Acting Secretary of State Bacon to Minister Wilson.

No. 55.]

Sir: I have to acknowledge the receipt of your dispatch No. 64 [not printed], of the 15th ultimo, transmitting two copies of the full report in French, together with two translations in English, of the committee appointed to investigate the administration of the Independent State of the Kongo, which have also been received.

I inclose, for your information, a copy of a letter of the Secretary of State to the Hon. Edwin Denby concerning conditions in the Kongo Free State.

I am, etc.,

Robert Bacon.

The Secretary of State to the Hon. Edwin Denby.

Dear Sir: I have your letter of the 15th regarding the widespread feeling among your constituents that our Government ought to do something to bring about an international inquiry with a view to authoritative adjudication of the issues to which the conditions supposed to exist in the Kongo Free State are related.

Your inquiry expresses the difficulty in the way. It is not clear that the United States is in a position to bring about such an international inquiry and adjudication. We are parties to a general act for the suppression of the slave trade and the regulation of the firearms and liquor traffics in central Africa, but that act relegates and confines all power and functions to those ends to the several powers having possessions or spheres of influence in Africa. The United States has neither, and its participation in the general act was on the distinct understanding that we had no territorial or administrative interest in that quarter. Our only potential function is in relation to the search and capture of slave vessels within certain waters of the African coast, and no occasion has arisen to exercise that function.

We are not parties to the other more commonly cited general act of the Kongo (signed at Berlin on February 26, 1885). Our treaty relation to the Kongo State is that of one sovereign to another, wholly independent of any relations created by or deducible from the general act of Berlin, which applies only to its signatories. It is questionable whether the treaty rights of the signatories extend to intervention by any one or more of them in the internal affairs of any of them. The Kongo State absolutely denies any right on their part to intervene in its affairs, and none of the other signatory powers appears to controvert that denial. However this may be, it is certain that the United States has no treaty right of intervention. We could not rightfully summon or participate in any international conference looking to intervention, adjudication, [Page 89] or enforcement of a general accord by other African powers against the Kongo State.

Moreover, we are without opportunity or power to investigate conditions in the Kongo. We have no diplomatic or consular representatives in that country. We could not send anyone there except with the consent of the Government of the Kongo—to do otherwise would be an invasion of its sovereignty. Other powers, being parties to the general act of Berlin, have made investigation through their authorized representatives, and the Kongo Government also has sent investigating commissions. The information we have on the subject of Kongo misrule comes at second hand through opposed channels.

Whenever complaint has been made by American interests in the Kongo that the administrative conditions there impair American rights or endanger American establishments the matter has been brought promptly and forcibly before the Kongo Government and has been met with the assurance of investigation and, if substantiated, full redress. In taking this course we act within our sovereign rights, directly and without subordinating them to the judgment of any third parties. So far as we have rights of our own in the Kongo, it would be impossible to submit them to an international conference.

I most sincerely wish that some way could be found by which the whole of central Africa could be rightly administered by the several powers ruling or exercising a controlling influence therein, so as to realize the intention of those powers when they framed the general act of the Kongo. Much may be, and doubtless is, desirable in the way of good government in that vast region elsewhere than in the Kongo. If the United States had happened to possess in Darkest Africa a territory seven times as large and four times as populous as the Philippines, we, too, might find good government difficult and come in for our share of just or unjust criticism. No such responsibility falls upon us. That pertains to the powers who have assumed control and undertaken, by mutual agreement, to regulate its exercise.

Very truly, yours,

Elihu Root.

Hon. Edwin Denby, M. C.,
Washington, D. C.