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



Chapter XXXVI : The Attitude of Europe and the United States (pp.446-471)


The general tone of the British press was in support of Lord Lansdowne's Note, and intolerant of the Congo State's reply. On the Continent, the weight of opinion favourably acknowledged the force of the Congo State's reply. In France, Germany, Austria and Italy certain British journals were severely criticised for suppressing the publication of all evidence favourable to Belgian rule in Congoland, for dignifying the fulminations of E.D. Morel, the penman of the merchants and shippers of Liverpool, the self-appointed coroner of the Congo, sitting in judgment upon the disjecta membra which he so luridly and so falsely portrays in the books which the anti-Congo campaign incidentally serves to advertise. Brief quotations from the arguments of M. Etienne, the French Deputy, have been set forth in a previous chapter. Criticising the London Times for its partisanship, the Depeche Coloniale of October 16, 1903, stated editorially :

.... We invite the great journal [London Times] of the city to cease this chicanery which might discourage men whose task in Africa demands the cooperation of everyone. In this task, in its success, we are all interested, and the fact of having opened to commerce the immense territory of the Congo should of itself spare Belgium the bitterness of misdirected criticism.

In La Liberte (Paris) the editor, referring to the Congo State's reply, says :

Now that we have before us the reply of the King of the Belgians, we may say that we have reason from every point of view to defend the Congo Free State against accusations as stupid as they are prejudiced. England may definitely renounce the hope that she had entertained of increasing her colonial empire by means of puerile calumnies.

The Phare de la Loire :

We should not forget that a similar quarrel has been sought for with us [the French]. French concessionaires have had much trouble with two English houses - Holt & Company and Hatton & Cookson [Liverpool] - whose agents had turned the natives away from French factories by offering them exorbitant wages.

The General Anzeiger, October 30, 1903, is merely quoted to indicate the violence to which criticism of the British dispatch attained, not as a specimen of sound Teutonic reasoning nor of temperate commentary :

Truly, when reading this one hardly credits one's eyes. Here is what the English Government, whose officials are almost without exception discredited by reason of their rude, brutal, and often inhuman attitude towards natives; here is what is written [sic] on the faith of pure colonial gossip, of unauthenticated rumour. It is not ashamed to act thus - this very Government whose cruelties in the last African war are still too fresh in the memory .... It is impossible to say whether this cynical fashion of acting is more striking than the hypocrisy which makes us indignant ....

The Chronique (Belgium) of November 4, 1903, contains an interview with M. Edmond Picard, advocate of the Belgian Court of Cassation, from which the following is quoted :

The reply to the English Note drafted by the Independent State of the Congo appears to me as nobly simple, and as proud in form as peremptory in substance. As for convincing the English ogre desirous of swallowing up the Belgian Congo as it swallowed up the Transvaal and Orange State - it would be ridiculous to hope for this. This people is as enthusiastic a brigand as a nation as it is honest and loyal in the individual.

The Muenster Westphal, November 3, 1903 :

The insatiable English greed claims a new prey. The two Republics have been happily swallowed and digested. What is to be served up now ? That fine phrase, "British Africa from the Cape to Cairo", has been recalled at the right moment, and it is remarked that the Congo State is still one of the obstacles to the realisation of that phrase freely quoted by our cousins. And hardly were the two Boer Republics given up to British domination than commenced,at first a little timidly, then with more effrontery and brutality, the chase of the Congo State. A mass of trifles were then put forward with incredible exaggeration; the pretext for the agitation against the Congo State was given : "British Africa from the Cape to Cairo", that is the objective of the anti-Congolese. No one is deceived about it.

