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The Pioneer

A Chapter Which Provides Some Amount of Political Information

We address some of the history of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Many things happened during this period, but very little occurred which at the time seemed to be of paramount importance. The majority of the greater powers ceased to be mere political agencies and became large business enterprises. They built railroads. They founded and subsidized steamship lines to all parts of the world. They connected their different possessions with telegraph wires. And they steadily increased their holdings in other continents.

Every available bit of African or Asiatic territory was claimed by one of the rival powers. France became a colonial nation with interests in Algiers and Madagascar and Annam and Tonkin (in eastern Asia). Germany claimed parts of southwest and east Africa, built settlements in Cameroon on the west coast of Africa and in New Guinea and many of the islands of the Pacific, and used the murder of a few missionaries as a welcome excuse to take the harbour of Kasochau on the Yellow Sea in China. Italy tried her luck in Abyssinia, was disastrously defeated by the soldiers of the Negus, and consoled herself by occupying the Turkish possessions in Tripoli in northern Africa. Russia, having occupied all of Siberia, took Port Arthur away from China. Japan, having defeated China in the war of 1895, occupied the island of Formosa and in the year 1905 began to lay claim to the entire empire of Corea.

In the year 1883 England, the largest colonial empire the world has ever seen, undertook to "protect" Egypt. She performed this task most efficiently and to the great material benefit of that much neglected country, which ever since the opening of the Suez canal in 1868 had been threatened with a foreign invasion. During the next thirty years she fought a number of colonial wars in different parts of the world and in 1902 (after three years of bitter fighting) she conquered the independent Boer republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. Meanwhile she had encouraged Cecil Rhodes to lay the foundations for a great African state, which reached from the Cape almost to the mouth of the Nile, and had faithfully picked up such islands or provinces as had been left without a European owner.

The shrewd king of Belgium, by name Leopold, used the discoveries of Henry Stanley to found the Congo Free State in the year 1885. Originally this gigantic tropical empire was an "absolute monarchy." But after many years of scandalous mismanagement, it was annexed by the Belgian people who made it a colony (in the year 1908) and abolished the terrible abuses which had been tolerated by this very unscrupulous Majesty, who cared nothing for the fate of the natives as long as he got his ivory and rubber.

As for the United States, they had so much land that they desired no further territory. But the terrible misrule of Cuba, one of the last of the Spanish possessions in the western hemisphere, practically forced the Washington government to take action. After a short and rather uneventful war, the Spaniards were driven out of Cuba and Puerto Rico and the Philippines, and the two latter became colonies of the United States.

This economic development of the world was perfectly natural. The increasing number of factories in England and France and Germany needed an ever increasing amount of raw materials and the equally increasing number of European workers needed an ever increasing amount of food. Everywhere the cry was for more and for richer markets, for more easily accessible coal mines and iron mines and rubber plantations and oil-wells, for greater supplies of wheat and grain.

The purely political events of the European continent dwindled to mere insignificance in the eyes of men who were making plans for steamboat lines on Lake Victoria in Africa or for railroads through the interior of Shandong province in China. They knew that many European questions still remained to be settled, but they did not bother, and through sheer indifference and carelessness they bestowed upon their descendants a terrible inheritance of hate and misery. For untold centuries the southeastern corner of Europe had been the scene of rebellion and bloodshed. During the seventies of the last century the people of Serbia and Bulgaria and Montenegro and Roumania were once more trying to gain their freedom and the Turks (with the support of many of the western powers), were trying to prevent this.
The Conquest of the West

After a period of particularly atrocious massacres in Bulgaria in the year 1876, the Russian people lost all patience. The Government was forced to intervene just as President McKinley was obliged to go to Cuba and stop the shooting squads of General Weyler in Havana. In April of the year 1877, the Russian armies crossed the Danube, stormed the Shipka pass, and after the capture of Plevna, marched southward until they reached the gates of Constantinople. Turkey appealed for help to England. There were many English people who denounced their government when it took the side of the Sultan. But British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (who had just made Queen Victoria Empress of India and who loved the picturesque Turks while he hated the Russians who were brutally cruel to the Jewish people within their frontiers) decided to interfere. Russia was forced to conclude the peace of San Stefano (1878) and the question of the Balkans was left to a Congress which convened at Berlin in June and July of the same year.

