|King Leopold II of Belgium|
Published in the Boston Daily Globe on January 12, 1907, the following letter expressed Charlie Gibson, Jr.’s support of a Senate resolution introduced by Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge the previous year:
Hon. H. C. Lodge, Senior Senator from Massachusetts, US Senate:
Dear Sir—I have learned with much gratification of the resolution which you have introduced in the senate, to empower this government to take such steps as may be possible to urge the government of the Congo to carry out, with some degree of effectiveness, reforms in the administration of that state.
I have been cognizant, in company with many thousands of others in this state, for some years of the oppression and cruelties inflicted upon natives of the Congo by officials and others there.
I believe there is a strong feeling upon the part of bankers and business interests, entirely apart from the religious movement, that in the cause of humanity such brutalities and oppression should, if possible, be stopped at the earliest moment.
May I, therefore, in company with them, respectfully urge you to use every power at your command to induce the US senate to take such action as is desirable and at the present time. Believe me to be, with high regard, yours very truly,
Boston, Jan. 5, 1907.
In writing the above letter in support of the senator’s resolution (full text provided below), Charlie added his voice to the growing international movement against the cruel and oppressive policies that Belgian King Leopold II inflicted upon the Congolese. Since 1885 the king had ruled the Congo Free State, a central African colony, as a personal kingdom separate from the Belgian nation. And as horror stories of slavery, torture, and other heinous crimes taking place in the Congo were brought to the world’s attention, King Leopold II became an increasingly repugnant figure to the international community. Senator Lodge’s resolution, which was adopted by the Senate on February 15, 1907, is one small example of the western world’s opposition to the king:
WHEREAS, It is alleged that the native inhabitants of the basin of the Congo have been subjected to inhuman treatment of a character that should claim the attention and excite the compassion of the people of the United States, therefore be it
RESOLVED, That the President is respectfully advised that in case he shall find such allegations are established by proof he will receive the cordial support of the Senate in any steps, not inconsistent with treaty or other international obligations or with the traditional American foreign policy which forbids participation by the United States in the settlement of political questions which are entirely European in their scope, he may deem it wise to take in co-operation with or in aid of any of the powers signatory of the Treaty of Berlin for the amelioration of the conditions of such inhabitants.
King Leopold II had ostensibly assumed control of the Congo to Christianize and “civilize” the native peoples living there—the same justification often employed by other European powers as they colonized different parts of Africa. Leopold’s imperial policy, however, is held up as one of the greatest crimes perpetrated upon an innocent people in this period. Some historians estimate that as many as 10 million people died as a result of the king’s crushing and merciless reign of terror, as he transformed the Congo region into what has been described as a “massive labor camp.” He used the resources and labor of the Congo for his own personal gain, as the rubber and minerals found in the region proved enormously profitable.
In 1908, a year after the adoption of Senator Lodge’s resolution, the Belgian parliament succumbed to international pressures and annexed the Congo Free State from King Leopold II. And although exploitative policies continued to be implemented, the Congolese were at least free from the unrestrained cruelties of Leopold, who died a year later.
Unfortunately, the extent of the king’s crimes will never be known. Shortly after losing the Congo, he burned all of the financial and government records, reducing the best evidence against him to ash.
By Timothy Spezia, museum docent
Image Source: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Leopold-II-king-of-Belgium
Mark Dummett, “King Leopold’s Legacy of DR Congo Violence,” BBC News, accessed August 18, 2015, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3516965.stm.
Charles Hammond Gibson, Jr. letter to Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Boston Daily Globe, January 12, 1907, accessed via ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
Congo Reform Association, “Congo Resolution Adopted by Senate,” The Congo News Letter, April 1907, 7, accessed August 19, 2015, via Google Books.
White King, Red Rubber, Black Death, directed by Peter Bate (2003; Belgium: Periscope Productions and British Broadcasting Corporation), accessed August 17, 2015, via YouTube.com.