[Sidenote: Merriman and the Bond.]
But, in spite of the change of policy due to Mr. Hofmeyr, the old leaven of stalwart Bondsmen remained sufficiently in evidence to draw from Mr. J. X. Merriman—then a strong Imperialist in close association with Mr. J. W. Leonard—a striking rebuke. The speech in question was made, fittingly enough, at Grahamstown, the most "English" town in South Africa, in 1885. It was reprinted with complete appropriateness, in The Cape Times of July 10th, 1899. The struggle which Mr. Merriman had foreseen fourteen years before was then near at hand; while Mr. Merriman himself had become a member of a ministry placed in power by the Bond for the avowed purpose of "combating the British Government."
"The situation is a grave one," he said. "It is not a question of localism; it is not a question of party politics; but it is a question whether the Cape Colony is to continue to be an integral part of the British Empire.... You will have to keep public men up to the mark, and each one of you will have to make up his mind whether he is prepared to see this colony remain a part of the British Empire, which carries with it obligations as well as privileges, or whether he is prepared to obey the dictates of the Bond. From the very first time, some years ago, when the poison began to be instilled into the country, I felt that it must come to this—Is England or the Transvaal to be the paramount force in South Africa?... Since then that institution has made a show of loyalty, while it stirred up disloyalty.... Some people, who should have known better, were dragged into the toils under the idea that they could influence it for good, but the whole teaching of history goes to show that when the conflict was between men of extreme views and moderate men, the violent section triumphed. And so we see that some moderate men are in the power of an institution whose avowed object is to combat the British Government. In any other country such an organisation could not have grown; but here, among a scattered population, it has insidiously and successfully worked.... No one who wishes well for the British Government could have read the leading articles of the Zuid Africaan, and Express, and De Patriot, in expounding the Bond principles, without seeing that the maintenance of law and order under the British Crown and the object they have in view are absolutely different things. My quarrel with the Bond is that it stirs up race differences. Its main object is to make the South African Republic the paramount power in South Africa."
This was plain speaking. The rare insight revealed in such a sentence as this—"in any other country such an organisation could not have grown, but here, among a scattered population, it has insidiously and successfully worked"; the piquant incident of the reproduction of the speech on the eve of the war; the fact that the man who made this diagnosis was to drink the poison whose fatal effects he described so faithfully, was indeed to become the most bitter opponent of the great statesman that "kept South Africa a part of the British Empire,"—these things together make Mr. Merriman's Grahamstown speech one of the most curious and instructive of the political utterances of the period.
[Sidenote: Change of Bond policy.]
In the year following (1886) the Bond met officially, for the first and only time, as an inter-state organisation. Bloemfontein was the place of assemblage, and in the Central Bestuur, or Committee, the South African Republic, the Free State, and the Cape Colony were each represented by two delegates. This meeting revealed the practical difficulties which prevented the Cape nationalists from adopting the definitely anti-British programme of the Bond leaders in the Republics; and the conflict of commercial interests between the Cape Colony and the Transvaal, already initiated by the attempt of the latter to secure Bechuanaland in 1884-5, confirmed the Cape delegates in their decision to develop the Bond in the Cape Colony upon colonial rather than inter-state lines. The result of the divergences of aim manifested at Bloemfontein was speedily made apparent in the Cape Colony. In 1887 Mr. T. P. Theron, then Secretary of the Bond, delivered an address in which the new, or Hofmeyr, programme was formulated and officially adopted. In recommending the new policy to the members of the Bond, Mr. Theron made no secret of the nature of the considerations by which its leaders had been chiefly influenced.
"You must remember," he said, "that the eyes of all are directed towards you. The Press will cause your actions, expressions, and resolutions to be known everywhere. You cannot but feel how much depends on us for our nation and our country. If we must plead guilty in the past of many an unguarded expression, let us be more cautious and guarded for the future."
And he then proceeded to sketch a picture of racial conciliation, when all "differences and disagreements" between Dutch and English would be merged in the consciousness of a new and common nationality—pointing out, however, that the advent of that day depended on "you and me, my fellow Bond members."
[Sidenote: Rhodes and Hofmeyr.]
Assuming that the predominance of Afrikander ideals could be secured only by the complete separation of the local governments from the Government of Great Britain, nothing could be more masterly than the manner in which the Bond approached the task of reuniting the European communities of South Africa—the task which the Imperial Government had abandoned as hopeless. As inspired and controlled by Hofmeyr during the years between this date (1887) and the Jameson Raid, the Bond embodied a volume of effort in which the most sincere supporter of the British connection could co-operate. It was the assistance afforded by the Bond in moulding British administration in South Africa upon South African lines that provided the common ground upon which Rhodes and Hofmeyr met in their long alliance. Hofmeyr probably never abandoned his belief that a republican form of government was the inevitable denouement to which the administration of South Africa on a basis of South African ideas must lead. Rhodes never wavered in his loyalty to the British connection. But there was a great body of useful work which both men could accomplish in common, which each desired to see accomplished, which, when accomplished, would leave each free to choose the path—Republican or Imperial—by which the last stage was to be traversed and the goal of South African unity finally attained.
