Author: Henry I. Kowalsky

Title: Brief of Henry I. Kowalsky, of the New York Bar, Attorney and Counsellor to Leopold II.

Publisher: Henry I. Kowalsky

Place of Publication: New York

Date: 1905

Place: Congo Free State


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Brief of Henry I. Kowalsky, of the New York Bar, Attorney and Counsellor to Leopold II., King of the Belgians and Sovereign of the Independent State of the Congo, in Matters Touching his Rights and Possessions Abroad, in Reply to Memorial Presented to the President of the United States of America Concerning Affairs in the Congo State by the Congo Reform Association, Supported by the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society and the Aborigines' Protection Society.

Answer to Memorial.

Negro Criminals.

A fact that is important in connection with the unjust criticism of this new State can in a way be deduced from the fact that here in the United States the negro is about one-sixth of the entire population, and it is strange to say that, though the negroes have had civilizing influences about them ever since this government came into existence, nearly twenty-five per cent. of the prisoners in penal institutions are black men. If the penal institutions of this country have been kept so busy with the American negro, what ought to be expected of the negro of the Congo? And yet there is no such proportion of criminal life in the Congo as the records disclose either in England or America.

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Morel's Attacks.

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The success of the Belgians in the Congo Basin is a confutation of that idea and the English merchant, ever jealous of inroads made upon his business and traditionally possessed of the idea that to him belongs the earth and the fullness thereof, views with alarm the supremacy of Belgian interests in the Congo and would be well pleased if the powers signatory to the Berlin Conference, or failing in that, the government of the United States, would take such action as would result in disturbances in the Congo, thereby justifying active interference in the affairs of that State and eventually permitting England to rehabilitate and act upon the idea that she alone of all the governments of the earth is the natural protector of the downtrodden and the oppressed.

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Mrs. French-Sheldon.

Mrs. French-Sheldon, the famous traveler, having made an independent investigation of Congolese conditions in the Free State, recently returned to Europe, and, in an interview published in the Journal of Commerce of January 4th, 1905, announced to the world that the charges made against King Leopold and the Congo government were absolutely without foundation. To use her own words, "The evidence is absolutely conclusive that the labors of the Congo Free State have added to the material prosperity, the happiness, and the development of the natives, whilst the opening up of the country and the introduction of order and s stem in place of chaos ill forever redound to the credit of King Leopold and those with whom he is associated."

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Land Laws, Etc., U.S.

The laws of the United States granting exclusive privileges to the Alaska Commercial Company for the taking of fur-bearing animals upon the islands adjacent to the Alaskan Coast are a striking illustration of the necessity for regulating the control of public property in order to prevent its annihilation. The laws of the United States relating to forest reservations, the timber culture act, the granting of lands' to the Pacific railroads for the purpose of aiding in their construction, the land laws of the United States and the general policy of the government with reference to its property, all point strikingly to the fact that the government of the Congo in imposing conditions upon the right to use its lands and exploit its natural resources was acting in accordance with principles which are at the very base of civilization, ana doing what was absolutely necessary to preserve for posterity the natural resources of the country.

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Negro Uplifting.

The people of this country are not ignorant of the difficulties connected with the uplifting of the negro. When we consider that in this country millions of treasure and thousands of lives were offered up in order to strike the shackles from four millions of slaves, and that the heart-burnings which followed the destruction of an institution which many members of the Anglo Saxon race regarded as of divine origin have not been quenched, it behooves us to be charitable in our estimation of the work performed by the Congo State and its ruler, King Leopold.


Leopold's Character.

