When Texas was to be a Belgian Colony

Belgium as a nation did not come into existence until 1830. The area presently known as Belgium, from its conquest by the Romans, through its absorption by the Francs and inclusion (until the ninth century) within the Holy Roman Empire generally remained out of the mainstream of European history. During the ninth to the fourteenth centuries it was composed of a number of archbishoprics, duchies, counties, free towns, and principalities. The largest were Comté de Hainaut, Comté de Flandre, Comté de Namur, Principauté de Liége, and Brabant. Between the fourteenth and the fifteenth centuries the area was loosely unified under the Bourbons of France and became part of France ’s area of influence.

Later, however, this area, including both present day Belgium and Holland, was able to achieve a semblance of freedom and unity known as the Seventeen Provinces.The Protestant Reformation and the Eighty Years’ War (1566-1648) altered this picture. For the next 300 years Belgium, under Habsburg rule after 1482, was first under the slowly declining influence of the Spanish Habsburgs as the Spanish Netherlands (1556-1713) and under the control of Habsburg Austrians as the Austrian Netherlands (1713-1795). The Northern Netherlands, present day Holland, became an independent Protestant country known as the United Kingdom of the Netherlands that rapidly became involved in the world as a commercial and colonial power until its conquest by the French in 1795, when it became the Batavian Republic. From the sixteenth century through the early nineteenth century, this area was the scene of constant warfare and shifting alliances.

Modern Belgian history really began with the Napoleonic wars and the shaky path to unification and separation. Briefly “liberated,” then actually “conquered” by the troops of the French Revolution as a result of the battle of Jemappes on November 6, 1792, it was incorporated into France in 1795. It remained a part of France during the Napoleonic Wars until 1815. With the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815 at Waterloo, the allied powers, under the Treaty of Vienna, declared that the Netherlands and Belgium would be one state, The United Kingdom of the Netherlands: un état, deux pays, under King William II.

The possible rationale behind the union of the Protestant, Dutch speaking, commercial, and maritime Holland with the Catholic, French speaking, industrial, and agrarian south: lack of choice. In 1815, the Quadruple Alliance would not tolerate the idea of another Napoleon or resurgent France. The area of the two Netherlands had consistently been the source of past warfare. It was therefore decided that the former Austrian Netherlands must somehow be neutralized and put out of the reach of French desires. The only way to do this, it was rationalized, was to create a nation under the flag of the Netherlands that would act as a buffer to French intervention. William II was ecstatic; his kingdom would double in size and increase its population by almost 150%. But there was no great advantage for this in the case of Belgium as a whole except for the non suppression of Flemish.

However the government of the Dutch nation was a monarchy with an advisory Parliament with all power basically vested in the hands of the king. Despite the de facto rejection of the union by Belgium in 1815, the two nations were combined, and William began an ill-advised path to introduce Protestantism. The attempts to give equality to religion, secularize the schools, and introduce Dutch as the language of the government managed to forge a union between previously disparate Belgian groups. Beginning in the late 1820s, the secular professional class, which had arisen during the French occupation and desired freedom of press and an independent judiciary, and the Catholic Church, which desired freedom of religion and education, coalesced into one party.

After Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha accepted the crown of Belgium on June 26, 1831, France sent a forty thousand-man army and England dispatched her fleet to stop Dutch troops of advancing back into the country. William backed down, but not willingly. For the next eight years representatives met mostly on the diplomatic battlefield. The final treaty that settled and secured Belgian independence was not signed until 1839.

Belgium now had a constitution, a king, a legislature, and a judiciary but not the sovereign, its elected representatives, or the government ministers had any experience or guidance in these early decades. Belgium was a work in progress. By far, however, the forceful and aggressive leadership of Leopold I was the predominant force behind Belgium’s early government, especially in the area of international affairs. Was this consistent with the idea behind the constitution of 1831? It is difficult, looking at 1831, to know what the thoughts of the constitutional representatives were, especially relative to imperialism and colonies. The record is silent. The impetus for the Belgian Constitution of 1831 began with the French occupation and subsequent absorption into France of what had been the Austrian Netherlands in 1795. During this particular period, Belgium, a deeply introverted, agricultural, Catholic country, was exposed to the secular and Enlightenment reasoning of the French Republic. It was also during this time, and as a result of this exposure, that a class of educated secular professionals (such as lawyers, judges, and administrators) emerged and began to see the possibility of a Belgium different than the one that had existed prior to 1795.

With its absorption into the United Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815 at the insistence of the Quadruple Alliance (Austria, England, Prussia, and Russia), Belgium became part of a nation created to form a buffer against a potentially resurgent, France. It was a political solution to a practical problem. The incorporation of the industrial and agricultural, Catholic, French-speaking Belgium with the commercial/maritime, Protestant, Dutch-speaking Netherlands produced a situation that under the dictatorial William II inevitably gave way to separation, revolution, and a new nation. The two concepts, the enlightened liberalism of the French Revolution and the autocratic notions of the monarchy under the protestant William II, would have been incompatible in the best of circumstances. The experiences under the monarchial and dictatorial government of William II led to the creation of a committee in 1830, after the revolution, to draw up a constitution. The committee’s mandate was to draft a constitution that would balance the demands for a generally conservative government acceptable to the Catholic party, while simultaneously reflecting the needs of the more liberal, secular middle class. The resulting constitutional monarchy emphasized the responsibility of cabinet ministers to the chambers. The adoption of a king as head of this constitutional monarchy was an attempt to placate both the conservative powers of Europe, especially Klemnens von Metternich Austrian Foreign Minister, and the more conservative members of the Catholic Church.