The character and career of Rhodes afford material for a study of such peculiar and engrossing interest that any adequate treatment of the subject would require a separate volume. Fortunately, the broad facts of his life are sufficiently well known to make it unnecessary to attempt the almost impossible task of condensing a volume within the limits of a few pages. None the less, there is one incident in his political career which must be recalled here, and that for the simple reason that it establishes two facts, each of which is essential to the complete understanding of the situation in the Cape Colony as it developed immediately after the Raid. First, that all through the years of the Rhodes-Hofmeyr alliance the Bond remained at heart true to the aim which it had at first openly avowed—the aim of establishing a united South Africa under its own flag. And second, that Rhodes was equally staunch in maintaining his ideal of a united South Africa under the British flag. The incident which exhibits both these facts in the clearest light is the refusal by Rhodes of the overtures made to him by Borckenhagen. At the time when these overtures were made Rhodes was Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, the Chartered Company had been successfully launched, and the alliance between himself and Hofmeyr was in full operation. The occasion which led to them was the opening of the railway at Bloemfontein in 1890—a railway constructed by the Cape Government under a friendly arrangement with the Free State. And it was one, therefore, which afforded a conspicuous example of the value of the Bond influence as a means of securing progress in the direction of South African unity. The story was told by Rhodes himself in a speech which he made in the Cape Colony on March 12th, 1898.
[Sidenote: Rhodes and Borckenhagen.]
"I remember," he said, "that we had a great meeting at Bloemfontein, and in the usual course I had to make a speech. I think I was your Prime Minister. And this speech pleased many there, and especially—and I speak of him with the greatest respect—a gentleman who is dead, Mr. Borckenhagen. He came to me and asked me to dictate to him the whole of my speech. I said, 'I never wrote a speech, and I don't know what I said; but I will tell you what I know about it.' He wrote it down, and afterwards came to Capetown with me.... He spoke very nicely to me about my speech. 'Mr. Rhodes, we want a united South Africa.' And I said, 'So do I; I am with you entirely. We must have a united South Africa.' He said, 'There is nothing in the way.' And I said, 'No; there is nothing in the way. Well,' I said, 'we are one.' 'Yes,' he said, 'and I will tell you: we will take you as our leader,' he said. 'There is only one small thing, and that is, we must, of course, be independent to the rest of the world.' I said, 'No; you take me either for a rogue or a fool. I would be a rogue to forget all my history and traditions; and I would be a fool, because I would be hated by my own countrymen and mistrusted by yours.' From that day he assumed a most acrid tone in his Express towards myself, and I was made full sorry at times by the tone. But that was the overpowering thought in his mind—an independent South Africa."
[Footnote 23: Cecil Rhodes: His Political Life and Speeches. By Vindex; p. 533. Borckenhagen had just died.]
The facts here disclosed explain how it was that the apparently satisfactory situation in South Africa before the Raid so rapidly developed into the dangerous situation of the years that followed it. The Raid tore aside the veil which the Rhodes-Hofmeyr alliance had cast over the eyes alike of Dutch and British, and left them free to see the essential antagonism of aim between the two men in its naked truth. From that moment Rhodes was recognised by the Bond as its chief and most dangerous enemy; and as such he was pursued by its bitterest hostility to the day of his death; while Rhodes, on the other hand, was driven to seek support solely in the people of his own nationality. From that moment the Bond fell back upon the policy of 1881. The Dutch Press, pulpit, and platform commenced an active nationalist propaganda on the old racial lines; and the advocacy of anti-British aims increased in boldness and in definiteness as the Transvaal grew strong with its inflowing armaments.
[Footnote 24: Ons Land, reputed to be controlled by Hofmeyr himself, and certainly the recognised organ of the Bond, published a paean of triumph over the surrender of Dr. Jameson's troopers at Doornkop. "Afrikanderdom has awakened to a sense of earnestness which we have not observed since the heroic war of liberty in 1881. From the Limpopo, as far as Capetown, the second Majuba has given birth to a new inspiration and a new movement amongst our people in South Africa.... The flaccid and cowardly imperialism that had already begun to dilute and weaken our national blood, gradually turned aside before the new current that permeated our people.... Now or never the foundation of a wide-embracing nationalism must be laid.... The partition wall has disappeared ... never has the necessity for a policy of a colonial and republican union been greater; now the psychological moment has arrived; now our people have awakened all over South Africa; a new glow illumines our hearts; let us lay the foundation-stone of a real United South Africa on the soil of a pure and all-comprehensive national sentiment."]
[Sidenote: Effects of the raid.]
We are now in a position to sum up the main features of the situation in South Africa as Lord Milner found it. British administration, controlled from Downing Street, had quickly led to what Sir George Grey called the dismemberment of European South Africa. The Imperial Government, having found out its mistake, had endeavoured to regain the lost solidarity of the European communities and its authority over them, by bringing the Republics into a federal system under the British Crown. It had been thwarted in this endeavour by the military resistance of the Boers in the Transvaal, and the fear of a like resistance on the part of the Dutch population throughout South Africa. Its impotency had invited, and in part justified, the efforts made by local British initiative to solve the problem of South African unity on South African lines, but in a manner consistent with the maintenance of British supremacy. The early success of these efforts, prosecuted mainly through the agency of Rhodes, had been obliterated by the Jameson Raid. All attempts to secure the reunion of South Africa under the British flag having failed alike under Imperial and local British initiative, the way was open for the Afrikander nationalists once more to put forward the alternative plan of a united South Africa under its own flag, which they had formulated in the year immediately following the retrocession of the Transvaal.
