William Tyler Grove

Greed Disguised as Humanitarianism: The Story of the Congo Reform Movement

Appalachian Spring Conference in World History and Economics

March 4, 2010


Introduction Belgian King Leopold II felt that every true European monarch needed to have his own colony. Leopold II looked around the world, making offers for colonies and eventually took the large Congo River basin as his personal property. He professed to the world through media and expositions that he was going to civilize these savages and take them away from terrible Arab slave traders. Edmund Dene Morel was a clerk for the British firm Elder Dempster that shipped goods for King Leopold II from Antwerp to the Congo. An intelligent and bilingual man, Morel realized that there was a massive trade deficiency. The vast amount of expensive raw goods that were coming from the Congo did not even closely equal the amount of goods being sent back to Belgium. The only items that were shipped back to the Congo were tools of war: guns, ammunition and knives. In Morel’s mind, this meant only one thing: slavery. Morel was an excellent writer who would make this issue his personal campaign and found the Congo Reform Association. In her article “The Childhood of Human Rights: the Kodak on the Congo,” Sharon Sliwinski finds the writings of the Congo Reform Association as among the earliest critics of empire and advocates of a secular human rights…. That can be regarded as a forerunner to the work of present-day humanitarian groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.”1 This paper disagrees with this premise. Although many historians have argued that this was the first humanitarian effort of the 20th century, the motives were not humanitarian and were based solely on trade and greed by King Leopold II. This effort was not a precursor to Amnesty International. It is easy to regard

Sliwinski, 334.


3 the Congo Reform Association as a “humanitarian” organization, but that is an oversimplification. The motives for the CRA and their beneficiaries did not always have the welfare of the natives in mind. The people who supported the CRA were united in their hatred of Leopold, but each person had different reasons to want a change of government in the Congo. The reasons for change seem to be four-fold, some wanted change for financial motives, religious motives, scapegoating (Leopold) and philanthropic interests. Some simply wanted someone else to blame for the conditions of European Imperialism. Members of the CRA may not have consciously realized their true motivations for joining the group, but ultimately they were not driven primarily by humanitarian aims. Structure The structure of this paper includes an introduction that includes arguments, a theoretical bibliographic introduction, body which outlines the history of the Congo Reform Association providing evidence and a conclusion. Theoretical Bibliographic Introduction There are an enormous amount of sources dealing with the history and aftermath of the colonization of the Congo by Leopold II. The sources are scattered around the world, but many are readily available. Many of these books are out of copyright but are available in their entirety from Google Books. The writings about the Congo Free State and the Congo Reform Association were originally written in both English and French. The following is a chronological histiography of the sources. This is not a complete list; many sources were not used due to time constraints.



Primary Sources This paper begins with articles from The New York Times dated March 28, 1877 and March 28, 1883. These are not the first to mention the Congo. This author also uses an article from The Times of London, dated March 28, 1883. Henry Morton Stanley’s address in 1884 to the Manchester Chamber of Commerce is used to give a perspective of European opinions of Africa. The first example of the protest movement was the 1890 ‘Open letter to King Leopold the second of Belgium’ by George Washington Williams. It is located in John Hope Franklin’s George Washington Williams: a Biography. Morel was the protégé of Mary H. Kingsley, whose West African Studies (1899), was the most progressive European opinion of Africans at the time. Kingsley believed that trade was the essence of Britain’s relationship with West Africa. The first work that E.D. Morel published under his own name was The Congo Slave State: a Protest Against the New African Slavery; and an Appeal to the Public of Great Britain, of the United States, and of the Continent of Europe in Liverpool in 1903. The positive response to this book inspired Morel to work on African affairs full time. With the success of his first book, Morel went on a writing spree publishing King Leopold’s Rule in Africa in London in 1904. The Morel papers are located in the archives of the London School of Economics. The archives are not available online. Morel would also publish many other books that were not referenced in this paper. As Morel’s anti-Leopold books came out, a propaganda war began with positive accounts such as John MacDonnell’s King Leopold II: His rule in Belgium and the