The framers of the constitution had two key concepts in mind that were to be incorporated into the document: ministerial responsibility and constitutional monarchy. Article 29 states, “The Executive authority is vested in the King as laid down by the Constitution.” Article 63, however, states, “The King’s person is inviolable“, so what is to prevent him from acting unconstitutionally? Lastly, Article 65 states, “The King appoints and dismisses his ministers.” Thus it appears that the king has it both ways, and they are both to his benefit. Controls and limitations on the powers of the king would not be exercised until after the debacle of the Congo Free State in the early twentieth century under Leopold II. And Leopold I was in many respects an eighteenth century king in the nineteenth century.

There was a significant outpouring of legislation regarding corporations and corporate interests that became closely tied to the government. The availability of investment capital from both within and without the country, especially France and Holland, allowed for a rapid development of business entities whose identification as public, private, or royal could not easily be determined. However Leopold I used his access to state funds to also back quasi governmental ventures in Guatemala and Brazil.

Western Imperialism has a long and complex history. It began with the capture of Ceuta in 1415 by the Portuguese; the circumnavigation and initial exploration of Africa and then the world; the discovery of the New World; the conquest of the Americas; and the beginnings of the Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, and English empires in the New World. Approximately 1650 to 1860, saw England and France begin to solidify and expand their colonial holdings in North America, the rise of the French/English overseas rivalry, the decimation of the indigenous American inhabitants, the rise of the American colonies as a major colonial enterprise, the wars of colonial/European impact that virtually ended the French Empire, the American Revolution, the First Industrial Revolution, the end of the Spanish Empire in North and South America, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, the Congress of Vienna, the revolutions of 1848, and the rise of the nation state and capitalism. However there was come to be a New Imperialism during the period of Belgian history between 1830-1855.Its method was domination or conquest and the method of achieving this was by the transplantation of part of the population of the dominate power, in addition to governmental agents or actions. In the long term, it intended to create a cultural identity in, and economic dominance over, the country or society it invaded or bought. Thus despite the tendency to reduce world history to its lowest economic denominator, economics and industrialism were not in themselves enough to drive imperialism. Political justification and the realpolitik of the nations involved would be. Not only did Europe divide up Africa but Russia expanded its territorial boundaries throughout Asia, Japan began its march into Korea and later China and the United States expanded outside its continental boundaries across the Pacific as far as the Philippines, with territorial interests also in China.

The Peace of Vienna ended the Napoleonic wars and a hundred-year period of European history began that was previously unimaginable. For all practical purposes, Europe entered a period of pax europa. Intrigue, alliances, revolutions, and national creations and dissolutions did not cease, but they were orderly, and war was generally kept at bay. It was a time that witnessed the nation state as the ultimate end of history, with its resultant rise of imperialism and racism. With this enhanced sense of nationalism came hubris, jingoism, a forced sense of solidarity, universality of the national myth, linguistic uniformity, and intolerance of internal descent. All these trends, which were visible in all major European nations and nations-to-be, resulted in a stifling of dissent and a reversal of the Enlightenment’s sense of the universality of all men and their equal accessibility to, and acquisition of, knowledge.

To be English meant to speak a uniform standard language that was not Irish, Scots Gaelic, Welsh, Manx, or Cornish. It meant being a member of the Church of England, or at least Christian. This was the same whether you were French or Spanish and later Italian or German. Only the names and focal points varied. To be different was to be other and was not tolerated. It would give rise in the German states, as a result of the Napoleonic wars, to volkstum or nationhood, to be later expanded by Hegel as zeitgeist, a moment and movement to rally around. But contrary to the Enlightenment’s universality, nationalism necessarily created a hierarchy of nations, and by extension a hierarchy of people and mankind. Not everything was attainable by everyone.

The claustrophobic aspects of nationalism gave no vent to the often volatile internal disputes over national identity. The post-Napoleonic world of Europe and the Congress of Vienna had enforced a conservative shroud upon these dissidents despite the revolutions in 1848. A far safer method of venting these frustrations and controlling dissent was to export it overseas. This need to ensure internal conformity and the rising individual costs of industrialization, along with cries of the industrialists for markets and protection, gave rise to the increasingly vociferous call for colonies and, by extension, empire.