We recall that here, in our own land, this beloved nation of ours was almost severed in twain -- that million of money were expended and will still be expended-hundreds of thou ands of precious lives have gone to their deaths, our whole nation has been bent in sorrow, and we can still hear the sobs of the aching hearts of those who have lingered behind. All of which make up in part the sum that it cost to free four million civilized, Christianized negro slaves in America. ,Though freed forty years ago, the problem of their future is still a question that agitates this country and exercises the mentality of our very best statesmen, who are in deep meditation for a solution that will fully carry out the hopes and ambitions of the great Lincoln, who has been and always will be, revered by a loving and a grateful nation as the Moses that led the black man from out of bondage. When all of this is reflected upon, and the thoughtful and unprejudiced mind looks at the Congo situation, and the work of its sovereign and his subjects; when they contemplate that nearly two thousand years of civilization has. been crowded into twenty-five years, within which time Leopold has unshackled over thirty millions of savage negroes, they view with admiration this wise statesman and philosopher king. Twenty-five years ago he adopted as the motto of the State the sentiment that we are just coming to appreciate as a method of bringing the American negro to a future, to wit, the sentiment: "Work and labor." Work and labor mean the retirement from a state of idleness and irresponsibility into that of responsibility and industry, and that beneficent result has not been obtained in the Congo without the cost of many precious lives, white and black, and great hardship on the part of those who have been active in bringing about this condition, as well as the expenditure of millions of money out of the personal and private purse of Leopold, who has given a life-time to this grand work and who is still devoting the energy of his splendid three-score years and ten to the continuance of the betterment of the government of the Congo Free State. The time is not far distant, if indeed it is not already present, when the world, white and black, must attorn in gratitude and treat with great nobility and reverence the life work of this philosophical, gracious and kindly sovereign.

The American people and its governing power have been face to face with a kindred subject, to wit, civilizing natives that came to us as heritage through our late war with Spain. The kaleidescope of time need not be presented to you, Mr. President, for you are now using the wisdom of your administration in developing, civilizing and bringing about religious conditions in the Philippines, it would be an usurpation of your valuable time to attempt to recall the great labor attending this great work and that yet to be accomplished, and though every effort comes from the heart and conscience of duty, still there are hundreds of carping critics, who are calling the administration's motives into question, and would, if they could, tear down all the grand work that has been built up in the advancement of the wards of this nation.

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U.S. Government -- Action By.

Any official action on the part of the President of the United States in the nature of an expression of sympathy with the work of the maligners of the Congo government, or any executive action on his part, having in view the investigation of the internal affairs of the Congo, would be a direct attack upon its integrity as a government, and, if effectual, would involve a complete or partial surrender of its governmental functions.

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Leopold II. to Henry I. Kowalsky.

Dear Colonel Kowalsky:

I beg to confirm to you that I have instructed you to defend in the United States the case of the Congo Free State which is now being attacked by a group of English merchants and missionaries, at present represented in Washington by Mr. Morel.

You have, in the course of your stay here, been enabled to convince yourself of the unfairness and falseness of these attacks. and the Free State Government rely on your endeavors to enlighten statesmen and political men in the United States as to the true motives 6f this disparaging campaign, to show them the inanity of the charges and to lay the truth before them, namely that for the last twenty-five years the Congo State has been working with a success that accounts for all this hatred and jealousy, toward introducing into territories, formerly abandoned to barbariSI! 1, civilization and progress and toward improving the material and moral conditions of existence of the natives.

Under the stress of the indignation aroused in Belgium by the English calumnies, an extensive association has been formed in this country under the title of Federation pour la defense des interets belges a l' estranger ( Federation for defending Belgian interests abroad) which consists of prominent men in the army, and in commercial and industrial circles.

This association desired to submit to the enlightened mind of the President of the United States their protests against the audacious and untruthful statements contained in the Memorial which Mr. Morel has delivered to Mr. Roosevelt.

At the request of said organization representing as it does the elite of the Belgian Nation, I beg you to hand the President the accompanying letter which faithfully set out the higher principles of the Congo State's internal policy. You Will, in delivering this communication to President Roosevelt, reiterate to him, on my behalf, the feelings of high esteem I have for him and the unshaken confidence I place in his spirit of justice and impartiality.

