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



Chapter XI : The Second Brussels Conference (pp.134-144 )


The zealous labours of Cardinal Lavigerie, Archbishop of Algiers, who had founded the Mission of the White Fathers in 1878 to convert the Soudan and the Congo regions to Christianity, had always been generously supported by the personal munificence of King Leopold. The rescript issued to this devoted and untiring apostle by Pope Leo XIII. had inaugurated endeavours on behalf of civilisation unexcelled in any colony in the world. King Leopold's earnest and generous encouragement of this evangelistic work equalled the broad-minded and hopeful manner in which he supported Stanley and others in their early expeditions through the unknown forests of the Congo. There was, therefore, a sympathetic tie between His Holiness, the King, and the Cardinal in the world's task in Congoland.
Early in 1888 Cardinal Lavigerie visited Belgium, and, being convinced by his long African experience of the necessity for an organised anti-slavery crusade, opened a campaign in the Brussels Cathedral which, by it's popular interest, carried him to many parts of Europe. The eloquence of this truly great prelate was born of that deep sympathy for the African black derived from his intimate knowledge in those parts of the Congo Basin where, for many practical reasons, the Belgians had not penetrated with their work and influence. The Cardinal exhorted the Belgians, first of all, to support and emulate their King, who, he said : "would open before you a country seventy times as large as your own - an immense field for the spread of your religion and for charity .... You have not given to the struggle with barbarism all the assistance that was incumbent upon you".
To the avowed support given by his Majesty to the movement which the Cardinal's numerous sermons inspired, may largely be attributed the Belgian campaigns against the Arab slave-raiders which the Brussels Conference of the following year urged upon the interested Powers.
The hundred admirable articles of the General Act of the Conference do not all concern the reader. Their general purpose, already indicated in a previous chapter, was the suppression of the slave trade, the protection of the natives, and the provision of revenue from import duties wherewith to maintain a practical executive to accomplish both aims.
The Conference convened on November 18, 1889, and held the last of it's thirty-three sessions on the July 2, 1890. The King of the Belgians had again welcomed the representatives of all the Powers party to the Berlin Act. Persia, having meantime adhered yo that Act, was also represented. The Prince de Chimay, Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs, presided at the formal opening of the Conference. At it's first session, Baron Lambermont was unanimously elected to preside over it's deliberations. His able associate at Berlin, M. Emile Banning, also represented Belgium at this Conference, while Baron van Eetvelde, for many years devoted to it's moral and material development, represented the Congo Free State. Chief among other distinguished representatives were Count von Alvensleben for Germany, M. Bouree for France, Lord Vivian and Sir John Kirk for Great Britain, Mr. Terrell, Minister at Brussels, for the United States, and Prince Ourroussof and Professor Martens for Russia.
Foremost in the work of framing a proposed Act, under which the Congo Free State inherited great responsibility and a tremendous task, were the Belgian representatives. The other interested Powers pledged themselves to join, each in it's own territory, in the anti-slavery campaign which the Act prescribed. Briefly stated, the signatories to the General Act of this Conference declared that they were "animated by the firm intention of putting an end to the crimes and devastation engendered by the traffic in African slaves, of protecting effectually the aboriginal populations of Africa, and of insuring for that vast continent the benefits of peace and civilisation."
The first article, relating to effective methods of suppressing slave-raiding in the Congo Basin, was divided into seven sections :

The first provided for the progressive organisation of administrative, judicial, religious, and military services - in fact, the whole machinery of government. The second remedy was to be the gradual establishment in the interior of strong protective and repressive stations. The third clause provided for the construction of roads and railroads, so that human porterage might be ended. The fourth, for the placing of steamers on the lakes and inland waters. The fifth, for the laying down of telegraph lines. And the sixth, for the organisation of expeditions by moveable columns. While these clauses were of an active character, the seventh came under the head of prohibition. It provided for restriction in the import of firearms, and especially of modern rifles and ammunition, within the whole extent of the territory affected by the slave trade. The General Act only provided for the restriction in the import of firearms; but the King, in the administrative decree, applying it's provisions to the Congo State, interdicted the importation, traffic, and transport of all rifles, as well as of powder, bullets, and cartridges. The same decree imposed severe penalties on those who in any way violated these regulations.
The second article of the Act laid down that "the stations and the interior cruisers shall have for their object the prevention of the capture of slaves, and the interception of the routes of transit. They shall extend their efficacious protection over all the dependent populations within the range of their authority, by prohibiting intestine war, and by initiating them into agricultural labour. They will assist commerce, verifying labour contracts; they will aid the missions, and they will organise a sanitary service." (Boulger, The Congo State, 1898)