This famous conference was entirely dominated by the personality of Disraeli. Even Bismarck feared the clever old man with his well-oiled curly hair and his supreme arrogance, tempered by a cynical sense of humor and a marvellous gift for flattery. At Berlin the British prime-minister carefully watched over the fate of his friends the Turks. Montenegro, Serbia and Roumania were recognized as independent kingdoms. The principality of Bulgaria was given a semi-independent status under Prince Alexander of Battenberg, a nephew of Tsar Alexander II. But none of those countries were given the chance to develop their powers and their resources as they would have been able to do, had England been less anxious about the fate of the Sultan, whose domains were necessary to the safety of the British Empire as a bulwark against further Russian aggression.

To make matters worse, the congress allowed Austria to take Bosnia and Herzegovina away from the Turks to be "administered" as part of the Habsburg domains. It is true that Austria made an excellent job of it. The neglected provinces were as well managed as the best of the British colonies, and that is saying a great deal. But they were inhabited by many Serbians. In older days they had been part of the great Serbian empire of Stephan Dushan, who early in the fourteenth century had defended western Europe against the invasions of the Turks and whose capital of Uskub had been a center of civilization one hundred and fifty years before Columbus discovered the new lands of the west. The Serbians remembered their ancient glory as who would not? They resented the presence of the Austrians in two provinces, which, so they felt, were theirs by every right of tradition.

And it was in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, that the archduke Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, was murdered on June 28 of the year 1914. The assassin was a Serbian student who had acted from purely patriotic motives.

But the blame for this terrible catastrophe which was the immediate, though not the only cause of the Great World War did not lie with the half-crazy Serbian boy or his Austrian victim. It must be traced back to the days of the famous Berlin Conference when Europe was too busy building a material civilization to care about the aspirations and the dreams of a forgotten race in a dreary corner of the old Balkan peninsula.


Study the lesson for one week.

Over the week:

  • Read and/or listen to the lesson.
  • Review the synopsis.
  • Study the vocabulary terms.
  • Complete the enrichment activities.
  • Answer the review questions.


In the late 1800s and early 1900s, large business enterprises began amassing power and making progress including building factories and railroads, founding steamship lines, and running telegraph wires. By this time, all territories in Africa and Asia were claimed. Some countries in southeast Europe continued to struggle for freedom, and a Congress in Berlin in 1878 was held to settle differences between European countries, Turkey, and Russia. In 1914, the archduke Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, was assassinated by a Serbian student. The assassination was a contributing factor in the outbreak of World War I.


Tercentenary: The 300th anniversary of an event.
Telegraph: An apparatus, or a process, for communicating rapidly between distant points, especially by means of established visible or audible signals representing words or ideas, or by means of words and signs, transmitted by electrical means.
Bulwark: A defensive wall or rampart.
World War I: The war from 1914 to 1918 between the Entente Powers of the British Empire, Russian Empire, France, Italy, the United States and other allied nations, against the Central Powers represented by the German Empire, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria.


Activity 1: Narrate the Lesson

  • After you read the lesson, narrate the lesson aloud using your own words.

Activity 2: Study the Lesson Picture(s)

  • Study the lesson picture(s) and describe how they relate to the lesson.

Activity 3: Map the Lesson

  • Find Egypt, Madagascar, and Cameroon on the map of Africa.
  • Find Egypt, Madagascar, and Cameroon on the map of the world.

Activity 4: Complete Copywork, Narration, Dictation, and Coloring   

Click the crayon above. Complete page 54 of 'World History Activities for Fourth Grade.'


Question 1

What were some of the accomplishments of large business enterprises in the late 1800s and early 1900s?
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Answer 1

Large business enterprises built factories and railroads, founded steamship lines, and ran telegraph wires.
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Question 2

Where was the Congress held in 1878?
2 / 3

Answer 2

The Congress in 1878 was held in Berlin.
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Question 3

To which international war did the assassination of the archduke Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne contribute?
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Answer 3

The assassination of the Austrian archduke Ferdinand was a contributing factor to the outbreak of World War I.
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  1. What were some of the accomplishments of large business enterprises in the late 1800s and early 1900s? Large business enterprises built factories and railroads, founded steamship lines, and ran telegraph wires.
  2. Where was the Congress held in 1878? The Congress in 1878 was held in Berlin.
  3. To which international war did the assassination of the archduke Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne contribute? The assassination of the Austrian archduke Ferdinand was a contributing factor to the outbreak of World War I.