5 Congo. Published in 1905, it was a secondary source at the time it was written; it contains many speech excerpts from Leopold II. American lawyer Henry Wellington Wack published another positive account, The Story of the Congo Free State: Social, Political, and Economic Aspects of the Belgian System of Government in Central Africa in New York in 1905. The volume contains a transcript of the speech given by Leopold at the Brussels Conference of 1876. Morel’s seminal work was Red Rubber: The Story of the Rubber Slave Trade which Flourished on the Congo published in 1906, it was the most scathing and horrific account of what was occurring in the Congo using all the knowledge available at the time. It was considered the most important work of investigative journalism of the era. E.D. Morel would die before he was able to complete his History of the Congo Reform Movement. Morel had wanted a noted historian such as John Hobson to complete his work if he could not. It was completed by historians William Roger Louis, an American, and Jean Stengers, a Belgian. These two historians working on opposite sides of the Atlantic completed Morel’s book in 1968 using all available resources and deciphering his notes. Secondary Sources With the independence of the Congo in 1960, another group of scholarship emerged. Neal Aecherson’s The King Incorporated: King Leopold II in the Age of Trusts was published in 1964. This book was the first historical work to portray Leopold II as an ingenious politician to achieve his colonial ambitions rather than to argue whether Leopold was a devil or saint.


6 The 1972 printing of E.D. Morel’s The Truth and the War includes an introduction by Catherine Ann Cline that provides a good synopsis of Morel’s life. Thomas Pakenham’s book The Scramble for Africa: White Man's Conquest of the Dark Continent from 1876-1912 provides statistics of the exploitation of the Congo among other things, and contains a history of all European involvement in Africa between 18761912. The most current scholarship is Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold's Ghost: a Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa published in 1998. It was an unexpected bestseller, telling the haunting story of the Congo in an engaging, narrative style. This work was used to put Leopold in historical context. Hochschild covers all sides of the establishment of the Belgian Congo in his book. Hochschild focuses especially on the freedom movement lead by E.D. Morel and Roger Casement. Hochschild is a journalism professor based in California and has become an expert in Congo Affairs. In the New York Times book review for King Leopold’s Ghost, it is described as “Genocide with Spin Control.” In 2001, Kevin Grant wrote “Christian Critics of Empire: Missionaries, Lantern Lectures, and the Congo Reform Campaign in Britain” in The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, which follows the history of the lantern lectures in Britain. Sharon Sliwinski’s “The Childhood of Human Rights: the Kodak on the Congo” in the Journal of Visual Culture in 2006 tells the story of how the media influenced the outcome of the Congo Reform Movement. She also gives a background of the Congo Reform Association and includes an extensive reading list. Leopold II and his Congo, if


7 history is our guide, will continue to be presented. But this author is unsure if any new scholarship will emerge.

The Founding of Belgium Belgium was a relative late-comer to the European community formed in 1830 after a revolt with Holland. It was formed after the separation of Belgium and the Netherlands. Like any good European country, it needed its own monarch. Leopold I, a relative of Queen Victoria, became the king. His son, Leopold II would ascend to the throne in 1865 at his father’s death. In King Leopold’s Ghost, author Adam Hochschild finds that the king had an unhappy personal life. As with any monarch, his first duty was to create a male heir; his wife did have one son, but he died at a young age. Hochschild believes the most devastating moment of Leopold’s life was when his nine year old son fell into a pond. He caught pneumonia and died. This was the only time that Leopold was seen in public with tears in his eyes; his successor was dead.2 Hochschild finds that Leopold II had a loveless marriage. Leopold’s life was plagued with traumatic and unhappy events. Despite a miserable personal life, Leopold recognized that he could make a name for himself with his fellow monarchs by acquiring a colony. He also felt that having colonies would ensure his country’s prosperity and his own personal fortune. Due to his position as a constitutional monarch, Leopold knew he did not have the power to create a colony for Belgium. The Belgian people would not support his affairs, so he would have to work as an individual, not as king. His first attempt to gain a colony was trying


Hochschild, Adam. King Leopold's Ghost: a Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa. (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1998): 39.


8 unsuccessfully to buy the Philippines from Spain. For Leopold, a man beginning close to a century later than the rest of the imperialists, there was only one unclaimed area. In 1870 roughly 80% of sub-Saharan Africa was living under indigenous rulers. By 1910 virtually all of it consisted of European colonies or white settler regimes. It was the fastest land grab in history.3 Leopold would be an active participant in this second wave of imperialism. Stanley Exploration / Hiring Leopold realized to become a serious player in the international exploration community, he would need to become friends with the explorers who were discovering these new lands. In 1876, he sponsored a conference in Brussels for these explorers. It was a lavish public relations campaign and Leopold was happy with his position of wielding control from the background. This conference was to discuss the issues of Africa. The goal was “to open to civilization the only part of our globe where Christianity has not yet penetrated and to pierce the darkness which envelops the whole population.”4 His other stated aim was to fight the Arab slave traders. Leopold II masqueraded as an individual who had the native Africans’ best interests in mind. Out of his 1876 conference, the International African Association was formed and Leopold, the ever gracious host was elected its president. At the time, Leopold II believed 80% of Africa was ripe for conquest “for protection”.5 Leopold was at his best as the “behind the scenes” sponsor of African exploration, but he knew he could not do it on his own. Leopold needed a well-known explorer to make his case.

