Home Political science British Humanitarianism and the Congo Reform Movement, 1896-1913
John Harris and the CRA’s Move to London
The CRA’s move to London requires further understanding of the involvement ofAlice and John Harris. They came home on furlough on 6 August 1905 hoping to make a lecture tour, which coincided with an idea Morel had floated several months before. Contrary to suppositions that he resisted the tour, Morel proposed it to William Cadbury on 8 August: “I very much hope to have a series of meetings in the autumn at which Harris and others can speak.” Cadbury endorsed it to Casement on 25 August, and Casement enthusiastically brought it back to Morel, who had already been lining up venues and speakers for the past few days. Casement briefly changed his mind after Harris wrote a letter to the Morning Post that he thought ill-advised, but soon set these doubts aside. John Harris planned to use these meetings to draw popular support, marrying Guinness’s emotional appeal with Morel’s rigorous analysis without subjecting listeners to “a burden of detail.” Cadbury’s recent gift made the Harris tour possible, partly by enabling the CRA to pay the RBMU for their services.
The timing was fortuitous. After a busy 1904, few public meetings had been held in the first eight months of 1905. Guinness and the CBM’s Rev. Peter Whytock had done most of the 1904 lecturing, occasionally joined by Morel, Dilke, Samuel, and others. Whytock had died in November 1904, and Guinness had done only a few lectures since. The Harris tour began in October, with John doing most of the speaking and Alice supporting him on occasion. As their skills and confidence improved, their lectures became increasingly successful.
In late January 1906, they went to the United States, where John and Alice started together but then undertook separate tours. John Harris made the nearly impossible claim that they gave 200 lectures in 49 cities in under 40 days; regardless of the exact number, they were clearly energetic and prolific speakers. When they arrived in England on 10 March, flushed with success, they proposed that the RBMU lend them to the CRA at the RBMU’s expense, which the directors approved on 29 March 1906.
They set up a CRA auxiliary in London to support their lectures, replacing Violet Simpson’s satellite office. Morel encouraged this, giving John Harris advice on choosing a committee, finding a president, and general management, inadvertently encouraging the independence that he later found troubling with comments such as, “Act and consult [your Committee] afterwards.” John Harris recruited Travers Buxton, the Secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society, as the London Auxiliary’s Treasurer. Buxton was hardly overtaxed; he had requested and received a reduction in his Anti-Slavery work schedule from six days to four because there was not enough work to keep him busy. He organized the auxiliary’s financial reporting to the Anti-Slavery Society’s standards, with audited accounts and listed donors. To save money, the London Auxiliary moved into Anti-Slavery’s offices. Meanwhile, Morel reacted sharply to every misstep that came to his attention over 170 miles away.
The distance was a minor impediment. British mail service reached its top performance in the decades before 1914, leading to mail volumes resembling twenty-first-century email; as Hodgkin complained, “The mass of letters, circulars, advertisements and so forth which every post brings is one of the most serious evils of our modern civilisation.” The CRA London Auxiliary could count on 12 mail deliveries each weekday between 7:15 am and 8:30 pm. Other London locations received six to 12 daily deliveries a day, while Manchester had eight and Liverpool seven. Smaller cities had fewer daily deliveries, most villages only one, and homes in the countryside two per week. In large cities, a businessman could send a letter to inform his wife he would be late for dinner. Thanks to innovations such as sorting rooms on mail trains and an underground postal railroad in London, even intercity letters could arrive the day they were posted.
Mail was the cheapest form of communication, at a cost of a penny for a four- ounce letter (?0.36 in 2013 currency). More expensive telegrams found uses for urgent, terse communications. The CRA had telephone service, though its limited coverage, high cost, and lack of confirming documentation meant that it was used sparingly. Using these methods, the CRA’s Liverpool headquarters enjoyed rapid communication with Committee members, allied organizations, and auxiliaries. The move to London did not come about because of the slowness of the mails.
The CRA had formed in Liverpool because that is where Morel lived and where he earned his livelihood publishing the West African Mail, which depended on Liverpool advertisers. Yet London had advantages. Most importantly, a London location gave easy access to the corridors of power. One could meet with MPs when Parliament was in session, drop in at the Foreign Office, and make last-minute appointments with government officials. It made connections with allies easier and more spontaneous. From Liverpool, such visits consumed a whole day or more; from London they could be accomplished in a matter of hours. London’s clubs and social scene gave opportunities for informal contacts that could bring unexpected benefits, especially if one was in the good graces of a political hostess such as Alice Stopford Green.
For over four years, Morel managed the distance from the capital with a voluminous correspondence and frequent visits, sometimes traveling home by midnight trains to start work at 5:30 am. But in October 1908, the Finance and Executive Committees endorsed Morel’s suggestion that he and the organization’s headquarters move to London. Three events preceded this change. First, the Belgian Chamber of Deputies voted on 20 August to annex the Congo, followed by the Senate on 10 September; prodding Belgium to act would be a more delicate task than denouncing Leopold, making a London headquarters advantageous for more frequent and personal contact with the Foreign Office.
Second, this was the time when Morel and the Harrises were asking for salaries. After the ?1,000 honorarium had relieved Morel’s personal money worries, the CRA agreed to bring John and Alice Harris onto its own payroll at ?460 per year. Guinness released the Harrises from the RBMU on 26 October 1908. The CRA had endorsed the Harrises but emphasized that they worked for Morel, mollifying Morel’s concern that John Harris’s indiscipline, creativity, and independence posed risk to the movement and, no less important, were personally offensive. His concerns arose from the responsibilities that John and Alice Harris had taken on in London.