Each nation had its international agenda. England, especially after the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, expanded its empire for the preservation of its crown jewel, India . The protection of that jewel required coaling stations, ports, ships, and a navy, building a slow but steady road to a larger and larger empire. France began to assert its independence after the Revolution of 1848 and to seek reestablishment of its empire. For Italy and Germany, the pressures and badges of nationhood and the need to create a national identity were easily satisfied in the quest for colonies, especially the “Scramble for Africa.” Once a colony was established, however, it had to administered and, most importantly, protected. Protection often meant the acquisition of more land to gain strategic advantage or at least prevent loss of advantage. This in turn became a self fulfilling prophecy of ever increasing needs to be met by new acquisitions until there was nothing left to take. This was the condition by 1910 that inflamed the already increasing continental pressures, which exploded in the First World War. The peace of Vienna kept a lid on European wars for a time, but the global transference of these nationalistic pressures produced catastrophic results in 1914 and in 1938. European wars became world wars.

It was nationalism that, in many ways, defined the imperialistic expansion of the last period of physical European imperialism. It is safe to state that imperialism is merely nationalism on an international scale. It was not the businessmen or missionaries or empire-builders who launched the partition of Africa, but rather a set of diplomats who thought of that continent merely as a function of their concerns elsewhere. Only at the end of the process did the businessmen arrive, Imperialism was not the cause of the partition was the result.

The sudden rush of formal annexations in Africa during the 1880s and 1890s did not result from a change to this general policy but from a fear that nationalist successes in Egypt and South Africa might jeopardize wider imperial interests, specifically trade routes to India (the Suez Canal) and to Australasia (the Cape). Fears for the security of the Suez Canal led to the British occupation of Egypt, which in turn, prompted France to annex large portions of West Africa so as to prevent the British from achieving cross continental domination. Franco-British rivalry spiralled across the African interior, a situation that Bismarck was not slow to exploit. In this fracas, the strategic priorities that the contending parties displayed were not consistent with economic motivations. For instance, in order to keep the French out of Egypt, Lord Salisbury sacrificed West Africa, whose commercial potential was considerable, in favour imperialism were generally thought of as simple assets of the mother country. Colonies were the basis of mercantilism and there were very little interests on the part of the earlier imperial powers to transplant a part of England or France or Spain to the colonies.

What fuelled the political expansion of Belgium were capitalism and the economic conditions that began with the First Industrial Revolution and climaxed in the latter part of the nineteenth century with the Second Industrial Revolution. It was the Second Industrial Revolution, distinguished by its emphasis on heavy industry; transformation of iron into steel; and massive corporations employing tens of thousands and rabid competition among Britain, Germany, France, and the rapidly industrializing United States that created the economic drive for global expansion for new markets and resources.

Early capitalism had stood for the proposition of laissez-faire economics with its open and free markets that theoretically included unfettered access to all markets. It was a repudiation of the earlier nation-centered idea of mercantilism. What began to change in the nineteenth century was that this rapid growth created surplus capital, excess production, an expanding and more demanding work force, migration out of Europe, and the perception of stagnant national markets. The free market principles, along with the potential for expanding exports to colonies, brought demand for trade and industrial protection, which resulted in rising tariffs from 1850 onward.

Additionally, the intense and cutthroat nature of the capitalist system as it grew in the early nineteenth century, especially in England, now faced growing international competition in addition to national competition for the same markets.

Lastly, the fear of depleting limited natural resources created an apparent need for new sources of raw materials, which seemed to be available only overseas. Thus began the call not only for new colonial sources but the imposition of increased tariffs and restriction of colonial trade on colonies that already existed. The relative peace of the period of 1815-1914 allowed industry and markets to grow without the artificial stimulus of wars. This created a condition that had not existed for hundreds of years in Europe. It also resulted in a decreased need for large standing armies and, to a lesser extent, navies. The issue of what to do with these institutions resulted in their use for the growing scientific inquiries and explorations of this period.

These were the political and economic justifications for the pursuit of colonization. What was needed was a reason, besides patriotism and wealth, that reflected a cultural or social ethic if the average citizen was to identify with and ultimately champion this expansion. Religion, race, pseudo-science, and perhaps destiny provided that spiritual need and taste for empire and its colonies. Despite the disarray brought upon Christianity by the Reformation, the Counterreformation, the scientific revolution, and then the onslaught of the Enlightenment, Europe of the early nineteenth century was a thoroughly Christian continent. But in the mid-nineteenth century a slow but discernable cloud of secularism began to overshadow religion. The upheavals of the Industrial Revolution, the destruction of the Napoleonic wars, and the growing violence of the cities cut people off from the security of the villages and their churches. The slow but steady marginalization of religion began first among the educated and then spread among the masses of people in the overcrowded cities and factories, seemingly forgotten by God. Religion eventually became a private, internal outlook within a man’s soul that was not necessarily reflected in his actions and certainly not in his society, government, and education.

The sense of faith and mission was still alive among many, however. If the locals were not interested, the “unchurched” natives would be--and what of the infidels? The perception of the inferiority of the animist religions of Africa and (to a lesser extent) that of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam provided an all-too-easy target, and perhaps justification, for imperialism. “Go therefore and make disciples.” Christians might disagree among themselves about the Bible and who was a heretic but clearly “extra ecclesiam nulla salus” certainly applied to non-Christians. These two concepts drove the missionary zeal that justified a purer non-economic and political rationale for colonization. If the industrialists and their economic investments needed to be protected, how much more would the men and women of God?

