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Home arrow Political science arrow British Humanitarianism and the Congo Reform Movement, 1896-1913


If the missionaries enabled the reform movement to draw attention to abuses, create a climate of popular indignation, and provide solid evidence of ongoing wrongdoing, religious bodies in Britain gave the movement weight, offered venues for popular mobilization, galvanized fundraising, and boosted the movement’s influence among those who might never attend an atrocity meeting. Most major churches endorsed the CRA: the Society ofFriends, Baptist Union, Congregational Union, Presbyterian churches, Wesleyan Methodist Synod, and the Anglican Convocations.[1] These groups supported the CRA until its dissolution.

The Baptist Union had committed itself to Congo reform at Clifford’s instigation before the founding of the CRA. The elderly but still active leader of the Nonconformist conscience convinced the annual meeting of the Baptist Union in April 1903 to authorize collaboration on the Congo question with other religious, missionary, and philanthropic groups.[2] The Baptists worked with the APS, IU Congo Committee, and CRA. The Baptist Union continued on this path, passing Congo resolutions at almost every annual meeting. Clifford joined the CRA Executive Committee and cooperated with many of Morel’s initiatives.[3] Subsequent Baptist Union Presidents George White (1903-04), F.B. Meyer (1906-07), and George Macalpine (1910-11), and other officers such as Herbert Marnham and Rev. John Shakespeare, were heavily involved. Morel spoke to Baptist Union annual meetings in 1906 and 1907 to an overwhelming reception.[4] Baptist churches, chapels, and organizations held Congo meetings far more often than did any other religious group, as shown in Table 5.1 below.

Rev. John Clifford

Figure 5.1 Rev. John Clifford

Source: Portrait by John Collier [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.

Baptists played an integral part in convincing the Foreign Office that a broad swath of British public opinion wanted it to press for Congo reform. Its leading figures were prominent exponents of rallying the faithful and lobbying the government in the spirit of the Nonconformist conscience.

With fewer than 23,000 members in the UK, the Society of Friends could never claim to represent broad popular support and carried little weight in the corridors of power. Their wealth and prominence in particular fields did not translate into formal or informal political influence. Tellingly, when Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, the leader of the Liberal party, received an invitation from George Cadbury, he had to ask the party Whip to explain who the man was.[5] Major CRA donor Alexander Peckover, who became the first Quaker peer in 1907, never spoke on the Congo or any other topic in his 12 years in the House of Lords.

The Friends had long spoken out against injustice, including the concentration camps and farm-burning tactics of the British in the Boer War, and had passed


Table 5.1 Recorded Congo meetings by religious affiliation

Church affiliation of meeting

Number of

location or sponsor














Union Churches

(Nondenominational Protestant)




Church of Christ


Jewish Synagogue


Known church affiliation


Church-related but affiliation not known


Subtotal, all religious venues


Private, club, and municipal locations


Total meetings with known

locations and/or religious sponsors


Notes: Four meetings appear in two categories and are adjusted out of the totals. Source: Meetings Database.

a Congo resolution on 4 March 1904, shortly before the CRA’s founding.[6] The monetary and organizational support of a small number of wealthy Friends made them important players in the reform movement. They took the unusual step of sending J.G. Alexander and E.W. Brooks with John Harris to Berlin in December 1905 to express their concerns directly to the German government.[7] William Cadbury not only secured the publication of the 1905 appeal for funds in The Friend, he helped convince the Friends as a body to endorse the reform campaign. As the largest donor to the CRA and as Morel’s friend and patron, his opinions helped shape the CRA’s policies. The Quakers on the Executive Committee assisted in similar ways.

The CRA’s links to the Congregational Union relied on a few leading men, including notable preachers Rev. R.J. Campbell and Rev. Campbell Morgan and three chairmen of the Congregational Union: Dr Robert Horton, Sir Joseph Compton Rickett, MP, and Rev. Silvester Horne, MP. All five donated to the CRA; Campbell and Horne served on its Executive Committee. Despite this backing, institutional and parishioner support for Congo reform never approached that of the Baptists. The annual meetings did pass Congo resolutions in 1906, 1907, and 1909.[8] However, when Horne brought Morel to speak at the 1907 meeting of the Congregational Union of England and Wales, the delegates seemed uninterested, a disappointing contrast to his enthusiastic reception at the Baptist Union.[9] Although larger than the Baptist church, the Congregationalist emphasis on decentralized authority may have made its congregations less susceptible to the influence of its leading figures and less likely to take action in unison.