The second article, recognising the duty of the Powers to prevent slave-raiding in the territory under their control, adopted, amongst others, the following prescription :

To support and, if necessary, to serve as a refuge for the native populations; to place those under their sovereignty in a position to cooperate for their own defence; to diminish intertribal wars by means of arbitration; to initiate the natives in agricultural pursuits and industrial arts, so as to increase their welfare; to raise them by civilisation and bring about the extinction of barbarous customs, such as cannibalism and human sacrifices; and, in giving aid to commercial enterprises, to watch over their legality, controlling especially the contracts for service entered into with natives.

The third and fourth articles contained the pledge of all the interested Powers to assist in enforcing these commendable provisions for the betterment of the black races in Africa. The succeeding apathy of the Powers in no wise abated the energy of the Congo Free State in it's heroic effort to realise for civilisation the views which Belgian statesmen had largely inspired at the Conference. The Belgian campaigns against the Arabs, briefly narrated in succeeding chapters, were only one phase of those multiform difficulties which beset the pioneer in savage lands where the heralds of civilisation find it necessary to suppress the old and impose a new order of life upon untutored human beings.
The second chapter referred, amongst other things, to caravan routes, the transport of slaves by land, and to providing means of livelihood and education for liberated slaves. The sixth chapter enumerated the measures to be taken to restrict the trade in spirituous liquors. The sixth article composing this chapter forbid the importation of distilled drinks "in the regions where they have not yet penetrated", and "each Power will determine for itself the limit of this zone within it's own possessions". It is in reference to these infirm clauses, as elastic as Congo rubber, that the Free State has fulfilled promise with performance that puts her neighbours to shame. Each year of Belgian rule in the Congo has been marked by a contraction of the area in which alcoholic liquors are legitimate traffic in a restricted form. Today spirituous liquors are practically excluded from more than four-fifths of the entire State. The Sovereign of the Congo Free State does not respect that colonising enthusiasm which is founded on deleterious Scotch whiskey, Holland gin, and Jamaica rum. He has, therefore, carried out the spirit as well as the letter of the liquor clauses in the Brussels Act, and lost revenue for the State from a source which, to a large degree, supports the budget of neighbouring colonies.
In the eighth article it is declared that

the experience of all nations who have intercourse with Africa has shown the pernicious and preponderating part played by firearms in slave trade operations as well as in intertribal wars, and has clearly proved that the preservation of the African populations is a radical impossibility unless restrictive measures against the trade in firearms and ammunition are established.

It was, therefore, stipulated that in those parts of Africa between the twentieth parallel of north latitude and the twenty-second parallel of south latitude the importation of firearms, and especially of rifles and weapons of precision, powder, balls, and cartridges, should be greatly restricted, and as far as possible prohibited. The only exceptions in later articles to this prescription were made in favour of "measures directly by governments for arming of a force publique and the organisation of their defence".
To carry out the onerous duties imposed by the Brussels Act upon all the interested Powers required more than a Conference and it's lofty ideals and appropriate resolutions. By the Berlin Act import duties had been prohibited in the Congo Basin only as an experiment. The attitude of the Powers towards this question was now more enlightened and more reasonable. Experience, and admiration for King Leopold's rapid achievements in the development of the New State, combined, in the face of the slave-raiding enemy, to predispose the representatives of the Powers to a rational view of the practical necessities of governments which were called upon to establish order and a civil cimmunity upon the trail of the murderous slave-chaser.
At the thirteenth session of the Conference, held on May 10, 1890. it was proposed that the stipulation of the Berlin Conference prohibiting all import duties for twenty years should be withdrawn, and that the "assenting Powers having possessions or protectorates in the Conventional Basin of the Congo shall be at liberty, so far as authority to this end is required, to establish duties on imported goods, the scale of which shall not exceed a rate equivalent to ten per cent ad valorem at the port of entry, always excepting spirituous liquors." Applying especially to spirituous liquors are the provisions of articles 90 to 95 of the General Act.
In supporting this measure, Baron Lambermont said :