The secularization of Europe brought with it a broadening of the applications of scientific inquiry. As the scientific method began to be applied outside the more rigid disciplines of mathematics, physics, and chemistry, the apparent randomness or at least unpredictability of nature and man began to be felt. The early work produced by Erasmus Darwin on acquired characteristics and their evolutionary aspects and the later work of his grandson, Charles Darwin, opened up a whole new world of scientific and pseudo-scientific thought. After years of research Charles Darwin produced his Theory of Evolution, which he developed in 1838 but did not publish until 1859. Darwin’s theory seemed to postulate a randomness and violence that was inherent in nature, which had not previously been appreciated. This was soon transformed by Francis Galton in 1869 in his Hereditary Genius to postulate a theory of selective breeding and the predominant role of genetics in human development. It was only a matter of time before the seemingly logical extension of evolution into the field of ethics. Herbert Spencer, in his work First Principles, made just such a leap. His phrase “survival of the fittest,” with its application to human relations and a hierarchy of man, soon filled the scientific literature of its time. It was with Spencer that we saw the fundamentals of what became “Social Darwinism” and its application of the concept of natural selection and survival of the fittest to races, cultures, and civilizations. It seemed a logical corollary that if nature, and mankind, were hierarchal and the result of these forces, then so must race and culture. It did not take the average European very long to look around at the advanced state of its scientific, technological, religious, political, and economic world and deduce who was the fittest. This sense of racial and cultural superiority, along with the Biblical commands on discipleship “go therefore and make disciples,” created in many, especially the elite and religious, the obligation to bring those less fortunate up the evolutionary and spiritual ladder as much as possible.

The perceived economic and social reasons for empire had the added advantage of utilizing the potentially stagnant and peacetime military units that were not fighting continental wars. What better use could there be than to be involved in the glory of imperial military service against the savages of Africa and opium addicts of Asia? Colonies needed protection, and that protection was deliverable by the navies that grew ever bigger to connect, protect, and project the colonial world of nineteenth century Europe. War did not end in Europe, however. The peace in Europe for these hundred years had seen at least two major wars, the Crimean War (1854-56) and the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1). They reminded Europe that despite its recent success in preventing war on an annual basis, war was always possible, if not inevitable, and that required the availability of large experienced armies and navies. The use of these forces thus served the dual role of protecting the colonies and training and maintaining large armies should the pax europa end, as it did in 1914. What gave the political necessity, economic forces, spiritual drive, idealistic motivation, and adventurous spirit the ability to colonize the world, especially Africa, were advances in medicine, science, and cartography. The technological developments of the nineteenth century such as the railroad, telegraph, and steamship in Europe and later in the colonies gave Europeans a significant advantage over the transportation systems in place in Africa and Asia at that time. From a military standpoint, however, the repeating rifle, smokeless powder, iron ships, and later the machine gun prevented any effective means of native resistance and often were absolutely devastating in their consequences. The only item missing from this picture of political rationale, economic drive, and technological ability were directions or maps. Prior to 1850 Africa south of the Sahara Desert was simply the “Dark Continent” both due to the color of its people and the fact that that Europeans simply did not have any real knowledge of what lay more than twenty miles inland from any coast. The wider presumption, prior to 1800, was that since there were no external symbols of civilization48 evident on the coast, other than those related to the now illegal slave trade, there was nothing of value; otherwise, someone would have taken advantage of it and a civilization would have arisen as a result.

The colonial and military services provided the opportunity and means to reinvigorate an old aristocratic line, or at least die trying. The queen would have wanted it that way. Women, stifled by the legal disabilities of their gender at home, could see opportunity, if not breathing room, in an empire far from the norms and restrictions of the mother country. The exponential growth of the press in Europe in the nineteenth century was both fuel and fire with its daily dispatches from the colonies and the front. What could be better for God, queen, and country? It was simply the most patriotic duty one could offer, especially with the war business in Europe all but silenced. Many of the earlier colonists of the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries had left their home country to find economic or religious freedom. They were fleeing from religious persecution, economic deprivation or simply to economic opportunity. There was less need for colonists of this nature in this last wave of imperialism. There was a greater need for civil servants, military men, and commercial entrepreneurs. Thus, other than the military, there was little immigration of the common man to the new colonies created in the nineteenth century. There was a lot of interest in the colonies, but this could easily be satisfied by reading the newspapers and novels common at this time.

The political, economic, and social rationale was there. The medical, scientific, and cartographic tools were in hand. The stage was now set for the New Imperialism. This last age of physical imperialism would leave a long and lasting impression on what is now referred to as the Third World. It is not the purpose here to debate the advantages and disadvantages of the New Imperialism or even its consequence. The purpose is to place Belgium in this larger movement as a willing participant but through the lens of the period 1830-1855.

The population of Belgium in 1830 was three and a half million people. In the preceding thirty years it had transformed itself from an overwhelmingly agricultural economy to the strongest industrial economy after that of Great Britain. The migrations to the cities where also accompanied by some migration to France and Holland. Most of this migration, however, seems to have been by artisans and merchants—those who could afford to leave. The population density of Belgium at this time was second only to Holland, in terms of Europe. Again, there was no large scale attempt to emigrate. The vast number of unemployed and destitute stayed in Belgium. Why? Most of them did not seem to want to leave.