Hochschild, Adam. Congo’s Many Plunders. Economic and Political Weekly. vol. 36, no. 4. (Jan 27- Feb 2, 2001) 287-288. 4 Parkenman, Thomas. The Scramble for Africa: White Man's Conquest of the Dark Continent from 18761912. (London: Weidenfield & Nicolson, 1991.)21. 5 Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost, 42.


9 Henry Morton Stanley had traced the Congo River to its source. Stanley was loved by the worldwide press and Leopold realized that this could be used to his advantage. The New York Times wrote in 1877 that “it is very certain that if skill, bravery and perseverance could ensure success, Stanley would solve every problem of the African geography within the next two years.”6 The idea plagued Europeans that Africans could not solve their own problems and needed protection. Realizing the value of having such a person as his representative, Leopold contacted Stanley to see if he would be willing to open up Central Africa and the Congo River Valley to world markets. Eventually, after finding that Britain was not interested in more colonies, Stanley agreed to work for Leopold. Between 1879 and 1884, Stanley built a road around the Congo River and created numerous trading posts on the Congo River. Henry Morton Stanley’s comments to the Manchester Chamber of Commerce in 1884 represent the sentiments of Europeans at the time: “There are 40 million naked people on the other side of the rapids, and the cotton-spinners of Manchester are waiting to clothe them...Birmingham's factories are glowing with the red metal that shall presently be made into ironwork in every fashion and shape for them... and the ministers of Christ are zealous to bring them, the poor benighted heathen, into the Christian fold.”7 While Stanley was working in Africa, Leopold created another organization, the International Association of the Congo, which would be paying for its development. Leopold was using deception in creating these organizations. A press report published in the New York Times that was titled the “International Congo Association” which people thought was written by a Belgian correspondent was actually written by Leopold

6 7

The New York Times. March 28, 1877, p. 4 column 4. Manchester Chamber of Commerce, Address of Mr. H. Stanley. Manchester. A. Ireland, 1884, 26-27.


10 himself.8 The article said that “the International Congo Association does not seek to gain money, and does not beg for aid from any state, (it) resembles in a measure…the society of the Red Cross; it has been formed by means of large voluntary contributions and with the noble gain of rendering lasting and disinterested services to the cause of progress.” 9 King Leopold declared in the founding of this organization that he had no intention of ownership over the region.10 To deceive the public and politicians, he started interchanging the names of the International Africa Association and International Association of the Congo. But for his colony to be considered legitimate, Leopold needed another country to recognize his claim. In America, Leopold found some unlikely allies who, after the American Civil War, considered the possibility of sending ex-slaves back to Congo. Through Leopold II’s contacts, America officially recognize the claim of Leopold to the Congo on April 2, 1884. At age fifty, Leopold finally had his own colony. Germany’s Bismarck called the European powers for a conference on Africa in 1884-85, which led to the “Scramble for Africa.” In this meeting, Leopold was given complete control over the Congo Free State; in return, he guaranteed free trade rights, no monopolies, no taxes and no tariffs. The act legally guaranteed the moral well-being of the native tribes.11

8 9

The Times, March 28, 1883, p. 3 column E. The New York Times. March 28, 1883, p. 4, column 5. 10 Leopold II. Speech given at the Brussels conference of 1876. As shown in MacDonnell, John. King Leopold the second his rule in Belgium and the Congo. (New York: Negro Universities Press, 1905.) 94. 11 “General Act of the Berlin Conference” 1885. As shown in Gavin, RJ. The Scramble for Africa: Documents on the Berlin West African Conference and Related Subjects 1884/1885 (Ibadan Nigeria: Ibadan University Press, 1973) 288- 301.