I have to express the desire that Mr. Roosevelt will kindly take cognizance of this address in your presence, so that you may be afforded an opportunity to give him any further information he might wish to obtain from you.

The foundation and fairness of the case which you have been good enough to undertake to defend will supply you with such numerous and conclusive arguments as to confound the enemies of the Congo Free State.

A mere examination of the Memorial issued by the Congo Reform Association 'will show the bad faith of these people when they affirm that the Commission of Enquiry recently appointed by the Government of the Congo does not enjoy complete liberty of investigation nor afford every guarantee of impartiality. This affirmation is at once denied by a perusal of the instructions of the Commission, which as will be seen by the accompanying text, have given them full liberty and full autonomy.

This fact taken alone amongst many others is sufficient to caution honest people against the biased assertions of our opponents; these are set at naught by the economic progress realized by the Congo State as is demonstrated by numbers of facts and illustrated by the album of photographic reproductions taken in the Congo, a copy of which will interest President Roosevelt.

Believe me, dear Colonel Kowalsky,
Yours truly,

Brussels, October 4, 1904.


Dufourne to Theodore Roosevelt.

Brussels, October 3, 1904. Federation pour la Defense des Interets Belges, l'Etranger.

To his Excellency, Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States.

Mr. President:

The Federation for the Defense of Belgian Interests Abroad presents its compliments to the President of the United States and begs leave to state:

That we are loth to impose upon the President of the United States considerations which are foreign to the interests of his government. But inasmuch as certain persons are conducting within the United States a movement to involve the Government of the United States in the consideration of their unfounded charges and interested misrepresentations against the Government of the Congo Free State, we feel it our duty to present a brief statement of the objects of the Congo Government to the President of a friendly power in order that the unjust methods being employed by the enemies of the Congo Free State may not mislead the President to encourage Congressional action prejudicial to our interests before we shall have been fully heard.

Our Association has been formed for the defence of Belgian interests and possessions abroad. Our people esteem and admire the people of the United States and have great respect for their President. The Belgians desire that they shall not be slandered and vilified in the midst of the American people. They feel it their duty to assist the American people to a proper understanding of the lofty purposes which actuate the Government of the Congo Free State. In this connection the Belgians recall with pleasure and with pride the fact that the Government of the United States was the first great nation to recognize the flag of the International Association of the Congo as that of an independent State. By its treaties and by its adherence to the Berlin and Brussels Acts it promised liberty of trade in its part of the Congo Basin, and it respectfully asserts that it has fulfilled that promise in spirit and to the letter, insofar as the short term of its existence in a savage country has enabled it to establish an organization which, by its prosperity and progress, now' excites the envy of those who seek to disrupt it.

The principles which actuate the Congo Government are tersely set out in an essay written by a highly qualified American subject, which is herewith enclosed. May we humbly beg the President of the United States to honor us by perusing this concise exposition of the fundamental principles which underlie, and which have given such progressive momentum to, the Government of the Congo Free State?

The principles of the Congo Government are devoted to progress and civilization. The State's motto is "Work and Progress." We have always felt that to intelligently follow that motto was to firmly establish in the midst of conditions of savagery the habit of industry and a respect for property as well as for life, according to the universal law of nations.

Concerning the term "Freedom of Commerce," which Congo enemies are interpreting to mean ungoverned license, we beg to refer the President to the United States Laws and Penalties concerning trespass upon and pillage of public lands and their product. Perhaps no nation in the world has so precisely developed the law of private and public property nor administered it with finer understanding of the principles of equity and justice than the United States. The Congo law relating to property is in consonance with the law of the world's greatest nations. The great success which has been attained by the Congo Government for the betterment of its native inhabitants by the operation of this law and the order which exists thereunder, has excited the envy and the avarice of those whose ulterior motive is being cloaked in the garb of humanitarianism and questionable philanthropy. On the one hand it is charged that the Congo Government by its methods seeks to enslave the native in order that he may serve it with his hands for the benefit of interests whose welfare he does not share. On the other hand, the libelers of the Congo wilfully utter not only the unfounded accusation, but the inconsistent charge, that the government cuts off the hand whose work it seeks to enslave. Concerning the untruthful character of the testimony in this respect which has been published against the Congo by the promoters of the so-called "Congo Reform Association" of Liverpool, we beg to refer your Excellency to the great mass of genuine and reliable evidence uttered by Englishmen, Frenchmen, Germans, Americans, Italians and Belgians in direct contradiction of the falsehoods which form the traffic of the Association, whose leading spirit has never been near the Congo nor the natives who form the pretext of his search for personal notoriety and aggrandisement.

