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

Stead Enters the Fray

W.T. Stead, who brought a deep religious fervor to his crusading journalism, was already a force to be reckoned with, though his campaigns were not always successful. Stead’s activism sprang directly from a deeply felt Christianity, which

Sir Charles Dilke

Figure 2.4 Sir Charles Dilke

Source: Look and Learn/Elgar Collection.

W.T. Stead

Figure 2.5 W.T. Stead

Source: William Thomas Stead (1849-1912) (litho), English Photographer (twentieth century)/Private Collection/Ken Welsh/Bridgeman Images.

led him to promote women’s equality, morality, peace, and ending misrule.[1] An enthusiastic imperialist, he envisioned Britain as a new Rome, uniting English-speaking countries to keep the peace and spread liberty, civilization, and Christianity.[2] Combining his imperial and moral ideas, Stead believed in humanitarian military intervention; he cheered for the US victory over Spain and hoped the US would capture Istanbul to end Ottoman misrule.[3]

In late 1901, Morel wanted someone to organize and lead the Congo reform movement. He asked Holt, who found the idea “enough to make me tremble at the thought of the responsibility ... Have I the power by sacrifice to secure the freedom of the millions of the Congo region from the scourge of European brutality? ... So far as I am able to discern my destiny arranged by Providence is to be a distributor of merchandise.”[4] Holt suggested Stead, whom Morel had met through the Manchester Guardians editor.[5] Stead hesitated; the information about the Congo had worried him, “but it is no use pecking at the subject. If any good is to be done, it has to be handled with both hands, and with all one’s strength. For that at present I have not the time.”[6]

Stead had been debating the issue with his old friend Sir Hugh Gilzean Reid, a vigorous apologist. Gilzean Reid praised Leopold and assured Stead he would expose the paid slanderers (meaning Morel, Fox Bourne, and the missionaries). Between May and October 1902, Morel convinced Stead that Gilzean Reid was wrong.[7] Gilzean Reid’s reaction was to threaten Stead in January 1903.[8] Despite, or perhaps because of, Gilzean Reid’s hostility, the Congo had hooked Stead.[9] He met with the reformers in February and, in March, formalized the campaign under the auspices of the International Union, an organization he had founded to promote peace.[10]

Stead had vision, contacts, and experience campaigning far beyond Fox Bourne’s.[11] In 1903, Stead brought together Congo reformers of all stripes on 27 February, 13 March, 6 May, and 17 December, at least.[12] Many of those who attended later became CRA members: Holt, Swanzy, Liverpool merchant Hahnemann Stuart, MPs Herbert Samuel and Alfred Emmott, colonial administrator Harry H. Johnston, Travers Buxton, Guinness, Rev. John Clifford of the Baptist Union, and Canon Scott Holland of the Church of England.

Stead also invited Stanley and Gilzean Reid, but both refused to attend; things might have gone very differently if Stead had changed their minds.[13] He also invited Stanley’s close friend and admirer, May French Sheldon, a journalist and African adventurer. She attended and became the Congo Committee’s most significant investment when she accepted ?500 from Stead to conduct a voyage of inquiry to the Congo. At the same time, she became the beneficiary, with Lord Mountmorres and Marcus Dorman, of ?3,000 that Alfred Jones told Guinness he spent on the three travelers to conduct investigations into the Congo.[14] After 14 months in the Congo spent mostly with Free State officials, she returned to Britain as an apologist; not surprisingly, she had chosen her friend Stanley and highest bidder Jones over Stead.[15]

Stead wanted the new group to become the center of agitation, led by a core Committee of Stead, Fox Bourne, Morel, and Emmott.[16] Despite Stead’s later claim that the Congo Reform Association had held its earliest meetings in his offices, the IU Congo Committee failed and was the CRA’s predecessor, not its embryo.[17] Stead’s own limitations weakened it: his naivete, his many commitments, his difficulty in bringing together different viewpoints, and his personal antipathy to Dilke, the reformers’ strongest ally in Parliament.[18] Morel could not convince Stead to include Dilke. Fifteen years before, Dilke had sued a young woman who had accused him of seducing her into adultery, which had poisoned his reputation among religious people and particularly Stead, who wrote, “He lied to me so atrociously and endeavoured to make me his tool by a combination of hypocrisy and treachery that it is quite impossible for me ever to meet him or to hold any communication with him.”[19] Characteristically, Morel persisted, but Stead responded, “Your idea that Dilke and I should fall upon one another’s necks at the Albert Hall before the world is quite out of the question.”[20] As Morel feared, Stead’s inability to work with Dilke hobbled the IU’s reform agitation.

  • [1] Grace Eckley, Maiden Tribute: A Life of WIT. Stead (Philadelphia: Xlibris, 2007).
  • [2] W.T. Stead, The United States of Europe (New York, Doubleday & McClure, 1899),60, quoted in Richard Gamble, “The Americanization of the World: William T. Stead’sVision of Empire,” presented at the “War and Empire” conference at Grand Valley StateUniversity, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 6-7 October 2005.
  • [3] Stead, United States of Europe, 424-7, quoted in Gamble, “Americanization.”
  • [4] Holt to Morel, 31 December 1901, F8/83:168.
  • [5] C.P. Scott to Morel, 14 and 18 May 1901, F8/127:4, 6.
  • [6] Holt to De Ville, 28 December 1901, F8/82:165; Stead to Morel, 29 May 1902,F8/133:2.
  • [7] Marchal, Morel contre Leopold, Vol. 1, 20; Whyte, Stead, 215-16.
  • [8] Stead to Morel, 21 October 1902, 24 October 1902 and 24 January 1903, F8/133:4,5, 8.
  • [9] Morel to Holt, 26 January 1903, F10/2:226.
  • [10] BFASS papers, Brit. Emp. s.18, C89/26.
  • [11] Stead to Morel, 11 March 1903, F8/133:16.
  • [12] Travers Buxton to Stead, 20 March 1903, Brit. Emp. s.19 D1/2:120.
  • [13] Stead to Morel, 23 February, 26 February, 7 May, 18 May, and 12 June 1903,F8/133:14-39.
  • [14] Guinness to Holt, 3 November 1905, Afr. s.1525 13/4:35; Guinness to Morel, 4November 1905, F8/74:114.
  • [15] Robert Burroughs, “The Travelling Apologist: May French-Sheldon in the CongoFree State (1903-4),” Studies in Travel Writing 14, no. 2 (June 2010): 135-57; Tracey JeanBoisseau, White Queen: May French-Sheldon and the Imperial Origins of American FeministIdentity (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004), 108-23; Stead to Morel, 13 May1904, F8/133.
  • [16] “Action by International Union,” WAM, 20 May 1903, 225.
  • [17] Stead, “After Twenty-one Years,” Review of Reviews, January 1911, 6.
  • [18] Roy Jenkins, “Dilke, Sir Charles Wentworth, second baronet,” Oxford Dictionaryof National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, September 2004; online ed., May2008).
  • [19] Stead to Morel, 12 March 1903, F8/133:17.
  • [20] Stead to Morel, 23 March, 29 March, 18 May, 20 September, and 22 December1903, F8/133:21, 24, 32, 47, 68.
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