11 In 1885, Leopold II was recognized and named the sovereign of the Congo.12 The stated aim for his empire was a benevolent society, a group to bring civilization to these people of the Congo. “It (Leopold’s reforms in the Congo) will connect closely the Congo with the mother country, which will prompt Europe (whose eyes follow us) to take a benevolent and generous interest in all our labours, which will convey to our progress a more and more rapid and decisive impetus, and which will soon introduce into the vast region of the Congo all the blessings of Christian civilization.”13 With the Congo under Leopold’s control, the extraction of resources began. Leopold created a state run monopoly on natural resources. The first was ivory. In 1887, the inflatable bicycle tire was invented and spawned, along with the car tire, a worldwide rubber boom. The Congo just happened to have one of the largest natural reserves of wild rubber in the world. The Congo was a “treasure house” teeming with resources.14 In 1891, the government seized all “vacant lands.” The law explicitly established that “any attempt on the part of the aboriginal inhabitants of the State to utilize the fruits of the soil would be regarded and treated as a penal offence, and that European merchants residing for the time being within the confines of the State should seek to benefit from the utilisation of the soil’s fruits by the aborigines through the normal operation of purchase or sale, would be prosecuted in the courts.”15 This mass privatization of land fundamentally contradicted the African ideal of land. Early Attempts at Reform

12 13

ibid. Burrows, Guy. The Land of the Pigmies. (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Company, 1898). 288. 14 Pakenham, 524. 15 E.D. Morel’s History of the Congo Reform Movement. William Roger Louis and Jean Stengers. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1968). 44.


12 An American, George Washington Williams, traveled up the Congo River and wrote a letter to the king about the atrocities which were occurring. Written in 1890, it was the first account of the tricks and cruel slave trade which were being forced upon the Congo natives. Williams also wrote a letter to the U.S. President Benjamin Harrison describing it as “crimes against humanity.”16 This was the first documented usage of this term. A counter movement to defame Williams was quickly established by Leopold. But in 1891, Williams’ death ended the opportunity for early reform efforts. 17 As Williams was not mentioned in Morel’s History of the Congo Reform Movement, it appears that the Congo Reform Association may have been unaware of his early actions. The Force Publique To enforce the rules of the Congo, a 19,000 men strong military force called the Force Publique was formed. It was essentially Leopold II’s personal army. Segregation was enforced with officers white, the soldiers black. The officers were mercenaries from around the world.18 Its first responsibility was making sure that the government had a monopoly on the trade of raw materials through the collection laws. The Force Publique ruled with an iron hand. The leaders were sadistic; one officer, Leon Rom, was known to have his garden lined with the heads of dead Africans.19 The Force Publique routinely took and tortured hostages (mostly women), flogged, and raped the natives. At its height, half of the state budget was used by the Force Publique. One instrument of torture that


Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost, 112 Williams, George Washington ‘Open letter to King Leopold the second of Belgium’, in John Hope Franklin (ed.) George Washington Williams: a Biography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1985. 18 Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost, 124. 19 ibid, 145.


13 would become notorious and unique to the Congo was the Hippo-skin whip called the chicotte.20 Leopold had set up a vast labor camp. As deaths rose, so did Leopold’s profits. The first news from the Congo Free State that garnered major international attention was in 1895 when Charles Stokes, a white man, was killed. Stokes’ trading competed with that of the State and a Force Publique expedition was sent out to find him. Stokes was hanged on the spot.21 In response to public outcry after the death of Stokes, Leopold established the Commission for the Protection of Natives (1895) to ensure the well being of natives. This commission gave the illusion of progress in the Congo. Early Missionaries At first, missionaries were quiet about the atrocities. They would hear stories and evidence but actually never viewed the atrocities first hand. There were two reasons. First, they were concerned that if they mentioned this to the government, they would be forced to leave the country. Second, the missionaries believed that although many natives died of numerous atrocities, at least they died as Christians. There was competition between the Protestant and Catholic missionaries for larger areas of influence. But these missionaries were key witnesses and would eventually support the public outcry against events in the Congo. E.D. Morel’s Life Georges Edmond Pierre Achille Morel de Ville was born in Paris on July 15, 1873. The product of a French father and English mother, Morel would not know his father because he would die early in his life. He was raised by his Quaker mother in Paris and would later take English Citizenship and change his name to Edmund Dene Morel.

Sliwinski, Sharon. “The Childhood of Human Rights: the Kodak on the Congo.” Journal of Visual Culture. Vol. 5 No. 3 (2006), 334. 21 Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost, 174.


