Minister Wilson to the Secretary of State.

No. 99.]

Sir: I have the honor to transmit herewith to the department two copies of the Bulletin Officiel de L’Etat Indépendant du Congo, containing in the French text the report of the committee on reforms in the Kongo State, the decrees carrying the same into effect, and a letter from His Majesty King Leopold addressed to the secretaries general.

I also inclose printed extracts in the English text of the decrees of the Sovereign, which have just been published in an English paper here. These decrees practically embody the whole of the measures advocated by the committee, and by the Sovereign’s signature have de facto passed into law.

From a study of the decrees it will be noted that two important principles are laid down. The first of these secures to the natives the possession of the soil already occupied by them. The second principle prohibits the exercise of force in the collection of rubber, and substitutes therefor detention within certain limitations until the labor tax is discharged.

Concurrently with the issuance of the decrees His Majesty has published an open letter to the secretaries general, which is considered in diplomatic circles to amount to a manifesto to the powers. It certainly is susceptible of that interpretation, but it may also—and perhaps with more accuracy—be described as an autocratic declaration to the Belgian people.

Here follows a translation of the most significant parts of the King’s letter:

I grant you the situation is without precedent and unique, but so also was the creation of the Free State. All the responsibilities and the organization of a government unfettered by other authority have been left to my care. The Kongo is essentially a personal undertaking. There is no more legitimate or honorable right than that of reaping the fruit of one’s own labor. The powers accorded their good will to the birth of the new State, but not one was called upon to participate in my efforts; hence it follows that none has the right of intervention, which nothing could justify. The powers were duly notified of the choice made by the State as to the regime of neutrality and other limitations. No objections were raised at the time. The law of nations regulates the relations between sovereign powers; there is no special international law for the [Page 101] Kongo State. The Berlin act made certain stipulations with respect to the conventional basin of the Kongo. These regulations apply equally to other states with holdings there, but they in no sense affect the rights of possession. The questions of territorial sovereignty—that is, precisely those which underlie the constitution of states—were expressly and by common accord omitted from the programme of the Berlin conference. My rights in the Kongo are indivisible; they are the product of personal labor and expense. You must miss no opportunity of proclaiming these rights; they alone can render possible and legitimate my bequest of the Kongo to Belgium, which has no title but what reverts to her through my person. If I allow them to be contested, Belgium would be deprived of any power to make good such title.

The letter cites the immense extension of internal communication by rail and water, and the great progress made in the moral and material welfare of the native population.

By a codicil, of which the text is published with the decrees, His Majesty confirms his bequest of the Kongo to the nation, and instructs his legatees to continue unchanged his administrative policy.

I have the honor, etc.,

Henry Lane Wilson.

Decrees of King Leopold to carry into effect reforms in the Kongo.

the occupation of the land.

  • Article 1. The land belongs to the natives who inhabit, cultivate, or exploit it in conformity with local customs and usages according to the decree of September 14, 1886. The method of determining such rights shall be fixed by the governor-general, and the delimitation of the various territories shall be deposited in the archives of the district commissary.
  • Art. 2. The governor-general or district commissary shall, with a view of encouraging native industry, allot to each village a superficial area three times as large as that already occupied by such village.
  • Article 3 provides for certain contingencies in application of preceding clause.
  • Art. 4. The natives can not dispose of such land to third parties without the consent of the Government.
  • Art. 5. In order to encourage agriculture the governor-general will place at the disposal of natives certain seeds, plants, etc.
  • Article 6 defines the limits within which the natives may cut wood, fish, etc., on lands other than those occupied by them.

direct and personal taxation.

  • Article 1. Every adult and able-bodied male is required to pay taxes, either individually or collectively. The governor-general shall fix the amount payable according to local conditions. The total amount payable shall be not less than 6 francs nor more than 24 francs per annum. The tax is payable monthly, but latitude for payment is given in special cases. The native may pay either in kind or in labor. The district commissioners fix the article which shall be accepted in payment and the equivalent in cash; also the kind of work which will be accepted as payment, the rate per hour, the method of gathering the product, etc., but in such a way that the number of hours of labor shall in no case exceed forty per month per head.
  • Art. 2. Each year before September 1 the district commissioner shall assess the amount of taxes payable for the following year, and a supplementary census is made on March 1. Part or all of the tax may be remitted in special circumstances. Cattle and domestic animals are not accepted in payment unless by special permission, nor is the ordinary station labor. Payment may be enforced by chiefs of the district or state agents nominated by the governor-general and controlled by district commissioners. It may be effected either directly or with the cooperation of native chiefs. It is forbidden to arm “capitas” or sentries with breech-loading or improved rifles in enforcing [Page 102] payments overdue. To encourage the taste for work the natives are remunerated on a given basis when delivering the products in kind or in exchange for their labor.
  • Arts. 3 and 4. In case of refusal of payment in kind the native may be detained, with forced labor, until the amount has been worked off; such constraint may only be applied by the district commissioner or other authorized official, and can not exceed one month in duration. For repeated offenses the period may be extended to three months. A fortnight’s notice for payment is given, and force is only applied at the end of a second fortnight. The arrest must be effected by the authorized tax collector, and only in case of default. A penalty of fines ranging from 100 francs to 2,000 francs is inflicted on any agent exceeding his functions, either by demanding an excess rate or using illegal means in obtaining payment.

collective taxation.