It was this situation in Belgium that Leopold attempted to remedy; at least, that was his avowed purpose. The few colonists who did emigrate to Guatemala and Brazil did so as the result of desperation, governmental propaganda, commercial misinformation, and, in some cases, church support. On the whole there was simply very little interest in emigrating. Later the Belgian armmes would see action at the battle of Boké on the Rio Nunez in 1849.Leopold made a great effort to increase the army, but he lacked both popular interest and monetary commitment. Most of the officer corps came from either French or the German principalities. Leopold I was in many respects an eighteenth century king in the nineteenth century. What made him different was his hands-on approach, which in many ways he reserved for foreign affairs, especially in the colonial arena. Leopold’s personal involvement and his intimate relationship with England through his niece, Queen Victoria; its foreign minister, Lord Palmerston; and Leopold’s advisor, Christian von Stockmar, bear closer scrutiny. It is easy to understand how the relationship between Leopold I and his ministers and the chambers would be central to any analysis of Belgian colonial efforts.

However, the rather unique relationships that existed between Leopold I and his niece, Queen Victoria, and later the prince consort, Albert, clearly raise the specter of political pressure or at least the use of these relations for Leopold’s and Belgium’s advantage. The relationship of Leopold and people like, Stockmar, and Lord Palmerston where far more complex.

Palmerston is generally considered one of the greatest English Foreign Secretaries and Prime Ministers, if not her most aggressive advocate in the nineteenth century. Palmerston’s concept of civis Britannicus sum, modeled after the Roman concept of citizenship, had a profound effect on later British policy, especially on late nineteenth century imperialism. Additionally, Palmerston did not feel that a constitutional monarch necessarily needed to know everything that was going on in the government, a view that was surely not shared by Victoria and subsequently resulted in Palmerston’s dismissal. Palmerston’s relationship with Stockmar, at least based on what we can glean from Stockmar’s memoirs and the reflections of Leopold and Palmerston, seems to indicate a general respect. His respect was tempered, however, by his fear of the German influence exerted on Victoria by both Stockmar, Albert, her husband and Leopold. The relationship between Palmerston and Stockmar does not seem to haveinfluenced in any way Leopold’s attempts at Belgian colonial expansion. Stockmar generally took the position that was most sanguine in terms of Victoria's general interest as queen of England. The relationship between Leopold and Palmerston, whom Leopold later derisively referred to as “Filgerstein,” was initially one of respect. After 1839, however, Leopold began to see Palmerston as his nemesis. Palmerston, on the other hand, felt that the potential for harm from Leopold’s overwhelming closeness and potential influence on Victoria was not always in the best interests of Britain and her people. Although he considered the establishment of Belgium his greatest achievement and despite the fact that Palmerston had something of a personal relationship with Leopold, at least initially, this did not prevent the two from developing a sense of personal animosity that can only exist between two strong willed and determined individuals with opposing views. There is some indication that Leopold occasionally presented certain aspects of his proposed foreign policy, especially with regard to Central America, to Palmerston through his Ambassador to Britain, Sylvain Van de Weyer. Leopold seemed to respect, although grudgingly, Britain’s ability to stop any attempts by Belgium to exert itself in an imperial or colonial way. This was especially evident when it clashed with the international interests of Britain.


Leopold’s interests in terms of imperialistic matters

Leopold’s interests in terms of imperialistic matters such as Santo Tomas, the Nicaraguan protectorate, and a transoceanic canal seemed destined to run counter to the policies of both Britain and the United States. Although he explained these colonial efforts as an attempt to end poverty and overpopulation, he was never able to do so and was often looked upon as an opportunist in terms of Belgian expansion. (See Braithwaite, Palmerston and Africa the Rio Nunez Affair: Competition, Diplomacy and Justice, New York, 1996, 119).

If the king was willing but not focused, if the relationship among Belgium, England, and France was problematic, if the chambers were hesitant at best, if the business sector was shortsighted and greedy, and the people only questionably motivated, what pushed Belgium into the colonial world? In 1841, a minor official in the Belgian embassy in London, Charles Drouet, prepared a logical analysis of colonialism, its relevance to Belgium, and how the nation might analyze any opportunities that presented themselves. For an in depth discussion of Drouets analysis see L. Greindl, "Les Possibilités De La Belgique De Léopold Ier Comme Puissance Coloniale (D'après un document de 1841),"L'Expansion belge sous Léopold 1er, 1831-1865; recueil d'études. De Belgische expansie onder Leopold I, 1831-1865; verzameling studies, (1965). 180-198.Drouets analysis (paraphrased) was as follows:

1. When and how is a colony useful?

2. When and how is a useful colony more of a burden than it is worth?

3. Is Belgium in a position to undertake colonial development?

4. What is the best colonial system?

5. If all of the above questions are answered satisfactorily, where do you find a suitable area?

The document itself appears to have been conceived by Drouet on his own but with the knowledge of the foreign office. Did it ever influence Belgian development? Given the way colonization was undertaken, it does not appear that it did. There was a great deal of confusion and lack of clarity, not to mention disinterest, in terms of governmental oversight over these colonial adventures. This may account for the likelihood that the document was read at the ministry but promptly ignored. There seems to be very little indication that Leopold ever saw it, as he would have probably used its logic and method to push for colonial efforts. He certainly does not seem to have done this. It was an opportunity that, properly used, could have changed the outcome. It was probably simply ignored and filed in the foreign office as the unsolicited work of a junior diplomat.