The Methodists’ Congo work was a paler version of the Baptists’. The Wesleyan Methodist Conference of 1907 formally committed the body to Congo reform just after the Presbyterians. That October, the Methodist Committee of Privileges notably instructed its ministers to support the reform effort and to send resolutions to Grey.[10] The 1908-09 President of the Methodist Conference, Rev. J. Scott Lidgett, was on the Executive Committee from 1904, though his influence was slight. Robert Whyte of the Presbyterians joined the Executive Committee in 1909. Members of the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Unitarian churches donated to the CRA, hosted some meetings, and attended Congo events, but the latter two groups had even fewer formal organizational ties with the CRA.

National, regional, and local Free Church Councils were vital. The idea of assembling representatives of all the Nonconformist churches in a locality started in the late 1880s; there were over 500 Councils in 1899. As they spread, the possibility of a national council to represent and coordinate the interests of all non-Anglican Protestants electrified the imaginations of leading Nonconformists. The National Council of the Evangelical Free Churches formed in 1895 and became the chief advocate for Nonconformists on political issues such as education and disestablishment, major imperial concerns such as Ireland and South Africa, and moral questions such as ending slavery, liquor, gambling, Sunday labor, and prostitution.[11] The network of Free Church Councils also communicated common positions on non-doctrinal issues from the center outwards through local councils to member churches. In the process, it accustomed the leaders of the denominations to working with each other, as they did on the Congo reform campaign.

Like the Baptists, the Free Church Councils had backed the reform campaign early.[12] In 1905, its former President, Rev. F.B. Meyer, led the National Free Church Council to take a much more active role. A man of energy and charisma, the ubiquitous Meyer has already appeared in connection with the RBMU, the Baptists, and the PSA Brotherhoods, as well as inspiring Alice Harris to become a missionary. In August 1905, his protege John Harris convinced him to get further involved in freeing “that Devil-cursed tract of Africa.”[13]

Meyer made the difference in building a strong alliance. Though Guinness had long argued that the CRA needed to awaken the Nonconformist conscience, most religious leaders had not responded to the overtures of the somewhat skeptical Morel and of Guinness himself, who had many contacts but little influence.[14] Meyer soon had made the National Free Church Council one of the CRA’s most reliable allies. His appeal in 1906 may not have pulled in as much money as he hoped, but it generated a tremendous demand for literature and launched a flood of requests for Congo meeting speakers.[15] In March 1907, the Council invited Morel to speak at the annual conference in Leeds. Shortly thereafter, Meyer secured their cooperation in a nationwide effort:

At the Free Church Committee meeting, I was able to induce the President to

draw up a strong letter which is to be published in all the religious press and the

Rev. F.B. Meyer

Figure 5.2 Rev. F.B. Meyer

Source: Dr H.G. Guinness, These Thirty Years (London: RBMU, 1903), 9.

daily newspapers next week, signed by himself and all the Vice-Presidents and Officials, and urging the Free Church ministers throughout the country to preach strenuous sermons on the Congo matter ... All the Committee are really more in earnest about this than in any similar matter I remember.[16]

Meyer remained an important conduit to the National Council. Morel and Travers Buxton jointly asked Meyer to convince the Free Church Council to pass a resolution to strengthen the government against recognition in 1910.[17] The annual national meeting passed Congo resolutions in six of the seven years from 1906 to 1912. Meyer also was the first to propose that the CRA bring together Nonconformists and Anglicans to impress the government with the unity of all Protestant Christianity on this issue.[18]

The Committee of the National Free Church Council overlapped significantly with the Congo Reform Association. Of its 43 Committee members, officers, and past Presidents in the 1906-07 term, 18 participated in the CRA.[19] Almost all of them donated money, nine spoke at Congo meetings, and nine served on the CRA’s Executive Committee. This led to a community of interest at the highest levels that helped hold the alliance together.

Regional and local Free Church Councils invited Congo reformers to speak at 64 or more of their meetings. They sponsored several Congo Sundays in the peak years of 1907-09.

