colonists because they trusted their “little brother.” There was no loyalty with the Indians, thus, the British felt they had to keep a closer watch. Very interesting post.

  2. Linnea says:

    I really like your reasoning behind Britain’s stricter measures in India. I agree that they were probably stricter because India was much more profitable than America and also they were dealing with foreigners as opposed to former British. I don’t think that the American Revolution would have made much difference as they had other colonies in addition to the 13 colonies.

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