Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, 1894, With the Annual Message of the President, Transmitted to Congress, December 3, 1894
Mr. Roosevelt to Mr. Gresham.
London, August 20, 1894. (Received August 30.)
Sir: In relation to the status of aliens in the South African Republic, I have now the honor of inclosing herewith a clipping from this day’s Times giving the details of a further debate, and statement of the under secretary of state for the Colonies on this subject.
I have, etc.,
The house then went into committee of supply, and resumed the consideration of the remaining votes of the civil service and revenue department estimates, class 2.
On the vote to complete the sum of £40,960 for salaries and expenses of the colonial department, including certain expenses connected with emigration, Sir E. Ashmead-Bartlett called attention to the oppressive treatment of British subjects who were resident in the Transvaal. They were some thousands in number, and there was invested in the Transvaal some £100,000,000 of British capital. In consequence of the treatment they had received at the hands of the Boer Government of the Transvaal, hundreds of these British subjects had been driven from their homes, had had their property confiscated, and had been ruined. These unfortunate persons, although they contributed largely to the wealth of the community, were practically debarred forever from obtaining the franchise in consequence of the Boers having passed a law which prevented a foreigner from becoming enfranchised unless his father had been naturalized. Numbers of them had been commandeered, and when they had been released on the demand of Sir H. Loch they were turned adrift 200 miles from their homes without any means of getting back to them. When he had put a question [Page 255] on the subject in that house the honorable member, the parliamentary secretary to the colonial office, had replied that he could make no inquiry into the matter, as to do so would be to throw an imputation upon the Boer government.
Surely it was the business of the Government to inquire into the truth of this matter. He had a letter dated July 22, 1894, in which it was stated that not only were British subjects ordered to the front for personal service, but had also to provide horses and ammunition at their own expense. Sir H. Loch remonstrated and President Kruger released the men after the term of service, but they were set at liberty 200 miles from their homes without the means of getting back. The answer of the under-secretary on this matter was discreditable to the Government. British subjects were still commandeered for food and supplies.
Mr. Buxton. The only food contribution to which British subjects are liable is that to which all burghers and foreign residents are liable.
Sir E. Ashmead-Bartlett thought the honorable gentleman was mistaken, and that when he got fuller information he would find that British subjects were still liable to commandeering for food supply up to the amount of £15. Then there was a special war tax which, he believed, was imposed on all residents in the Transvaal. He now turned to the most oppressive action on the part of the Transvaal Government, namely, the prohibition of the right of public meeting in the open air.
Mr. Buxton. That is prohibited to all foreign residents.
Sir E. Ashmead-Bartlett said that more than four-fifths of the foreign residents in the Transvaal were British subjects. The Boer police had power to break up assemblies by force. Even indoor assemblies of more than five persons were prohibited. This law was passed in the Volksraad by 17 votes to 6, so that a majority of 11 had absolutely silenced thousands of British residents who were building up the wealth and prosperity of the Transvaal. What was the line taken up by the Government? The under secretary went out of his way to justify the Boers. [Mr. Buxton—No.] He had done so over and over again. In reply to a question the other day as to whether the franchise had been denied to all British residents, he said the Government had no official information on the subject. Such an answer evaded the question. Then the honorable gentleman was asked whether we had any representative in the Transvaal through whom information could be obtained, and he replied: “We have all the information we require, though we have no special official information.” Then the honorable gentleman was asked a third time, “Is it or is it not the fact that such a law has been passed?” And then at last he was forced to answer, “I believe such a law was passed.” The under secretary for the colonies had admitted that the right of open-air public meeting had been denied to British subjects in the Transvaal, and that the right of indoor meeting had been restricted. The right of meeting was, in fact, refused to more than five persons. [The chancellor of the exchequer—Coercion.] [Laughter.] Yes, coercion of the worst kind, for our fellow subjects in the Transvaal had been guilty of no crimes; they had not committed murders; they had not mutilated cattle; they had not boycotted. The under secretary had said that whatever might be the merits or demerits of these restrictive