Home Political science British Humanitarianism and the Congo Reform Movement, 1896-1913
Roger Casement, the Crisis ofJanuary 1904, and the CRA’s Founding
Previous histories have not addressed the crisis that jeopardized the movement in January 1904. Each reformer had been proceeding along his customary lines with similar but not identical aims. For instance, Fox Bourne did not want to advocate a specific solution, such as annexation by Belgium, but Morel did. Danielson consulted separately with Fox Bourne and Morel and organized his own meetings through December 1903. There had been talk of a Guinness- sponsored meeting in Liverpool, and Guinness had mentioned to Morel that a lecture tour would boost the cause.
On 11 December, encouraged by Casement, Guinness went to Stead to discuss the planned Scotland lecture tour and suggested Stead bring the IU Congo Committee together to develop a pamphlet he could distribute. At the resulting 17 December meeting, which Morel could not attend, Guinness agreed to two conditions: the lectures would be under the auspices of the International Union and that revenues would not benefit the CBM. Fox Bourne doubtfully wrote to Morel, “I hope he will keep the promise I got him to make that they shall not be merely Congo Balolo missionary meetings.” The group voted to pay Morel ?10 for a pamphlet.
The meeting resulted in disaster, with the reformers quickly at odds and apologists scrambling to counter Guinness’s tour, presumably informed by someone at the meeting. Morel took offence at being treated like a hack writer who would crank out pamphlets for a fee. Fox Bourne dissociated himself from the pamphlet vote while trying to soothe Morel’s injured pride. The AntiSlavery Committee, suspicious of Guinness, asked Travers Buxton “not hastily to pledge this Society.” Their concern was well-founded: Guinness backtracked within days on his promises; he thought Stead’s IU would collect any profits from his meetings while the mission would have to cover any shortfall. Without the RBMU’s support, the APS or IU could have hosted meetings in London, but with much smaller audiences: dozens of attendees as opposed to hundreds or thousands.
Guinness resumed his original plan of a Congo Balolo Mission tour. Fox Bourne, having warned Morel to be wary of the “slippery character,” immediately backed out: “It seems to me quite clear that he is now rushing the Congo question much more in the interests of his Society than in those of the natives.” Morel tried to solve the impasse with a position statement endorsed by Holt, Fox Bourne and Emmott: Guinness’s CBM-sponsored Congo meetings would damage the cause by misleading audiences about the reformers’ goals and lead to criticisms by the apologists that the reformers were sectarian; “In this we may be right, or wrong. But we, at any rate, have been consistent.” This proud statement did not conciliate Guinness.
With Guinness on his own path, Fox Bourne distancing himself, and Morel feeling slighted, Stead’s efforts to unite the reformers collapsed. The International Union Congo Committee vanished. The impasse seemed intractable until Roger Casement intervened.
Casement was no stranger to the Congo. He had been, variously, an employee of Elder Dempster, a member of the Sanford Exploring Expedition that prepared the exploitation of the Congo, a lay employee at a BMS mission, and Joseph
Conrad’s roommate. After this he became a British consular official in present- day Nigeria (where he met Mary Kingsley), Mozambique, and Angola. In 1899, he became consul in Loanda with Congo jurisdiction, and in 1900 the Foreign Office sent him to the Congo as Consul, leaving a Vice-Consul in Loanda, to have a more senior official to help British subjects in the Congo. In his new role, he met with Leopold twice on 10-11 October 1900, but the monarch’s charm did not win him over. Casement had long been suspicious of the Free State system, possibly dating from his days with Conrad, or at least from the mid- 1890s, when his uncle Edward Bannister was Vice-Consul. Casement had urged the Foreign Office to work with Germany to put an end to the “reign of terror” there. When the Foreign Office selected Casement for the position, they were deliberately putting someone in the job who already believed that the Congo State misruled its people, the first sign of a shift in the Foreign Office approach.
Casement divided his time between Portuguese Cabinda and three towns on the lower Congo: Boma, Matadi, and Leopoldville, which kept him so busy with the problems of British subjects that he could not get firsthand insight into conditions in the interior. He proposed an investigative journey to the upper Congo, which the Foreign Office approved on 22 August 1902. However, he headed back to Britain in October without making the trip, delaying the day of reckoning for the Congo Free State. After he returned to Boma on 1 May 1903 he repeated the proposal, but the Foreign Office instructed him to finish his report on British subjects first. The 20 May House of Commons resolution caused the Foreign Secretary, Lord Lansdowne, to reverse those instructions, telling him to set out as soon as possible.
His travels from June to September were not as extensive as Williams’s. He cut his trip short when he believed he had enough information to make a comprehensive indictment of misgovernment. Arriving in Britain on 1 December, he delivered the first draft of his report to the Foreign Office on 12 December, provided additions on 18 December, and completed requested revisions from 25-28 December. He became involved with the reformers, starting with his 10 December visits from Guinness and, more fatefully, Morel. Morel had been brought into correspondence with Casement earlier that year by a mutual friend, Herbert Ward, an artist and author who lived most of the year in Paris. Ward and Casement had met in the Congo long before, where Ward had served on several major expeditions. Ward intrigued Morel by saying Casement wanted to speak out, but could not because of his government position. For months, Ward served as a go-between, all the while singing Casement’s praises: “No man walks the earth who is more absolutely good and honest and noble- minded than RC.”
