In the early 20th century, Henry Morton Stanley was in poor health. After a lifetime of traveling through jungles and down rivers, he was weary and slow-moving. In public, when asked about the atrocities in the Congo, he continued to support King Leopold. He died in 1904, before the attacks against Leopold became really vitriolic.
In the second part of the book, Henry Morton Stanley isn’t a particularly important character—indeed, after he helped to colonize the Congo in the 1880s, his usefulness to King Leopold largely disappeared. However, his continued support for Leopold might suggest his loyalty, or his continued need to ingratiate himself with his aristocratic patron.
By 1905, the backlash against Leopold had become truly international. Members of the Swedish Parliament signed a statement supporting Morel’s CRA, and human rights groups protesting Leopold appeared in many European countries. In response, Leopold launched a counterattack, criticizing the human rights abuses of the British Empire. He found information about atrocities in China, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Australia. He launched smear campaigns against some of his more vocal opponents, and paid writers to draft books and articles defending his administration in the Congo.
Morel was an effective international campaigner; he enlisted the help of missionaries, politicians, businessmen, and other human rights activists to denounce the Belgian occupation. However, Leopold continued to fight back against Morel, using his own considerable talent for public relations. In no small part, Leopold continued to attract good press by buying it; he literally paid people to write nice things about him.
In spite of Leopold’s efforts, the criticism of his regime in the Congo spread quickly, eventually reaching the writer Mark Twain. Twain lobbied against Leopold in Washington, D.C., causing other politicians and writers to join the cause. Morel visited the U.S. and met with John Tyler Morgan, who still supported a “back to Africa” movement. Morel convinced Morgan, a white supremacist, that, unless the human rights situation improved, African Americans could never be convinced to leave the U.S.
Mark Twain was an important ally in the Congo reform movement because he was a great writer and speaker, as well as an enthusiastic campaigner. Twain, a popular public figure in the late 19th century, inspired many Americans to rise up against Belgian imperialism. Morel scored a major victory by convincing Morgan to turn on Leopold, his former ally. This suggests that Morel, in spite of his commitment to human rights, wasn’t afraid to cooperate with a white supremacist like Morgan for the greater good of protecting the Congolese.
In America, Leopold tried to get powerful politicians and businessmen on his side. He met with congressmen and offered their districts concession rights (i.e., the right to conduct business out of the Congo without paying tariffs) in the Congo if the congressmen supported him publicly. The plan worked, and Leopold was able to prevent the White House from appointing a consul general to the Congo. Leopold, a Catholic, also managed to convince several cardinals of the Vatican that he was the victim of a Protestant smear campaign.
Leopold had one huge advantage over Morel: he had been campaigning for control of the Congo for decades before Morel became a journalist. Therefore, Leopold had a much larger network of allies and political supporters; he used some of these allies to prevent the American government from taking decisive action on the Congo question.
Leopold made a huge blunder by hiring a man named Henry Kowalsky as his lobbyist in the U.S. Kowalsky was a charismatic speaker, and a successful lawyer in the western United States. But when he moved to Washington, D.C. to begin his lobbying, he immediately infuriated the Belgian ambassador to the U.S., Ludovic Moncheur. Moncheur, afraid that Kowalsky would overshadow him in D.C., kept Kowalsky out of the loop. Frustrated, Kowalsky switched sides and went to the press, claiming that Leopold was trying to use bribery to influence the U.S. government’s policy on the Congo. In all, the tide was turning against Leopold throughout Europe and America.
Leopold made a huge tactical error when he set Kowalsky adrift. The disgruntled lobbyist immediately spoke out against his former employer; as a result, Leopold gained an unwanted reputation in America as a con artist and a corrupt politician. Due to Kowalsky’s unwanted publicity, Leopold lost many of the friendships and alliances he’d cultivated over the last thirty years.
Leopold tried to launch a new commission, the Commission of Inquiry. He sent three judges to the Congo to make a report on the state of human rights there. Leopold gambled that the judges’ inability to speak any African languages and their cooperation with the authorities in the Congo would result in a positive report. However, his gamble failed when the three judges met with witnesses to the Force Publique’s cruelty. The Commission of Inquiry released a 150-page report attacking the state of the Congo. In response, Leopold arranged for an organization called the West African Missionary Association to send a heavily censored “summary” of the report to various newspapers; the plan worked, and newspapers published the less critical, less specific summary.
Leopold made another huge tactical error by giving impartial judges direct access to the Congo. In the past, Leopold had been careful to control all information flowing in and out of his territory; now, he blundered by letting judges see the atrocities first-hand. However, Leopold was able to mitigate some of the damage by circulating a bland summary of the judges’ report—showing, once again, how Leopold used obfuscation and confusion to prevent the shocking truth about the Congo from getting out.