In proportion as the friends and supporters of British supremacy were discredited and depressed by the catastrophe of the Raid, the advocates and promoters of Afrikander nationalism were emboldened and encouraged. It was not Sir Gordon Sprigg, the Prime Minister of the Cape who succeeded the discredited Rhodes (January 13th, 1896), but Mr. Hofmeyr, the veteran leader of the Afrikander Bond, that dictated the policy which Lord Rosmead must pursue to re-establish the integrity of the Imperial Government in the minds of its Dutch subjects. At the next presidential election in the Free State (March 4th, 1896), Mr. J. G. Fraser, the head of the moderate party which followed in the steps of President Brand, was hopelessly beaten by Mr. Marthinus Steyn, an Afrikander nationalist of the scientific school of Borckenhagen, and a politician whose immediate programme included the "closer union" of that state with the South African Republic, the terms of which were finally settled at Bloemfontein on March 9th, 1897. In the Cape Colony the Bond organised its resources with a view of securing even more complete control of the Cape Legislature at the general election of 1898. And lastly, President Krueger, who had ceased to rely upon Holland for administrative talent, and opened the lucrative offices of the South African Republic to the ambitious and educated Afrikander youth of the Free State and Cape Colony, commenced methodically and secretly to supply arms and ammunition to the adherents of the nationalist cause in the British Colonies.
[Sidenote: Situation in 1896.]
But disastrous as was the Jameson Raid in its method of execution and immediate effects, it produced certain results that cannot be held to have been prejudicial to the British cause in South Africa, if once we recognise the fact that the English people as a whole were totally ignorant, at the time of its occurrence, of the extent to which the sub-continent had already slipped from their grasp. Something of the long advance towards the goal of nationalist ambition, achieved by the Bond, was revealed. The emphatic cry of "Hands off" to Germany, for which the Kaiser's telegram of congratulation provided the occasion, was undoubtedly the means of arresting the progress of that power, at a point when further progress would have gained her a foot-hold in South Africa from which nothing short of actual hostilities could have dislodged her. And more important still was the fact that the Raid, with its train of dramatic incidents, had published, once and for all, the humiliating position of the British population in the Transvaal throughout the length and breadth of the Anglo-Saxon world, and compelled the Imperial Government to pledge itself to obtain the redress of the "admitted grievances" of the Uitlanders.
[Sidenote: Mr. Chamberlain's policy.]
Against the rallying forces of Afrikander nationalism Mr. Chamberlain, for the moment, had nothing to oppose but the vague and as yet unknown power of an awakened Imperial sentiment. Lord Rosmead's attitude at Pretoria had convinced him of the uselessness of expecting that any satisfactory settlement of the franchise question could be brought about through the agency of the High Commissioner. He, therefore, invited President Krueger to visit England in the hope that his own personal advocacy of the cause of the Uitlanders, backed up by the weight of the Salisbury Government, might remove the "root causes" of Transvaal unrest. But President Krueger refused to confer with the Colonial Secretary upon any other than the wholly inadmissible basis of the conversion of the London Convention into a treaty of amity such as one independent power might conclude with another. Mr. Chamberlain, therefore, having put upon record that the purpose of the proposed conference was to give effect to the London Convention and not to destroy it, proceeded to formulate a South African policy that would enable him to make the most effective use of the authority of Great Britain as paramount Power. His purpose was to win Dutch opinion in the Free State and the Cape Colony to the side of the Imperial Government, and then to use this more progressive Dutch opinion as the fulcrum by which the lever of Imperial remonstrance was to be successfully applied to the Transvaal Government. In the speech in which he sketched the main lines of this policy he declared emphatically that the paramount power of England was to be maintained at all costs, that foreign intervention would not be permitted under any pretence, and that the admitted grievances of the Uitlanders were to be redressed:
[Footnote 25: 1896.]
"We have," he continued, "a confident hope that we shall be able in the course of no lengthened time to restore the situation as it was before the invasion of the Transvaal, to have at our backs the sympathy and support of the majority of the Dutch population in South Africa, and if we have that, the opinion—the united opinion—which that will constitute, will be an opinion which no power in Africa can resist."
With the record of the last ten years before us it seems strange that Mr. Chamberlain should ever have believed in the efficacy of such a policy: still more strange that he should have spoken of his "confident hope" of winning the Afrikander nationalists to support the paramount Power. But it must be remembered that the evidence of the real sentiments and purposes of the nationalists here set forth in the preceding pages, and now the common property of all educated Englishmen, was then known only to perhaps a dozen journalists and politicians in England; and if these men had attempted to impart their knowledge to the general public, they would have failed from the sheer inability of the average Englishman to believe that "British subjects" under responsible government could be anything but loyal to the Imperial tie.
