This article explores the role played by French Algeria in British imperial thinking during the middle decades of the nineteenth century. It argues that British commentators developed a remarkably stable vision of contemporary French colonial enterprise as unprogressive, incapable, authoritarian and militaristic, as well as harmful to French domestic politics. The explanations they offered for the miscarriage of France’s colonial project in Algeria cast light on mid-nineteenth-century British imperial thinking, throwing into relief the qualities and policies which were believed to make modern British imperial rule uniquely successful. The article contends that analysis of other European countries’ colonial projects contributed importantly to a domestic political culture which defined itself in significant part through contrasts with the Continent.

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