Assimilation and Association in French Colonial Theory, 1890-1914

By Raymond F. Betts | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
ORIGINS AND GROWTH OF THE
FRENCH DOCTRINE OF ASSIMILATION

IN large measure the history of French colonial theory, particularly in the nineteenth century, might be written as a history of the doctrine of assimilation. Because the concept of assimilation appeared attractive to the French, it found expression as a governing principle, if not a practice, during most periods of French colonial history. Yet the idea of assimilation itself was not exclusively French; its roots can be traced back into the far reaches of European civilization.1

Although the assimilative impulse is to be found at some time among most of the conquering peoples of the West, assimilation became conspicuous as a policy, in fact if not in name, during the days of the Roman Empire. At an early date Roman expansion led to Latinization of barbarian regions, as was particularly evident in Caesar's times. Cisalpine Gaul, for instance, in 49 B.C., enjoyed as a whole political equality with Rome. And in that same year Gades, in Spain, became the first community outside of Italy not founded by the Romans to gain the privileges of the Italian municipia. The famous Constitutio Antoniana, issued in the year

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