In Parliament, the National Council had a committee of MPs, led until 1907 by CRA donor Sir Robert W. Perks and thereafter by CRA Executive Committee member Sir George White. In theory these MPs would support the National Council’s positions, leading Morel to boast to Lalla Vandervelde in 1906 that the CRA had 225 Nonconformist MPs “absolutely drilled and prepared to strike whenever I give the word.”[20] He exaggerated; the Nonconformist MPs never did act as one to push a major Congo reform measure.

In speeches and in print, Morel complimented the “splendid work” of the CRA’s two closest religious collaborators, the Free Church Councils and the Baptist Union.[21] The Free Church Councils even set aside their bitter dispute with the Anglicans over the Education Act to appear with them at Congo meetings, sign joint letters to the public and government, and attend deputations to the

Foreign Office.[22] The Free Church Councils were perhaps the most efficacious of the CRA’s allies.

Although the Nonconformist conscience was the religious heart of the campaign, the prestige and formal political roles of the Anglican Church’s leaders also played an important part in the movement. Morel frequently talked about Anglican support in his speeches and in the Organ. By 1909, the Archbishop of Canterbury had put himself in the movement’s front ranks. On the other hand, the Anglican Church fell well behind the Nonconformists by every quantitative measure. This in part is due to the relative decline of the church. There were more Nonconformist church members than there were people attending Anglican Easter services in the UK as a whole and in Great Britain (see Table 4.4). Even in England and Wales, where the Church of England was the established church, Bebbington concludes that there were more active Nonconformists than active Anglicans by the early 1900s.[23] However, the Church of England was larger than any single Nonconformist church and had great institutional weight.

The first high-profile Anglican to support the Congo Reform Association was the Bishop of Liverpool, the evangelical Anglican Francis Chavasse, who appeared on the platform at the inaugural meeting of the CRA and joined the Executive Committee. The nationally known Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral and founder of the Christian Social Union, Henry Scott Holland, also joined early on, consistent with his habitual activism. Over the next few years, 12 more bishops subscribed, and a few others, plus the two archbishops, signed letters or appeared on platforms. Two bishops stand out. Arthur Winnington Ingram, the Bishop of London, became involved in 1906.[24] In his long tenure, he involved himself in many causes, some puritanical, such as purity (for), condoms (against), corporal punishment (for), and night clubs (against), while as his support for charities and women’s suffrage showed compassion and interest in fairness.[25] He preached on the Congo often, at Morel’s request notifying the press in advance at least once.[26] He worked with Chavasse to put the Congo problem on the 1906 Anglican conference agenda.[27] With John Harris’s help, he convened the first church-sponsored meeting to unite Anglican and Free Church ministers, which called on all London clergy to hold Congo meetings.[28]

Edward S. Talbot was even more supportive than Chavasse and Ingram. He had been the first head of Oxford’s Keble College and during the reform years was successively the Bishop of Rochester, Southwark, and Winchester. A High Churchman, like Ingram, he also worked closely with Nonconformists. Meyer had recommended Talbot in late 1905 as the best person to bring together Nonconformist leaders and the Anglican hierarchy for the CRA.[29] Talbot proved to be a good ally, donating money, taking the platform at meetings, corresponding frequently with Morel, and serving on the Executive Committee beginning in 1907.

The most prestigious Anglican convert to the Congo reform movement was the Archbishop of Canterbury. Randall Davidson had risen through the Anglican ranks while cultivating leading political figures. He advised Queen Victoria, Prime Minister Balfour, and two previous archbishops before Balfour had him elevated to the see of Canterbury. National leaders consulted him on political matters and he used his influence to advocate for a few nonreligious causes. Although he had made remarks in the House of Lords on 3 July 1906 critical of the Congo situation, his first contact with Congo Reform Association was to refuse a suggestion from Morel some months later that he associate himself publicly with the cause to increase the pressure on the Foreign Office.[30] He feared that strident criticisms would be counterproductive: “You realise I am sure, how liable we are to do harm when we want to do good.” [31] Davidson discouraged Lord Mayo from initiating a debate in the House of Lords in January 1907, advocating patience.[32] When Morel asked about a public letter that spring, he again counseled restraint. “I am somewhat afraid of multiplying letters and ‘messages’ about the Congo in such degree as to weaken their effectiveness.”[33] However, he was coming around to Morel’s point of view. The Convocation of Canterbury endorsed Congo reform on 3 May 1907, a few months after the Convocation of York had done the same thanks to Chavasse.[34] This seems to have been the turning point. Davidson would no longer follow the position of his predecessor who had kept silent about the Bulgarian massacres.[35] He expounded his new view to Grey while discussing another humanitarian cause, the troubles in Macedonia:

