Title: "Leopold Doomed in Congo Crisis."

Journal: Chicago Daily Tribune

Place of Publication: Chicago

Date: April 28, 1907

Place: Congo Free State


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Leopold Doomed in Congo Crisis.

Misrule and Crime May Force Belgian Monarch to Give Up His Throne.

World's Powers Roused

Determination of Other Nations to End Atrocities Finds Support in Brussels.

By Ex-Attache.

King Leopold has managed during his visit to his capital to bring about a reconstruction of the Catholic right cabinet, under the presidency of M. De Troos, who has hitherto been at the head of the department of the interior. But M. de Troos is far from being a strong statesman, enjoys but little prestige abroad or confidence at home, and the administration, deprived as it is now of the leadership of its most powerful member, Count Smet de Naeyr, who has been at the head of the government ever since 1899, is likely to be short-lived.

The pretext which the count made for resigning the premiership was the defeat of his ministry on the question of limiting the hours of labor in the mines. But the real cause has been the indignation of M. Smet de Naeyr and of his principal colleagues at the failure of the king to fulfill his pledges to the legislature, to his people, and to the world at large in connection with the Congo Free State.

The count has more than once faced parliamentary defeat by endeavoring to champion Leopold's cause in this Congo controversy, in the belief that he could rely upon his monarch's promises. But he discovered a few weeks ago that he had been mistaken in placing any reliance upon the word of his sovereign, that by undertaking, in the latter's name, obligation which he was unable to fulfill, he had placed himself in a false light in the eyes of the nation and of the foreign powers, and consequently he insisted upon resigning, though not until after an extremely stormy interview with Leopold.

Leopold on Volcano's Edge.

If his cabinet was defeated by a large vote it was because the impression prevailed that it was disposed to indorse the king in his refusal to live up to his words in this Congo affair for the lower house is indignant at the manner in which Leopold has behaved in the matter. Count Smet de Naeyr has redeemed himself in its eyes by resigning, in token of his disapproval of the attitude of the crown.

Under the circumstances, the chamber is not likely to have much use for his colleague, who has been prompted by love of office to show himself less scrupulous in this Congo controversy, and as the legislature is strongly opposed to Leopold in this affair, it may be relied upon to speedily overthrow the new cabinet, which is at the best but a sorry piece of patchwork.

That will leave the king face to face with a parliament in which virtually all parties are united against him, especially on this one particular question. Until last year he was able to count upon the support of hs people in the campaign waged upon him all over Europe and in America in connection with his shocking misgovernment of the Congo Free State.

True, he has never been popular in Belgium, where the scandals in his private life, and in particular his unfortunate relations with his family have been a source of humiliation to his subjects in the eyes of foreign nations.

Belgians Lose Confidence.

But the Belgians were keenly alive to all that he had done towards the development of the commerce and industry of the kingdom, and were inclined to regard the stories of the appalling atrocities perpetrated in his name, and by his agents in Congoland, as calumnies prompted by foreign jealousy, and by a desire on the part of Germany, France, and especially England, to annex the empire which he had founded in Western and Central Africa.

When, however, some of the most distinguished and universally respected men of Belgium, first and foremost old ex-Premier Beernaert, leading professors of the Brussels university, such as, for instance, Dr. Caitler, found themselves impelled to publicly assail his methods of rule in the dark continent, the people began to realize that there was probably some foundation after all for the stories related concerning his policy in the Congo valley.

A parliamentary commission was formed, and though everything was done by him to prevent disclosures, sufficient was revealed thereby to create a revulsion of opinion of such importance as to compel him to make certain pledges of reforms, which were to be elaborated by a legislative commission.

These are the pledges that he now declines to fulfill, and he, therefore, at the present moment finds himself no longer with his people behind him, but against him in the fight which is now being waged against him with renewed intensity, not alone by the press and people abroad, but by a number of the great powers. The situation under the circumstances is one of extreme gravity for King Leopold, and he find himself in a more critical position than at any previous moment during his long reign.