But little as Mr. Chamberlain knew of the real strength of the forces of Afrikander nationalism, he discerned enough of the South African situation to realise that this policy would have no chance of success, unless the maintenance of the British cause in South Africa was placed in the hands of a personality of exceptional vigour and capacity. When, therefore, Lord Rosmead intimated his desire to be relieved of the heavy responsibility of the joint offices of High Commissionship for South Africa and Governor of the Cape Colony no attempt to dissuade him was made. His health had been enfeebled for some time past, and he did not long survive his return to England. Both in Australia and at the Cape he had devoted his strength and ability to the service of the Empire. In the years 1883-5 he had resolutely and successfully opposed the attempt of the Transvaal Boers to seize Bechuanaland. His failure to control his powerful and impatient Prime Minister is mitigated by the circumstance that it was solely on the ground of public interest that, upon the retirement of Lord Loch in 1895, he had allowed himself, in spite of his advanced years and indifferent health, to assume the office of High Commissioner for a third time.
A YEAR OF OBSERVATION
Lord Rosmead retired early in 1897. It is said that three men so different in character as Lord Salisbury, Mr. Chamberlain, and Mr. Stead, each separately fixed upon the same name as being that of the man most capable of undertaking the position of High Commissioner in South Africa—a position always difficult, but now more than ever arduous and responsible. To nine out of every ten men with whom he had been brought into contact there was little in Sir Alfred Milner—as he then was—to distinguish him from other high-principled, capable, and pleasant-mannered heads of departments in the Civil Service. His metier was finance, and his accomplishment literature. Commencing with journalism and an unsuccessful contest (in the Liberal interest) for the Harrow division of Middlesex, he had been private secretary to Lord Goschen, Under-Secretary for Finance in Egypt, and Head of the Inland Revenue. In this latter office he had given invaluable assistance to Sir William Harcourt, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, in respect of what is perhaps the most successful of recent methods of raising revenue—the death duties. The principle of the graduated death duties was Harcourt's; but it was Milner who worked out the elaborate system which rendered his ideas coherent, and enabled them eventually to be put into effect. Academic distinctions, however ample, cannot be said to-day to afford a definite assurance of pre-eminent capacity for the service of the State. Yet it was certainly no disadvantage to Sir Alfred Milner to have been a scholar of Balliol, or a President of the Oxford Union. Whatever direct knowledge the educated public had of him was based probably upon the impression created by his book England in Egypt. This was a work which indicated that its author had formed high ideals of English statesmanship, and that his experience of a complex administrative system, working in a political society full of intrigue and international jealousy, had developed in him the rare qualities of insight and humour. Some of his readers might have reflected that an active association with so accomplished a master of financial and administrative method as Lord Cromer was in itself a useful equipment for a colonial administrator.
[Footnote 26: Mr. Bodley, in his Coronation of King Edward VII., remarks that of the seventy Balliol scholars elected during the mastership of Jowett (1870-1893) only three had at that time (1902) "attained eminence in any branch of public life." These three were Mr. H. H. Asquith, Dr. Charles Gore (then Bishop of Worcester), and Lord Milner.]
[Sidenote: Sir Alfred Milner.]
But the British public, both in England and South Africa, took their view of the appointment from the opinions expressed by the many prominent men to whom Sir Alfred Milner was personally known. The leaders and the Press of both parties were unstinted in approval of the choice which Mr. Chamberlain had made. The banquet given to Sir Alfred Milner three weeks before his departure to the Cape (March 28th, 1897) provided an occasion for an expression of unrestrained admiration and confidence unique in the annals of English public life. "He has the union of intellect with fascination that makes men mount high," wrote Lord Rosebery. And Sir William Harcourt, "the most grateful and obliged" of Milner's "many friends and admirers," pronounced him to be "a man deserving of all praise and all affection." Mr. Asquith, who presided, stated in a speech marked throughout by a note of intimate friendliness that "no appointment of our time has been received with a larger measure both of the approbation of experienced men and of the applause of the public." The office itself was "at the present moment the most arduous and responsible in the administrative service of the country." Not only "embarrassing problems," but "formidable personalities" would confront the new High Commissioner for South Africa:
"But," he added, "we know that he takes with him as clear an intellect and as sympathetic an imagination, and, if need should arise, a power of resolution as tenacious and as inflexible as belongs to any man of our acquaintance."
Milner's reply is significant of the spirit in which he had undertaken his task. Like Rhodes, he had found in his Oxford studies the reasoned basis for an enlightened Imperialism. Chief among his earliest political convictions was the belief that—
"there was no political object comparable in importance with that of preventing a repetition of such a disaster [as the loss of the United States]: the severance of another link in the great Imperial chain.... It is a great privilege to be allowed to fill any position in the character of what I may be, perhaps, allowed to call a 'civilian soldier of the Empire.' To succeed in it, to render any substantial service to any part of our world-wide State, would be all that in any of my most audacious dreams I had ever ventured to aspire to. But in a cause in which one absolutely believes, even failure—personal failure, I mean, for the cause itself is not going to fail—would be preferable to an easy life of comfortable prosperity in another sphere."
