Home Political science British Humanitarianism and the Congo Reform Movement, 1896-1913
With its Congo reform activism preceding the CRA by seven years, the Aborigines’ Protection Society was a natural ally, but Fox Bourne had initially refused to join the Executive Committee. By late May 1904, his pique had abated, the CRA had shown its staying power, and the benefits of a combined effort began to outweigh his other concerns. Fox Bourne then hoped that each group would take on duties that played to its strengths. The CRA would hold public meetings, collect information, and publicize it, while the APS used “such influence as it possessed” in the Foreign Office and with MPs, while maintaining ties with Belgian reformers. However, the CRA’s field of action expanded as Morel developed his own connections and the confidence to use them. By early 1908, Fox Bourne admitted that the CRA had rendered it unnecessary for the APS to do anything more than keep its members informed. The vision of one organization representing everyone interested in Congo reform had finally come to pass.
Fox Bourne’s sudden death on 2 February 1909 led to the merger of the Aborigines’ Protection Society and the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society on 30 June of that year. The resulting British and Foreign Anti-Slavery and Aborigines’ Protection Society became the CRA’s closest working partner. Before the merger, Morel and the CRA had a complicated relationship with the AntiSlavery Society. The Society had been only minimally involved in the Congo controversy in the 1890s. Its longtime Secretary, Charles Allen, had helped start the Brussels Anti-Slavery conference and supported Stanley’s explorations for Leopold. He and the Society hesitated to take a stand as the stories of forced labor and atrocities trickled out. Not until 1895 did the Anti-Slavery Reporter mention the matter by reprinting a Daily Chronicle interview with an unnamed missionary describing the “reign of terror” that had depopulated towns under a “system [that] is radically bad” and reprinted information about the practice of taking women hostage to coerce the men to collect rubber. But the Reporter was skeptical of this evidence, and expressed hope that the posthumous publication of E.J. Glave’s Congo diary would shed light on the matter. Although Glave’s diary corroborated the allegations, there followed five years of silence until the Reporter reviewed Pioneering on the Congo, the reminiscences of the Baptist Missionary Society’s Rev. William Holman Bentley, who had been stationed on the Congo for over 20 years. Bentley praised the Congo government and did not mention the allegations of excesses, leaving the Reporter flummoxed, despite other testimony that had emerged that year.
Allen’s successor as Secretary, Travers Buxton, and the Society’s President, Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, decided that the Society’s previous support for Leopold gave it a responsibility to speak out about the problems. Reflecting this new approach, the Reporter denounced the methods of the Congo Free State as “horrendous” and “flagrant,” and the Society fully supported the APS and the IU Congo Committee. Travers Buxton provided the names of Anti-Slavery subscribers to Stead and gave Guinness letters of introduction to take on his planned speaking tour.
The Reporter now commented frequently on the Congo, giving credit to the Aborigines’ Protection Society and Stead for raising the issue’s profile and to other organizations for making representations to Parliament. But the Reporter mentioned only the editor of the West African Mail, and did not name Morel until July 1904 or the CRA until October. Travers Buxton wrote only four letters to Morel in the CRA’s first two years, all impeccably correct but cool. Fox Bourne and Joseph Alexander were his main contacts in the reform movement.
The reason for Travers Buxton’s diffidence is not explicit in his correspondence. His aloofness seems to have resulted from some combination of personal feeling and fundamental differences in approach. Buxton and Morel would have formed opinions of each other while serving on the IU Congo Committee. Temperamentally, Buxton was far more placid and formal than Morel, who was both energetic and much quicker to take offense. On top of this, the CRA’s formation undermined Anti-Slavery’s strategy of following the lead of the APS. If Buxton saw the CRA as the result of Morel’s insolence and disrespect to Fox Bourne, it is entirely possible that this feeling could have outlasted even Fox Bourne’s own hostility to the new organization.
