Henry Wellington Wack
The Story of the Congo Free State
New York & London : Putnam 1905

Chapter X : An Appeal to Belgium to Suppress the Slave Trade (pp.126-133 )

Slavery is as ancient as war, and war as old as human nature. Upon this premise Voltaire philosophised when his thought reverted to the early inequity of human life. Christian nations were deep in the slave trade in the sixteenth century. A black cloud of human flesh, aggregating sixteen million souls, was imported into America upon Western slave dhows in three centuries, exclusive of the twenty-odd million Negroes who perished in transit. More atrocious than the pestilential slave dhow was the slaughter of blacks by the slave-raider, that fiend incarnate who until a few years ago carried on his inhuman traffic under the very gaze of Christian Europe. Indeed, Europe herself was a slave-dealer for centuries. Some of her Governments sanctioned it in terms unspeakably callous. There was little pity and less mercy in officially lading "tons of niggers" for American ports.
Late in the eighteenth century, Great Britain had championed the cause of humanity and sought a remedy for the horrible conditions which slavery entailed. The movement which, assuming definite shape about the time the Declaration of Independence, had found able and eloquent advocacy in such men as Granville Sharpe, Clarkson, Wilberforce, and William Pitt. These staunch humanitarians, after what seemed the hopeless labour of many years, finally triumphed so far as to impel the Vienna Congress of 1815 and the Verona Congress of 1822 to forbid any civilised nation to carry on the slave trade.
The next steps, also furthered by the British Government, sought to abolish the legal status of slavery and to suppress slave markets and slave dhows. The western world began to awaken to a sense of duty. In all directions the noble initiative taken by Great Britain found earnest agency. The Christian nations, now thoroughly aroused to the iniquity of the slave trade, exchanged treaties in 1841, the operation of which was designed to clear the ocean of slave transports. When shut out of the American market, it was believed that the infamous slave traffic would subside. But the scourge continued almost unabated. Driven out of the West, it flourished the more in the East, where large markets still remain open. The northern and eastern coasts of Africa continued to supply the Oriental markets, the Soudan, Upper Nile, and Congo Basin being the slave-hunter's Elysium. The Sultans of the Soudan, whose avarice knew no limit, strove in the cruellest manner to increase their spoil in this man-hunting chase. Khartoum slavers pressed into the Bahr-el-Ghazal, while Arabs from Zanzibar devastated the Manyema and Tanganyika regions. West-coast raiders had even penetrated as far inland as the Upper Kassai, and created that wretched condition of native life in the interior of the Congo Basin which impressed Livingstone, Stanley, Kirk, Bartle Frere, Nachtigall, Wissmann, Serpa Pinto, Massaia, and that great exemplar of Christianising work, Cardinal Lavagerie.
In 1876, nearly ten years before the Berlin Congress, the King of the Belgians called upon Europe to join in a concerted movement to suppress the slave traffic in Central Africa. In the same year the British Government published it's Report of the Royal Commission on Fugitive Slaves. The words of Prince Bismarck at the Berlin Conference of 1885 were an intimation of the legislation which was thereafter effected by clauses 6 and 9 of the General Act. By clause 6, the Powers agreed "to watch over the preservation of the native tribes and to care for the improvement of the conditions of their moral and material well-being, and to help in suppressing slavery and especially the slave trade." Baron Lambermont stated the distinction between slavery and the slave trade : "The slave trade", said the Baron, "has another character; it is the very denial of every law, of all social order. Man-hunting constitutes a crime of high treason against humanity. It ought to be repressed wherever it can be reached, on land as well as by sea."
It was with characteristic activity that the Sovereign of the Congo Free State had taken the initiative in making the suppression of the slave traffic an essential aim in the civilization of an African State which had not only been the source of slave supply for many markets, but whose territory touched closely upon a number of slave-dealing countries. In the eighteenth century, the nations of Europe had partitioned the coast of Africa to the French between Senegal and Gambia, to the British on the Gold and Ivory coasts, and to the Portuguese in the Angola and Benguela regions. The object of this territorial apportionment was to facilitate the slave trade and make it more profitable ! Now, in the nineteenth century, these same Governments were dividing African territory with the much loftier purpose of extirpating the slave trade. The march of a hundred years had raised European morality and justified the Christian influence of the age.
Undaunted by the material difficulty of realising the excellent theories which European nations were now offering to carry out in the very nest of the slave trade, the Congo Free State formally tacled the problem by promulgating three decrees in November, 1888. The first provided practical means for suppressing the slave trade, amongst which were measures prohibiting trade in firearms, gunpowder, and explosives; the second, seeking to protect and improve the natives, dealt with contracts of service netween natives and foreigners, and enacted laws which guaranteed the former from imposition. The third decree established a body of volunteer police to suppress crimes and offences against public order and individual liberty. Then followed the organisation of the Belgian Anti-Slavery Society which, creating a special volunteer corps, operated against the slave-raiders in the Tanganyika district. Reference has elsewhere been made to the vigorous manner in which these and similar decrees were enforced, and how the slave-raider was driven from one lair to another, until, almost unaided and alone, the indomitable energy of Belgian officers succeeded in uprooting the institution of slave traffic and opening an immense river basin to the pursuits of civilisation.
A great wave of sympathy for all enslaved races had spread throughout the civilised world. Nations heretofore indifferent to the weal of the black man in the brutal toils of the slave-raider, were actuated by a desire to cooperate with the practical forces already at work for emancipating the Dark Continent. All religions combined in the motherhood of the human race and, now thoroughly alive to the principle of human liberty, lent their support to the great cause of African civilisation. The movement, now become general throughout Europe, gained impetus in 1888 by the abolition of slavery in Brazil. In that year, Pope Leo XIII. reiterated the appeal made by Leopold II. in 1876, and besought all nations to unite in purging the page of history of a further record of the abominable crime of slave-hunting. In addressing that wonderful engine of missionary work, Cardinal Lavagerie, His Holiness pointed out the misery of "that disinherited land", and urged all who are moved by human impulse to devote their lives to "this sublime work of redemption".
The self-sacrificing work which Cardinal Lavagerie has done for the salvation of Africa will for ever be a white monument in a black wilderness. It was his appeal to the peoples of the Christian world which witnessed the first organised work of Leopold II., and it is this prelate's indefatigable industry, and his love for these savage souls of Africa, which has largely carried that work to it's present fruition. The world-wide adhesion to the cause of Christianising the Dark Continent took diplomatic shape soon after a meeting held in London on July 31, 1888, at which Lord Grenville presided. On motion of Cardinal Manning, the following resolution was adopted :