[Sidenote: Personal traits.]
This was the man who was sent to maintain the interests of the paramount Power in a South Africa shaken by racial antagonism, and already feverish with political intrigue and commercial rivalry. Of all the tributes of the farewell banquet, Sir William Harcourt's was closest to the life—"worthy of all praise and all affection." The quality of inspiring affection to which this impressive phrase bore witness was one which had made itself felt among the humblest of those who were fortunate enough to have been associated with Lord Milner in any public work. Long after Milner had left Egypt, the face of the Syrian or Coptic Effendi of the Finance Department in Cairo would light up at the chance mention of the genial Englishman who had once been his chief. And in remote English counties revenue officials still hang his portrait upon the walls of their lodgings. Such men had no claim to appraise his professional merit or his gifts of intellect; but their feelings were responsive to the charm of his nature. "He was so considerate": that was their excuse for retaining his name and personality among the pleasant memories of the past. But the other side of Milner's character, the power of "tenacious and inflexible resolution," of which Mr. Asquith spoke, was destined to be brought into play so prominently during the "eight dusky years" of his South African administration, that to the distant on-looker it came to be accepted as the characterising quality of the man. To some Milner became the "man of blood and iron"; determined, like Bismarck, to secure the unity of a country by trampling with iron-shod boots upon the liberties of its people: even as in the view of others his clear mental vision—never more clear than in South Africa—became clouded by an adopted partisanship, and he was a "lost mind." Nothing could be further from the truth. If the man lived who could have turned the Boer and Afrikander from hatred and distrust of England and English ideas by personal charm and honourable dealing, it was the man who had universally inspired all his former associates, whether equals or subordinates, with admiration and affection. Whatever bitterness was displayed against Lord Milner personally by the Boer and Afrikander leaders after the issue of the war was decided was due to their perception that he was then—as always—a source of strength and an inspiration for renewed effort to those whom they regarded as their rivals or opponents. They hated him just as the French hated Bismarck—because he was the strong man on the other side.
Lord Milner's inflexibility was, in its essence, a keener perception of duty than the ordinary: it was a determination to do what he believed to be for the good of South Africa and the Empire, irrespective of any consideration of personal or party relationship. It was in no sense the incapacity to measure the strength of an opponent, still less did it arise from any failure to perceive the cogency of an opinion in conflict with his own. Before the eight years of his administration had passed, Lord Milner's knowledge of the needs of South Africa and the Empire had become so profound that it carried him ahead of the most enlightened and patriotic of the home statesmen who supported him loyally to the end. Through the period of the war, when the issues were simple and primitive, they were wholly with him. But afterwards they supported him not so much because they understood the methods which he employed and the objects at which he aimed, as because they were by this time convinced of his complete mastery of the political and economic problems of South Africa. It is to this inability to understand the facts of the South African situation, as he had learnt them, that we must attribute the comparative feebleness shown by the Unionist leaders in resisting the perverse attempt which was made by the Liberal party, after the General Election of 1906, to revoke the final arrangements of his administration. The interval that separated Lord Milner's knowledge of South Africa from that of the Liberal ministers was profound; but even the Unionist chiefs showed but slight appreciation of the unassailable validity of the administrative decisions with which they had identified themselves, when the "swing of the pendulum" brought these decisions again, and somewhat unexpectedly, before the great tribunal of the nation.
[Sidenote: Arrival at Cape Town.]
Lord Milner sailed for the Cape on April 17th, 1897. At the actual moment of his arrival the relations between the Home Government and the South African Republic were strained almost to the breaking point. In a peremptory despatch of March 6th, Mr. Chamberlain had demanded the repeal of the Aliens Immigration and Aliens Expulsion Laws of 1896—the former of which constituted a flagrant violation of the freedom of entry secured to British subjects by Article XIV. of the London Convention. This virtual ultimatum was emphasised by the appearance of a British squadron at Delagoa Bay, and by the despatch of reinforcements to the South African garrisons. The evident determination of the Imperial Government induced the Volksraad to repeal the Immigration Law and to pass a resolution in favour of amending the Expulsion Law. The crisis was over in June, and during the next few months the Pretoria Executive showed a somewhat more conciliatory temper towards the Government of Great Britain. And in this connection two other facts must be recorded. In August, 1896, Sir Jacobus de Wet had been succeeded as British Agent at Pretoria by Sir William (then Mr.) Conyngham Greene, and the Imperial Government was assured, by this appointment, of the services of an able man and a trained diplomatist. The Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry into the Raid, promised in July, 1896, met on February 16th, 1897, and reported on July 13th of the same year. Its report did little more than reassert the findings of the Cape Parliamentary Inquiry, which had been before the British public for the last year. It was otherwise remarkable for the handle which it gave (by the failure to insist upon the production of certain telegrams) to some extreme Radicals to assert Mr. Chamberlain's "complicity" in the "invasion" of the Transvaal as originally planned by Mr. Rhodes.
[Sidenote: Milner's thoroughness.]
