Home Political science British Humanitarianism and the Congo Reform Movement, 1896-1913
The Executive Committee and President
The equivalent of a modern board of directors in turn-of-the-century voluntary associations was the Committee. Its members were typically people of influence, wealth, or both who would oversee the Secretary, worry about finances and major management problems, and set overall direction. At the CRA, Morel called it an Executive Committee and wanted it small, with each member working on a set of tasks, leaving himself free as Secretary to operate without oversight or regular meetings. Its members met each other for the first time at the CRA’s founding on 23 March 1904, after two months of intensive organizing work. However, this structure was inadequate. A month later, Emmott complained about the demands it placed on him. With Holt and Morel in Liverpool and Guinness traveling, he found himself in London, making important decisions on his own. However, he wrote, “Even if we met often, it is not practicable to carry on our present work with the heterogeneous committee of four we now have.” He especially did not want to rely so much on Guinness. They must expand the Committee and clearly delegate powers to Morel for most of the work. Emmott also revived the invitation to Fox Bourne to join the Executive Committee with two other APS representatives. Emmott soon had his wish. By August, the Executive Committee had expanded to 24 members on its way to more than 30 three years later.
With his allies’ help, Morel attracted additional committeemen of standing, including three aristocrats, six MPs of both parties, a bishop, three high-profile clergymen, another African trading company owner, one newspaper editor, and two bearers of famous humanitarian names: a Gladstone and a Wilberforce. The impressive list of names showed how far the movement had come in a short time. The Committee also included Morel’s trusted Liverpool friend Harold Brabner as Treasurer and Alice Stopford Green’s brother, Col. J.G.B. Stopford, who was her eyes and ears.
The new body met Emmott’s immediate concerns by reducing his workload and substituting Morel for Guinness on the American trip. New questions of governance arose, initially from Emmott, who had experience as head of his family’s cotton spinning business and as mayor of Oldham. In 1905, he urged Morel to “regularize” his practices by consulting with his Executive Committee consistently about strategy. William Cadbury, another business executive, told him to expand his staff and make the Executive Committee responsible for fundraising. Morel did not make many changes, and in 1906 complained about Executive Committee meetings, triggering an admonishment from Holt: “Committee meetings are not the useless things you think.” Meetings would sustain the participants’ personal interest and could help find the CRA a new president; the first President, Lord Beauchamp, had resigned to join the new Liberal government five months earlier. Holt also pointed out, not for the last time, that Brabner should submit regular financial reports to the Executive Committee.
Morel continued to resist what he thought of as old-fashioned methods. For example, he did not consistently keep minutes of the Executive Committee’s meetings. In the early years, he did not fully record attendance for seven meetings, and meeting summaries in the Organ differed from references in correspondence or other documentation.
In October 1906, the Executive Committee created a Finance Committee of six: Monkswell, the President; Morel and Harris, the headquarters and London Secretaries; and Brabner, Buxton, and Arthur Black, the headquarters, London, and Liverpool Treasurers. However, it did not function properly until March 1907. The Finance Committee grew to 12 members, with three to eight men attending its monthly meetings. However, there were no records of this body’s deliberations in its first two years.
Morel’s carelessness about meeting minutes at the Executive and Finance Committees reflected his disregard for written documentation of debates and decisions, likely because it would limit his freedom of action. He preferred to keep Committee conversations casual and to rely on correspondence with his most trusted contacts to keep people informed and make decisions. This gave him greater control.
An example of Morel’s control of information through informality occurred in October 1905. Leopold’s ally Sir Thomas Barclay invited the CRA to recommend specific improvements the King could make to Congo administration, which Morel answered angrily as if it were insulting. When Cadbury disapproved of his brusque reaction, Morel assured him that Emmott and Casement supported his position. This was patently untrue; Emmott and Casement (and three others) had also written that he had mishandled the situation. Barclay’s offer was made at the same time as similar offers via Alfred Jones to the RBMU and via Hugh Gilzean Reid to the APS, and thus needed discussion it did not receive at the Executive Committee. Morel’s lack of transparency and self-serving prevarication successfully deflected negative feedback at the time and since.
When Harris became the Finance Committee’s Secretary in 1908, his meticulous minutes put pressure on Morel to do the same for the Executive Committee; its records improved soon thereafter. Morel printed some of its discussions verbatim in the Organ in 1910 and in 1912 published complete meeting transcripts.
Financial statements were a particular source of concern. Morel believed that publishing financials would let their enemies know how meagre their resources were. Thomas Hodgkin, a retired banker on the Executive Committee, disagreed. He told Harris and hinted to Brabner that they needed audited financial statements. Violet Simpson wrote Harris how she wished “Mr Morel’s Good Angel would lead him to see the necessity” of properly audited accounts. This Good Angel appeared in the form ofJohn Holt, who could chastise Morel directly when others shied away. In mid-1907, after Morel had vented his fury at Harris for, among other things, publishing audited financial statements of the London Auxiliary, Holt reprimanded Morel:
If Brabner was as businesslike in his accounts as Harris appears to be, it would be more satisfactory. So far as I remember I have never seen a printed account of Brabner’s. All the local associations should copy the business-like method of the London Association and if the parent concern would do the same, it would be an advantage.