May we also call your Excellency's attention to the fact that the Congo Government, when assailed by missionaries at all, is assailed by a few individual missionaries operating in conjunction with the Liverpool Association, whose object we shall in due course expose? The Congo Government has not been assailed by Catholic missionaries at all. The Catholic missionaries are in reality seeking the moral, spiritual and intellectual betterment of the native race, while those of a maetrial faith, who have sought from the Congo Government and been denied personal concessions of material value solely, are secretly working in directions entirely unconnected with the spiritual and moral welfare of the Congo population. In due time and in the proper place the government of the Congo Free State will produce its testimony bearing upon this phase of the campaign begun in England, and now carried to the United States, against an undertaking which, within twenty years, has accomplished a greater success of civilization than has ever before been attained in all the great continent of Africa.

We beg your Excellency to receive from the hands of our representative an abundance of carefully-prepared matter upon this subject, and to command him in any further desires which you may wish to express. A cursory outline, limited to only a few phases of the questions which the enemies of the Congo so confusedly mince In their wild condemnation of a State justly founded ahd intelligently and humanly governed, is not, of course~ intended as a sufficient statement of our case. I t is merely intended to introduce your Excellency to the subject on which our representative and the evidence and literature he will offer to you may lead you to those ,vise and equitable conclusions which have always characterized the highest tribunals of the American people.

Your Excellency is too well versed in the science of general government to be influenced by the statement that where individual acts are committed in violation of enacted penal laws the government should be primarily charged therewith. If such were the case penal institutions for the incarceration of violators of police law would be no part of a nation's structures.

It is not infrequent that the cable bears to us mention that in some sections of your own free and glorious country an inflamed mob seizes upon a black inhabitant and burns him at the stake. Our governmental experience has taught us that such acts would have been impossible if your government had been advised in time to prevent them. And yet we know that your government is the subject of harsh criticism by self-constituted associations formed in the same country from whence come those who accuse the sincere governmental effort of the Congo Free State. The law of the Congo Free State is based upon the loftiest ideals of humane control of a vast territory and undeveloped interests, and every part of the State's machinery is employed to ensure equal justice to all.

The "method of the State" at which Congo accusers hurl their shafts, cannot be charged with the responsibility for the lawless acts, in a vast territory of a million square miles, where the government of that State is vigilently and earnestly seeking by the extension of its organization and police powers to suppress and punish all crime and redress all wrongs. If the subjects of one nation were compelled to submit to the opinion of its unfriendly neighbors as to the correctness of their habits and conduct, and were compelled to submit themselves to the penalties that their neighbors would attach to the alleged misconduct, the subjects of one nation would be in the prisons of another.

We need hardly call the attention of your government to the great and humane work which your government is now so earnestly and with so much sacrifice furthering in the Philippine Islands, to meet with that broad and sympathetic view of the situation in all savage countries which, if fairly and justly applied to the Congo Free State, would place us upon that plane where co-operation, not criticism, were the merit of our sacrificial work in the darkest part of Africa.

It has been the pleasure of our beloved King, Leopold II., Sovereign of the Congo Free State, to appoint a Commission composed of eminent men to undertake with the utmost freedom a judicial investigation upon all and singular the vague charges from time to time used by the promoters of the "Congo Reform Association" in prostituting certain public journals published in England. Your Excellency may be assured of the utmost integrity of the gentlemen who compose this Commission and that the Congo Government will afford them all the help in its power to place the truth before the eyes of the world.