  • Article 1. Taxes may be made payable collectively under article 28 of the decree of November 18, 1903.
  • Article 2 establishes the rules for grouping the population and assessing the amount payable by each group.
  • Article 3 compels native chiefs to furnish lists of able-bodied taxpayers.
  • Article 4 refers to duties allotted to chiefs.
  • Article 5 defines limits within which constraint is applied.
  • Articles 6 and 7 deal with remuneration as per article 2 in personal taxation, and penalties for nonpayment as also therein laid down.
  • Articles 8 to 11 define individual responsibilities in respect of collective taxation, which are virtually the same as those already cited.

the carrying of arms.

  • Article 1 invests in the governor-general or his representatives the right of granting a license to carry arms; it may be specially stipulated that the permit only refers to certain places or establishments, and is not valid elsewhere. The number of pernfits for establishments directed by Europeans must not exceed twenty-five rifles of newest pattern. Requests for a license must explicity state the object for which the rifle is destined. The use of breech-loading or improved rifles is forbidden to natives who are charged to carry on commercial operations with their fellow-countrymen.
  • Article 4. District commisioners are charged to control the proper use of arms granted under license. Any infraction of the rules is liable to punishment.

The decree regulating the establishment of state warehouses stocked with merchandise suited to native wants is contained in a single article. A credit of 300,000 francs (£12,000) is opened for this object.

native chiefdoms

  • Article 1. Every native is reputed to form part of a group under the authority of a chief.
  • Article 2 defines the status of a chief as head of his village.
  • Articles 3, 4, 5, and 6 deal with nominations and investiture of a chief and the rights and duties of natives in respect to their tribe.
  • Articles 7 to 11 define the prerogatives of a chief, and his duties toward the central authority. His remuneration is fixed at a sum which can not exceed 5 per cent of the total remuneration granted to natives under article 2 already cited.
  • Article 12 defines the duties of a chief toward his people. He is responsible for good order in his village, and must report crime, epidemics, and other matters pertaining to the general welfare.
  • Articles 15 and 16 deal with penalties incurred by chiefs for nonfulfillment of their obligations.
  • Articles 17 and 18 relate to the service of native messengers.

hiring service.

A native less than 14 years old can not be compelled to sign a contract for more than two years of ordinary work, and for three years of domestic service.

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recruiting for the public service.

  • Article 1. The annual levy of soldiers is divided into two sections, of which the second includes those who are also employed on public works.
  • Art. 2. These recruits serve for a maximum period of five years, in one or several periods, and at completion are exempt from all similar obligations.
  • Art. 3. They are liable to civil penalties; revolt or desertion is punished by five years’ penal servitude or a fine not exceeding 1,000 francs.


Tribunals.Article 1. In addition to the common court (tribunal de première instance) in the Lower Kongo, similar courts are established at Leopoldville, Coquilhatville, Stanleyville, and Nyangara. The functions of magistrates are fulfilled by procureurs d’etat, nominated by the sovereign. These magistrates are placed under the surveillance of a procureur-general, also nominated by the Sovereign. The procureur-general discharges the duties hitherto undertaken by the procureur d’etat at the court of appeal.

Art. 2. The ordinary sessions shall be held at such places as may be fixed by the governor-general, who shall also determine the minimum number of such sessions.

Art. 3. In their respective departments the officers of the public ministry, doctors of law, shall exercise, according to a summary procedure and without the assistance of a recorder, the functions of a judge, within the limits laid down in article 6, whenever an ordinary court or territorial tribunal is not available for the purposes of justice.

Administrative powers.Art. 4. The common courts have plenary power in civil and commercial as well as criminal cases, excepting where otherwise stipulated by law. Their decision is without appeal when the value at issue does not exceed 200 francs (£8). They are also entitled to pass sentence, to the exclusion of other courts and notably courts-martial, for misdemeanors or crimes committed by Europeans involving the death penalty.

Art. 5. Territorial tribunals take cognizance of (1) misdemeanors by non-Europeans, and (2) by Europeans when the penalty does not exceed five years or is only a fine.