Leopold wanted empire whereas the government wanted trade, and if necessary, colonies with which to improve this trade. Leopold was an imperialist first, a colonialist second. The government, if it was anything at all, was colonialist. This can be seen in Leopold’s attempts to gain sovereignty over not only part of Guatemala but Nicaragua also. Later, Bismarck helped Germany achieve imperial status, at least partially as a result of the influence of Leopold II. British Prime Minister Palmerston, was aware of Leopold and his “entrepreneurial” ways. Much of Palmerston’s criticism of Leopold revolved around what he considered Leopold’s overreaching. The Nicaraguan project and the colonial attempt in Rio Nunez are good examples. Palmerston was immensely proud of his contribution to Belgian existence and the choice of Leopold as king. His relationship with Leopold was better than Leopold’s relationship with him. Palmerston never really became concerned with Leopold’s overseas ventures unless they came in competition with what Palmerston considered were British vital interests. It was certainly in Britain’s best interests to keep Belgium healthy and neutral against Palmerston’s fear of a résurgent France. Leopold clearly used his relationship with Palmerston to avoid mistakes in terms of colonial adventures. This was the likely purpose of keeping Sylvain van de Weyer in London for almost thirty years. Neither individual wanted to lose his input into the other’s movements. In Leopold’s imperialistic efforts the relationship acted more as a censor than as a conscience. Palmerston often let Leopold know of his displeasures but rarely, if ever, did this result in overt British action or condemnation. Leopold’s actions were acceptable if he could simply show what Palmerston considered a legitimate colonial or commercial adventure with potential for Belgian success. Palmerston was probably the reason Leopold and Belgium did not get in over their heads in colonial adventures such as a canal project or protectorate in Central America.

The New Imperialism was cantered in Africa and to a lesser extent Asia. Africa, because it was new ground for exploitation, at least as far as Europe was concerned, and Asia, because the old imperial order in China was beginning to crumble. For Belgium, especially during the period from 1840 to 1855, these areas were inaccessible for successful settlement due to disease in the case of Africa and to a lesser extent Central America, and because of greater national unity in places such as China at that time. Belgium ’s method was not military, other than the battle of Boké on the Rio Nunez, but diplomatic or commercial. Leopold sought out states that were either desirous of immigration, such as Guatemala, Brazil, or Texas, or were politically weak or disorganized, such as Rio Nunez. In some cases, such as Nicaragua and Guatemala, both situations existed. The Belgian efforts were sporadic and inconsistent. And the overseas responses were a shadowy world of changing players and scripts.

The rationale most often proposed, especially by Marxists and economic historians, was the economic one. This postulated a capitalist system unable to sustain the phenomenal growth of the First Industrial Revolution. The Second Industrial Revolution needed to look outside Europe in order to expand markets, obtain new sources of raw materials, and invest excess capital. It is here that the conditions of Belgium come closest to those described. Belgium in 1830 was the most industrialized nation in the world, second only to Britain. It was the industrial might of Belgium that gave Napoleonic and his armies a materials edge for most of the last ten years of his military campaigns. Initially, the problem was that with the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815, Belgium lost its main market, France. Secondly, with the split with the United Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1830, meant that Belgium it lost its access to markets after 1830 with the embargo by the United Kingdom of the Netherlands of Dutch ports, which were the only real outlet for Belgian industrial products. What Belgium experienced in the 1830s and 1840s was what France and Germany found in the 1860s and 1870s with their need for markets and raw materials. This industrial depression of Belgian industry in Brabant and Wallonia, combined with the disruption to agricultural Flanders, continued for almost the first twenty years of its history. The conditions cried out for new markets, resources, and investment. This also created a need for the emigration of some of its citizens as both Belgium and the Netherlands had the greatest population density in Europe. Clearly capitalism and its expanding nature were behind this prescient phase of Belgian history.

Industrially Belgium was far ahead of its time, to its distinct disadvantage. The difficulty lay in its inexperience as a capitalistic nation. It simply did not know how to go about creating overseas markets and opportunities, with the possible exception of Rio Nunez, which came at the end of this period. Additionally, especially in the case of Rio Nunez, the country did not possess the ability to capitalize on its early successes along the Rio Nunez because of a lack of commercial backing and the inability of the Belgian government to provide the necessary power to support this colonial project.

The fundamental failure of the Compagnie belge de Colonization and the Compagnie belge-brésilienne de Colonisation to adequately finance these ventures in Guatemala and Brazil, respectively, doomed them from the start. The Rio Nunez effort, after its initial success, failed from both an inconsistent governmental response and a fear by the backers and merchants in Belgium of additional risk. The Belgian economy was simply not sophisticated enough to overcome these overseas obstacles. Additionally, the various entrepreneurs and agents attempting to either lure Belgian investment and colonists or become involved in this process from a Belgian perspective overestimated Leopold’s ability to produce results or influence the chambers and the Cabinet. Again, there was insufficient past history to rely on. It is not always best to be first.