In this connection Congo reformer~pretend that the decisions of the Congo courts indicate that the government is bad, when in truth and in fact these very decisions are, in our opinion, proof of unimpeachable good faith and judicial independence.

Concerning the Congo standing army of 14,000 natives, as to which some criticism is uttered by the same persons, we need only indicate that the State Government is so well respected in the Congo Basin that it is able to control its vast territory with only seven soldiers to every 625 square miles. We have no doubt that if the Congo governmental system had not included this meagre police force for the repression of tribal strife and the maintenance of order, its critics would have represented the Congo Government as unprepared to guarantee protection to persons and to property, and unable to maintain the integrity of its frontiers. The Congo army is recruited in conformity with the Belgian law of Conscription, which is a restriction of the universal service in continental Europe. When heretofore the government enlisted a part of its army in a neighboring colony, it was requested to desist, the promises of England to permit such recruiting notwithstanding. N ow the Congo Army is characterized as barbarian! We are assured that the Congo Government would have no objection to the advantage of recruiting its army in China, in a manner following that of the Transvaal.

It is the earnest desire of the Belgian people and those who are sincerely interested in the welfare and progress of the native population of mid-Africa, that the good-will and respect of the people of the United States and their President may continue, by their sympathy, to enliven the devotion, energy and sacrifice which the builders of the Congo Free State are expending upon races which but a few years ago were in a state of the wildest savagery. The vein of sympathy between Belgium and America has its highest proof from the fact that we have a large population of Americans residing in Belgium, where their residence has always been peculiarly pleasurable to the Belgian people.

Commending to your Excellency our representative, who is an eminent citizen of the United States and well ·known to its President, we beg for him that courtesy and attention and the application of those broad principles which your Excellency invariably brings to the consideration of all subjects.

We are, Mr. President, with great respect,
Your obedient servants, (Signed) Dufourne,
The President of the Federation pour le Defense des Interets Belges a l'Etranger.

[. . .]

Henry I. Kowalsky to Thomas S. Barbour.

New York, November 16, 1904.

Thomas S. Barbour, D.D., Cor. Sec'y,
American Baptist Missionary Union, Tremont Temple, Boston, Mass.

My Dear Sir:

Your letter of October 18th addressed to me under care of Baron Moncheur, Belgian Minister, Washington, D. C., was forwarded to me at the Hoffman House. I learned of the existence of this letter through the newspapers before I had the honor of receiving the original. The important position you occupy as the executive head of the foreign department of the American Baptist Missionary Society entitles your letter to respectful consideration. Absence from the city and important engagements must be my excuse for not having answered it before this.

I note with pleasure the interest you take in the affairs of the Congo Free State and your desire for light in regard to the conditions existing in that country. You say the impressions made upon your mind by testimony obtained from many sources differ materially from the statements made by me in my conversations with newspaper correspondents regarding the subject. I may say that my views in relation to this subject are in no wise peculiar; they were arrived at after a full investigation of the testimony of reputable and disinterested persons and after an examination of many documents. In fact, I reserved for myself a lawyer's right of thorough investigation, and of being convinced of the truth and justice of the cause of the Congo Free State before consenting to be retained. My continued investigations into the State's affairs and my observation of the methods of those who are slandering and vilifying it, only tend to confirm my belief that a great wrong is being heaped upon a government which is working nobly and unselfishly to advance civilization and religion among a race which but a few years since was wild and savage. Ministers properly following their vocation should be peacemakers, not tormentors of those who, according to the testimony of honest travelers, regardless of creed, have embraced this vast field, and its opportunities to serve God and humanity.

My beliefs represent in the main the views heretofore expressed by his Eminence, Cardinal Gibbons.

