- This article refers to a colony in politics and history. For alternate meanings of colony, see colony (disambiguation).
In politics and in history, a colony is an administrative unit under the control of a geographically- distinct entity, usually an autonomous state. The term "informal colony" is used by some historians to describe a country which is under the de facto control of another state, although this description is often contentious.
In the modern usage, colony is generally distinguished from oversea possession. In the former case, the local population, or at least the part of it not coming from the "metropolitan" (controlling) country, does not enjoy full citizenship rights. The political process is generally restricted, especially excluding questions of independence. In this case, there are settlers from a dominating foreign country, or countries, and often the property of indigenous peoples is seized, to provide the settlers with land. Foreign mores, religions and/or legal systems are imposed. In some cases, the local population is held for unfree labour, is submitted to brutal force, or even to policies of genocide.
By contrast, in the case of overseas possessions, citizens are formally equal, regardless of origin and it is possible for legal independence movements to form; should they gain a majority in the oversea possession, the question of independence may be brought, for instance, to referendum. However, in some cases, settlers have come to outnumber indigenous people in overseas possessions, and it is possible for colonies to become overseas possessions, against the wishes of indigenous peoples. This often results in ongoing and long-lasting independence struggles by the descendants of the original inhabitants.
Colony may also be used for countries that, while independent or considering themselves independent of a former colonizing power, still have a political and social structure where the rulers are a minority originating from the colonizing power. Such was the case with Rhodesia after the Unilateral Declaration of Independence.
The term informal colony has also been used in relation to countries which, while they have never been conquered by force or officially ruled by a foreign power, have a clearly subordinate social or economic relationship to that power.
Originally, as with the ancient (Hellenic) Greek apoikia, the term colonization referred to the foundation of a new city or settlement, more often than not with nonviolent means (but see for instance the Athenian re-colonisation of Melos after wiping out the earlier settlement). The term colony is derived from the Latin colonia, which indicated a place meant for agricultural activities; these Roman colonies and others like them were in fact usually either conquered so as to be inhabited by these workers, or else established as a cheap way of securing conquests made for other reasons. The name of the German city Cologne also derives from colonia. In the modern era, communities founded by colonists or settlers became known as settler colonies.
The "age of imperialism" began in the 15th century with the initiation of the vast Spanish Empire in the Americas and lasted until the mid-20th century with the dismantling of the British Empire. During these centuries European states, the United States and others took political control of much of the world's population and landmass. The term "colony" came to mean an overseas district with a majority indigenous population, administered by a distant colonial government. (Exceptions occurred: Russian colonies in Central Asia and Siberia, American settlements in the American West, and German colonies in Eastern Europe were not "overseas"; British colonies (or "overseas territories") like the Falkland Islands and Tristan da Cunha lacked a native population.) Most non-European countries were colonies of Europe at one time or another, or were handled in a quasi-colonial manner. The European colonies and former colonies in America made extensive use of slave labor, initially using the native population, then through the importation of slaves from black Africa.
The Spanish colonial empire once encompassed all of South and Central America except for Brasil, with few exceptions; it crumbled starting in the early 19th century. In the 19th century, the largest European colonial empire was the British Empire under Queen Victoria, including India. France once held much of Western and Central Africa, along with Indochina.
There existed various statuses and modes of operation for foreign countries, direct control by the colonizing country being the most obvious. Some colonies were operated through corporations (the British East India Company for India; the Congo Free State under the very brutal rule of Leopold II of Belgium); some were run as protectorates. Quasi-colonies were run through proxy or puppet governments, generally kingdoms or dictatorships. For instance, it may be argued that Cuba before the Revolution was a quasi-colony of the United States, with an enormous influence of US economic and political interests; see banana republic.
The United Kingdom used Australia as a penal colony: British convicts would be sent to forced labor there, with the added benefit that the freed convicts would settle in the colony and thus augment the European population there. Similarly, France once deported prostitutes and various "undesirables" to populate its colonies in North America, and until the 20th century operated a penitenciary on Devil's Island in French Guiana.
The independence of these colonies began with that of 13 colonies of Britain that formed the United States, finalised in 1783 with the conclusion of a war begun in 1776, and has continued until about the present time, with for example Algeria and East Timor being relinquished by European powers only in 1962 and 1975 respectively (although the latter was forcibly made an Indonesian possession instead of becoming fully independent). This process is called decolonization, though the use of a single term obscures an important distinction between the process of the settler population breaking its links with the mother country while maintaining local political supremacy and that of the indigenous population reasserting themselves (possibly through the expulsion of the settler population).
The movement towards decolonization was not uniform, with more newer powers, sometimes themselves ex-colonies or once threatened by colonial power, trying to carve a colonial empire. The United States, itself a former colony, expanded westwards by waging brutal wars against the Native American population, including whole massacres of civilians, so as to make it possible for settlers to colonize the American West. It also colonized Hawaii, and waged various wars and conduct armed expeditions so as to assert power over local governments (in Japan, with Commodore Perry and in Cuba, for example). European countries and the United States, exploiting the weakness of China's waning imperial regime, also maintained so-called international concessions in that country, a sort of colonial enclave; the coastal towns of Macau and Hong Kong were held on long-term leases by Portugal and the United Kingdom. During the first half of the 20th century, until its defeat the Second World War, Japan, once afraid of becoming a European or American colony, built itself a colonial empire in China, Korea and the Western Pacific, using brutal military force.
Decolonization is not an easy matter in colonies where a large population of settlers lives, particularly if they have been there for several generations. This population, in general, may have to be repatriated, often losing considerable property. For instance, the decolonization of Algeria by France was particularly uneasy due to the large European and Sephardic Jewish population, which largely left to France when Algeria became independent. In Zimbabwe, former Rhodesia, dictator Robert Mugabe has, starting in the 1990s, chosen to target white farmers and forcefully seize their property. In some cases, decolonization is hardly possible or impossible because of the importance of the settler population and where the indigenous population is now in the minority; such is the case of the United States, Australia and, to a lesser extent, New Zealand.
Under the Geneva Conventions of 1949, it is a war crime to transfer, directly or indirectly, the civilian population of a country power onto land under that country's military occupation. The reasoning for this crime is apparently to emphasise that it is now a violation of international law to annex territory through military force. This phrase describes many of acts of colonisation in the past, and arguably outlaws colonisation.
See also: British Empire, Spanish Empire, French colonial empire, Colonialism, Colonial mentality,Colonization, British Nationality Law, Slavery, Imperialism, New Imperialism, settler.
Compare protectorate, Crown colony, dominion.
The Latin name colonia also became the name of several towns, the most famous of which is Cologne.
Colonies in ancient civilizations (examples)
See also Colonies in antiquity
Recent colonies (examples)
Today, none of the colonizing European and North American powers hold colonies in the traditional sense of the term. Some of their former colonies have been integrated as dependent areas or have closer integration with the country.