Art. 6. Officers of the public ministry (magistrates) are competent to judge without appeal civil and commercial cases to the value of 100 francs and for crimes committed by non-Europeans in cases laid down in the penal code (clauses cited) and for misdemeanors for which the penalty does not exceed seven days or a fine of 200 francs.

Art. 7. In penal matters the judgments of higher courts are without appeal when offenses are committed by non-Europeans involving sentences of not more than seven days or a fine of 200 francs.

Art. 8. The court of appeals takes cognizance of verdicts given in the ordinary courts and in, criminal cases of the verdicts passed in the higher courts.

Art. 9. The governor-general will determine by decree the territorial competence of the different courts of justice, the rule to be observed to fix their competency in civil and commercial cases, and the procedure to be followed by each.

police and military operations.

  • Article 1 defines the term “police operations” as bearing on the maintenance of order and public security.
  • Art. 2. Excepting the governor-general, only the district commissioners are entitled to order out the police.
  • Art. 3. The employment of firearms is prohibited, excepting in case of legitimate defense of self or another.
  • Art. 4. In case of aggression, actual or imminent, the public force can intervene simply at the bidding of the chief of the district. Its mission is strictly limited to the protection of persons or property menaced, and the arrest of persons committing violence.
  • Art. 5. Empowers the public force to intervene in special cases.
  • Article 6 gives the district commissioner power to convert a police operation into a military operation in special circumstances.

military operations.

  • Art. 7. “Military operations” are offensive movements of the public force against native populations, and can be undertaken when the inhabitants of a given district are in a state of revolt or hostility, as shown by acts of violence on persons or property, or refusal to obey the law.
  • Art. 8. No military operation can be undertaken until after an effort has been made to bring rebels to obedience by persuasion.
  • Art. 9. Only the governor-general or district commissioners or their appointed representatives are competent to order military expeditions.
  • Art. 10. The decision to carry out such expeditions must be proclaimed with due publicity, and will involve placing the district under martial law.
  • Art. 11. In no case can the direction of police or military operations be confided to a native.
  • Art. 12. Any person ordering a military expedition who is not duly qualified to do so is liable to not more than five years penal servitude and a fine not exceeding 1,000 francs.

A series of three articles under the heading “Infraction of public order” empowers any agent exercising territorial functions to arrest without further authority any native guilty of an offense against public order; he must give due notice thereof to the authorities, and can not imprison any native for more than one month without bringing him to trial.


  • Article 1 provides for introducing a currency of the value of 1,000,000 francs (£40,000) in coins to be determined hereafter.

state inspectors.

Three articles provide for the nomination of at least three state inspectors, who are charged to watch over the due execution of the laws concerning the natives, and to see that the relations between natives and public agents are legally observed. The governor-general assigns the districts of inspection and dates of visit. The inspectors are to come into direct contact with the natives and hear all complaints; they will be intrusted with the necessary powers to carry out their mission.

trading societies.

  • Article 1. Limited liability companies will pay an annual tax of 2 per cent on their net profits.
  • Art. 2. Foreign companies with branches in the Kongo pay 1 per cent.

Further decrees regulate the tutelage of native children in the schools who remain until completion of their twenty-first year. In technical schools young persons are received from the ages of 12 to 20 on the request of their parents.

national domain.

  • Article 1. The properties and mines administered as a monopoly (en régie) by the state, and the mines not worked by concession, constitute the national domain.
  • Art. 2. This domain is managed under a special administration whose members are nominated and whose functions are revocable by the sovereign.
  • Art. 3. The revenues of the national domain, after deduction of all administrative and working expenses, are paid into the treasury in so far as is required to cover the ordinary expenses of the budget which are not met through other sources. The balance is applied as follows: One-fifth toward repaying loans advanced, one-fifth to a reserve fund, and the surplus to works of public utility either in the Kongo or in Belgium, such as defense works in the Kongo, development of instruction, erection of hospitals, charitable institutions for the natives, and in Belgium institutions for forming a colonial staff, the prosecution of colonial studies, subsidies for the creation of a Belgian merchant navy, of artillery for colonial defense, etc. No portion whatever of the revenue from the colonial domain can be applied to other than works of public utility.
  • Art. 4. A council is nominated for the national domain composed of six members. The first is nominated by the sovereign, the others from lists furnished to the sovereign by the secretary of state, and by vote. Their mandate is for ten years.
  • Art. 5. The council is charged to watch over and develop the revenue of the national domain. No cession, concession, or alienation can be effected without the council’s consent.

A “council of the Kongo” is nominated by a separate decree composed of nine members, including the president. It acts as an advisory body and reports on all questions submitted by the Government.

A prize of 200,000 francs (£8,000) is offered to the person, of whatever nationality, who discovers a cure for the sleeping sickness. A further credit of 300,000 francs (£12,000) is set aside for prophylactic research.