Your proposition to meet me in joint debate in the City of Washington would have my hearty approval were it not for the fact that I question the propriety of either you or I engaging, as mere partisans, in debating a question, which as you well say, involves a subject of profound interest affecting the well-being of many millions of people. The subject, in my humble judgment, is too grave and is fraught with too serious consequences to warrant the indulgence of any partisanship, and I am not ambitious to occupy the public eye unnecessarily, especially for the purpose of debating at random along partisan lines.

Permit me to say in all kindness that your letter indicates the advocate and controversialist rather than the unbiased seeker after truth, and I fear that, owing to the weaknesses common to humanity and of which it is reasonable to assume you and I possess our share, a public controversy in the form of a debate would lead only to heated argument not conducive to a correct understanding of the conditions now existing in the Congo Free State. What the Congo Government has always desired and what up to this time it has absolutely been denied, has been the opportunity to meet and answer specific charges made by a complainant whose motives are unquestionably fair and impartial and whose charges are based upon the positive knowledge of a correctly informed person rather than upon irresponsible information and belief.

In order to render the proposed debate of any value in the interests of truth, it must occur to you, as to any right-minded man, that specific charges should be formulated and persons should be directly accused of the crimes so idly made against the Congo Government. I ask you, therefore, to specify the exact charges which are to be the subject of this debate so as to enable me to frame an answer.

In approaching the discussion of this subject, permit me to call your attention to the fact that the claim of impeccability is not asserted by the government in question. It freely confesses that it is a human institution and that at times it may have failed to discover and legally punish grave and serious offenses. On the other hand, it should be conceded by our opponents that the government of such a people as inhabit the immense domain known as the "Congo Free State" is not without difficulty, and that the inhabitants of that region, in common with the other children of Adam, are somewhat marked by the trail of the serpent.

That atrocities were committed by the natives on each other in the early life of this State in accordance with tribal customs, which acts would now be subject to the penal law of the country, may be conceded. These occur even in highly civilized States, and it is not to be wondered that they occasionally happen among a savage and uncivilized people.

The Congo Free State contends, and this contention cannot be successfully denied, that in the main its government has been enlightened and civilized. It has always had an eye single to the welfare and prosperity of its people, and wherever these principles have been departed from it has been due to the infirmities of the human instruments it has employed, infirmities common to all governments and human institutions.

In conclusion, permit me to say that the most disheartening feature of the attempts of the Congo Government to firmly plant civilized institutions in this great territory has been the carping criticism of some of the organizations whose purpose it was believed to be the planting of the seed of Christianity among the uncivilized races of the globe. I recall the fact that at the late Peace Congress held in Boston, it was with difficulty that one of our friends obtained ten minutes' time to reply to an hour's discussion presented by the friends of the Honorary Secretary of a self-constituted Liverpool association. A disgruntled American missionary to whom concessions in the Congo were refused was permitted to inveigh against the government without restriction, but a respectful hearing was denied those who sought to enlighten your Congress with facts and figure. The Resolutions passed were not openly given to the members of the Convention to deliberate upon, but were suddenly sprung upon the body, after a judicious amount of politics had been done to arrange for their passage and to avoid dissent. In fact the conduct of the Peace Congress creates the impression that even good men may not always be relied upon to act fairly; that they are often inclined to confound the denial of the commission of a crime with an expression of sympathy for it. Permit me to further say that neither you nor I are in a position to speak authoritatively for the United States Government, and to call your attention to the fact, which perhaps you have lost sight of, that the government of the Congo is an independent sovereignty, having absolute control, in common with all governments; over its own internal affairs, and that it is responsible only to its own subjects and to the law of nations for any infractions it may commit.

I am leaving for California immediately, where my legal engagements will require my attention until the latter part of December, at which time, if proper issues are framed and it is desirable in the interests of truth, I may arrange to meet you in a public debate.

I am,
Henry I. Kowalsky.

P.S. -- If this is to your satisfaction, you can give copies to Washington Post and Star and also Associated Press.