Not only has geographical acquaintance with the Congo Basin revealed the wealth of the vast regions it comprises, but European commerce, which was blocked at a short distance from the coast, has penetrated the heart of Africa, in countries hitherto utterly unknown. Civilisation, in diverse forms, has made no less progress, and has been permanently established in the very centre of Africa. The rapidity with which this transformation has been accomplished would seem to make it a duty to hasten the revision of the free-trade rule temporarily laid down by the Berlin General Act. The protection due to commerce and missions, the establishment of systematic justice, the opening up of easier means of communication with the interior of the continent, the organisation of public services as auxiliaries to private enterprises, require financial resources which it is reasonable to obtain, by means of imposts, from those who profit by the new order of things. While in most of the African colonies tariffs are among the principal sources of revenue, the countries situated in the Conventional Basin of the Congo alone are deprived of the right of levying customs duties; and yet these are the countries that find themselves at the front in the crusade against the slave trade ! The resolutions of the Brussels Conference, in imposing on them new tasks, will also increase the expenses necessary for the carrying out of their civilising mission. The legitimacy of import duties destined to meet these expenses cannot be denied.

In the debate which naturally ensued upon such an important measure, Baron Gericke d'Herwijnen, representing Holland, which has a large spirit trade along the West Coast of Africa, opposed views for a time unfavourable to the adoption of this supplementary Declaration to the General Act. Notwithstanding his views, the Dutch representative gracefully alluded to the "well-merited homage it [Holland] had rendered to the work of the King of the Belgians from it's very commencement".
On the part of Great Britain, Lord Vivian supported the proposition in words which should sear the few unkindly, astigmatic eyes of those who regard King Leopold's rule in Africa with splenetic gaze and caterwauling. His lordship spoke aptly when he said :

As to the question whether this modification is opportune, the fact must not be lost sight of that the Berlin Conference never intended to fix unalterably the economic system of the Free State, which, as was already then foreseen, would undergo radical modifications under the influence of progress, nor to establish for an indefinite period regulations which may hinder, check, and even arrest it's development. Provision was wisely made for the probability of future changes, which would require a certain latitude in economic matters in order to secure their easy realisation ...
The moment has now come when the marvellous progress made by the infant State is creating fresh needs, when it would be only in accordance with wisdom and foresight to revise an economic system primarily adapted to a creative and transitional period.
Can we blame the infant State for a progress which, in it's rapidity, has surpassed the most optimistic forecasts ? Can we hinder and arrest this progress in refusing her the means necessary for her development ? Can we condemn the Sovereign who has already made such great sacrifices to support for an indefinite period a burden which daily becomes heavier, and at the same time impose upon him new and heavy expenses necessitated by the suppression of the slave trade ?
We are convinced that there will be but one answer to these questions.


Following the British representative in support of the proposal, Count von Alvensleben, the German Minister, expressed himself as follows :

The Imperial Government will be glad to have such an opportunity of showing it's sentiments of sympathy for the Congo Free State, which, under the wise direction of it's august Sovereign, has given such striking proofs of vitality.
The German Government will willingly lend it's help in placing the Congo Free State in a position to acquire the means which may seem necessary to assist it's development and to enable it to continue it's valuable services to the cause of civilisation and humanity.


Indeed, the expressions of appreciation of the Belgian work in the Congo were unanimous and enthusiastic. The Declaration was adopted, and became part of the General Act of the Brussels Conference by the ratification of all the Powers - the Dutch Chambers sanctioning the ratification on the intervention of the Queen Regent, mother of the present Queen, Wilhelmina. In giving her adhesion, France did so with a reservation that she "would not recognise the articles relating to the zone of maritime search, jurisprudence, arrest, seizure, and condemnation of suspected ships". This has always been regarded as a flaw in the effort of the Powers to suppress the slave traffic with unity of force and aim. France's remarkable reservation has had the effect of affording the slave-dealers the only existing protection of a civilised Government on the East African Coast. The motive for this is revealed in the fact that slave-dealers are still employed in the French possessions of the Indian Ocean (Boulger). It is to be regretted that republican France should stand out from that solid phalanx of the Powers by which alone the abominable institution of slavery can be stricken from the calendar of modern crime.








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