Before it was considered the property of the King of Belgium Now it was transferred to the country of Belgium.
Continuing Reform of the Congo Horror,
with a selection from North American Review by John Daniels. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. This selection is presented in three easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Reform of the Congo Horror.
Inasmuch as the Commission’s Report had proved that Leopold had torn to tatters the Berlin and Brussels Act pro viding for “the protection of the natives and the amelioration of their moral and material conditions,” it may well be urged that the only right course open to the Powers was immediate intervention to enforce respect for the humanitarian guaran ties of these Acts. The failure of the Powers to take such immediate action can only be interpreted as equivalent to a declaration to Leopold that first he would be allowed the opportunity to set matters aright himself. At the time, the press and public regarded these decrees, even should they be enforced, as merely superficial and palliative, and not reaching deep enough to affect the Congo “system.” And now comes conclusive evidence that the public was right, in the official report sent to the State Department last November by our late Consul- General in the Free State, Mr. James A. Smith.
Said Mr. Smith, seventeen months after Leopold’s decrees were proclaimed : “That the obligations of the Congo Government toward the natives, as provided for in the Berlin Act, ‘ to care for the improvement of the conditions of their moral and material well-being,’ are being openly violated there is not the shadow of a doubt. The present conditions are those existing under the operations of the so-called reform decrees, promulgated as a result of the report of the King’s commission of inquiry of 1904. If they are an improvement over former conditions, it is natural to ask what those former conditions must have been. The remark of a State official, made in my presence, ‘My business is rubber/ tersely expresses the attitude, of the entire administration toward the native. The latter, so long as the present system is allowed to continue, can expect nothing from an administration whose desire for gain overshadows everything else and causes it to forget the obligations it has assumed toward him. Briefly, the tendency of this system is to brutalize rather than civilize — to force the native into such a condition of poverty and degradation that his future is a hopeless one, and to keep him there.”
Such unquestionable testimony as this has been accepted by the two Powers who have most bestirred themselves in the case, the United States and Great Britain, as final proof of the necessity of interventionary action. In an official communication sent to the Belgian Government, Secretary of State Root said, in diplomatically restrained language, but of sufficiently definite import, “The present situation is not that which was contemplated or foreseen when the Free State was called to life by the Powers.” And Sir Edward Grey, the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, declared in the course of a debate on the Congo Question in the House of Commons that “The present existing authority [i.e., in the Congo] is perfectly hopeless,” and that “If you review the history of the hopes and aspirations with which consent was given to the founding of the Free State, you cannot but come to the conclusion that the state, as it exists to-day, has morally forfeited every right to international recognition.”
The remedy of next resort was the taking over of the Congo as a colony by Belgium. This way out of the difficulty has come to be known as the “Belgian Solution.” Though it was not as King of Belgium or in behalf of Belgium, but in a strictly individual capacity, that Leopold ingeniously established himself in central Africa and subsequently obtained recognition from the Powers as ruler of the vast territory which he dubbed the Congo Free State; yet, from a number of circumstances, Belgium has tacitly been admitted to have a closer relation to the state than any other Power, and even to possess the privilege of annexing and administering it, provided due regard is paid to the Acts of Berlin and Brussels, and all other relevant treaties and laws. The single fact that the same person has happened to be King-Sovereign of the Congo and King of Belgium has caused a close sentimental tie to exist between the two countries, which has been made stronger by the preponderant service of Belgians in the Congo army and administration. A more apparently legal bond was created by Leopold’s will, executed in 1889, by which he bequeathed the Free State to Belgium. The publication of this document presented a spectacle amazing in the light of twentieth-century constitutional and parliamentary government — the spectacle of one man deeding away, as his goods and chattels, the persons, liberties, and property of 15,000,000 people, and a region nearly 1,000,000 square miles in extent. In 1890, as compensation for a loan, Leopold gave Belgium the option of annexing the Congo before his death. It is in accordance with this option that Belgium is now acting. But a factor in the situation stronger than either sentimental ties or quasi-legal arrangements between Belgium and Leopold has been the disinclination of the Powers to jar the always delicate “balance” by attempting or even discussing any other disposition of the Congo (after it became certain that Leopold could not be allowed to retain it) than its passage to diminutive Belgium, itself a “neutral” State, created by the Powers in 1830 from scraps of territory which had been battered back and forth in sorry style between Frank, Spaniard, and Teuton, since the Middle Ages.
For these reasons the “Belgian Solution” has been regarded with most favor as a remedy for the ills with which the Congo is sorely afflicted. It is toward the application of this remedy, in genuine and thorough form, that the British Government has been working for several years, and our own Administration since the winter of 1906-7.
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