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Profile: King Leopold II

King Leopold II was a participant or observer in the following events:

The young Duke of Brabant, who will be crowned King Leopold II of Belgium in 1865 (see 1865), dreams of making Belgium wealthy through the acquisition of a colony. At the age of 27, he travels to Seville to study Spain’s history as a colonizer. In a letter to a friend, he writes: “I am very busy here going through the Indies archives and calculating the profit which Spain made then and makes now out of her colonies.” Two years later, he tours the British possessions of Ceylon, India, and Burma and explores investment potential in South America and even the American Pacific. There is little support among Belgians at this time for establishing colonies. But the duke is undeterred. “Belgium doesn’t exploit the world,” he complains to one of his advisors. “It’s a taste we have got to make her learn.” The duke’s father, King Leopold I, had at one time considered acquiring a colony, but was discouraged after his investment at St. Thomas de Guatemala ended with the imprisonment, bankruptcy, and death of the settlers and main promoter. A few years later, the family suffers from another ill-fated venture, this time in Mexico. In 1964, Leopold’s youngest sister, Charlotte, and her husband Archduke Maximilian are installed by Napoleon III of France as the country’s figurehead Emperor and Empress. But Mexican rebels quickly put an end to Maximilian’s rule. In June 1967, two years after the duke is crowned King Leopold II, the emperor is killed by a firing squad. [Pakenham, 1992, pp. 12-13; Hochschild, 1999, pp. 37-38, 40-42]

Entity Tags: King Leopold II

Timeline Tags: US-Congo (1959-1997)

King Leopold II of Belgium instructs Colonel Maximilien Strauch to send a telegram to Henry Morton Stanley that he has instructed Messrs. Rothschild & Sons to set aside 2000 pounds for Stanley, to be used at his disposal. [Hochschild, 1999, pp. 64]

Entity Tags: King Leopold II, Henry Morgan Stanley

Timeline Tags: US-Congo (1959-1997)

King Leopold II of Belgium sends General Henry Sanford, a former US Ambassador to Belgium under Lincoln, to lobby Congress and US officials to recognize the International Association of the Congo. [Pakenham, 1992, pp. 242-243; Hochschild, 1999, pp. 79-80]

Entity Tags: Henry Sanford, King Leopold II

Timeline Tags: US-Congo (1959-1997)

The US Senate votes in favor of recognizing the International Association of the Congo. [Pakenham, 1992, pp. 246] The Senate resolution, introduced by Senator John Tyler Morgan of Alabama, is followed by the publishing of a thousand copies of a report on the Congo. Attributed to Morgan, the document was written primarily by General Henry Sanford, who lobbied for the bill on behalf of Belgium’s King Leopold II (see Fall 1883-Spring 1884). Sanford asserts in the report “that no barbarous people have ever so readily adopted the fostering care of benevolent enterprise as have the tribes of the Congo, and never was there a more honest and practical effort to… secure their welfare.” [Hochschild, 1999, pp. 80]

Entity Tags: King Leopold II, John Tyler Morgan, Henry Sanford

Timeline Tags: US-Congo (1959-1997)

George Washington Williams writes an open letter to King Leopold II of Belgium charging his government with a lengthy list of human rights violations. Williams, a black American, came to the Congo early that year interested in establishing a program through which African-Americans could come to Africa to work. He had hoped that working in Africa would offer them a better chance for advancement than in the US. His hopes were quickly diminished shortly after arriving in the Congo. His letter to Leopold makes the following charges:
bullet Henry Morton Stanley and his men have been tricking African chiefs into signing over their land to the king. He explains: “A number of electric batteries had been purchased in London, and when attached to the arm under the coat, communicated with a band of ribbon which passed over the palm of the white brother’s hand, and when he gave the black brother a cordial grasp of the hand, the black brother was greatly surprised to find his white brother so strong, that he nearly knocked him off his feet.… When the native inquired about the disparity of strength between himself and his white brother, he was told that the white man could pull trees and perform the most prodigious feats of strength.” Another ploy commonly utilized by Stanley’s men, according to Washington, was to claim that white men have “an intimate relationship to the sun,” so intimate in fact that if a white man were to request that the sun “burn up his black brother’s village, it would be done.” According to Williams, through the use of these tactics “and a few boxes of gin, whole villages have been signed away to your Majesty.” [Hochschild, 1999, pp. 109-110] Stanley is widely feared in the Congo as a tyrant. His name “produces a shudder among simple folk. When mentioned; they remember his broken promises, his copious profanity, his hot temper, his heavy blows, his severe and rigorous measures, by which they were mulcted of their lands.” [Hochschild, 1999, pp. 110]
bullet Leopold’s officers force the natives to provide Belgium’s military bases in the Congo with provisions. When the natives resist, “white officers come with an expeditionary force and burn away the homes of the natives.” [Hochschild, 1999, pp. 110] The king’s men treat their prisoner’s inhumanely and subject them to harsh punishments for the slightest infractions. [Hochschild, 1999, pp. 110]
bullet Despite Leopold’s claims to the contrary, his subjects in the Congo Free State are not being provided with government services. The only schools and hospitals that have been built, Williams argues, are “not fit to be occupied by a horse.” [Hochschild, 1999, pp. 110-111]
bullet Leopold’s men have been kidnapping local women and using them as concubines. [Hochschild, 1999, pp. 111]
bullet Belgium officers have shot villagers for sport, in order to steal their wives, or in order to intimidate others into forced labor. [Hochschild, 1999, pp. 111]
bullet Despite Leopold’s alleged abhorrence of slavery, his government in the Congo “is engaged in the slave-trade, wholesale and retail,” according to Williams. [Hochschild, 1999, pp. 111]
Williams’s open letter causes a stir in both the US and Europe. Leopold denies the charges. [Hochschild, 1999, pp. 112] Ironically, Williams was the first American to propose official recognition of the Congo Free State by the United States. [Hochschild, 1999, pp. 106]

Entity Tags: George Washington Williams, King Leopold II

Timeline Tags: US-Congo (1959-1997)

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