In October 1903, as Casement journeyed home, he wrote confidentially to Morel. The two men met on 10 December at Ward’s unoccupied London house in Chester Square. Casement’s brisk diary entry shows that the discussion lasted far longer than his talk with Guinness: “E.D.M. first time I met him. The man is honest as day. Dined at Comedy together late & then to chat till 2 A.M. M. sleeping in study.” Morel formed an immediate, intense feeling for Casement—born of a shared interest and a shared way of thinking, as well as mutual admiration, but also of a passionate connection reflected in Morel’s memory of Casement’s physical presence in a darkened room, lit by the fire, and recreating with his almost magical voice the horrors in the Congo valley.
Casement’s comments about Morel warmed each time they met. He visited Morel at his home in Hawarden near Liverpool on 5 January. The Congo report completed, Casement had the time and energy to deal with the reformers’ disarray. A whirlwind of activity ensued, with Casement writing to Morel, Fox Bourne, Stead, and Guinness and discussing the Congo with his many contacts, even David Lloyd George, whom he met on the train coming back from Hawarden. Meanwhile, Morel found himself confined to bed with what was probably lumbago, a condition which was likely made worse by stress. The movement’s disarray troubled him. He was particularly furious with Guinness, complaining to Holt about the missionary’s selfishness and recalling how he threw “cold water on Fox Bourne’s persistent and courageous crusade” in 1897, conveniently omitting that he had done the same in the Pall Mall Gazette.
Casement wanted the reformers to unite in a single disciplined organization to publicize his report and agitate for reform for the months or years that might be required. Speed was essential, because the Foreign Office would present his report to Parliament soon. He wrote as much to Guinness, engendering his enthusiasm for a third time in less than two months. Almost immediately, Guinness wrote to Morel on 21 January 1904, agreeing to all Morel’s terms, a victory Morel attributed to Casement, though it helped that Holt agreed to guarantee the finances of the large Liverpool meeting that would follow the Scottish tour. Guinness’s pitch to the RBMU directors for the new approach suggests he kept his word. The other reformers may have deplored the religious tone of his meetings but they did not complain of sectarianism or mission fundraising. This was no guarantee for the future; Guinness’s resolve on any topic could easily reverse.
Casement’s letter to Guinness also made the case for a single-purpose organization headed by Morel. On 22 January 1904, Guinness hastily wrote to Morel, forwarding Casement’s letter suggesting the idea and committing himself to adhere to the new group if Morel would found it. Guinness wrote Morel again the next day, explaining why Stead could not run the new organization and discussing how it could operate. Historians have correctly attributed the idea of the CRA to Casement, but the letters show that Guinness brought the idea to Morel. Casement had also written about it to Stead, but not Morel. Morel’s oft-quoted letter to Holt on 24 January about Casement’s idea was based on Casement’s letter to Guinness; there is no letter from Casement to Morel suggesting the CRA. Casement may have hesitated to broach it because of the burden he wanted Morel to take on.
The moment of truth came on 25 January, when Morel acceded to the advice of his wife, Mary, to undertake the leadership of a combined Congo reform movement. Talk of duty and perhaps dreams of fame had overcome Morel’s hesitations about his not very robust constitution and his familial and journalistic responsibilities. He boarded a ship for Ulster and met with Casement at the Slieve Donard hotel, Newcastle, County Down. By that night, the die was cast. In an encouraging letter that he wrote immediately after their meeting, Casement memorialized their discussion in a manifesto which emphasized the need for unity, organization, and systematic publicity in the UK and overseas. He went on to warn, “Sporadic meetings and occasional lectures—articles in the press from time to time are not sufficient ... only systematic effort can get the better of them.” He enclosed a ?100 contribution that he could little afford on his straightened means—roughly equivalent to ?9,400 in 2013. He wanted Guinness to announce the CRA on his lecture tour, which began shortly thereafter. Four paid employees of the RBMU arranged the meetings, which took place in the largest public or private halls in each location on the following February dates: 1-Glasgow, 2-Alloa, 3-Govan, 8-Aberdeen, 11-Dundee, 15-Edinburgh, 16-Dumferline, 17-Stirling, 18-Falkirk, and 19-Greenock.
Morel immediately recruited Holt, Guinness, and Emmott for a preliminary governing Committee. When Emmott balked at Guinness’s presence, Morel assured him, “He is an eloquent speaker, and will command many adherents, and I am going to do my very best to work with him.” To Dilke he wrote, “He is a man that up to the present I have not regarded with any confidence, but I recognise with Casement that he can tap people that we cannot tap.” He was more open with Holt, writing: “I am quite sure we will have to keep our eye on him.” He envisioned running the print campaign while Guinness handled public meetings, Emmott managed Parliamentary relations, and Holt provided guidance. Emmott and Holt were wealthy men who could assist with funding and fundraising. Guinness agreed at once and reported enthusiastically to the RBMU directors on 28 January, “It was noted with thankfulness that a new organization, to be called the ‘Congo Reform Association’ was likely to come into existence in a few days, and to form an extended platform in connection with which important meetings would be held throughout the country.” Morel asked for Stead’s support but did not invite him to join the Committee, primarily because of his refusal to work with Dilke, whom Morel believed essential.