Lord Milner had expressed his intention of acquainting himself with the conditions of South Africa by personal observation before he attempted to take any definite action for the solution of the problems awaiting his attention. Nor, after the first month of anxious diplomatic controversy with the Pretoria Executive, was there anything either in the political situation in the Cape Colony, or in the attitude of the Transvaal Government, to prevent him from putting his purpose into effect. Apart from the circumstance that the reorganisation of the Chartered Company's Administration—a question in which the political future of Mr. Rhodes was largely involved—was a matter upon which his observation and advice were urgently required by the Colonial Office, Lord Milner had no intention, as he said, of "being tied to an office chair at Capetown." He had resolved, therefore, to visit at the earliest opportunity, first, the country districts of the colony which formed the actual seat of the Dutch population, and, second, the two protectorates of Bechuanaland and Basutoland, which were administered by officers directly responsible to the High Commissioner, as the representative of the Imperial Government. In point of fact he did more than this. Within a year of his arrival he had travelled through the Cape Colony (August and September, 1897), through the Bechuanaland Protectorate and Rhodesia (November and December, 1897), and visited Basutoland (April, 1898). And with characteristic thoroughness he set himself to learn both the Dutch of Holland and the "Taal"—the former in order that he might read the newspapers which the Afrikanders read, and the latter to open the way to that intercourse of eye and ear which most helps a man to know the character of his neighbour.
Lord Milner's year of observation may be said to have ended with the speech at Graaf Reinet (March 3rd, 1898), which held his first clear and emphatic public utterance. During the greater part of this period he was by no means exclusively occupied with the shortcomings of President Krueger. The discharge of his official duties as Governor of the Cape Colony required more than ordinary care and watchfulness in view of the disturbed state of South African politics. And as High Commissioner he was called upon to deal with a number of questions relative to the affairs of Rhodesia and the Protectorates, of which some led him into the new and unfamiliar field of native law and custom, while others involved the exercise of his judgment on delicate matters of personal fitness and official etiquette. But an account of these questions—questions which he handled with equal insight and decision—must yield to the commanding interest of the actual steps by which he approached the two central problems upon the solution of which the maintenance of British supremacy in South Africa depended—the removal of the pernicious system of race oligarchy in the Transvaal, and the preservation of the Cape Colony in its allegiance to the British Crown.
[Sidenote: His friendliness to the Boers.]
The position which Lord Milner took up in his relations with the Transvaal Government was one that was consistent alike with his personal characteristics and with the dictates of a high and enlightened statesmanship. Within the first few weeks of his arrival he let it be known, both through the British Agent at Pretoria, and through those of the Afrikander leaders in the Cape Colony who were on terms of intimacy with President Krueger, that he desired, as it were, to open an entirely new account between the two governments. He, a new High Commissioner with no South African past, with no errors to retrieve, no failures to rankle, could afford to bury the diplomatic hatchet. There was nothing to prevent him from approaching the discussion of any questions that might arise in a spirit of perfect friendliness, or from believing that the President would be inspired, on his side, by the same friendly feelings. It was his hope, therefore, that much of the friction incidental to formal diplomatic controversy might be avoided through the settlement of all lesser matters by amicable and informal discussion between President Krueger and himself.
This was no mere official pose. Milner never posed. He, too, desired to eliminate the Imperial factor in his own way. He saw from the first the advantage of limiting the area of dispute between Downing Street and Pretoria; and he made it his object to settle as many matters as possible by friendly discussion on the spot. The desire to avoid unnecessary diplomatic friction, and to make the best of President Krueger, was manifested in all he did at this time. In the course of the preparations for the celebration of the Diamond Jubilee by the British community on the Rand, the new High Commissioner was asked to decide whether the toast of Queen Victoria, or that of President Krueger, should come first upon the list at the public banquet. He replied unhesitatingly that the courtesy due to President Krueger, as the head of the State, must be fully accorded. On this occasion, of all others, British subjects, he said, "should be most careful to avoid anything which might be regarded as a slight to the South African Republic or its chief magistrate."
[Footnote 27: The incident is otherwise interesting as affording the first sign of that confidence of the British population in Lord Milner, which, steadily increasing as the final and inevitable struggle approached, earned for him at length the unfaltering support of British South Africa. After the Rand celebrations were over, he was informed that his advice had been put into effect with "very considerable difficulty." The argument which had prevailed was this: "The new High Commissioner is a tested man of affairs; we all look to him to put British interests on a solid basis; and as we do this, let us obey him in a matter like this."]
[Sidenote: Milner and the Conventions.]