14 In 1891, Morel was awarded a clerkship with the Elder Dempster Company, a shipping firm. Morel moved to Liverpool and his French language abilities helped him become the firm’s contact for shipping between Antwerp and the Congo. This position stimulated his interest in West Africa and furnished him with information concerning the developments in the region. This position served as the basis for the majority of his writings. After viewing the Congo trade and analyzing the records, Morel noticed someone was obviously skimming the profits because they greatly exceeded what was written on the books. Morel found that “something like 80% of the articles that were being imported into the Congo were remote to trade purposes.”22 Morel states that upon his discovery of this trade, it was as if “I had stumbled upon a secret society of murderers with a King for croniman.”23 Morel modeled his arguments after those of his contemporary, author Mary Kingsley. She saw the African “neither as the half devil and half child of the pseudo Darwinists nor as the benighted brother of the Christian missionaries.”24 Of the three groups of Europeans in Africa at that time (missionaries, government officials and traders) Kinglsey approved only of the traders. Morel believed the only reason for the European involvement was “We are in West Africa to trade not to preach.”25 The traders, whose interests Morel defended, were “the most enlightened European element in African affairs.”26 Increasingly, Morel mused on the “difficulties of the opposing European civilizations in the tropics, finely questioning whether the benefit to the Africans could possibly be worth the price they had paid in the loss of life resulting from
22 23

Morel, History of the Congo Reform Movement, 36. Ibid, 42. 24 Morel, E.D. Truth and the War. ed. Catherine Ann Cline. (New York: Garland Publications, 1972) 14. 25 Ibid, 15. 26 Ibid.


15 European penetration.”27 Morel could be considered a progressive thinker of his day; he had a growing respect for African culture. Despite this progressive thinking, Morel’s beliefs are not inline with those of Amnesty International. Morel believed that uplifting the natives with better conditions would also help the ruling country. Morel was “skeptical of the excuse, which he had himself offered earlier, which was African barbarism, rather than the policy of the regime, which was responsible for the frequent atrocities.”28 His opinions were definitely changing in response to the reports surfacing from the Congo Free State. Morel’s first series of articles about the Congo was titled “The Congo Scandal” and was published anonymously in July of 1900.29 The positive reaction to these articles encouraged Morel to quit the Elder Dempster shipping line in 1901, but not before his superiors attempted to buy him off. At twenty seven, Morel was going to be a journalist focusing on exposing the barbarities in the Congo. Morel began publishing the West African Mail, a weekly illustrated newspaper in 1903, which kept people informed of what was occurring in the Congo, based on the insider reports that were smuggled out.30 It also provided a forum of West and Central African questions. Morel’s journalism abilities were all self-taught and impressive. He brought international concern over the reports of atrocities and freely made himself the arch-nemesis of Leopold. For Morel, even describing the Congo Free State as a state is “palpably a misnomer, a fiction and a subterfuge.”31 Because there was no law making body, any laws were simply decrees and all the respective districts were simply responsible for the
27 28

Ibid, 14. Ibid, 19. 29 Ibid, 17. 30 Grant, Kevin. “Christian Critics of Empire: Missionaries, Lantern Lectures, and the Congo Reform Campaign in Britain.” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History. 2001. 32. 31 Morel, History of the Congo Reform Movement, 45


16 collection of taxes. The proceedings of the courts were not published, so there was no legal accountability. Leopold operated as the legislative and executive branches as the Sovereign of the Congo, a different role than the one he played as King of the Belgians. There were no limitations on him and no oversight by any group. Morel describes Leopold in chilling terms “in the fullest and most literal sense of the word, Leopold II was the supreme dictator, the sole arbitrator of the destinies of a vast population of Africans whom he had never seen, inhabiting an immense territory.”32 In 1903, Morel completed his first book, The Congo Slave State: A Protest Against the New African Slavery; And an Appeal to the Public of Great Britain, of the United States, and of the Continent of Europe,33 which presented damning statistics of the trade deficit between the Congo and Belgium. Even today, if you look at statistics from the Congo at this time period, they probably originally came from Morel. He was one of the few to see the actual documents and was noted for his painstaking accuracy and few factual errors. “Over the years, enemies and allies alike have searched his work for factual errors, with scant success.”34 Leopold was able to successfully fend off public accusations until 1903, when humanitarian pressure eventually led to parliamentary debate on the Congo in the British House of Commons. In May, the House of Commons passed a resolution urging that Congo natives be governed with humanity. The House sent Consul Roger Casement to report on the conditions in the Congo. Casement’s response was overwhelming, “I have returned from the Upper Congo today with convincing evidence of shocking
32 33

Ibid. Morel, Edmund D. The Congo Slave State: A Protest against the New African Slavery; And an Appeal to the Public of Great Britain, of the United States, and of the Continent of Europe. (Liverpool: John Richardson & Sons, Printers, 1903.) 34 Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost, 188.


