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Debate

Map of West Africa c.1840

Map of West Africa c.1840

Two distinct schools of thought emerged to explain the reduction of Lagos. The first, informed by Britain’s violent and coercive methods and its colonization of Lagos a decade later, raises doubts as to Britain’s true objectives. This school casts the reduction as a precursor to the partition of Africa; a hesitant first step in the shift of British policy from negotiation with littoral native powers to the direct coercion, intervention, and colonization that characterized Britain’s imperial century.  The second school casts it as the culmination of sixty-five years of British anti-slavery. Instead of emphasizing the means this anti-slavery school focuses on British rhetoric as well as the result – the closure of the largest remaining slave port north of the line.[1] Most scholarship is rooted in the imperial school; positing the reduction as a historical break that can only be explained by a change in British policy. In this paper, I argue that the use of force at Lagos did not constitute a break but was consistent with previous British anti-slavery actions along the African coast. Suppression of the foreign

British Expansion in Africa during their "Imperial Century."

British Expansion in Africa during their “Imperial Century.”

slave trade remained Britain’s primary foreign policy objective in West Africa. It was the aggressive pursuit of this objective applied to the particular conditions in the Bight of Benin that led to the reduction of Lagos. The variance in the tactics employed to achieve this strategic objective across the Bight is due to the convergence of and interplay between the strategic vision and philosophy held by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Viscount Palmerston; the decisions made by the men on the spot: King Gezo, Oba Kosoko, Oba Akitoye, and Consul Beecroft; and the geographic and diplomatic vulnerability of Lagos.

 

Flag of the British Lagos Colony 1862-1906. Lagos was incorporated into the British Southern Nigeria Protectorate in 1906 which then merged with the Northern Nigeria Protectorate to form the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria in 1914

Flag of the British Lagos Colony 1862-1906. Lagos was incorporated into the British Southern Nigeria Protectorate in 1906 which then merged with the Northern Nigeria Protectorate to form the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria in 1914

To learn about each of the Imperial school’s main arguments select God, Gold, or Gezo → Kosoko Pivot from the Debate sub-menu.

 

 


 Introduction | Debate (God | Gold | Gezo – Kosoko Pivot) | Alternatives to Suppression | Palmerston’s Position | John Beecroft | Lagos and Dahomey | Toward Conflict | casus belli | Appendices 


 

[1] Dated from the founding of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1787. For statistics on the slave trade see Appendix C.

 

 

 

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