Brussels, Belgium - Dec 10, 1906
In an interview given personally today to the correspondent of the Publishers' Press, King Leopold of Belgium denied categorically the reports which have been circulated so widely of atrocities practiced in the Congo.
His common sense would have helped him from indulging in cruelties such as those he is accused of practicing, the King declared, even if he was not moved by humanity to do so.
The old King also paid a high tribute to America and Americans, especially to President Roosevelt, whom he described as a "splendid type of the splendid American nation."
The correspondent was received by King Leopold in his working room in the royal palace at Laaken, outside of Brussels, where the monarch resides. His Majesty was alone in the room, busy at his desk when the correspondent was announced. He at once arose and shook hands with the visitor, saying:
"I am very glad to see a representative of the American press. I have great admiration for most of the newspapers of America. I know most of them try to be honest and straightforward and usually judge an international question on its merits.
"Your Minister asked me to receive you and I am happy to have the opportunity of meeting you as a citizen of one free country talking to a citizen of another."
Asking the correspondent to be seated, the King continued:
"The whole of America is full of wonder to me. I have often wished to visit the United States to see all for myself but fear that dream will not be realized. I am an old man now, and no longer have my former strength. There are many great men in America today. In the two houses of Congress are many brilliant minds. Occasionally it has been my good fortune to meet American legislators in Belgium, and I highly prize the remembrance of these gentlemen. Any country might be proud of such men.
"President Roosevelt I esteem highly for his great qualities. He is a splendid type of the splendid American nation."
The conversation turned on the subject of the charges of cruelty and misgovernment in the Congo, and Leopold said:
"It is curious what satisfaction certain people get spending their lives libeling others. I suppose there is nobody in Europe painted as a monster of such blackness as I am. The words used in picturing my perfidy cannot be repeated in polite society. Nero, it is said, was a saint compared to me. I am an ogre, who delights to torture helpless African negros."
The King mockingly congratulated the correspondent because he had visited him without trembling, and said:
"Let me see if you have a revolver in your pocket to protect yourself. Have you armor under your coat? No. I am surprised. Why do you risk your life in this foolish manner?"
"Then it is not true that atrocious conditions exist in the Congo region?" was asked.
"Of course not. People should credit us with common sense, even if they will not allow that humanity exists outside their own country. It would be absurd for us to mistreat the blacks because no State prospers unless the population is happy and increasing. America knows perhaps, better than any other country, how true this is."
"Many of the people maligning us are doing so from interested motives. It seems a new trade has arisen in the world, that of calumniation. There are those who make their living by forming associations to protest against everything under heaven.
"Recently a certain American missionary made sensational Congo charges and bitterly attacked me. Some on wrote of his language and received a letter from him saying he had never been to the Congo. All his charges were based on hearsay. In this manner many reports as to the Congo circulated, while these who speak from first-hand evidence magnify particular incidents into generalities. Charges about Congo cruelty spreading the false reports finally to believe they are true.
"I do not deny that there have been cased of misjudgment on the part of Congo officials. Most likely cruelties, even crimes have been committed. There have been a number of convictions before Congo tribunals for these offenses. I do deny that every effort as far as possible has not been made to stop the ill treatment of natives no only by white people, but by natives themselves.
"No Government in the world has remedied all the grievances within its own jurisdiction. It is a curious fact that when one country seeks to produce a local millennium it always seizes on territory belonging to some one else for the experiment. the Scripture parable about the beam and the mote is of as much significance today as nineteen centuries ago. It would be more philanthropic to strengthen our hands, more for the benefit of civilization, for all white persons to stand united than for some to abuse us, which certainly does not augment the respect it is good for the African natives to have for the white race. It would be of more interest to civilizations to show the natives that Christians have good feelings for their neighbors.
"Our God says we must all have Christian fellowship, one for another. Certainly this example is not being shown the blacks by those white men who attack the Congo so maliciously."
Leopold dwelt at some length on what has been accomplished in the Congo, saying:
"We have been fortunate in reducing smallpox in Central Africa by the introduction of vaccine. We have stopped the Congo slave trade and prohibited alcohol from entering the country, but steamers on the rivers have built and are building railways and introduced the telegraph. Now we are sending out motor cars.
"All this is only the beginning of our work. by the concessions we have given, especially concessions to Americans, we have reduced almost to nothing the territory of barbarism. Now we must fight the dreadful disease known as sleeping sickness, which has depopulated not only the Congo but also Uganda. We hope with the help of Almighty God to succeed in stamping out this scourge in Africa. In dealing with a race composed of cannibals for thousands of years, it is necessary to use methods which will best shake their idleness and make them realize the sanctity of work."
"It is asserted you are financially interested in the Congo and make a huge fortune there yearly. Is this so?"
Leopold replied: "It is absolutely false. I am the ruler of the Congo, but the prosperity of the country no more affects me financially than the prosperity of America increases the means of President Roosevelt. I have not one cent invested in Congo industries and I have not received any salary as Congo Executive in the past twenty-two years.
"In no shape or form have I bettered myself financially through my relationship with the Congo. On the contrary, I have spent large sums of my own in developing the country - sums amounting in the aggregate to millions. I am poorer not richer because of the Congo. The betterment of the country and the improvement of the conditions of the natives are the only objects of my efforts.
"I know there are persons so constituted that they are unable to appreciate such a statement. They believe readily enough, however, false charges that I am rolling in wealth at the expense of dying natives. They see me as a boa constrictor, squeezing the life out of the blacks in order to put gold into my purse.
"Why should I do such a thing? Of what use is money to me? I am not in the prime of life. I have passed threescore years and ten on my earthly journey. I cannot take money out of this world, why should I pile up gold for the sake of wealth? I have sufficient for my wants and do not wish for more. I am not a business man. I am a ruler, anxious only for the welfare of my subjects. It is more to me than money to a miser for me to know my work in the Congo has not been vainly spent. From a wild African forest, inhabited by cannibals, the Congo is developed wonderfully, its revenues increasing from nothing to $10,000,000 annually.
"But what has been accomplished is nothing to what will be. There is fabulous wealth in the country. I am making every effort to see that it is properly developed. I cannot conceive anything that will give a greater return than planting rubber trees there. Rubber sells for $2,000 a ton, and the Congo is the natural rubber region of the world. To care for the future supply of rubber is on the objects of the new so-called American Company formed to invest money in Congo realty.
"This is not purely an American corporation; half of the shares are held by Belgian financiers. The new company has two objects - first, to prospect for and work mines, and, second to plant rubber forests on modern principles. I have no pecuniary interest in the company, but the Congo has, for, as in the case of all concessions given in the Congo, shares meets the expense of the Congo Government and the dividends it now receives are sufficient to pay the whole interest on the Congo national debt. To see this development of the Congo is my reward."
Leopold rose, extended his hand, and asked the correspondent to extend his compliments to the American Minister, thus indicating that the audience was at an end.