17 misgovernment and wholesale oppression.”35 Which he accused European nations of turning a blind eye to the atrocities, “It is an extraordinary thing that the conscience of Europe which seventy years ago…put down the slave trade on humanitarian grounds tolerates the Congo state today. It is as if the moral clock had been put back.”36 Upon his return to England, Casement wrote his report, which would be one of the most critical reports on the situation of the natives in the Congo. The Casement Report of 1903 was the first official government document exposing the atrocities in The Congo. Casement was able to contrast conditions with those of his previous Congo travels in 1890. In what were once thriving towns, the people had died or fled, leaving trails of desolation. His descriptions of the decline of human and animal populations, the crippling taxation of natives, and the provision of slave labor horrified the British public. The most scandalous criticism was twofold: his confirmation of the Congo regime’s use of the Force Publique for hostage taking, and the documentation of one particular mutilation that became the icon of Leopold’s entire colonial regime: the cutting off of the hands.37 The Casement report suggested that Belgian officers required proof of native deaths by bringing a right hand. These hands were usually smoked to keep them from decaying in route to the officers. He found this information from a government informant, and also in two interviews with victims of the atrocities.38 The Casement report was a fatal blow for Leopold. It was the proof of atrocities of an established system. The second element was the missionaries’ descriptions that confirmed the report.


Sir Roger Casement, Séamas Ó Síocháin, Michael O'Sullivan. The Eyes of Another Race: Roger Casement's Congo Report and the 1903 Diary (Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2003.) 2. 36 Pakenham, 656. 37 Sliwinski, 338. 38 Ibid, 339.


18 Personally, Roger Casement wanted to be active in a campaign to bring attention to the cause, but due to his government position Casement knew that he could not personally do it, so he contacted his friend Morel to get him to start an organization. The Congo Reform Association was founded and based in Liverpool. According to her article, “The Childhood of Human Rights: the Kodak on the Congo” Sharon Sliwinski considers this to be the first humanitarian effort of the 20th century.39 It was a machine designed by Morel to arouse public opinion against the King. The images it published in 1905 became the most effective in changing public opinion of the atrocities in the Congo. The goals of the CRA were adapted in a resolution in 1905 which called “upon His Majesty’s Government to convoke an assembly of the Christian Powers…. In order to devise and put in force a scheme for a good government of the Congo territories.”40 The CRA had no clearly structured achievable goals. The CRA never stated they believed that the people of the Congo deserved self-rule. This alliance between the Congo Reform Association and the missionaries consisted of two groups with a common goal but, differing motivations. Morel and his group wanted to open the Congo to true free trade and honor the Berlin Act of 1884-85. The missionaries wanted to have access in order to Christianize the native populations. In his first six months of Congo Reform Association, Morel published fifteen thousand brochures and wrote three thousand letters soliciting donations. The reasons for donations to the Congo Reform Association were often not as noble as one might think. Some of the largest donors, such as William Cadbury, simply wanted commercial access to the

39 40

Sliwinski, 334. Hochschild, 214.


19 area. Cadbury wanted to find raw materials for his confectionary business, particularly cocoa beans. For Hochschild, Morel was also good at fitting his message to his audience, reminding them Leopold’s monopolistic system was also copied by the French in Africa and had shut them (his businessmen audience) out of much trade.41 Morel increasingly viewed himself as the leader of the Congo Reform Association and he believed himself to be the link who could write under philanthropic, missionary, scapegoating and commercial interests in a demand for British diplomatic action against the Congo Free State. These beliefs were not exclusively commercial. By 1905, Morel believed himself to be a “servant of the public cause,” not a journalist.42 In 1906, Morel published the infamous Red Rubber. The book was a deliberate effort to arouse the emotions of its readers.43 Morel describes the treatment of the Congolese as “a crime unparalleled in the annals of the world.”44 “I have stood on that quay of Antwerp and seen that rubber disgorged from the bowels of the incoming steamer, and to my fancy there has mingled with the musical chimes ringing in the old Cathedral tower, another sound – the faintest echo of a sigh from the depths of the dark and stifling hold. A sigh breathed in the gloomy Equatorial forest, by those from whose anguish this wealth was wrung.”…“But the Leopoldian conception of humanity is the humanity of the human tiger thirsting, not for blood, but for rubber.”45 Morel describes his radical beliefs for the time as the Congolese possessing certain inalienable rights such as the right to property and control over their free labor.46

41 42

Ibid, 213. Morel, E.D. Truth and the War 21. 43 Sliwinski, 344. 44 Morel, E.D. Red Rubber. xxvii. 45 Ibid, 99-100. 46 Ibid, xxviii.