Tell King He Should Quit.

Belgian papers, organs of the various political parties, are already openly advocating the abdication of the king, declaring that in the Congo question, as in the Antwerp harbor works controversy, and in a number of other matters, he shows his determination to work his will contrary to that of the nation.

They point out that the autocracy which he has all along exercised in the Free State has ended by influencing in recent years his policy as ruler of Belgium, and that since he apparently no longer admits the limitations set by the constitution of Belgium to his power, the only thing that remains for him is to do as Emperor Charles v. did in 1555 -- namely, abandon his throne.

They add that Leopold's misgovernment of the Congo, and his virtual refusal to comply with the demands for the correction of the almost inconceivable abuses there, are affecting Belgium's relations with a number of foreign powers in a manner calculated to seriously injure her economic and political interests, and that in order to defend these interests, Belgium may find herself compelled in the near future to right herself in the eyes of these foreign powers by repudiating the king, which is equivalent to a threat to remove him from his Belgian throne as a menace to the nation.

Says Crimes Are Well Known.

I will not attempt here to recapitulate all the horrors of King Leopold's reign in the Congo, horrors that are perpetrated in his name by his agents, not only black but also white, and for which he is responsible.

The stories concerning them have been proclaimed throughout the world, have been printed in well nigh every newspaper of the universe, confirmed by photographic reproductions of the mutilations to which those unfortunate Africans are subjected who were so foolishly confided to the tender mercies of his rule by the great powers, when about a quarter of a century ago they invested him with the sovereignty of the so-called Free State.

They are stories that have been proved over and over again by the most irrefutable evidence of trustworthy English, Austrian, and Italian government officials, by missionaries, and by merchants, and that have been substantiated in the English parliament by statesmen such as Sire Charles Dilke, by responsible ministers of the English crown, such as Sir Edward Grey, the secretary of foreign affairs, and likewise in the national legislature of Belgium, both by official and private members, and by parliamentary committees of inquiry.

There is nothing to add to this save to state that the maladministration and inhumanity are just as rampant as every, and that the Congo Free State remains today, as it has been until now, to all intents and purposes a huge plantation, exploited for and by Leopold through methods which differ only in name from slave labor, and which are far more atrociously wasteful of human life than any that were ever followed 200 years ago in the British or Spanish West Indies.

The only change, if change it can be called, is the recent concession by Leopold of a tract of some 2,500,000 acres for sixty years on the bank of the Congo to an American syndicate, of which Thomas F. Ryan is the chief, which of course has the effect of increasing the interest of the country in the welfare of that particular portion of Africa.

May Repudiate Monarch.

Nor is anything in the way of amendment to be expected from Leopold save by actual force. Like the sultan at Constantinople, he relies upon the jealousies among the various foreign powers with regard to African meters to prevent any concerted or even individual action against him, which is a mistaken impression, since the English government has declared in parliament that it had no desire to add the Congo valley to its possessions, but that it would decline to tolerate any longer the existing conditions of things there.

As stated in the editorial columns of a great New York daily newspaper the other day, "he is incorrigible by appeals to humanity and decency" and the only solution of the problem which he presents is his removal from the throne by the Belgian people and their annexation of the Congo Free State in defiance of his opposition and in compliance with national sentiment and the repeated demands of the foreign powers.

So much misapprehension exists with regard to the rights of Belgium to annex the Congo Free State that a few brief words of explanation concerning the matter may be timely.

After King Leopold had obtained in 1884 and 1885 the separate and collective recognition of his African enterprise from the United States and the European powers on certain well defined lines -- to which he has never adhered -- his next step was to secure the necessary consent of the Belgian legislature to his assumption of the title of sovereign of the Congo state.

This "fusion of the two crowns," as it was termed, was not obtained without considerable opposition, and then only through the efforts of the premier, M. Beernaert.

As far back as 1890 the subject of annexation was discussed in the Belgian legislature, and on the strength of her eventual possession of its territory Belgium loaned the Congo Free State $3,000,000. No interest was to be paid for the money, but Belgium was to annex the Congo in 1900.