The Belgian people responded to these various attempts in lukewarm or hostile terms. Most immigration was to the cities of Belgium, not the coast of Guatemala. On the other hand, the unemployment and general disruption of the economic life of many Belgians did create motivation to emigrate. The irony of this was that the most successful emigrations were without substantial governmental involvement and in areas that offered no real commercial or colonial options such as Wisconsin, Louisiana, and Texas in the United States. The opposition of the chambers to the use of government funds on overseas adventures at the expense of investment at home during this time of economic strife was certainly understandable.

The two most involved Belgian colonial establishments during the time of Leopold I, Santo Tomas and Santa Catarina, were in Catholic countries, as was Belgium. There would have been little success for Catholic missionary activity in the two other Belgian colonial efforts in Texas (N. America) and Rio Nunez (Africa) due to what would have been strong and vociferous opposition by the Protestant and Muslim residents, respectively. The need for a strong military and specifically a viable navy is one of the strongest examples to illustrate why the efforts of Leopold failed. Palmerston’s words concerning Belgium’s inability to adequately protect and regulate any claim to Nicaragua surely echoed in Leopold’s mind as underlining the constant need for the two- if not one-ship Belgian navy to constantly cruise to Guatemala, Rio Nunez, China, Algeria, and the like. The nature of conquest, even economic, required the ability to protect and impress. The Belgian navy, although quite professional considering its size and longevity, simply was not enough. In fact, its constant use, especially in view of its perceived unconstitutional pursuits in Rio Nunez, contributed to its extinction.

Initially, the transfer of Santo Tomas to Belgium, revolved around Count Henri Charles Obert, a stockholder in the British company, and his connections to likeminded entrepreneurs in Brussels. Leopold then was present at the first meeting of the Compagnie belge de Colonisation (Compagnie) chartered in 1841 for the purpose of buying the land from the British company and procuring the necessary settlers for the Belgian colony. (The initial English attempt in Rio Nunez during the 1830’s, is best described in Empires in the Wilderness - Foreign Colonization and Development in Guatemala (1965) by William J. Griffith).

It is estimated that between 1843 and 1850 then around two thousand Belgian “colonists” migrated to Santo Tomas upon representations that were at best incorrect and at worst fraudulent. Santo Tomas and its lessons have been credited by many historians as putting a shroud over the future efforts of Leopold I and the colonial and business efforts at overseas expansion through the end of his reign. As some of the earliest settlers returned with stories of woe and death, the company attempted to raise additional sums and gather more settlers to dispel what was becoming a din of criticism. Some of the settlers who had not returned to Belgium or died dispersed to other parts of Guatemala. A report on the colony by a resident there, Doctor Fleussu, stated, “I am astonished that with as many destructive elements brought on by the negligence, the lack of care, the constant indifference that prevailed, the poor choice.... compulsory use of the mealy potatoes, the salted provisions, of adulterated liquors, the imprudence, the excessive use and abuse of food and spirit for such a prolonged time, I am astonished that mortality was not higher.” ("Je m'étonne qu'avec autant d'éléments destructeurs amenés par la négligence, le défaut de soins, l'indifférence qui ont constamment régné, le mauvais choix des colons, l'encombrement, la malpropreté, l'usage forcé des farineux, des salaisons, des liqueurs falsifiées, les imprudences, les excès de table et de spiritueux si abusivement et si longtemps prolongés, je m'étonne que la mortalité n'ait pas été plus forte.")

For his first ten years in power, Leopold basically was a one-man juggernaut for colonies, he was absolutely determined to have colonies. As a result of his approval of the company’s charter, the king was able to name two ministers on the board. To Leopold, Santo Tomas was about sovereignty and land, not colonists. Leopold was so committed, in the background at least, that he managed to arrange a loan of one million francs from the House of Rothschild in Paris to be made to the Compagnie. The people of Belgium who went to Santo Tomas were, for the most part, farmers, unemployed factory workers, their family members, and minor tradesmen. It failed to include the engineers and trained professionals that were necessary to build a harbor, roads, and wharves. This could not be blamed on the colonists but on the Compagnie and government, which never agreed what in fact Santo Tomas was to be. The potential settlers had no idea what lay on the other side of the Atlantic other than what maps or pictorial representations had been made available to them. They simply relied on the representations of the company, the apparent backing of the king and the government, and to a lesser extent the church. It is clear that the early inability of the Compagnie to sufficiently capitalize itself and its desire for quick profits were a prime reason for the colony’s failure.