However, initial efforts to recruit Dilke and Fox Bourne failed. Casement had written them arguing that the APS was not capable of directing the movement, despite its noble efforts. Morel also wrote a respectful letter that nonetheless contained disrespectful phrases: the APS was unpopular in certain quarters, it did not have the funds necessary, and the movement needed a centralized effort under one leader. If Casement could convince Guinness to limit his sectarianism, “it is our duty to put our personal feelings in our pockets.”
This did not find a sympathetic response. Fox Bourne was considering starting a Congo Committee of the Aborigines’ Protection Society, with himself as Honorary Secretary and Dilke as Chairman. The APS would insulate it from the charge of religious fanaticism, a constant risk with Guinness involved. He disliked that Morel had asked him to join the CRA “privately” and not as the APS’s official representative. He complained of the
reckless haste with which you are rushing a plan which you have sprung upon men who have been working at the Congo question long before you took it up, and whom you now expect, on the spur of the moment, to bow to your decision and submit to your leadership.
A meeting with Morel in London on 2 February eased his anger somewhat; he agreed not to launch the APS Congo Committee but refused to join the provisional CRA Committee, using Guinness as his excuse. Fox Bourne anticipated that the CRA would further divide the movement. It lacked the APS’s contacts and reputation, and, even worse, would siphon off funds from the APS, which could not afford any drop in its annual income of ?550-?700. After he obtained the backing of the APS Committee for his position, Fox
Bourne tried to reassure Morel they could work in parallel: “If you do start it I’ll loyally stand aside and do what I can in my own humble way.”
For his part, Dilke believed the organization was unnecessary because Parliament and the press were nearly unanimous for Congo reform. Morel argued that this support was shallow; it was necessary to awaken public opinion. However, Dilke refused to join out of loyalty to Fox Bourne.
Morel would not compromise. He saw the APS as old-fashioned and outdated; it never held large public meetings, its leader could not act without its Committee’s approval, and it seemed unable to stir popular support. A special purpose organization was more likely to awaken public opinion, raise money, and wield influence. Casement, Holt, and Emmott believed that Morel was superior to other possible leaders: the elderly and fussy Fox Bourne, the mercurial Guinness, and the controversial Stead. The new organization could benefit from their talents, but Morel had to lead it.
For Fox Bourne, “loyally standing aside” initially meant telling people how much he regretted the CRA’s existence. Soon, this coldness gave way to a renewed alliance. He agreed to join Morel on the platform for the CRA’s founding meeting on 23 March in Liverpool. Three days later, he assured Morel of his high regard and his desire to work with him and the CRA “as heartily and loyally as we can in our uphill fight.”
Fox Bourne was as good as his word. The April Aborigines’ Friend said that the founding of the Congo Reform Association would be remembered as “the death-knell of the new African slavery.” Cooperation accelerated, and, in June, Fox Bourne, Dilke, and Fox accepted the CRA’s renewed invitation to join its expanded Executive Committee as APS representatives. The Aborigines’ Friend welcomed the CRA with great satisfaction. Fox Bourne continued to pursue his habitual methods, but Morel developed similar capabilities, and, within two years, Fox Bourne conceded the work to the CRA. For his part, Morel continued to be respectful of Fox Bourne, referring frequently to his persistence in keeping the Congo issue alive in the late 1890s.
The Congo Reform Association was Casement’s brainchild, but it represented the merging of ideological strains: Stead’s humanitarian interventionism, Guinness’s evangelical fervor, Kingsley’s respect for aboriginal cultures, liberal free-trade dogma, and the promotion of native rights propounded by Holt and the Aborigines’ Protection Society, leavened with the compassion of Holt, Casement, and the APS. Anointing Morel to run the CRA meant that, in the end, the organization would pursue Holt’s vision of human rights as interpreted through the Berlin Treaty and the golden rule. Because the Congo could not be settled by Europeans, one or more European states should control it as a normal colonial dependency, guaranteeing freedom of commerce, providing freedom of operation for missionary groups, and safeguarding rights for the Congolese people that complemented their own traditions. These rights included freedom to trade, land rights over most of the country, and traditional cultural practices with a few exceptions such as slave-trading, cannibalism, and internecine warfare. Ideally, there would be no forced labor, though an exception could be made for purposes that benefited the people. Over all this would be a benevolent colonial authority, concerned with protecting these rights, promoting improved public health, and maintaining the peace so critical to the development of Africa on African lines. Organized public opinion would secure this outcome. Though this proved an unattainable dream, the reforms it prompted in administration, commerce, and land rights ended the governing system that was its chief target.
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