20 Red Rubber would become the most famous example of British investigative journalism at the turn of the century. Americans also were active in Congo Reform. In 1906, Mark Twain wrote King Leopold’s Soliloquy: A Defense of His Congo Rule, which was a long monologue written from the point of view of Leopold himself as he fusses and fumes about the state of his colony.47 Twain specifically brings up the influence of the Kodak. Leopold tells what he thinks about the Kodak camera saying, “The Kodak has been a soul calamity to us. The most powerful enemy indeed. In the early years we had no trouble in getting the press to expose details of mutilations as slanders, lies, inventions of busybody American missionaries and exasperated foreigners…. Then up all of the sudden came the crash! That is to say the incorruptible Kodak – and all the harmony with the hell.”48 As with any campaign, when well-known public figures became involved, it provided more publicity for the cause. Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle also became involved in Morel’s efforts writing the introduction to his 1909 book, The Crime of the Congo. Doyle’s explanation for his interest in writing about the Congo was that he believed that the crime against the Congo was the worst in the history of the world, “It is this sordid cause and the uncitious hypocrisy which makes this crime unparalleled in its horror.”49 The Missionaries A key component of the Congo Reform Movement was the missionaries, which spread information about the atrocities. They did this by delivering thousands of lantern lectures with heartbreaking images throughout Europe and North America. In his article
47 48

Sliwinski, 345. Mark Twain, King Leopold’s Soliloquy: A Defense of His Congo Rule. (New York: International Books. 1906): 68. 49 Arthur Conan Doyle, The Crime of the Congo. (New York: Doubleday, Page and Company. 1909): iii.


21 Christian Critics of Empire: Missionaries, Lantern Lectures, and the Congo Reform Campaign in Britain, Kevin Grant believes that “missionaries played a central role in mobilizing popular support for the Congo Reform campaign in Britain, the largest humanitarian movement in British Imperial politics during the late Victorian and Edwardian eras.”50 The article tells the stories behind the most infamous photos that came out of the Congo. These missionaries appealed to a mythic ideal of universal human dignity and alternately used the Congo crisis to promote their respective ambitions for Central Africa.51 In his article, Grant suggests the images that were included were “simultaneously to embody the humanity of the Congo people and the inhumanity of regime that literally consumed them in its accounting”.52 Grant believes this campaign was the first humanitarian movement to use atrocity photographs as an essential tool.53 The reports from the Congo gave another perspective and gave credence to the claims. “Missionaries reported the Congo State officials required their African sentries to produce one hand for every shot fired, in order to ensure that cartridges were spent on people, rather than wild game.”54 The Belgian Inquiry of 1905 In response to the Casement Report, Leopold established his own committee to study the conditions of the natives in the Congo. Leopold was unable to control the outcome of the committee that formed. One member of the inquiry was the missionary John Harris, who would write of the atrocities that were occurring and provided images and documents used by Morel and in the lantern lectures. In a remarkable move for the
50 51

Grant, 28. Sliwinski, 335. 52 Grant, 33. 53 Sliwinski, 334. 54 Grant, 33.


22 time, Harris even asked in a widely printed letter if the King should be tried and hanged at the newly established international tribunal in The Hague.55

The Death of Leopold II In August 1908, Leopold burned the Congo State Archive. Leopold was quoted as saying, “I will give them my Congo, but they have no right to know what I did there.”56 In 1908, King Leopold II officially turned the Congo over to Belgium for 150 million francs. The next year, Leopold II died. At the time, he was considered the most hated man in Europe, largely due to the success of the anti-Leopold Congo propaganda. The CRA chose a target, a person, Leopold II as their villain when he is gone, they claim victory. At its last meeting on June 13th 1913, the Congo Reform Association claimed victory. Was this really a victory? Though life had improved for the natives, they were still bound to the land by taxes. One system had been replaced by another. The problem for the Congo Reform Association was with the death of Leopold, they had lost their villain. Conclusion Demographers estimate that between 1880 and 1920, the Congolese population was slashed in half, a loss of 10,000,000 people. 57 Instead of helping ‘civilize’ the native population, King Leopold II established a regime that is thought to have been directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of half of the Congolese population and many more were maimed for life.58 Leopold II became one of the richest men in Europe, but he did
55 56

Twain, 51-56. Ibid, 294. 57 Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost, 287. 58 Hochschild, Congo’s Many Plunderers, 288.