The Kleine Journal (Berlin), October 21, 1903, contains the following admonition from the well-known explorer, Eugene Wolf :

"The Germans to the front !" such has always been the cry of the English when they have need of some one to take the chestnuts out of the fire for them.
"The Germans to the front !" has also been the cry of the English in the question of the Independent State of the Congo. And in this matter also the English have found among us a fool; for the aid which England has found in this Congolese question quite needlessly exaggerated cannot come from the heart of the German nation, but from the mouth of a member of the German Colonial Society, inhabiting Berlin, making himself of importance, and who, turning to account a residence many years ago on the east and west coasts of Africa, invoking his title as retired Consul, and his possession of a colonial library, gives himself out as the spokesman authorised by the nation in order to pass himself off on his own authority as infallible in colonial matters. With the war cry : "The trade of Germany is intercepted by the agents of the Independent State of the Congo, and we must settle it !" this gentleman, whose name is known to everybody, has made an attempt which has evidently remained unfruitful of stirring up Germany against Belgium and of disturbing the feelings of good neighbourship and the commercial relations existing between the two countries. The persons who have seriously at heart the interests of the German colonies do not allow themselves to be taken in by this trick. And if the Congo State is governed in a more profitable fashion than our own colonies, we must heed their example and imitate it. After all, it is not only with the object of realising permanent deficits that we have acquired our colonies.


The Corriere Toscano (Italy), October 31, 1903 :

There is on the Congo as in every civilised country only one justice; blacks and whites are subject to the same laws, and the State's motto, Work and Progress, is adopted and followed by all with the greatest ardour.

Finally the views of some of the leading journals of the United States, manifestly free from bias, founded on self-interest, may be interesting. The Evening Transcript (Boston).

The Congo Administration has not waited for any commission of inquiry to sit. It has already replied fully to the charges brought against it, but no reply will silence its accusers. They want the Congo's riches, not its King's defence, and will continue clamouring until the utter futility of their shouting threats at Leopold is brought home to them. Already they have prepared a map, a copy of which is before me as I write, of the Free State of the Congo partitioned out as they wish. The districts to be offered as bribes to France and Germany are duly marked on it, but they are small. The plotters do not hide their hands, they show clearly that England, and England's puppet Egypt, is to take the lion's share.
This, which I have related, accounts for the tumult of popular opinion in England, always easily stirred up by such tales. Multitudes, misled by the cheap, if genuine, sympathy felt with the oppressed, join unthinkingly in the cries against the Congo.


From the New York Press

Those missionaries who are urging the United States Government to interfere in the quarrel between the British and the Congo Governments doubtless mean well, but they fail to offer any valid reason why this country should entangle itself in a matter in which it has no special interest. The Belgian Government has conceded, all reasonable protection and privileges for the missionaries labouring in Congoland.
The other demands of the British with regard to the basin of the great African river are not entirely void of a tinge of self-interest, and it would be entirely improper for the United States to interfere at all in the matter. If an American missionary in the Congo is oppressed, or his treaty rights as an American citizen in any way violated, the State Department could and would interfere in that particular case, but further than that the missionaries ought not to expect this country to go. Missionaries, while most excellent and self-sacrificing people, are not perfect, and one of their imperfections is that in all parts of the world they are a little too anxious to bring about the interference of their home Power in the affairs of the Government in whose territory they are labouring.


The Public Ledger (Philadelphia), October 26, 1903 :

The acquisition by Great Britain of the Congo State would not only join her separate dominions, but would give her an immense territory of the most wonderful wealth. Not only so, but it would open to British Central Africa and Rhodesia an outlet to the sea down the Congo, and give even the Transvaal a chance of trading with England through a port on that river, saving 2000 miles of the sea voyage to London.
English horror at Belgian mismanagement of Congoland is easily understood in the light of these facts. Does any one imagine that the British conscience would be so sensitive about cruelties alleged to have been committed in lands not contiguous to British territory, and not extremely desirable as annexations ? The crime of King Leopold is that he has developed a colony which England wants.