I do want to press this point, that the greatest evil, in my judgment, of all would be, that we should know the evils that are going on and that we should be content to do nothing. Nothing—absolutely nothing—is more likely to sap the moral sense of our own people than that we should be aware of ghastly deeds taking place, that we should be able in some degree to diminish them, and that for one reason or another we should not be doing so.[36]

On 29 July 1907, in the Lords, he said that the Foreign Office’s acquiescence in Leopold’s delays was not consistent with public opinion.[37] His signature was the first on the CRA’s 1907 “Appeal to the Nation.”[38] Davidson later told Grey that the Anglican hierarchy supported whatever actions would convince Belgium to institute major reforms.[39]

Davidson and Morel maintained a brisk correspondence during these years.[40] Morel turned to him whenever the government and the Foreign Office gave the appearance of indifference. It is important to note, as Davidson and Morel did not, that while Davidson lent the movement legitimacy in Westminster and among Anglicans, his personal interventions had little effect on policy in the House of Lords or in the corridors of Whitehall.

When Morel decisively broke with Grey in June 1909, he asked Davidson to lead in getting a manifesto signed by the religious leaders, but Davidson hesitated, not wanting to associate himself with Morel’s public attacks on Grey and the Foreign Office.[41] That fall, having taken the pulse of the country, Davidson told Morel that public opinion was not nearly as supportive as he seemed to think:

There is therefore the more need of meetings carefully conducted, and not open to the accusation of being mere ebullitions of enthusiastic feeling on the part of the few. I believe the more the matter is studied the stronger will be the support we shall obtain in England. I hope during the next week or two to have the opportunity of talking with a good many public men on the subject and of using any influence which I may personally or officially possess.[42]

Davidson’s insight led to a large religious “demonstration” at the Albert Hall in November 1909. The Albert Hall meeting was the work of a “religious committee” organized by John Harris and Talbot. Officially independent, it nonetheless boasted all the usual CRA names. The Archbishop himself presided. Davidson, Ingram, Clifford, Lidgett, Horne, and the Bishop of Oxford spoke, and the platform included numerous clergymen and 90 Congo reform stalwarts, including Monkswell, Mayo, seven Bishops, 30 MPs, Morel, the Harrises, Guinness, Green, Doyle, Gilmour, Fox, and Brabner.[43] Messages of support arrived from another ten Bishops, the Archbishop of York, and German, Swiss, and French religious groups. The meeting succeeded in re-establishing the movement as an expression of public opinion in Britain.

Talbot cautioned Morel that the Anglican Church was more careful than the Nonconformists to distinguish between religion and politics, and less willing to get excited for a cause. The Anglican Church as a whole gave the movement much less tangible support than the Nonconformists. Fewer than half of the 43 English bishops made any contribution to the cause including writing letters of support and under a third donated money.[44] The Bishop of Birmingham spoke for many when he argued against taking a stand on the Congo question at the diocesan conference of 1909.[45] Unlike the Nonconformists, the Anglican Church resisted “Congo Sundays,” because “the clergy and their congregations have a great dislike of special Sundays and it is very rarely that we can impose them.”[46] Anglicans sponsored 40 of the identified meetings, mostly meetings of the Men’s Societies that were the Anglican answer to the PSAs. In terms of donations, the clergy were more active than laypeople. Of the 137 clergymen donors whose religion we can identify, not including bishops, 58 were Anglican, accounting for just over half the value of identifiable clergy donations. However, among the donor base as a whole, only 12 percent of all individual donations came from Anglicans who were almost a third of the donors. The overall picture is of uneven support.

The Anglican Church’s connections to the Congo reform movement were top-heavy, enhancing the respectability of the cause among the public and speaking in the Lords and in Whitehall. The Anglican clergy were far less active than the Baptists. The Congo Reform Association had the active support of several leading men, but the agitation in individual parishes left much to be desired in a movement that claimed to represent the broader public.