Swallowing his undoubted annoyance at having to follow John Harris’s example, Morel regularized financial reporting. On 1 October 1907, Brabner gave the
Executive Committee a cumulative revenue and expense statement from March 1904 to September 1907. This enabled Morel to respond to MP Hilaire Belloc’s December 1907 attack on the CRA’s mysterious finances in the New Age} Morel sent the financials confidentially to the New Age editors so they could assure Belloc that things were on the up-and-up. Publishing of accounts started in 1909 when, under continuing public attack by Belloc and others for the possible nefarious interests shielded by secretive financial practices, Morel printed the previous year’s audited financial statements in the Organ. Belloc found this unconvincing, so Morel put together the first comprehensive list of donations received, which he published along with cumulative audited financials, finally silencing Belloc. From then on, the CRA regularly disclosed donors and financial statements.
Morel’s early failure to meet these common standards demonstrated inexperience and arrogance tantamount to incompetence. He believed he had a compelling new way of organizing that may have been attractive and even functional from moment to moment in terms of the flexibility and power they gave him, but weakened the organization and made it vulnerable to attacks and set back the movement unnecessarily due to his hasty reactions. Sometimes it took pressure from his enemies as well as demands from his supporters for Morel to conform to good practice.
In one arena Morel did not compromise: annual meetings of subscribers. Humanitarian organizations such as the APS, Anti-Slavery Society, and RBMU used annual meetings to endorse new Committee members, approve rule changes, hear stirring reports of recent victories and new challenges, and speak out on issues. Morel dispensed with this practice. Subscribing to the CRA merely provided literature. The CRA’s third anniversary commemoration on 19 April 1907 brought together subscribers, but its purpose was to celebrate the CRA’s existence and energize the members.
The Executive Committee came to serve as Morel’s sounding-board in developing the CRA’s program, ongoing strategy, and public documents. Morel also used a few other trusted people for this purpose, especially Casement, the journalist T.L. Gilmour, Alice Stopford Green, and, later, Randall Davidson, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Executive Committee made the major decisions regarding Morel’s status as the organization’s unpaid chief executive. At the Aborigines’ Protection Society, Fox Bourne received ?400 annually, and the British and Foreign AntiSlavery Society paid Travers Buxton ?240, but both men had other sources of income. Morel, who could not rely on his minimal investment income, tried to support his family with the West African Mail and its post-bankruptcy reincarnation as the African Mail, but these perpetually struggling publications could not provide what he needed, leaving him reliant on subsidies from Holt and Cadbury, who were unwilling to have their subsidies publicized. In answer to suggestions from Casement, Cadbury, and others that he give up the WAM and draw a salary from the CRA, Morel insisted that this would expose him to charges of self-interest in the Congo agitation. This backfired; the lack of a salary for a man obviously without independent means led his detractors (correctly) to suspect that hidden benefactors were privately subsidizing him, and also (incorrectly) to say that these benefactors would profit from changes in the Congo. Because of the incorrect coda as well as his patrons’ wishes, Morel always hotly denied the allegations of secret CRA funding, misrepresenting his position if not strictly lying.
The West African Mail became increasingly dependent on the CRA. In early 1905, Morel arranged for the CRA to pay the WAM to print its Official Organ at ?150 annual profit to the paper. Later that year, Morel refused the ?300 salary the Executive Committee offered him, but, with their permission, he used CRA funds to hire an Assistant Editor for the West African Mail at a ?208 salary (?240 in 1908). In return, the WAM gave the CRA rent-free office space and its staff often worked late on CRA business. Morel estimated that the CRA was worth ?640 a year to the WAM; Holt, Cadbury, and the CRA poured up to ?1,000 annually into Morel’s paper so the CRA could avoid paying him a salary. But the financial needs of Morel’s family grew, while his journalism income fell. Although the CRA Executive Committee again voted to pay him a salary in 1908, Morel did not have to accept because the Liverpool Auxiliary raised ?1,000 for him. In 1911, Casement, Green, Emmott, Doyle, and Lord Cromer raised a further ?4,000 testimonial that left Morel financially secure through the Congo agitation and beyond. He never drew a CRA salary.
The Executive Committee took on new importance in late 1906, when Leopold agreed to transfer the Congo to Belgium, triggering protracted negotiations between the King, the Belgian government, and the Chamber of Deputies. Instead of simply asking the Executive Committee to endorse his plans, Morel assembled the group to fashion the CRA’s official position. On 21January
1908, they declared the draft annexation treaty unacceptable, calling on the British government to bully Belgium into cooperating by denying recognition of the annexation, defending with military force any Britons exercising free-trade rights, placing gunboats on the Congo, closing the Nile to Congo traffic, refusing British ports to Belgian steamers in the Congo trade, increasing consular staff, and establishing consular jurisdiction. Consular jurisdiction meant denying the local government’s authority over British subjects and using military force to keep the peace in lands adjacent to British territory. This muscular response marked the ascendancy of the Executive Committee’s most aggressive members, such as Monkswell. Although Hodgkin had urged Morel to let Monkswell chart out his own policy, Morel had not accepted this advice, preferring to ensure a consistent message. This forced Monkswell and others to bring their ideas to the Executive Committee, where, in this case, they won their point. They feared British leverage would dwindle once Belgium annexed the Congo. It would be better to be forceful now and friendly later.
On 9 October 1908, the Executive Committee weighed in again after the Belgian Chamber of Deputies and Senate ratified a treaty that removed Leopold but left his system, including the concession companies, in place. The CRA would continue asking the British government to lean on Belgium to implement meaningful reforms. However, the British Cabinet adopted only one measure: it refused to recognize Belgian annexation, which occurred on St Leopold’s Day, 15 November 1908. As discussed in Chapter 8, the Foreign Office was not ready to risk European complications. The 11 February 1909 Executive Committee meeting expressed frustration that the government had not taken stronger measures.
Between June and December 1909, several events changed Morel’s relationship to the Committee. In June he publicly denounced the government’s Congo policies, its dealings with France and Germany, and the way the Foreign Office developed and executed foreign policy. This alarmed many Committee members, who had been willing to criticize Britain’s Congo policy but would not follow Morel in attacking the entire foreign policy edifice. Morel was no longer the Committee’s moderate center; the Committee increasingly hesitated to push the government to act forcefully, especially after Belgium announced reforms in November 1909 and Monkswell’s death the following month. The Executive Committee continued to advocate for British pressure on the Belgians to move faster and to warn of the dangers of officially recognizing the annexation too soon, but talk of gunships and blockades died away. The Executive Committee’s role in setting policy had grown since 1904.
The CRA President’s role expanded from 1904 to 1909. In 1904, the provisional Committee wanted an aristocratic president to give it visibility and standing. Although Morel did not intend to burden the President with much work, finding one proved difficult. To avoid embarrassing the candidates or the CRA, they vetted and approached potential presidents informally. Emmott and Green provided most of the suggestions because of their connections in the aristocracy. Emmott’s list included William Lygon, Lord Beauchamp. Only 31 years old, Beauchamp had entered political life early as mayor of Worcester and had most recently been Governor of New South Wales. However, Green reported that Beauchamp “carries no weight,” so they moved on to others. They asked Green’s friend Lord Northbourne, Lord Aberdeen (president of several humanitarian groups), Lord Percy (extensive Foreign Office experience), John Morley, and others. One after another, they declined, though several lent their names as supporters, and a few gave money.
With the CRA’s launch three weeks away, Beauchamp was the best remaining candidate. To everyone’s relief he accepted, modestly offering to step aside if they found a more influential person. Although Beauchamp donated ?115, he was not particularly useful. He did not speak on the Congo question in the House of Lords or at the few public meetings he attended. He resigned upon taking a position in the new Liberal government in December 1905.
Holt quashed Morel’s suggestion that a president was unnecessary. William Cadbury refused the job because of the unresolved cocoa slavery question. Providentially, that same week, the well-connected journalist Harold Spender joined the Executive Committee and suggested four names, including Robert Collier, Baron Monkswell. Spender called Monkswell “a very good chap” who was “spoiling for a job” because the new government had not offered him a position.
Monkswell accepted and proved to be indefatigable, generous (?171 in three years), and fully committed. He never missed an Executive Committee meeting, spoke at over 50 public meetings in three years, and took a strong line in the Lords in 1907 on behalf of the Association. The BMS missionary Rev. Kenred Smith called Monkswell’s first Congo speech well put together but delivered “without much fire.” This belied a forceful personality; Morel and others had to rein in his bellicosity and his “well-meant but injudicious words.” Monkswell developed such a liking for the work that he became chairman of the amalgamated Anti-Slavery and Aborigines’ Protection Society in 1909. He gave his time and energy unstintingly to both organizations, even after his doctor diagnosed the fatal illness that killed him in December 1909.
After Monkswell’s death, Morel began a dilatory search for a successor. Monkswell’s widow urged him to find a strong MP but rejected his suggestions: Dilke because of the divorce scandal, MacDonald because a Socialist would alienate supporters, and Sir George White because he was too conciliatory. Dilke advised Morel to recruit a high-status president, but, he wrote, “the best plan is to have none—if that is possible.” This opened the door to a frank admission from Morel: “I don’t particularly want a President, but I do feel that the Association loses caste somewhat by not having one.” This time he allowed the question to lapse. When the CRA embarked on its policy of watchfulness in mid-1910, a president seemed less necessary and the position remained vacant.
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