Title: "The Congo Country. An Official Statement of the Relations of the United States to the Berlin Conference."

Journal: Chicago Daily Tribune

Place of Publication: Chicago

Date: January 30, 1885

People: Frelinghuysen, Frederick T. (Frederick Theodore), 1817-1885; Kasson, John A. 1822-1910; Sanford, Henry Shelton, 1823-1891


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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The Congo Country.

An Official Statement of the Relations of the United States to the Berlin Conference.

Washington, D. C., Jan. 29 — In response to the House resolution calling for information respecting the participation of the United States in the Congo Conference, the President today sent the House the report submitted by the Secretary of State. The Secretary says some time must elapse before the full documentary history of the transaction can be laid before Congress, but in view of the general interest taken in the subject he submits a preliminary report, leaving the transmission of the papers to follow. He then gives in detail the motives for the participation of this Government in the Berlin conference. "It being established," the report proceeds, "that the conference was not to have plenipotentiary functions, no special credentials were needed to enable Mr. Kasson to attend as a delegate for this Government, he being already accredited as Minister to the Imperial Court. The instruction sent Kasson was brief, but precise as to the exclusion of questions of territorial jurisdiction."

By direction of the President Mr. Henry Sanford was appointed associate delegate on behalf of the United States, and his course to be governed by instructions sent Kasson. Sanford not being an officer of this Government, was accredited by a letter addressed by the undersigned to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany as associate delegate.

"The resolution of the House calling for the text of the credentials, or powers given representatives of the United States, and the letter accrediting Sanford will be transmitted with the rest of the correspondence at an early day. It confers to definit powers on him, and merely recites the proposal to the Imperial Government that the associate delegates, having special knowledge of the condition of affairs in Western Africa, should assist at the meetings of the conference, and formally accredits Sanford as such associate delegate on behalf of the United States.

"Subsequently," the report says, "Henry M. Stanley was invited by the conference itself to give information touching the Congo region. Stanley's name appears in protocol proceedings as the associate delegate for the United States, but he was not accredited otherwise than by Kasson's personal introduction. Neither Sanford nor Stanley has had a voice in the proceedings."

Secretary Frelinghuysen states that he has "no reason to feel otherwise than satisfied with his discretion, prudence, and ability with which Kasson has carried out instructions given him. It has been said that the principles which the conference is discussing with respect to Africa are at variance with those which the United States has ever maintained in respect to the American Continent. The cases are diametrically converse. The venerated doctrine put forth by Monroe was simply that the time had passed for obtaining fresh footholds on the American Continent, since the whole of it was subject to recognized sovereignties."

Since the foregoing was written the Secretary has received a dispatch from Kasson, dated Jan. 7, in which he adverts to telegrams published in the news columns of the German papers which appear to misapprehend the motives of the conference. After reviewing the action of the conference thus far Mr. Kasson says:

"Knowing with absolute certainty that the United States would not embark in an eager struggle among the European Powers for African colonial possessions, I appreciated with equal assurance the importance to the commerce of my country in obtaining the concessions from the present and future possessory powers for the largest possible extent in Central Africa which might be subjected to these beneficent and advantageous provisions. It was upon my initiative that every phrase in any proposition which implied joint guaranty or joint undertaking was stricken out. Wherever a joint expression was used it was converted into single expression, in order to avoid all implication of joint action or joint responsibility."

Washington, D. C., Jan. 29. — [Special.] — The ordering of the flagship Lancaster to the Congo, the social festivities on her decks which are alleged to have been the cause, and Secretary Chandler's arbitrary order to suspend the officers who publicly criticised his action and complained that it was done to spite the female relatives of the officers, is furnishing the text for much gossip. Secretary Chandler's latest action is complained or as high-handed and unprecedented, but he justifies it by the naval regulations, which prohibit the commanding or subordinate officers of squadrons on ships from saying anything tending to cause dissatisfaction with orders or duty, or to reflect upon, ridicule, or throw discredit upon superiors.

One of the stories is that Secretary Chandler is informed that Admiral English was himself one of those most prominent in complaining of the orders issued, and that the order for him to suspend the officers so complaining is a vindictive rebuke to him, intentionally administered.

Friends of the offers implicated assert that the whole story of the festivities at Nice and of the subsequent discontent was the invention of blue-ribbon Sanford, whose interests in the Congo region have led him to use every effort to have the Lancaster sent there and the hasten her departure.