Sufficient has been quoted to indicate that the silence of the Powers in regard to the British dispatch of August 8, 1903, was fairly interpreted by the press of Europe. The meaning of that silence is unmistakable. British ministers having been misled to undertake a serious diplomatic act which was admittedly based on commercial grievance and unproved accusations, it now became necessary to back up charges contained in Lord Lansdowne's dispatch by something seemingly more tangible than the complaints of persons peculiarly interested in doing mischief to the Government of the Congo Free State. It is the British view that the official report of Mr. Roger Casement, British Consul at Boma, in the Congo Free State, dated December 11, 1903, four months after the Powers had been appealed to, supplied the necessary confirmation of all that may have been lacking to justify the precipitate diplomatic act of August 8th which had met with rebuff.
The report {Africa, No.1, 1904} and enclosures of Consul Casement would occupy approximately one hundred and eighty pages of this volume. It is an interesting account of a brief journey on the Upper Congo during a period of two and a half months, most of which was spent in the Equatorial district. The report contains many paragraphs in praise of the wonderful changes wrought by the Belgians in the Congo during the last twenty years. There are other passages in the report which condemn the land and concessionaire system of the State. Enclosed in the voluminous document are statements from Protestant missionaries and certain natives concerning alleged atrocities. As the official reply of the Government of the Congo Free State, brief as it is, deals fairly and fully with the essential allegations in Mr. Casement's report, it has been set out in full in the Appendix.
In To-day (London), December 16, 1903, Mr. John Henderson, an experienced traveller who had visited the Congo to ascertain for his journal the true state of affairs under Belgian rule in the Free State, wrote the following amongst other interesting comments on Consul Casement's Report :

I suggest that we should be careful in our condemnation of the methods of the Congo Government. The agents of the State are subject to perils and dangers unheard of, undreamed of by the people in comfortable Britain - the climate, the condition of living, and the natives combine to make life always uncertain, and at times absolutely terrible. In Europe, or the West Indies, or Australia, or in any fairly salubrious country, the methods of the Free State agents as pursued in Congoland might be judged barbarous, but it is impossible to judge the methods of the peoples of all countries and climates by one standard of ethics.
For my part, I still hesitate to praise or blame the Congo State by this report alone. I have little doubt that some of the facts Mr. Casement will bring forward will be extremely shocking (while in the Congo I was several times shocked myself), but these reports of excesses will not prejudice me for or against the State. If Mr. Casement will furnish us with reports which will show us the exact conditions prevailing among the other West African districts - the French Congo, the Portuguese Congo, German West Africa, Nigeria, and the Gold Coast - then I shall hope to arrive at a more or less correct understanding of the matter. Cruelty and excess undoubtedly exist in the Congo Free State, but my experience in Congoland taught me that those guilty of any crime who come before the notice of State agents were severely punished.


To carry on the anti-Congo campaign in the United States, the Congo Reform Association of Liverpool has established headquarters at Boston. It's organisation includes a secretary, pamphleteers, press writers, and Protestant missionaries. It prints and sends broadcast to the press of America a weekly "News Letter", composed of articles designed to intensify agitation against the Belgians in the Congo. It is sagaciously understood by it's supporters that one missionary with imagination and glib speech, turned loose on society in America or Europe, can make more noise, effect or mischief, do more to prostitute Christian work in foreign lands, than twenty earnest, patient, toiling, praying missionaries can accomplish for humanity by minding God's work in the dark heart of Africa. That concession-seeking, commercially-inclined Congo missionaries should be enabled to gratify their desire for notoriety after the fashion of the Congo Coroner, Mr. Morel, and gain the slightest connection with American Missionary Societies, is only to be accounted for by the large financial support which, having prevailed in England, may be presumed to lie back of the campaign in America. There are certain phases of the Congolese question since 1897 by which even a disinterested observer is deeply impressed. The large financial support and the numerous agencies it employs is one of them.
So far the attitude of the American press has been eminently disinterested. Its leading journals have shown a keen insight into the motives which underlie a campaign that has been overdone to the disgust of all fair-minded observers. There is, in all colonies, whether under British, German, American, French, or Belgian rule, ample opportunity for criticism. There is, on the other hand, even greater opportunity for help and cooperation. The demoralising story of British Lagos is alone sufficient to make British criticism of every other nation's colonies pusillanimous. Acts of cruelty by natives, foreigners, or by State servants are in violation, not in consequence, of the Congo State's system of government. For such infractions of the law the individual, not the State, is responsible. But when the support of a British colony is derived from a debasing traffic in alcohol for whose existence the home Government is directly responsible, that Government should not assume the hrotesque position of custos morum of Africa.
The Lagos Standard, reputed to be favourable to the British Government, referring to the Colony's revenue for 1901-1902, says :