Plot Seen in Loan.

In 1895 it was suddenly discovered that the Congo Free State, which had its seat of government at Brussels, had secretly borrowed, without informing the Belgian legislature, a sum of about $2,000,000 from an Antwerp banker, that the time limit was about to expire for repayment, and that, failing such, the banker in question would come into possession for all time of a slice of Congo territory five times the size of Belgium. The Belgian chamber thereupon voted the money for the extinction of the debt, and this still further increased the financial lien of the nation upon the Free State.

In 1900 a bill for the annexation of the Congo was drafted and submitted to the legislature by M. Beernaert, and was assured of a large majority. At the last moment, however, the king caused an extraordinary letter to be read to parliament by his devoted henchman, M. Woest, in which he bluntly declared that if the house voted the annexation on the strength of which alone it had advanced the money, he would refuse to administer the Congo during the inevitable interregnum. In other words, he would withdraw the whole machinery of administration of the Congo.

The house was paralyzed. No law existed for the government of colonial possessions. It would have taken considerable time to build up a new administration, even after the latter had been legislatively authorized, and in the meanwhile the most terrible conclusion, probably insurrection and chaos, would have prevailed in the Congo valley.

Take Up Annexation Bill.

Accordingly, annexation was not voted, but a project of law for the administration of the colonial possessions of Belgium was submitted to the house, but delayed and obstructed by means of monarchical intrigues until last year, when the pressure from foreign powers, and the consequent discussion by the Belgian chamber of the misgovernment of the Congo, brought it once more to the front. Thereupon King Leopold, in a letter dated June 3, 1906, and communicated to the Belgian legislature, intimated a number of arbitrary conditions upon which alone he was ready to consent to the annexation by Belgium of the Free State.

These pretensions were repudiated by an almost unanimous vote of the chamber, which moreover, decided that a parliamentary committee should proceed without delay to the elaboration of the colonial bill of 1901 which had been so long pigeonholed, and which provided for the administration of the Congo immediately on the annexation of that country.

The king was for once in a way alarmed by the outburst of popular opinion, and but he attitude of the chambers, and, yielding to his ministers, authorized the cabinet to promise in his name all the information and assistance in elaborating the scheme in question.

Later on -- that is to say, this winter -- he seems to have come to the conclusion that he had been unduly scared, and now he absolutely refuses to give any information himself or to allow the sate department of the Congo Free State at Brussels to furnish any of the data needed by the parliamentary committee as to the revenues, the expenditure, and the royal and state ownership of land in the Congo valley."

Still Fights Belgian Plan.

Moreover, he has intimated afresh that he does not think that the time for annexation has arrived, and that when it does take place and the Congo Valley becomes a Belgian colony it must be on the distinct understanding that he shall retain absolute power as Belgian king over the Congo, independent of any control by the Belgian parliament, and especially that nothing shall ever be done by the latter to interfere with the management and ownership of all that portion of Congo territory which he has appropriated during the last twenty years as his personal property, and which comprises some 60 per cent of the 9,000,000 square miles constituting the total area of the Free State, and which is its most fertile and productive portion. His idea, of course, is that he shall be at liberty to dispose of this as he wishes to be free to make arrangements such as he has recently concluded with Thomas F. Ryan, without being obliged to secure the sanction of the Belgian legislature.

In one word, King Leopold is balking at annexation, and is doing everything in his power to prevent and retard it, while he is showing his determination that if by any chance his hand is forced in the matter, and he is compelled to assent to annexation, he shall nevertheless still remain the absolute autocrat of the colony, and continue to misgovern it as he pleases, and as he has done until now, in defiance of all the laws of civilization and humanity. Shameless in his vices, which have led to his being boycotted by every court of Europe, unrestrained by any consideration of personal or political propriety, utterly devoid of all sense of the obligations of a Christian rule of the twentieth century, he has developed in the eventide of a singularly cynical and heartless life, all the characteristics of a Caligula.