While to President Krueger Lord Milner said, "Let us see if we cannot arrange matters by friendly discussion between ourselves"; to the Colonial Office he said, "Give them time; don't hurry them. Reform there must be: if by no other means, then by our intervention. But before we intervene, let us be sure that they either cannot, or will not, reform themselves. Therefore let us wait patiently, and make things as easy as possible for President Krueger." More than this, he had almost as little belief in the utility of the Conventions as Grey had in those of his epoch. Whether the Boers did, or did not, call the Queen "Suzerain" seemed to him to be a small matter—an etymological question, as he afterwards called it. What was essential was that men of British blood should not be kept under the heel of the Dutch. Moreover, the grievances for which the observance of the London Convention, however strictly enforced, could provide a remedy, were insignificant as compared with the more real grievances, such as the attack upon the independence of the law courts, the injury to industrial life caused by a corrupt and incompetent administration, and the denial of elementary political rights, which no technical observance of the Convention would remove. Nor did it escape Lord Milner's notice that a policy of rigid insistence upon the letter of the Conventions might place the Imperial Government in a position of grave disadvantage. If any breach of the Conventions was once made the subject of earnest diplomatic complaint, the demand of the Imperial Government must be enforced even at the cost of war. The Conventions, therefore, should be invoked as little as possible. For, if the Boers denied the British Law Officers' interpretation of the text, the Imperial Government might find itself on the horns of a dilemma. Either it must beat an undignified retreat, or it must make war upon the Transvaal for a mere technicality, a proceeding which would gain for the Republic a maximum, and for the Imperial Government a minimum of sympathy and support. Therefore, he said, "Keep the Conventions in the background. If we are to fight let it be about something that is essential to the peace and well-being of South Africa, and not a mere diplomatic wrangle between the Pretoria Executive and the British Government."
[Footnote 28: Apart from the question of the validity of the preamble to the Pretoria Convention (1881), two Conventions—the London Convention (1884), and the Swaziland Convention (1894)—were in force between the South African Republic and Great Britain. The relations of the Imperial Government to the Free State were regulated by the Bloemfontein Convention (1854). This latter and the Sand River Convention (1852), were the Conventions of Grey's time.]
[Sidenote: Transvaal affairs.]
Lord Milner's hope that President Krueger might meet him half-way, although it was shown by subsequent events to have been devoid of foundation, had for the moment superficial appearances in its favour. After their retreat on the question of the Aliens Immigration Law the attitude of the Pretoria Executive remained for some time outwardly less hostile to the Imperial Government. Woolls-Sampson and "Karri" Davies were released from Pretoria gaol in honour of Queen Victoria's Jubilee, and at the same period the first and only step was taken that offered a genuine promise of reform from within. The Industrial Commission, appointed earlier in the year by the Executive at the request of President Krueger, surprised the Uitlander community by conducting its inquiry with a thoroughness and impartiality that left no ground for complaint. Its report, reviewing in detail the conditions of the mining industry, was published in July. It afforded a complete confirmation of the fiscal and administrative complaints put forward by the Uitlanders against the Government; and as Mr. Schalk Burger, the Chairman of the Commission, was both a member of the Executive and the leader of the more progressive section of the Boers, there seemed to be a reasonable prospect of the recommendations of the Report being carried into effect. Scarcely more than six months later President Krueger proved conclusively that the hope of these, or of any other, reforms was entirely unfounded; but so long as there remained any prospect of the Uitlanders and the Transvaal Government being able to settle their differences by themselves, Lord Milner consistently pursued his intention of "making things easy" for the Transvaal Government. And this although the Pretoria Executive soon began to make heavy drafts upon his patience in other respects.
[Footnote 29: These two men, now Colonel Sir Aubrey Woolls-Sampson and Major W. D. "Karri" Davies, had refused to sign the petition of appeal—an act of submission which President Krueger required of the Johannesburg Reformers, before he released them from Pretoria gaol. They did so on the ground that the Imperial Government had made itself responsible for their safety; since they and the other Reformers, with the town of Johannesburg, had laid down their arms on the faith of Lord Rosmead's declaration that he would obtain reasonable reforms from President Krueger for the Uitlanders.]
[Footnote 30: In the question of the Swaziland border, the affair of Bunu, and the continued and increasing ill-treatment of the Cape Boys, the Boer Government manifested its old spirit of aggression and duplicity. All these matters involved Lord Milner in anxious and wearisome negotiations, which, however, he contrived by mingled firmness and address to keep within the limits of friendly discussion.]
If Lord Milner was prepared to make the most of Paul Krueger and the Boers, he showed himself no less ready to see the best side of the Dutch in the Cape Colony. As we have already had occasion to notice, the year of his appointment was that of the Diamond Jubilee celebration; and on June 23rd he sent home a brief despatch in which he dwelt with evident satisfaction upon the share taken by the Dutch in the general demonstrations of loyalty called forth by the occasion in the Cape Colony. After a reference to the number of loyal addresses or congratulatory telegrams which had been sent to the Colonial Secretary for transmission to the Queen, he continued:
"The enthusiasm evoked here ... seems to me to be of peculiar interest ... in view of recent events, which, as you are aware, have caused a feeling of considerable bitterness among different sections of the community. All I can say is that, so far as I am able to judge, these racial differences have not affected the loyalty of any portion of the community to Her Majesty the Queen. People of all races, the English, the Dutch, the Asiatics, as well as the African natives, have vied with one another in demonstrations of affection for her person and devotion to the throne. When every allowance is made for the exaggeration of feeling caused by the unparalleled scale and prolonged duration of the present festivities, and for the contagious excitement which they have produced, it is impossible to doubt that the feeling of loyalty among all sections of the population is much stronger than has sometimes been believed. In my opinion, the impression made by the world-wide celebration of Her Majesty's Jubilee has strengthened that feeling throughout South Africa, and is likely to have a permanent value."
