Home Political science British Humanitarianism and the Congo Reform Movement, 1896-1913
The Human Element: Interpersonal Relationships and Emotional Responses
Ever since Wuliger unearthed the Morel papers in the early 1950s, interpersonal tensions have loomed large. As Wuliger put it:
Fox Bourne hated Guinness; Guinness and Stead detested Dilke; Mrs Green abominated both Guinness and Fox Bourne; EDM [Morel] loathed John Harris; Harris was jealous of EDM. The missionary societies had a gray reputation. The Chambers of Commerce were contemptuous of the Aborigines’ Protection
Society. The APS was horrified by the commercial taint. The Morning Post people were irritated at finding themselves in the same boat with what they called “professional humanitarians.”
Others have taken this issue farther; Grant asserts that dissension “split the ranks of the Congo reformers” in 1908. It is legitimate to ask how these animosities affected the movement. For instance, hostility to Dilke kept Stead at arm’s length from the CRA. Relations with Guinness went through periodic crises until he embraced the Belgian government, yet he rendered great service to the movement in 1904-06. Fox Bourne overcame his hostility to the creation of the CRA and joined its Executive Committee. Green’s animosities usually coincided with Morel’s and made him feel justified in his dislikes, but in the end Morel did what he could to work with anyone interested in reform.
The relations between Harris and Morel require further examination because of their centrality. Their relationship was far more complex than Morel’s occasional temper tantrums might suggest. John Harris could justifiably cite grievances with Morel, but not his oft-repeated complaint that Morel would not share the credit. Morel publicly and privately praised the contributions of John and Alice Harris from 1905 to 1913. He raised money for the Harrises when their personal expenses exceeded their salary. Upon their departure, and in their presence, he told the Executive Committee,
It is impossible to speak too highly of the energy and devotion they have shewn, and of the immense amount of labour they have put into the movement.
I should not like to hazard a guess at the number of meetings they have addressed throughout this country in the last few years—certainly they have run into many hundreds ... Mr Harris’ capabilities as an organiser have been invaluable to the Association, and were well exemplified in the Albert Hall gathering, for whose organisation he was entirely responsible . During the last year, Mr Harris has been responsible for the financial side of the Association’s work, and he has carried out that work with efficiency and success.
At the CRA’s final meeting, where the Harrises’ exclusion from the platform prompted John Harris’s complaint about sharing credit, Morel announced,
I must testify to-day, and it gives me great pleasure to do so, to the very great services rendered to the cause by Rev. John Harris and Mrs Harris, whose activities the Congo Balolo Mission generously placed at the disposal of the Association ... who afterward and for some time acted with indefatigable energy and success as Organising Secretaries of the Association, addressing hundreds of meetings all over the country and contributing powerfully to the enlightenment of public opinion.
Both because of his periodic difficulties with Morel and because he feared being unemployed after the CRA’s work was done, Harris began thinking about leaving the CRA as early as 1908, but he and Alice stayed on until 31 March 1910, after almost five years’ service. Morel’s personal opinion of Harris deteriorated, reinforced by the CRA Treasurer, Harold Brabner, who never lost an opportunity to attack the “perfect little snake” in extreme terms on often trivial matters, by Green, and by Casement, who claimed Harris was “not very straight” with him. Yet, except during the occasional eruption, Morel suppressed his animosity. His interpretation of Harris’s careless inaccurate remarks as lies led him to believe that Harris told people in 1911 that Morel had diverted money from the CRA. In 1912, he wrote Holt (who continued to have good relations with Harris),
He and I keep perfectly friendly. But between you and I and the gate-post I cannot like the man. However, he is a force to reckon with . and long as he uses his influence in the right way that is the main point. He grows, however, personally, more and more distasteful to me as time goes on.
Harris, on the other hand, notwithstanding his own jealously and grievances, considered Morel one of his closest friends. When he and Alice went on their year-long trip to Africa in 1911-12, he asked Morel to be one of three men who would advise his executors about arrangements for their four children and raise money in the event John and Alice did not survive the trip. Also, for this journey, worried that the Congo authorities might tamper with his mail, Harris set up a secret code with Morel, not any of his other trusted humanitarian friends such as Travers Buxton or Harold Spender. Morel suppressed his growing dislike for Harris in the interest of the cause they supported and Harris treated Morel like a trusted friend and ally, especially after he left the CRA. As Harris put it in a 1911 letter to Morel: “When the fight is over, if we live to see that day, we must try and have a happy evening together, when we will dismiss everything but that which has been bright and happy.”
The key to understanding how the movement functioned despite personal animosities was Morel’s longstanding principle that the reformers had to subordinate their personal feelings, as when he tried to cajole Stead into working with Dilke. Because of this attitude, Morel’s drama with Harris did not significantly impede the reform movement. When it came to the battle with Leopold, the movement stayed united despite personal issues.
The reformers did sometimes hurt their cause by misinterpreting the actions of others. The CRA saw every positive step by the Foreign Office or Belgium as a vindication of its most recent actions. Morel’s break with the Foreign Office was perhaps the most egregious setback masquerading as a tactical victory. Morel believed that the campaign against the Foreign Office convinced Grey to prepare for stronger action against Belgium, though Grey’s preparations for sterner measures sprang from his own judgment and Thesiger’s reports.
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