enactments, the South African Republic appeared to be acting within their rights in passing such laws. Why did the honorable gentleman encourage the Boers in that way? Why did he encourage them to disregard in this outrageous manner the elementary rights of man and the liberties of the subject? The policy of the honorable member was totally wrong, and by his statements the Boers had been led to believe that Great Britain was actually afraid of them. The Government should bear in mind that they were not dealing with a highly civilized people. The Boers were, no doubt, valiant, but as a people they were singularly ignorant. Statements such as had been made by the under secretary strengthened the Boers’ belief that they were invincible, and the result was that the position of our fellow-subjects in the Transvaall grew more and more unbearable. The Government, no doubt, wished to maintain peace, but the course which they took was not really calculated to accomplish that purpose. It was likely to encourage the Boers in their oppression of British subjects, and the result might be that British interference would become a necessity. The right way to insure peace was to point out to the Boers that encroachments upon the rights of our fellow-subjects would not be tolerated. A feeling of exasperation and a sense of betrayal were being engendered in our fellow-subjects. The time must come when all the mischief and wrong done in 1881 would be undone, when the old state of affairs wonld return, and when tht whole of South Africa would be under the British flag. How this was to come aboue he would not presume to say, but such a time was coming beyond a doubt. The enterprise, industry, and energy of the British race were asserting themselves in spite of the failures, errors, and betrayal of British governments. If the Government acted firmly and in time there would be no occasion for war. The danger was that our fellow-subjects in the Transvaal, who were brave men and far more civilized than the Boer burghers, might be driven by intolerable oppression into taking precipitate action. The best way to prevent that was for the Government to give the [Page 256] Boers to understand that they would support the rights of British subjects, Only by that means, in his opinion, could a sanguinary collision be prevented in the Transvaal.
Capt. Bethell said that he did not feel to the same extent as the honorable member who had just sat down the fears and apprehensions which he had expressed. Nevertheless, it was true that some of the recent acts of the Government of the South African Republic had been very inimcal to foreign interests in that territory, and he thought the Government of the Republic ought to be made to understand that acts of the kind could not be tolerated for long by the foreign population to whom the prosperity of the Transvaal was entirely due. The protests of the foreign population were quite intelligible, but it would be an error to suppose that that population had the slightest intention of submitting once more to the rule of Downing street. He did not think that a revolution in South African affairs would be at all a desirable event. In his opinion it would be a most satisfactory evolution of affairs in that part of the world if the different countries south of the Zambesi were to cbnfederatc, so that in future they should form one country.
Mr. Tomlinson said the complaint against the Government was that they did not seem to consider it their first duty to protect the position and interests of British subjects in the Transvaal. We were suffering now from the Nemesis of our policy of some years ago when we allowed the Boers to think that a Boer was better than an Englishman and neglected to use the might of Great Britain to maintain our right position in the Transvaal. The time had long gone by when an Englishman, in any part of the world, could say Civis Romanus Sum. Foreigners had been allowed to trample on the rights of British subjects without any reparation being obtained.
Dr. Clark declared that the facts of the honorable member for Sheffield were mere fictions. His complaints were not worthy of consideration. [“Oh!”] He asserted that British subjects were terribly misgoverned in the Transvaal and could not get the franchise. But there was no country in the world where foreigners got privileges and rights of that character quicker than the Transvaal. Any foreigner after two years’ residence could vote in elections to the second chamber of the legislature, and after five years foe could vote in elections to the first chamber. With regard to “commandeering,” unless a man was willing to be commandeered his farm might be burned and he would probably be murdered. So that it was necessary he should join in mutual self-defense. As to education in the Transvaal, no states in the world spent so much on education as the Boer states in the Transvaal. He hoped the questions at issue between the Transvaal and ourselves would be settled by the colonial office in an amicable spirit and that the change which must take place in the Transvaal by which persons now regarded as foreigners would become citizens, would be accomplished without much friction.