In April 1907, the London Auxiliary published The Rising Tide, its first annual report, showcasing its financial success in collecting ?815, mostly in donations and more than either the APS or the BFASS that year. The Rising Tide started the chain of events that led to the move from Liverpool. Although
Morel thought highly of the courage shown by the Harrises on the Congo and their energy and “magnificent” organizational ability in Britain, his focus on a disciplined movement implied a desire for control that their independence frustrated. His sensitivity made him a difficult superior. Tension had appeared as early as November 1905, when Morel brusquely rebuffed Harris’s request to attend an Executive Committee meeting or at least be available in case they wanted him. This was no routine discussion; Harris felt the need to seek reconciliation afterwards. This pattern recurred: while in London or traveling, John Harris would overstep an often invisible boundary, Morel would react with anger, and Harris would apologize. The Harrises’ odd position as employees simultaneously of the RBMU and CRA in 1906-08 made matters more difficult. John Harris tried to reassure Morel that he served only one master and began telling people that his Congo reform work had jeopardized and then ended his missionary
career, leaving it vague as to whether this meant he was persona non grata with
the Congo Free State, the RBMU, or both.
The Harrises had chosen Congo reform over Congo mission work, but Morel remained sensitive to any signs that John was setting CRA policy, impinging on Morel’s prerogatives, or impulsively communicating positions that had not been cleared. The opportunities for this multiplied as the London Auxiliary took on more work. The Finance Committee asked Harris to raise ?2,000 per year, a high target he did not reach, but in the process he began asking existing subscribers for a multi-year commitment, cannibalizing the central CRA’s donors. Through his CRA work, John Harris built relationships with important men, such as the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Cromer, and the well-connected, such as Travers Buxton and Harold Spender. Morel did not view this development with favor. His personal feelings for John Harris deteriorated, though he continued to publicly praise the Harrises’ work.
At the time that he and Morel were asking for salaries in 1908, Harris was also exploring other opportunities. Travers Buxton said Harris’s brain had been “seething” with the possibility of merging the Anti-Slavery Society and the CRA (or at least its London Auxiliary). Absent a merger, perhaps he and Alice could work for both groups, and Buxton could cover the CRA’s London office while they traveled. John proposed a year-long return trip to the Congo for a year to gather fresh information, and he also considered becoming a colonial official there, if Belgium would have him, or perhaps applying for a consular position in tropical Africa. However, his unusual partnership with his wife
Figure 3.4 John Harris
Source: Horner’s Weekly, 22 December 1906.
constrained him. She had embarked on her missionary career before he did, and they had built their marriage on common work. Thus, he wrote, “Mrs Harris in not prepared for me to enter upon work which she cannot share.” As it turned out, the CRA offered him a salary and the Harrises became the CRA’s Joint Organizing Secretaries.
Nonetheless, behind Morel’s back, John Harris brought Monkswell and Buxton into discussions about merging the APS, the CRA, and the Anti-Slavery Society. “Everyone seems to view a closer union of the B+FAS and CRA with great pleasure,” he wrote, with one big exception: Morel. Harris feared that Morel’s reaction to a proposed merger would interfere with the fight for reform. The matter faded away. If Morel had gotten word of it, it would have further aggravated his feelings about Harris.
Meanwhile, Cadbury urged Morel to move to London: “I should think it might do away with a good deal of the friction if there were one general office.” Brabner, who detested Harris and believed Buxton was disruptive, concurred because the Harrises would clearly be Morel’s employees. As a bonus, the movement’ enemies would have to stop saying it was a Liverpool-driven tool of envious merchants. T.L. Gilmour, who was close to Morel and friendly to Harris, backed the move, writing Morel:
We are engaged in refashioning an instrument which you are to use. You ought to be taking the lead in the refashioning; but what’s happening is that Harris is taking the lead + he will try to fashion it to suit his own ideas. You can scarcely blame him if he does ... are you justified in letting Harris get control of the reconstruction? Is it not your duty to make still another sacrifice to the cause and sink your own personal repugnance?
It took Morel a while to see it this way. He complained to Gilmour, “A complicated organisation is being elaborated in order to give Mr Harris a career.” He saw himself fighting “Harris and Co.” over competing Liverpool and London financial centers—the result of his own dislike of fundraising. He claimed to find this battle repugnant though he seemed always ready to go at it.
Planning for the merger generated more tension. Morel ignored Harris’s complaint that “Organizing and Traveling Secretaries” were really two different jobs; one could not organize effectively while traveling. Morel accused Harris of ignoring his critique of Harris’s draft reorganization plan, then asking for it again a week later. This petty sniping made reconciliation difficult, but Morel attempted to clarify things shortly before moving:
I have a general supervising responsibility over the whole work which, so far as your special branch of it is concerned, I propose to exercise in no manner other than ascertaining day to day what is going on. I anticipate no difficulty in the practical application of the labours in which we shall be mutually engaged for a common end; and I think you may rest equally satisfied on that score. We shall, I hope, be colleagues working in full sympathy.
They did work in sympathy through the winter and spring, until an unauthorized and unreported visit Harris made to Sir Edward Grey led to renewed conflict.
Morel’s move to London was the result ofJohn and Alice’s success in London, making them indispensable to the campaign while antagonizing Morel. Morel’s move did realize strategic benefits. In addition to a closer working relationship with the Parliamentary Committee, the Foreign Office (for about seven months), and London notables, it led to a better relationship with John Harris as an ally after he left the CRA for the Anti-Slavery Society in 1910.
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