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John Stuart Mill’s…

John Stuart Mill’s justification for British rule in India is well known. Less well known and discussed are Mill’s extensive writings on the practice of British rule in India. A close engagement with Mill’s writings on this issue shows Mill was a much more uncertain and anxious imperialist than he is often presented to be. Mill was acutely aware of the difficulties presented by the imperial context in India, he identified a number of very demanding conditions that would have to be met if Britain’s imperial mission was to be successful, and he was very troubled by the dangers posed to this mission from politics in Britain. Towards the end of his life Mill become much more pessimistic about the progressive possibilities of British colonialism, in part because of what he thought had happened after the transfer of British rule from the East India Company to the British state. A focus Mill’s arguments about the practice of British rule in India goes some way to providing a more nuanced account of what Mill thought about colonialism.

In the House of Commons in 1867, Mill said he had been ‘disgusted’ by the ‘inhuman and ferocious displays of feeling’ evident among the British public during the Mutiny, and he condemned the ‘deeds there done of inhuman and indiscriminate massacre’ . At the same time Mill expressed considerable concern about the fate of the Maori people if New Zealand had an independent government: ‘knowing what the English are, when they are left alone with what they think of as an inferior race, I cannot reconcile myself to this’. Mill was also a founder member and Chair of the Jamaica Commission set up to investigate Governor Eyre’s response to unrest in 1865. As Mill said, the disturbance in Jamaica ‘had been the motive or excuse for taking hundreds of innocent lives … with many added atrocities of destruction of property, flogging of women as well as men and a great display of the brutal recklessness which generally prevails when fire and sword are let loose’

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