23 not have a successor. During the time, Leopold made a profit from the territory equal to at least $1.1 billion in today’s U.S. dollars “What happened in the Congo was indeed mass murder on a vast scale, but the sad truth is that the men who carried it out for Leopold were not more murderous than many Europeans then at work or at war elsewhere in Africa.”59 For the Europeans this was simply a matter of economics. Leopold had shut off a vast area of wealth from other Europeans. The lantern images were used to solicit responses and donations, but these were merely a side show. The focus on the Congo is puzzling, when you consider the conditions were not unique in Africa. “The exclusive focus of the reform movement on Leopold’s Congo seems even more illogical if you reckon mass murder by the percentage of the population killed. The death toll was even higher in German South West Africa.” 60 The population loss in the French controlled equatorial rain forest was equal to the loss in the Congo: 50%. 61 Despite George Washington Williams using the term “crimes against humanity” first about the Congo, the members of the Congo Reform Association did not want change because they share belief that Amnesty International has today, that all people deserve human rights. The Congo Reform effort was simply disagreeing with the actions of Leopold because he was a safe target. The beauty of choosing the poor treatment of natives by Leopold was that the “people in England’s ruling circles, therefore, could support his (Morel’s) crusade without feeling their own interests threatened.”62 Hochschild describes the Congo as a “safe target” and that “outrage over the Congo did not involve British or
59 60

Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost, 283. Ibid, 281. 61 Ibid, 280. 62 Ibid, 213.


24 American misdeeds, nor did it entail the diplomatic trade, or military consequences of taking on a major power like France and Germany.”63 For Morel the founder of the CRA ignored abuses by his own country’s (British) use of forced labor in its African Colonies.64 For the English it was easy to blame another country for their treatment of natives, especially a competitor nation. Though the conditions were horrific, poor treatment of native population was a hallmark of European Imperialism. It was easy to bring the focus of early media attention away from domestic (British) affairs. The world will never know if Leopold felt guilty about his reign of the Congo. Morel describes the actions in the Congo as “a great crime against humanity.”65 Neal Aecherson labels Leopold as a great deceiver but as a man with great charisma.66 Both were correct. It was greed and competition that motivated the Europeans; the philanthropic intentions were simply a politically convenient story for their true ambitions.

63 64

Hochschild, 282. Ibid, 210. 65 Morel, History of the Congo Reform Movement, 167. 66 Aecherson, Neal. The King Incorporated: Leopold II in the Age of Trusts. (New York: Doubleday and Company, 1964): 13.


25 Bibliography Primary Sources: Burrows, Guy. The Land of the Pigmies. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Company. 1898. MacDonnell, John. King Leopold II: His rule in Belgium and the Congo. New York: Negro Universities Press, 1905. Manchester Chamber of Commerce, Address of Mr. Henry Morton Stanley. Manchester. A. Ireland, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Collection, The University of Manchester, The John Rylands University Library, (1884): 26-27. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/60230098 Morel, E. D. The Congo Slave State: a Protest against the New African slavery; and an Appeal to the Public of Great Britain, of the United States, and of the Continent of Europe. Liverpool: J. Richardson & Sons, Printers, 1903. Morel, E. D. King Leopold’s Rule in Africa. London: William Heinemann, 1904. Morel, E. D. Red Rubber: the Story of the Rubber Slave Trade which Flourished on the Congo for Twenty Years 1890-1910. New and revised edition. Manchester: National Labour Press, 1919. Morel, E.D. History of the Congo Reform Movement. William Roger Louis and Jean Stengers. Oxford: Clarendon, 1968. Morel, E.D. Truth and the War ed. Catherine Ann Cline. New York: Garland Publications, 1972. The New York Times. March 28, 1877, p. 4 column 4. The New York Times. March 28, 1883, p. 4, column 5. The Times, March 28, 1883, p. 3 column E. Williams, George Washington. ‘Open letter to King Leopold the second of Belgium’, in John Hope Franklin (ed.) George Washington Williams: a Biography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985. Secondary Sources: Aecherson, Neal. The King Incorporated: King Leopold II in the Age of Trusts. New York: Doubleday and Company, 1964.



Grant, Kevin. “Christian Critics of Empire: Missionaries, Lantern Lectures, and the Congo Reform Campaign in Britain.” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History. vol. 29, no. 2 (May 2001): 27-58. Hochschild, Adam. Congo’s Many Plunders. Economic and Political Weekly. vol. 36, no. 4. (Jan 27- Feb 2, 2001): 287-288. Hochschild, Adam. King Leopold's Ghost: a Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. Parkenham, Thomas. The Scramble for Africa: White Man's Conquest of the Dark Continent from 1876-1912. London: Weidenfield & Nicolson, 1991. Sliwinski, Sharon. “The Childhood of Human Rights: the Kodak on the Congo,” Journal of Visual Culture. vol. 5 no. 3 (2006): 333-363.