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British Empire mapCPs also dispersed power by publicizing colonial abuses, advocating for changes in colonial policy, and transferring ideas, skills, and networks that helped colonized people organize anticolonial and nationalist movements.

Many have suggested that the British as colonial rulers were especially adept at preparing their colonies for independence, and to remain friends with the UK. But is it the British colonial administration that caused this, or something else?

In contrast, all historically Catholic colonizers (France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Belgium) and all postcolonial Latin American states controlled religious groups in their midst. These Catholic states appointed or approved bishops, paid priests’ salaries, and excluded or severely restricted the activity of CPs. Although most historically Catholic states were led at times by anticlerical governments, anticlericals did not foster religious liberty. In the colonies, they either continued pro-Catholic/anti-Protestant policies or imposed draconian restrictions on both Protestants and Catholics.

Left to themselves British colonial administrators were no different than anyone else, neither were American ones. Their job was to make the colony profitable, not to educate the natives, to Christianize much of anyone, and if the odd chance presented itself (and it’s amazing how often it did) to enrich themselves and their friends. All of these things were evident in the first British Empire, even after the shock of losing America. But things changed, rather drastically.

In 1813, the British East India Company’s (BEIC) charter was blocked in Parliament by CP lobbying. Americans will remember the BEIC as the colossus whose tea was so heavily subsidized that it was cheaper after the tea tax than smuggled tea was. No matter, into Boston Harbor it went, we all learned to drink coffee, and the rest is history. But in 1813, the charter was blocked, if I understand the structure correctly, India was ruled by the BEIC, not the Crown, although that changed later, thus leading to Victoria becoming the Empress of India. So, losing that Charter was a big thing, without it, BEIC could not count on any cooperation from HMG, and that simply wouldn’t do.

So, a solution was found.

It would permit missionaries to enter BEIC territories, finance education for non-Europeans, and allow anyone to be involved in trade—not just employees of the monopoly BEIC (i.e., thereby initiating the beginnings of free trade in British colonies). Over time, CP lobbying further expanded education and missionaries’ independence from colonial control.

And so CP missionaries gained access to India (and by extension, all parts of the Empire).

The United States, Australia, and New Zealand instituted similar religious freedom in their colonies, but the Dutch did not. Until 1935, the Protestant Dutch controlled missionaries in their colonies. Thus I expect Dutch colonies to have similar democratic outcomes to Catholic ones.

This had major consequences, for all concerned.

Under conditions of religious liberty, nonstate missionaries were able to moderate colonial abuses because of their unique bridging position and incentives. Indigenous peoples were hurt most by colonial abuses, but had little power in colonizing states. Colonial officials, businesspeople, and settlers had the power, but benefited from the abuses and lacked incentives to fight them.

However, missionaries were different. First, many nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Protestant missionaries came from politically activist traditions. In much of Northwest Europe and in English-settler colonies (excluding slave-holding U.S. states), the Protestant missions movement was closely tied to social reform movements such as abolition and temperance. Thus many missionaries perceived societal reform as a natural extension of their faith. Second, the abuses made mission work more difficult because they angered indigenous people, turning them against Christianity, which many indigenous people associated with the colonizers. Finally, missionaries had the power to fight abuses because they wrote regularly to supporters in colonizing states. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Europeans and North Americans got most of their news about colonized territories from missionary periodicals, which encouraged people to care about distant people they otherwise could have ignored.

That’s important. The very fact that the picture of the colonials that the British, and American public got, was through the eyes of the rather sympathetic missionaries, rather than from the considerably different view from the administrators, or for that matter the army, made a huge difference in how the people were perceived.

In British and American colonies, religious liberty and private mission financing weakened officials’ ability to punish missionaries and freed missionaries to critique abuses, while popular support allowed missionaries to punish colonial officials and settlers. For example, colonial magistrates and governors were reprimanded or removed, military officials were put on trial for murder, confiscated land was returned to indigenous people, and so. Thus, Protestant missionaries spurred immediate abolitionism, as well as movements to protect indigenous land rights, prevent forced labor, and force the British to apply similar legal standards to whites and nonwhites. […]

It helped create a cocoon in which nonviolent, indigenous political movements could develop and increased the incentives for colonial officials to allow gradual democratization and decolonization. […]

Similarly, British colonial subjects received more education than those in other colonies, but Protestant missionaries initiated education for non-elites, pressured the government to fund it, and spurred others to copy their efforts. British colonies have no educational advantage once Protestant missions are statistically controlled. In turn the presence of large mission-educated populations motivated the British to hire more non-Europeans, who thereby gained skills running bureaucratic institutions prior to independence. This increased postcolonial stability and state capacity. British colonies also had a stronger civil society than other colonies, which again was fostered by CPs. In British Africa and Oceania virtually all of the early political organizations were formed by Protestants—often by Protestant ministers. Even in “Catholic” Africa, Protestants disproportionately formed political organizations

Source: The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy