Home Political science British Humanitarianism and the Congo Reform Movement, 1896-1913
Purpose and Direction
From the first, Casement and Morel wanted the CRA’s goals to be clear. The Association’s initial program said it would use the press, public meetings, and personal influence to restore to the Congolese their land rights, their rights to the produce of the soil, and their personal freedom through a “just and humane administration,” consistent with the principles of the 1885 Berlin Act and the 1890 Brussels Act, without regard to party, religious, and national differences. The CRA adhered to these core principles for the next nine years. Other causes would be distractions, as Emmott said, “Chinese labour, West Australian irregularities, and Nigerian expeditions are the deadly foes of our Congo movement.” Although Holt encouraged him to fight for better administration across Africa, Morel followed Emmott’s advice. Dismissing all other concerns as secondary, he expected the same of others. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who in 1909 devoted himself full time to the CRA, gave the party line in a Daily News letter regarding the Putumayo rubber scandals: “It would be a great misfortune if our attention to Peru should in any way relax our vigilance upon the Congo,” where British treaty rights and responsibilities made intervention imperative. He had the same concern about the cocoa slavery issue, “because it obscures the big question and if it is the same men who are working on it, it gives a handle to those critics who call them busy bodies.” Morel seldom deviated from this Congo focus until after 1910.
Morel’s position gave him standing to insist that those who spoke under the CRA’s banner stayed true to its diagnosis, recommendations, and practices, such as notifying Morel of meetings and forwarding him copies of resolutions passed, which should use Morel-provided wording. The greatest challenge to this discipline was his CRA co-founder, Dr Harry Grattan Guinness.
This began over the question of public debates. During Guinness’s February 1904 speaking tour, Dr Charles Sarolea, the Belgian Consul in Edinburgh, challenged Guinness to a debate. Sarolea, one of Leopold’s more gentlemanly defenders, met Morel and Guinness before a small gathering of Edinburgh’s elite at the University of Edinburgh’s Rainy Hall on 18 March 1904. This debate had little impact and convinced Morel that such public contests were more trouble than they were worth. A subsequent challenge exposed Guinness’s unreliability. This came from a more pugnacious apologist, George Herbert Head, a Cambridge lawyer. The Congo government had hired Head the previous year to help prosecute the libel trial of Captain Guy Burrows, the man who had discredited Salusbury in the 1890s and reversed himself by writing a book attacking the Congo Free State. On 19 April 1904, in front of over 2,000 people at an RBMU-sponsored Congo meeting at Exeter Hall, Head challenged Guinness to a debate. He told Guinness over coffee a few days later that his pay from Leopold could defray the cost of the debate. This became a controversy: Morel and Emmott were not happy about the debate in the first place, more unhappy that Congo profits might pay for it, and most unhappy that Guinness was making decisions without consulting them, risking the CRA’s credibility. Morel demanded that Guinness debate as a private person, because “it is hardly dignified for the CRA to meet the representative of a Government whose methods it condemns, not on individual opinions, but on facts.” Emmott found Guinness’s explanations about the affair unsatisfactory. The 8 June debate with Head at St James Hall turned out to be good for the movement; both Guinness and Morel used it in their publicity. For the moment, Guinness had shrugged off the discipline that Morel was trying to impose.
Guinness’s erratic cooperation should not obscure his contributions. He was the only CRA founder with the ability to draw large audiences and was for a time an energetic proponent. It had been Guinness’s idea to ensure that every meeting passed a resolution to send to the Foreign Office and the local Member of Parliament (MP). As the CRA formed, he proposed local branches and the creation of the CRA’s Official Organ. Guinness also wanted to deliver a memorial to President Roosevelt in association with a US lecture tour.
In 1904-05, Guinness used his lantern slides in at least 37 meetings, with some audiences numbering in the thousands. However, the lectures stopped when Guinness went to South America from June to November 1905. With Guinness’s meetings producing almost nothing in the way of money, sustained interest, or local branches, Morel declined the RBMU’s offer to schedule other lecturers in his absence.
Morel and Fox Bourne had worried that Guinness would use Congo lectures for his mission and that too overt a religious tone would annoy potential supporters. Morel’s initial plan was for a non-religious campaign: “It is purely a humanitarian movement, and must be kept on those lines; and religion and humanity, unfortunately, do not always go together.” As Morel put it to Guinness:
I feel a delicacy in discussing the subject with you, for we cannot, in the nature of things, look at the matter quite in the same light. What I wish to avoid ... in the interests of the movement, is the suggestion that the movement is based on religious exaltation—I use the word for want of a better one—at any rate that outward religious manifestation should be a feature of it. I know this would alienate a lot ofpeople. There is no earthly reason why we should not feel religious, and there is every hope that, as you say, we shall get many religious people in the true sense of the word to join us.
However, Guinness was on to something important. In advocating for lectures, petitions, and attention to religious leaders, he identified a rich vein of potential support: the energy and activism of what historian D.W. Bebbington has called “the Nonconformist conscience” of 1890-1910. In this period, the Free Churches of Nonconformist Britain were particularly willing to protest against wrongs and demand remedies through the political process. These campaigns depended on what Bebbington calls indignation meetings. In contrast to the often staid lectures of other pressure groups, indignation meetings were enjoyable and exciting. The speakers aimed to reach hearts more than minds, portraying the situation as so grim that it required wholehearted commitment. This was the core of Guinness’s approach and would be used to greater effect by the Harrises and other missionaries later.
The tension between their ideas was productive. The CRA reined in Guinness’s tendency to run RBMU-based religious exaltation meetings, but the religious symbolism of his talks was effective. Strategically, Morel felt it would be disastrous if the CRA appeared to be Guinness’s tool, which would alienate other religious groups as well as secular humanitarians. However, Guinness helped Morel and the Executive Committee to see religious leaders as allies. By August 1904, four had joined the Executive Committee: Rev. John Clifford (Baptist), Canon Scott Holland (Anglican), Rev. R.J. Campbell (Congregationalist), and Francis Chavasse, the evangelical Anglican Bishop of Liverpool. The Rev. Scott Lidgett (Methodist), Bishop Edward Talbot (Anglican), Rev. F.B. Meyer (Baptist), and others followed. However, it was primarily Morel, with help from Harris after 1905, who brought these men into the movement, not Guinness.
Guinness’s greatest contribution was involving his missionaries. They provided much of the 1903-04 testimony. CBM missionaries spoke at CRA- related meetings from 1904-09, including Revs Whytock, Gilchrist, Whiteside, Padfield, Lower, and others. Most significantly for the future of overseas humanitarianism, Guinness arranged for the RBMU directors to second John and Alice Harris to Morel full time as chief lecturers and organizers of the CRA London Auxiliary from 29 March 1906 to 26 October 1908, continuing to pay their salary of ?192 per year. Though this salary was inadequate to life in London and required supplementary payments delivered through the
Liverpool Auxiliary and Travers Buxton, it was nonetheless a remarkable act of commitment in contrast to 1905, when the CBM charged the CRA ?70 16s 3d to cover the Harrises’ salary for four and a half months of lectures. It was the Harrises who opened the door to a much more vigorous and successful approach to meetings.
For all his contributions, Guinness was not a success as a CRA leader. Public interest declined in the 18 months after the CRA’s founding despite his speeches. Not only was he unable to use his star power to benefit the movement in a sustained way, his erratic personality and willingness to pursue his own ends led him into difficulties with other leading reformers, particularly Morel. In early 1905, Morel griped that he had first heard about a Guinness talk in the Plymouth area from his in-laws. Even Meyer was not comfortable with him; he refused to join the Executive Committee until after Guinness stopped attending.
Guinness’s erratic nature made him the target of efforts by Leopold and Sir Alfred Jones to peel him away from the movement. The first occasion, described in Chapter 2, occurred in 1903. In Fall 1905, when Barclay approached the CRA, the RBMU’s Congo Council received an offer through Jones, whose shipping line between the Congo and Antwerp had become a monopoly, incentivizing Jones to curry favor by weakening the movement before publication of the Commission of Inquiry report. A new company was to be formed to replace the notorious ABIR concession, and Jones offered the CBM a seat on its board and new mission stations in the area. Guinness found the offer intriguing, despite Morel’s observation that Guinness would then be complicit in the forced labour necessary to turn a profit. At Morel’s request, F.B. Meyer conveyed to Guinness in the strongest possible terms that he should not accept the offer, and threatened to resign from the RBMU board if Guinness ignored his advice. Meyer prevailed; the Congo Council rejected the offer on 7 November. After Jones publicly attacked the missionaries as hypocrites for this refusal, Guinness and Morel published the proposals and showed how they were unlikely to lead to any improvement.
Although Grant portrays Harris as allied with Guinness, he had thrown his lot in with Morel. While still an RBMU employee, Harris made his feelings about his boss clear: “Neither my wife or I would go to him [Guinness] for help if we got into a tight place, indeed what self-respecting man or woman would?” In 1906, Harris told Morel, “I rather think he [Guinness] resents me swearing by you on every occasion[;] well it would be difficult to swear by him, for one never knows where he is.”
In February 1907, matters worsened when the Congo Balolo Mission told its missionaries not to communicate with the CRA. Whatever Guinness’s role in this decision, it happened without a discussion with the CRA. When asked, James Irvine explained that the RBMU’s Congo Council wanted to approve anything before publication to prevent libel suits. Guinness was away, making it easier for Morel and Harris, working through Irvine and Meyer, to secure a compromise: the missionaries could write to Morel and Harris but the CRA promised to obtain permission before publishing and the Council voted that the policy did not indicate any “coldness” to Morel.
Wounded but not dead, cooperation with Guinness continued in 1907-08. He undertook another Scottish campaign for Congo reform in November 1907 and spoke at a dozen or more meetings in 1908. But Belgium’s annexation of the Congo in November 1908 set the stage for an irreparable break. Morel, ever on the alert, learned that the CBM had requested more mission stations. When Morel asked for a statement of support, the RBMU directors conveyed their commitment but undermined this by declining to send money. Guinness visited Belgium and received promising answers about new sites. While there, he told the British ambassador that his missionaries had found the Congo officials to have an “improved tone” since annexation.
Improvement in the Congo led to antagonism between the CRA and RBMU, where Meyer was no longer a director. Taking offense when Morel publicly cautioned them against defiling themselves by working with the Belgian government, the Congo Council reinstated the policy that missionaries should write only to headquarters. Guinness’s praise for Congo progress in the Regions Beyond distressed the CRA. After a fruitless exchange of letters, the Congo
Council broke off from the CRA and resolved “should Mr Morel repeat the abuse of his position as Secretary of the CRA by attacking Mission policy, Dr Guinness be authorized to take such action as he may deem advisable.” This breach was permanent. Guinness no longer attended CRA events, and the Congo Balolo Mission reverted to its pre-1903 policy of not publishing negative reports. Guinness raised money by lecturing on improvements in the Congo.
For good and for ill, Guinness was a disruptive force. His enthusiasm for the cause and for Morel’s leadership immediately after the crisis of January 1904 enabled the CRA to get off the ground quickly. His celebrity status made the Association’s formal launch in March 1904 a well-attended news-making phenomenon. He first suggested many of the movement’s big ideas and loaned the Harrises. At the same time, more than any other reformer, his refusal to hew to the official line and to coordinate was the most serious breach of discipline Morel contended with.
Catherine Mackintosh, Guinness’s biographer, said he did not want recognition for his Congo reform activities. This may seem disingenuous in light of Guinness’s strong ego and his evident pleasure at rousing large indignation meetings. But Mackintosh captured something important. Diplomatically avoiding the temptation to settle old scores, she wrote that Guinness “gently withdrew” once he was no longer essential, because public controversy interfered with his primary vocation, saving souls. More than anything, he wanted to bring salvation to the world’s heathens, and his Congo reform activism was a tool to reach that goal, rendering him less interested in submitting to the authority of Morel and the CRA Executive Committee.
Guinness was not the movement’s only headstrong friend. In 1909, Arthur Conan Doyle recruited the novelist Henry De Vere Stacpoole, the popular author of The Blue Lagoon. Morel had to corral Stacpoole, who ended up contributing a novel, The Pools of Silence (1910), about brutality in the Congo. Doyle himself needed a firm hand. Morel stayed deliberately silent when Doyle’s 1909 Crime of the Congo urged France and Germany to partition the Congo because of Belgium’s inadequate first-year reforms. This helped Morel appear more moderate and a friend to Belgium. But his forbearance could not last. In November, Doyle was to share the podium with Morel for the first time. To be sure Doyle would advocate the Association’s standard positions, Morel met with him in advance to avoid “any public suggestion of a difference in view when it comes to a remedy.”
Other reformers needed to be brought into line. Morel successfully corralled Dilke and Monkswell; by 1907, Dilke was asking Morel if he found his arrangement of parliamentary speakers and content satisfactory and Monkswell gave assurances that he would “refrain from taking an aggressive attitude.” However, the person Morel admonished most often was John Harris, who tended to improvise in both word and action. As Morel warned repeatedly, “I must be most careful, and if any mistake is made the fact of my being alone responsible will make it easier to bear.” In a typical 1908 case, Harris had opined in print about ending Britain’s guarantee of Belgian neutrality. Morel demanded fiercely that he not comment on the international situation without permission to avoid harming the cause in Germany or France. More detail on their relationship appears in Chapter 7.
The West African Mail also prioritized the CRA’s message. Initially, it criticized British colonial policy in the spirit of Mary Kingsley, but after the CRA formed it moderated its tone. John Holt, a major investor in the paper, considered this to be an abdication of responsibility. He complained to Morel, “The West African Mail is not critical enough now. It does not stir up anything but Congo affairs. We want rousing articles on our colonies in [West Africa] and the present is a splendid time for giving our Government a programme.” Holt wanted the West African Mail and its successor, the African Mail to advocate African rights, the traders’ interests, and better administration throughout West Africa. Morel dedicated them to Congo reform, even to the point of ignoring the Herero genocide. Morel’s papers demonstrated the discipline and consistency that he similarly expected of all CRA participants.
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