In Guatemala itself, the change from one precidency Galvéz to Carrera Turcios during that period would have an influence to. Carrera, a true caudillo, played a major role in the confusion that plagued the Belgians. Galvéz had been far more willing to trust colonists than Carrera. There had always been a strong undercurrent of resentment for the original British and later Belgian grant. By the time of the rejection of the grant to the Compagnie in 1855, Carrera, along with most of the Guatemalan government, was ready to terminate all previous colonial grants. Another issue that tended to obfuscate the intended purpose of the Santo Tomas colony consisted of the possibility of a transoceanic canal through Nicaragua. Leopold was acutely aware that the control of the first transoceanic canal between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans would put the controlling country in a powerful position. (See Schemmer Ora-Westley, Belgium and the Nicaraguan Canal Project (1841-1845), 1965, pp. 292-310).

The question of the use or abuse of maps and cartography is not one that is usually addressed in terms of colonial or imperialistic functions. It is clear that until there were current maps available there was little possibility for true exploration as a lead-in to colonization and imperialism. This, however, pertained mostly to Africa. Maps of South and Central America and of Asia had been in existence for centuries. It was Africa beyond the coast that was terra incognito. In terms of Belgian cartography there had not been any previous need for such mapping. Both as part of the Spanish and Austrian Netherlands and as half of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, what would become Belgium had relied on Dutch maps and Dutch ships. With the final break with the Netherlands in 1830 and the continuing embargo against its products and port access, Belgium was forced, at least initially, to acquire cartographic knowledge anywhere it could.

Santo Tomas in Guatemala, however, saw the beginning of Belgian cartography. The maps made for Leopold by Nicolas Dally were equal to the best available. The quality of the maps by Dorn were detailed and exact, if a bit crude. But the real significance of the maps of Santo Tomas was their apparent use as propaganda. The images produced gave stability and order to a world where none existed. This use seems to differentiate Belgium in this respect. The maps by Dally were also used to give Leopold, for whom they were produced and to whom they were dedicated to by the Compagnie, propaganda in terms of the colony’s stability and order as well as the grandeur of a cartographic representation of a Belgian colony to Leopold. Why then did the colonial efforts of Belgium and the imperialistic dreams of Leopold fail? The people, institutions, and economy of Belgium simply had no colonial memory. Leopold had a colonial and imperialistic impulse, but it was a British one, which only existed because Britain had been a colonial power for over three hundred years. Belgium did not possess the economic, political, and military capabilities to create and maintain an empire.

However, Leopold I’s endeavours only whetted the appetite of Leopold II. The latter inherited his father’s strong belief in territorial aggrandizement as a badge of success. If Leopold I could not convince the government to fund his overseas projects, by the time of Leopold II the Belgian king was one of the richest people in late nineteenth century Europe, so he could buy a colony with his (to a large extend) own money (see the next link below).

The economic climate in Belgium in the last twenty years of the nineteenth century was that of a booming major industrial power ranking perhaps sixth in the world. There would be no need for labor in the Congo Free State; the forcible, if not slave-like, use of the native population provided the needed work force. The lack of a real commercial interest in the Congo Free State meant simply that Leopold II created and ran his own private industrial operation. The lack of a large army and navy was countered by the creation of the Force Publique, a private police force and court in the field where justice and fear were dispensed at will. The Belgian merchant marine was not a navy, but Leopold needed no protection from other European powers, since they were also involved in pacifying their native populations in Africa as a result of the Berlin Conference and the “Scramble for Africa.”

But there was also an attempt to create a colony in North America. For the Belgian attempt to place a colony in the Republic of Texas one should understand that there was also the desire for a solid commercial treaty with Mexico. And although Zacatecas Veracruz, and the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico did not become the site of any Belgian colonies, commercial relations between the two countries, especially in regard to the establishment of transatlantic shipping and other commercial ventures, became an ongoing process throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth century. The colonial ventures in Mexico apparently petered out due to a lack of interest by the general public in migrating to Mexico and the general withdrawal of Leopold as the failure of the Santo Tomas colony became increasingly evident. Although hundreds of Belgians, especially artisans, did move to Mexico, the failure of the Belgian government to pursue these colonial ventures and the anti-colonial attitude by Mexico --especially as a result of the revolution in Texas --resulted in immigration, but not colonization.

But it is apparent that Leopold felt, despite the relative newness of both his reign and the Belgian state in general, that he and his government were capable of handling the international aspects of colonial negotiation with the Republic of Texas. In 1841 he appointed Victor Pirson, a 32-year-old artillery captain, for this purpose. Pirson’s appointment was effective November 12, 1841, and he departed on his mission to the Republic of Texas on December 4, 1841. The records of the Archives du ministère des Affaires Etrangères et due Commerce Éxterieur, however, do not provide any additional information as to Pirson’s exact orders. The commission by Leopold I only indicates that he was on a special mission. Meanwhile The cabinet and Leopold in particular used the ambassador to London, Sylvain de Weyer, and his understanding and rapport with Palmerston to seek acceptance or at least neutrality in regards to the Texas project. Pirson’s overall tone in the several letters he wrote after the trip to Texas furthermore indicated a general willingness to return if the government was interested in further contact with the Republic-- but the project soon came to an end.


Case Study: P.1: The Creation of Belgium


History of the former Belgian Congo P.1: Egypt in Central Africa

The Congo River is Africa 's most powerful river and the second most voluminous river in the world

History of Central Africa P.2: King Leopold's Media



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