Mr. S. Buxton agreed that it was unquestionably the duty of any government—liberal or conservative—to defend British interests wherever they might exist, and that where their rights were unjustly infringed to see that they had justice. He also agreed that it was largely due to the enterprise and energy of the British inhabitants of the Transvaal that the country was in its present position. He felt bound to say that such a speech as that of the honorable member for Sheffield could only tend to create difficulties which otherwise would not be encountered in seeking to obtain a satisfactory solution of questions arising between this country and the Transvaal Republic. [Cheers.] As everybody was not a member of that house, and as perhaps there was a certain number of persons outside who might attach weight and importance to the statements of the honorable member—although, of course, members of the house knew what amount of weight and importance to attach to them—he felt it necessary to say that he was confident the honorable member in no sense expressed the opinions or feelings of right honorable and honorable gentlemen who usually sat on the front opposition bench. [Cheers.] He had only that day received a letter from a correspondent of the honorable member in Edinburgh—a letter the style, stamp, and temper of which were faithfully reflected in the speech of the honorable member. The writer was a specimen of the correspondents of whom the honorable member had spoken. He abused the Liberal Government and those whom he called “the bloody Boers” [laughter], and accused the foreign residents in the Transvaal of cowardice for not having taken up arms before. [Sir E. Ashraead-Bartlett said he had not read the letter referred to.] The honorable member had that day made almost identically the same speech which he delivered to the house a few days ago, and therefore he did not intend to delay the committee by going fully into details of all the questions which had been raised. [Hear, hear!] It was no part of his duty, nor was it his intention to defend the South African Republic from the honorable member’s attacks, but after such a speech as they had just heard he did feel it necessary to say a few words about the action of Her Majesty’s Government. [Hear, hear!] As to the honorable member’s statements with reference to the prisoners who had been commandeered by the Republic, the information he had gathered enabled him to deny that anything like inhumanity had been practiced toward them. They [Page 257] were not treated with any barbarity at all, but were placed in the same position as other burghers who had been commandeered. With reference to the question of the military contribution he could only repeat his former statement that any special military contribution which had been levied on British subjects had been removed. He was glad to say that Her Majesty’s Government were dealing with the Government of the Transvaal in a friendly way, and that thus they had been able to secure the two points they desired, namely, the personal exemption of British subjects from commandeering and also from contributions for goods and money. [Hear, hear!] With respect to the Transvaal law relating to public meetings, he might point out that that law was even less stringent than the law which prevailed in England at the present time, for, while it required six persons to constitute a meeting in the Transvaal, only three persons were necessary to constitute a meeting in England. In regard to the point of the franchise, he regretted—as he had previously stated—the stringency of the system in the Transvaal, and thought the restrictions upon foreign residents were unfair, but, as to active interference in the internal affairs of an independent state in reference to these and other matters, he thought favorable members ought to be very careful how far they recommended such an extreme course. [Hear, hear.] Apart from the question of commandeering the Government had received no representations from British residents in the Transvaal that they desired the Government in any way to interfere in the internal affairs of the Republic. It was the desire of the Government to deal with the Republic in a frank and friendly spirit. As Englishmen they could express a hope that their British fellow-subjects in the Transvaal might be treated with fairness and consideration, and the Government would always be ready to do all in their power to insure that result. [Cheers.]
Mr. Dalziel could not concur in the statement of the honorable gentleman the parliamentary secretary that the situation of the British subjects in the Transvaal was not a serious one. In his opinion the situation of those persons a few months ago was a very serious one indeed, and was calculated to give rise to just grounds of alarm. The President of the Transvaal ordered the British residents in the territory to assemble within twenty-four hours for the purpose of taking part in a war with which they had no concern, while the French, German, and Italian residents were exempted from the duty. He was glad, however, to have heard the assurance of the honorable gentleman that, in consequence of the negotiations that had taken place between the British and the Transvaal governments, British subjects would not be subjected to commandeering in the future. [Hear, hear!]
Sir E. Ashmead-Bartlett said that he could only treat with contempt the unjustifiable personal attack that had been made upon him by the parliamentary secretary for the colonies. Doubtless the honorable gentlemen had obtained a few cheap cheers by making that attack upon him, but he would refrain from imitating the honorable gentleman, although he might retort upon the honorable member, perhaps, with even greater effect. He had never made any personal attack upon any individual in that house, although he might have attacked the policy of the Government of the day. [Hear, hear!] The two main charges which he had made against the Boer government, namely, that the franchise had been denied to British subjects who were resident in the Transvaal and that they were prohibited from holding public meetings, had not been met. He repudiated any intention of causing disturbances in the Transvaal, but he was afraid that the half-hearted policy of the Government would have that effect.