  • [1] Organ, May 1907, 8; E.D. Morel, Great Britain and the Congo: The Pillage of theCongo Basin (London: Smith Elder, 1909. Reprint, New York: Howard Fertig, 1969), 16.
  • [2] Lagergren, Mission and State, 307.
  • [3] Morel to Clifford, 4 June and 7 December 1909, F8/32:12, 23.
  • [4] Organ, November 1906, 21-4; Morel to Cadbury 9 October 1906 F8/12:40; Morelto Rev. G. Burden, 2 October 1907, F10/15:931; Organ, October 1907, 10-11.
  • [5] Campbell-Bannerman to Herbert Gladstone, 17 November 1899, Add. 41215:143.
  • [6] Alexander, reply to Petit Blue, Aborigines’ Friend, June 1904, 111-14.
  • [7] Buxton to Alexander, Brit. Emp. s.19 D1/2:998.
  • [8] Daily Post, 13 October 1909, 380 HOL I 4/11:6; Organ, November 1906, 21-4,F4/30.
  • [9] Morel to Harris, 11 May 1907, F10/15:573.
  • [10] Organ, November 1907, 56.
  • [11] Bebbington, Nonconformist Conscience, 61-72; ASR, February 1895, 41; J. ComptonRickett to Campbell-Bannerman, 3 March 1902, Add. 41237:18-22; Rev. G. CampbellMorgan, D.D., “Church Federation in England,” American Monthly Review of Reviews,November 1905, 592-5.
  • [12] ASR,July 1903, 90-93.
  • [13] Meyer to Morel, 30 August 1905, F8/108:2.
  • [14] Guinness to Morel, 7 October 1905, F8/74:62.
  • [15] Harris to Morel, 7 September 1906, F8/76:268.
  • [16] Meyer to Morel, 5 April 1907, F8/108:14; Wuliger, “Economic imperialism,” 163.
  • [17] Morel and Buxton to Meyer, 6 March 1910 or 1911, F8/108:33.
  • [18] Meyer to Morel, 23 November 1905, F8/108:6.
  • [19] Free Church Year Book (London: National Council of the Evangelical Free ChurchCouncil, 1906), xvi, 97.
  • [20] Morel to Mme Vandervelde, 8 November 1906, F10/14:549.
  • [21] Organ, January 1907, 34.
  • [22] Organ, February 1907, 32.
  • [23] Bebbington, Nonconformist Conscience, 2.
  • [24] Wuliger, “Economic imperialism,” 142-3.
  • [25] Paul Ferris, Sex and the British: A Twentieth-Century History (London: MichaelJoseph, 1993) 8, 38, 88, 93; Charles Herbert, Twenty-Five Years as Bishop ofLondon (London:Wells Gardner, Darton & Co. Ltd., 1926), 95; S.C. Carpenter, Winnington-Ingram (London:Hodder and Stoughton, 1949), 166-7.
  • [26] F8/103:10, 11.
  • [27] Ingram to Morel, 25 September 1906, F8/103:2.
  • [28] F8/76:334.
  • [29] Meyer to Morel, 23 November 1905, F8/108:6; MS Emmott 3, f294.
  • [30] 159 Parl. Deb. (4th ser.) (1906) 1587.
  • [31] Davidson to Morel, 5 November 1906, F8/14:7-8; MS Emmott 3 f. 364
  • [32] Mayo to Morel, 31 January 1907, F8/107:3.
  • [33] Davidson to Morel, 12 April 1907 F8/14:11.
  • [34] Morel, Great Britain and the Congo, 18; Chavasse to Morel, 22 February 1907,F8/102:13.
  • [35] Gary Bass, Freedom’s Battle (New York: Knopf, 2008), 276.
  • [36] Quoted in G.K.A. Bell, Randall Davidson, Archbishop of Canterbury, Vol. 1(London: Oxford University Press, 1935), 548.
  • [37] 179 Parl. Deb., (4th ser.) (1907) 412.
  • [38] Organ, November 1907; Davidson to Morel, 25 October 1907, F8/14:13.
  • [39] Davidson to Grey, FO 881/9530:176.
  • [40] The files contain 55 letters from Davidson or his secretary and more than two dozenfrom Morel.
  • [41] Morel to Davidson, 30 June 1909 F8/14:44.
  • [42] Davidson to Morel, 23 October 1909, F8/14:79.
  • [43] Organ, 1910, 417-30, 451-2.
  • [44] Robert Withycombe, “The Anglican Episcopate in England and Australia in theEarly Twentieth Century,” Journal of Religious History 16, no. 2 (December 1990): 154.
  • [45] Organ, 1910, 456.
  • [46] Southwark to Morel, 21 March 1907, F8/131:9.
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