Guest post by tf
The book Tropical Colonization: An Introduction to the Study of the Subject by Alleyne Ireland (New York: Macmillan, 1899) uses the term “subject” in its title without irony. The United States had recently taken possession of Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. Before then, “The American people [had] never been interested in tropical colonization, because they have never had any reason to be interested in it.” (p. v). Ireland set out to remedy the situation.
The essential questions in regard to tropical colonization appear to me to be these:-
How to govern a tropical colony.
How to obtain the reliable labor absolutely necessary for the successful development of a tropical colony.
What does the possession of tropical colonies amount to from the standpoint of the sovereign state?
Regarding how to govern, Ireland admires the Dutch administration in Indonesia (referred to by Ireland as Java). There, “it has been possible to utilize the natives of high rank as regents” (p. 83).
The regents surround themselves with a great deal of form and ceremony, and as their salaries are large and the enjoyment of their rank dependent on the will of the government, they can be relied on to carry out orders. Under this system the natives are not made to feel the foreign yoke.
As for obtaining reliable labor, Ireland continues in his admiration of the Dutch, with a chapter entitled “Solution of the Labor Problem by the Dutch,” describing the “culture-system” (p. 216).
The general principles of the culture-system were these. All land belonged to the government, and was given out for cultivation on the condition that of all produce four-fifteenths should be paid to the government. …
Behind this system lay the corvée or liability of the people to render a certain amount of free service to the government in each year. The amount of such service varied between fifty and seventy-five days a year.
By utilizing this forced labor the Dutch covered the island with excellent roads and erected handsome public edifices. …
The condition of the agricultural classes in Java compares very favorably with that of the same classes in India; and this has been attributed by writers to the fact that under the Dutch system there exist no landlords and middlemen to send up the rental of land.
Where Ireland falls short is on the third question, with a chapter of just nine pages on “The Colonial Problem of the United States.” However, he does have the following to say (p. 226).
Of this there can be no doubt, that, as with individuals, a statesman, a physician, a pianist, a lawyer, cannot be made in a day, so with nations, the ability to administer and control colonies cannot spring up in a night, but must proceed from earnest study and sincere endeavor long continued.