Author: Charles G. Leland

Title: "Leland's Letter"

Journal: Chicago Daily Tribune

Place of Publication: Chicago

Date: December 6, 1884

Place: Congo River


Most Americans did not have access to Congressional debates about whether the U.S should recognize the sovereignty of King Leopold II of Belgium's Congo Free State—which prompted the convening of the Berlin Conference—or discussions of U.S. engagement with the "African Question." [note 1] They turned to newspapers to glean any information about the major international issue for the West at the time—the present and future state of African affairs. U.S. media coverage of the Berlin Conference of 1884-85 was extensive, with articles published in the major coastal newspapers and dailies in the South, West, and Midwest, attesting to the scope of American interest in European designs on Africa.

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Leland's Letter.

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Germany About To Enter upon a Colonization Scheme of Vast Magnitude.

Russia's Monroe Doctrine - The Berlin Conference - Stanley and the Congo Country.

[. . .]

The Division of Territory

Now it has come to pass that in 1884 there has begun a great movement which is to end in dividing up all the waste land of the world among the Governments of those races which conceive themselves to be civilized or enlightened. When one reflects that what is in fact waste land in South America, Africa, New Guinea, and other places largely exceeds that which is cultivated, and that with it we may fairly include all that is ruled by the Turk — since in his hands all that was ever good is rapidly running to ruin and barrenness — it will appear that this is as great an undertaking as was ever recorded in history. Prominent in this claim are the Germans.

[. . .]

The Congo.

As I write today the Berlin Conference meets for the first time to consider the definit division of a large portion of Western African among the European States and the neutralization of the Congo. But, however the land may be allotted, it is certain that the gain of it all will go to the cleverest, and these are the English, as the Telegraph frankly writes: "The profit in the long run, however, must be to us, simply because our manufacturers, our merchants, and our shipowners surpass in energy their rivals all over the world. No Englishman desires anywhere a greater privilege than a clear stage and now favor. Whether it be the Suez Canal cut by French genius, or the Congo opened at Prince Bismarck's nod, it is we who have gained or shall gain by the new convenience."

Now it is very true that money-making forms a part of the English program. As the Telegraph continues: "West Africa, including the coast where stations have been established and a small length of the Lower Congo, is just touched by European trade; for about 400 miles of seacoast and river-bank the natives come into contact with our merchants, and can exchange goods. That trade is worth nearly three millions a year. if this is the result of what may be called a commercial frontier of 400 miles, what will happen if we tap the teeming millions of interior Africa through the 10,000 miles of river-bank that will be made accessible wen the whole Congo is liberated and the interruption to navigation is neutralized by a railway? Mr. Stanley, addressing the merchants of Manchester, entered into an amusing calculation, which came home to their 'business and bosoms.' He said that if all the inhabitants of the Congo basin were simply to have one Sunday dress apiece it would take 320,000,000 yards of cotton. Adding to these other probable requirements — including currency, for yards of cloth are coin in Africa — he came to the sober conclusion that Manchester could, in course of time, create on the Congo a trade worth £26,000,000 a year. Here we have in fact another India to be exploited by the conference that sits at Berlin today. An old proverb says, 'As one door shuts another opens,' and, as our trade diminishes every day, we may see with relief the opening up of a vast continent where for years to come English goods will beat all others out of the market."

But as I said, other and higher aims than making money or opening markets are involved in this. To many there would seem to be no other interests, but these are after all the mere vulgar rank and file. Every flower must have its dirt in which to grow, but the dirt was meant for the flower — to serve it — not the flower for the dirt. The opening, the civilization of Africa, the putting an end to the slave trade, that "sum of all iniquity," the introducing a better life to savages, go hand in hand with this increased selling of cotton. The main point is that there is certainly to be established in Africa "a free State, peaceful, progressive, and under the protection of the great Powers. That will be a magnificent result — an international seal will be set to the pious labors of Livingstone and the splendid energy and heroism of Stanley."

It may be here remarked that the same journal declares that Livingstone, but above all Stanley, first made known to the world the population and possibilities of the African interior. Stanley is now generally conceded by all to be on the whole the leader of all African explorers. Others may claim to have found a lake, a river, a province; he is emphatically the first who has organized the movement which is to revolutionize Central Africa. How he discovered Livingstone is a trifle to how he discovered the way to awaken all Europe to civilizing the Dark Continent. I shall always remember with a strange feeling how I in London introduced Bell of the telephone to Stanley. I did not realize at the time when I made them mutually known how both would in days to come make all mankind known to one another.

Charles G. Leland.