It would appear that the chief and ruling tendency of the successive administrations has been to draw from the Colony the fullest possible revenue, the greater part of which is spent in salaries of the officials. Every effort has been made in that direction, and no resource that ingenuity can appeal to was spared in order to reach that purpose. ....
The revenue derived from import duties on spirits, gin, rum, alcohol, whisky, reached 65.53 % of the total revenue of the Colony {Message of the Governor to the Legislative Council, February 26, 1903, p.9}. To this add the licences for the sale of spirits {Blue Book, 1902, p.21}, which brings up the contributive share of spirits in the budget's receipts to 67.53 % ...
Alcohol is the great staple of trade. By visiting Lagos, one would be inclined to believe that it is practically the only commodity. Everywhere on the huge quay, extending several miles, where large business houses are established, on their wharfs, in their warehouses, are accumulated heaps of green cases and pyramids of demijohns of gin and rum. All the important stores have the same signboard, bearing in large letters the words, Wholesale Spirit Merchants, and from morning to night, every day of the week, there is on the lagoon a continental traffic of large steamers coming in to discharge their cargo and leaving empty. On the quay there is a continental movement of black porters carrying cases of spirits on their heads, which they either pile up by thousands in the warehouses, or remove them therefrom in order to load the boats, which are powerful launches of the native traders who spread the poison all over the markets of the villages alongside the lagoon and its affluents.
The quality of these horrible goods has been too often described to render it necessary to revert to the subject. Their price says sufficient : 4 1/2 d. per litre, bottle and packing included ! The Government analyst found them to contain extremely strong poisons known under the name of fusel oils, in the enormous proportion of from 1.46 to 4.31 % of the weight {Message to the Governor p.8}. Is it to be wondered at that after absorbing several bottles of this poisonous liquor, the drinker should be overcome by a sort of madness ? Is it to be wondered at that criminality is on the increase, that the birth rate is in the decrease, that this magnificent race of Yoruba agriculturalists is speedily degenerating ?


When Europe, whose interests in Africa are material as well as moral, has not seen fit to join a British traders' campaign against a small neutralised State, it would seem that the United States Government should not be led into action on the pretext that its recognition of a friendly Government invested it with police powers over the internal affairs of the State so recognised. "Territory" and "commerce" are the tightly furled, secretly carried banners of the raid upon the Congo State. This exaggerated humanitarian solicitude for the African black is purely pretence. By its hypocrisy, falsehood, and disputative vulgarisation, the movement, instead of remedying what evils exist in all African colonies, is made utterly puerile. By such vituperative fanfaronade as the following, rational minds are made to turn from the subject in disgust {E.D. Morel} :

Of such is the kingdom of Congo.
...........
The tale is told - the tale of "King Leopold's rule in Africa". A piratical expedition on a scale incredibly colossal. The perfection of its hypocrisy; the depth of its low cunning; its pitiable intrigues; the illimitableness of its egoism; its moral hideousness; the vastness and madness of its crimes - the heart sickens and the mind rebels at the thought of them. A perpetual nightmare reeking with vapours of vile ambitions - cynical, fantastic, appalling. A tragedy which appears unreal, so unutterably ghastly in its concomitants, but the grimness of whose reality is incapable of superlative treatment. Destroying, decimating, degrading, its poisonous breath sweeps through the forests of the Congo. Men fall beneath it as grass beneath the scythe, by slaughter, famine, torture, sickness, and misery. Women and children flee from it, but not fast enough, though the mother destroy the unborn life within her that her feet may drag less heavily through the bush.
There has been nothing quite comparable with it since the world was made. The world can never see its like again.
Sufficient that it exists, that each month, each year, the terror of this Oppression grows, immolating fresh victims, demanding new offerings to minister to its lusts, spreading in ever wider circles the area of its abominations.


After that, what can one say or do except to appreciate one's sense of humour, and the lack of it in a zealot ? A tower of babel on a pile of words !








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