Buxton’s attitude changed after John Harris asked him to become Treasurer of the CRA’s new London Auxiliary in 1906, where they worked closely together. Harris was a fount of ideas for improving the Anti-Slavery Society and positioning it strategically for a wider role, preferably after merging with the APS and/or the CRA. He encouraged it to be more active in the Congo reform movement, for example, by convincing the Society to approach the Kaiser about the Congo question during his state visit to Britain. Harris introduced the Society to leading Congo reformers outside its purview, such as Green and Gilmour. This new closeness manifested itself at the Anti-Slavery Society’s 1906 annual meeting, attended by London CRA representatives Harris, Stopford, Durand, and Simpson, usefully countering the presence of Congophile Irish MPs McKean and Nolan.
By 1906, the Congo appeared in almost every issue of the Reporter and on the agenda for almost all the Society’s Committee meetings. They passed Congo resolutions, researched legal issues, and wrote to the Foreign Office, sometimes at the CRA’s request. After reading Morel’s Red Rubber, Travers Buxton canceled the Society’s conference celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the 1807 abolition of the British slave trade in favor of supporting Congo meetings. This commitment to the Congo did not bring Buxton much closer to Morel, and neither did their relationships with William Cadbury.
Like Morel, the Anti-Slavery Society supported Cadbury during the cocoa scandals. Many Congo reformers including Monkswell and Spectator editor St Loe Strachey had joined Fox Bourne and the APS in attacking the chocolate firms for trying to work with the Portuguese. In contrast, Travers Buxton, Morel, and Harris did what they could to undermine this criticism until the fateful moment in March 1909, just after Fox Bourne’s death, when Cadbury led the British chocolate makers to boycott cocoa from Sao Tome and Principe. Notwithstanding Cadbury’s fears about its efficacy, the long-delayed boycott was the only action that led to any improvement in the islands’ recruitment and management of labor. In a further irony, Morel said the Anti-Slavery Society was insufficiently supportive of Cadbury. Buxton suspected that this attack came because he had “stupidly” (Buxton’s word) not invited him to a conference on the subject.
As early as 1907, Buxton described Harris’s brain as “seething” with the concept of merging the APS and the Anti-Slavery Society, hoping to create a “vigorous united organization” with or without the CRA. Buxton told the Quaker E.W. Brooks, the only person on the Committees of all three groups, that Harris would be a “splendid organising secretary” of an amalgamated society. The opportunity arose in late 1907 because of an abrupt fall in APS donations to only 75 percent of the income of the previous seven years. However, talks foundered after successful fundraising in 1908, enabling Fox Bourne to oppose any plan that diluted his authority.
During 1908 and 1909, Harris’s Anti-Slavery activities grew. For example, he went to William Cadbury to discuss how the Society could support him on the cocoa issue. More often his efforts focused on Travers Buxton, advising him on how to organize and publicize a cocoa meeting and on his interactions with Grey, a subject where his advice prevailed over that of Brooks and Monkswell.
After the 1909 merger of the APS and Anti-Slavery, Buxton revived the idea of John Harris as organizing secretary. The Committee made the offer jointly to John and Alice in December 1909. They accepted and left the CRA on 31 March 1910. Fresh from their experience as organizing secretaries of the Congo Reform Association, they reorganized and re-energized the amalgamated British and Foreign Anti-Slavery and Aborigines’ Protection Society, infusing it with the energy of the CRA and later influencing policy at multinational organizations such as the League of Nations and the International Labour Organization.
Relations between the CRA and Anti-Slavery warmed considerably thereafter. Travers Buxton, now on the CRA Executive Committee, began writing more cordially to Morel and collaborated with him more often, as when they jointly telegraphed Meyer to ask for a Free Church Council resolution on the Congo. More importantly, Harris ensured that the two groups would present “an absolutely united front” on the Congo. In many ways, the amalgamated Society was a better partner than either the APS or old Anti-Slavery Society had been. The tensions between Morel and Harris, which had so disturbed the CRA, were easier to manage with Harris leading a different organization.
The Congo Reform Association did not embrace other potential humanitarian allies. It was common for humanitarian groups to support each other’s causes, but for the most part Morel did not. For example, in 1910 the Subject Races International Committee sponsored a conference that included the AntiSlavery Society, Positivist Society, and others—but the CRA demurred. Morel cooperated for a while with the League of Honour founded by one Archdeacon Potter, which intended to provide common services to humanitarian groups, but in a speech from the platform at a League meeting in 1911, Morel called the project unnecessary.
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