The Enterprise of Colonialism

In his new e-book, Empire Integrated, Philip Stern argues that companies drove the worldwide growth of the British Empire reasonably than present a supporting position as generally accepted within the literature. What follows is an excerpt from his e-book.

“Time was,” Leone Levi noticed, additionally in 1870, “when the international and colonial commerce of the nation was, in an ideal measure, monopolised by chartered corporations, such because the Russian and the Levant, the East and the West Indies Corporations, the Hudson Bay and the African.” The Anglo-Italian economist and lawyer famous the evolution since: “All such monopolies have way back been abolished, but the reign of corporations is as undisputed as ever.” The largely unregulated area of firm formation inaugurated by repeal of the Bubble Act practically a half-century earlier had predictably led to a flood of firm promotion and, with it, rising nervousness concerning the firm “promoter,” the nineteenth century’s reply to Daniel Defoe’s “projector.” To some, he was the embodiment of capitalist enterprise; to many others, he was embodied in a determine like Montague Tigg, the ne’er-do-well of Charles Dickens’s Martin Chuzzlewit, “burnished, lacquered, newly-stamped” into Tigg Montague after refashioning himself because the promoter of a pyramid scheme within the type of an “Anglo-Bengalee Disinterested Mortgage and Life Insurance coverage Firm.”

In 1844, the identical 12 months Dickens issued his ultimate installment of the serial novel, Parliament handed the primary of what turned out to be a string of joint-stock corporations legal guidelines, culminating in (although not ceasing with) the Corporations Act of 1862. These new legal guidelines formalized important facets of what it meant to be a joint-stock firm, equivalent to limiting shareholders’ legal responsibility, and launched comparatively streamlined mechanisms for each creating an organization and “winding up,” or liquidating, one. Most significantly, these measures introduced into being a brand new workplace, the Registrar of Joint Inventory Corporations, which might superintend this new system. In concept regulated by statute and a authorities company, incorporation had now turn into a bureaucratic course of not a political one. Corporations and their promoters as soon as once more proliferated, maybe much more than in Tigg Montague’s day. After 1862, there was apparently, as Goldbury touted to the Utopians, “no schemes too nice and none too small For Companification.”

Dickens’s sardonic selection for the precise enterprise wherein Montague’s firm engaged was no accident. Firm hypothesis had thrived not solely in India however throughout the Anglophone world for the reason that 1820s and ever extra so after the appearance of the businesses acts. Nonetheless, it remained an open query how a lot the 1862 Act obtained to corporations shaped in or by colonies themselves. Thus, by way of the second half of the nineteenth century, the legislatures or governing councils of many British colonies adopted some type of corporations regulation of their very own. The East India Firm launched registration in 1850 and restricted legal responsibility in 1857; comparable measures adopted over the subsequent a long time within the Cape, Canada, Australia, and elsewhere. Together with complementary legal guidelines regulating taxation, banking, philanthropy, and trusts, the personal registered company was over the later nineteenth century enshrined in colonial regulation as a major technique of public affiliation not just for industrial corporations but additionally a variety of different types of civic enterprise, from schools and charities to chambers of commerce.

But, whereas they not wanted patents to be protected in British or colonial regulation, registered corporations might nonetheless purchase particular privileges, grants, concessions, and contracts overseas, which continued to blur if not erase the road between industrial and territorial enterprises. For instance, the mahogany logging pursuits of the British Honduras Firm, Restricted (registered 1858) led it to develop plantations and actively recruit settlers to work them; a part of its outreach was in the US the place, in competitors with two short-lived American corporations, it marketed its proposed “Townships of Coloured Folks” to entice emigrants from Black communities within the early days of the Civil Battle. The challenge faltered when the Lincoln administration failed to offer subsidies. Mockingly, the corporate recruited way more efficiently after the conflict by attractive former Accomplice troopers to settle as an alternative. The Central Argentine Land Firm, a subsidiary of the Central Argentine Railway, and the Santa Fe Land Firm equally facilitated immigration and the settlement of “agricultural colonies,” on the power of Argentine authorities grants and ensures. The 1888 Mexican Land and Colonization Firm, Restricted obtained its rights by shopping for the Connecticut-chartered Worldwide Firm of Mexico and its concessions from the Mexican authorities in Baja California, and shortly spun off a growth firm, a financial institution, and railway and telegraph corporations.

In the meantime, British charters had apparently not misplaced their worth or status both. In response to the fashionable Privy Council’s reckoning, between 1844 and 1914 the Crown authorized no less than 267 company charters to associations, simply over seventy fewer than it had within the earlier six centuries for the reason that incorporation of Cambridge College in 1231. For charities, realized societies, and different as[1]sociations, charters nonetheless supplied particular privileges, protections, and a public imprimatur, together with typically the “royal” identify; the nonetheless flourishing Royal Society of 1662 was joined by a number of others with deep connections to colonial growth: the Royal Asiatic Society (1824); the Royal Geographical Society (1859); and the Royal Colonial Society, integrated in 1882 although initially established over a decade earlier to deal with the “need [of] some medium by which we might type our scattered colonies right into a homogenous entire.” The commissions of the imperial exhibitions of 1851, 1862, and 1886 have been likewise integrated by constitution.

Regardless of the introduction of registration, charters remained interesting for a variety of abroad industrial enterprises, equivalent to joint-stock banks, mining, and steamship corporations, in addition to essentially the most globally transformative late nineteenth-century imperial enterprise of telegraphy. Between 1846 and 1856, a Parliamentary Act, a Royal Constitution, or each integrated 13 new British telegraph corporations, six of which have been concurrently registered beneath the Corporations Act. Like rail and steam, worldwide telegraph corporations known as on British authorities businesses from the Admiralty to the Submit Workplace for assist in different methods, together with subsidies, ensures, contracts, diplomatic and political backing, maritime surveys, monopoly protections, and, above all, use of their providers: by the daybreak of the 20th century, one report discovered that authorities had spent practically £3 million over time on telegraphy. Whilst these corporations turned to British charters with much less frequency after the 1860s, they nonetheless continued to depend upon agreements with colonial and international governments for rights to run traces by way of their territory, to accumulate land and different property of their very own, safety, and for different types of assist. Such agreements have been in flip usually used as leverage to extract additional backing from residence. For instance, as soon as the Purple Sea Telegraph Firm had negotiated a concession from the Ottoman Authorities to attach Alexandria to Aden and Karachi, the British Treasury appeared compelled to assist it with a 4.5 % assured return for its traders to maintain the corporate from failing; the association value the British authorities £36,000 per 12 months for a line that quickly broke and by no means despatched a single message.

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Originally posted 2023-05-20 10:00:00.