The time has now fully arrived when several nations of Europe who, at the Congress of Vienna, in 1815, and again at the Conference of Verona, in 1822, issued a series of resolutions strongly denouncing the slave trade, should take the needful steps for giving them a full and practical effect. And, inasmuch as the Arab marauders (whose murderous devastations are now depopulating Africa) are subject to no law, and under no responsible rule, it devolves on the Powers of Europe to secure their suppression throughout all territories over which they have any control. This meeting would, therefore, urge upon Her Majesty's Government, in concert with those Powers who now claim either territorial possession or territorial influence in Africa, to adopt such measures as shall secure the extinction of the devastating slave trade which is now carried on by those enemies of the human race". (Times, London, August 1st, 1888)

On October 27th, an anti-slavery convention was held at Cologne, at which the following resolutions were passed and sent to the Reichstag :

1 - The suppression of slave-hunting with it's attendant horrors, devolves upon Christian States and constitutes the primary condition of the abolition of the slave trade.
2 - While the Congo Conference obliges all the Signatory Powers to help in the suppression of slavery and the improvement of the lot of the natives, at the same time the Congo State, Portugal, Great Britain, and Germany, as being directly threatened by Arab slave-traders, are expected to take the initiative in, and to bring to a successful issue, the struggle against the slave trade.
3 - The meeting expresses the conviction that the honour of the German flag and German interests, which have been violated by Arab slave-traders in East Africa, will be avenged by the Imperial Government.
4 - It also expresses the hope that the Reichstag will support these resolutions, as a proof of the perfect agreement of the German nation without distinction of party or creed.

On November 13, the Cabinets of Berlin, London and Lisbon had agreed upon coercive measures against slave-traders on the East Coast of Africa. Meantime, on September 17, 1888, the British Government had appealed, through the Belgian Foreign Office, to King Leopold to take initiative in assembling a Conference at Brussels to consider the subject. In conveying this invitation to the King of the Belgians, the British Minister to the Belgian Court stated that :

The change which has occurred in the political condition of the African coast today calls for common action on the part of the Powers responsible for the control of the Coast. That action should tend to close all foreign slave-markets, and should also result in putting down slave-hunting in the interior.
The great work undertaken by the King of the Belgians in the constitution of the Congo State, and the lively interest taken by His Majesty in all questions affecting the welfare of the African races, lead Her Majesty's Government to hope that Belgium will be disposed to take the initiative in inviting the Powers to meet in Conference in Brussels, in order to consider the best means of attaining the gradual suppression of the slave trade on the Continent of Africa and the immediate closing of all the outside markets which the slave trade daily continues to supply.

On August 24, 1889, King Leopold deferred to this wish and called a Conference of the Powers for November 18, 1889, to determine upon a course of action for the gradual suppression of slave-hunting on the African Continent and the immediate closing of all markets supplied from that source, and "to put an end to the crimes and devastation wrought by the slave trade, and effectively to protect the native populations in Africa".
Thus, after thirteen years of arduous labour, and the vicissitudes which attend the progressive pioneer in savage lands, where the mission and the plough follow the white man's trail, the Belgians were again called upon to lead in a war against the most degrading of human conditions.

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Last revised on February 14th 2002

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