[Footnote 31: This short despatch has been given practically in extenso. It was not published in the Blue-books, but it was communicated to the Press some three months after it had been received.]
[Sidenote: First impressions of the Dutch.]
It has been urged that the opinion here recorded is inconsistent with the charge of anti-British sentiment subsequently brought by Lord Milner against the Dutch leaders in the Cape Colony, and the despatch itself has been cited as affording evidence of the contention that the unfavourable view subsequently expressed in the Graaf Reinet speech, and more definitely in the despatch of May 4th, 1899, was not the result of independent investigation, but was a view formed to support the Imperial Government in a coercive policy towards the Transvaal. This criticism, which is a perfectly natural one, only serves to establish the fact that Lord Milner actually did approach the study of the nationality difficulty in complete freedom from any preconceived notions on the subject. As he said, he went to South Africa with an "open mind." So far from having any prejudice against the Dutch, his first impression was distinctly favourable, and as such he recorded it, suitably enough, in this Jubilee despatch. But it must be remembered that the opinion here recorded was based upon a very limited field of observation. At the time when this despatch was written Lord Milner had not yet been quite two months in South Africa, and his experience of the Dutch of the Cape Colony had been confined to intercourse with the Dutch of the Cape peninsula; that is to say, he had only come into contact with that section of the Cape Dutch which is, as indeed it has been for a century, closely identified, from a social point of view, with the official and mercantile British population of Capetown and its suburbs.
What the Jubilee despatch really shows is that Lord Milner was prepared to make the best of the Dutch. The contrast between its tone of ready appreciation and the note of earnest remonstrance in the Graaf Reinet speech is apparent enough. The despatch is dated June 23rd, 1897; the speech was delivered on March 3rd, 1898. What had happened in this interval of nine months to produce so marked a change in the mind of the genial, clear-sighted Englishman, who, as Mr. Asquith said, took with him to South Africa "as sympathetic an imagination" as any man of his acquaintance? Nemo repente fuit turpissimus. Whether the diagnosis of his Graaf Reinet speech was right or wrong, something must have happened to turn Lord Milner from ready appreciation to grave remonstrance.
The circumstances which provide the answer to this question form an element of vital importance in the volume of evidence upon which posterity will pronounce the destruction of the Dutch Republics in South Africa to have been a just and necessary, or a needless and aggressive, act. But to see them in true perspective, the reader must first be possessed of some more precise information of the political situation in the Cape Colony at this time.
[Sidenote: The Sprigg ministry.]
At the period of Lord Milner's appointment the political forces set in motion by the Raid were operating already to prepare the way for the new and significant combinations of persons and parties in the Cape Colony that took definite form in the parliamentary crisis of May, 1898. The Ministry now in office was that formed by Sir Gordon Sprigg upon Mr. Rhodes's resignation of the premiership after the Raid (January 6th, 1896). Like every other Cape Ministry of the last thirteen years, it was dependent upon the support of the Afrikander Bond, which supplied two out of the six members of the cabinet—Mr. Pieter Faure, Minister of Agriculture, and a moderate Bondsman, and Dr. Te Water, the intimate friend of Mr. Hofmeyr, and his direct representative in the Ministry. Another minister, Sir Thomas Upington, who had succeeded Mr. Philip Schreiner as Attorney-General, had been himself Prime Minister in the period 1884-6, when he and Sir Gordon Sprigg (then Treasurer-General), had opposed the demand for the intervention of the Imperial Government in Bechuanaland, successfully and strenuously advocated by Mr. J. W. Leonard and Mr. Merriman. It was, therefore, eminently, what would be called in France "a Ministry of the Centre." Sir Gordon Sprigg's regard for British interests was too lukewarm to command the confidence of the more decided advocates of British supremacy; while, on the other hand, his more or less friendly relations with Mr. Rhodes aroused the suspicions of the Dutch extremists. But Dr. Te Water's presence in the Ministry, offering in itself a sufficient assurance that no measures deemed by Mr. Hofmeyr to be contrary to the interests of the Bond would be adopted, had secured for the Government the votes of the majority of the Dutch members of the Legislative Assembly. An example of the subserviency of the Sprigg Ministry to the Bond at this date was afforded upon Lord Milner's arrival. As we have seen, the Home Government determined to reinforce the South African garrison, in order to strengthen its demand upon the Transvaal Government for the repeal of the Aliens Immigration Law. Although no direct opposition was offered by the Ministry to this measure, the insufficiency of barrack accommodation in the Cape Colony was used as a pretext for placing obstacles in the way of its accomplishment. These difficulties were successfully overcome by Lord Milner, and in the end the reinforcements arrived without giving rise to any political excitement.
[Footnote 32: By August the South African garrison had been raised to the very moderate strength of rather more than 8,000 troops.]
[Sidenote: Navy contribution bill.]
A more disagreeable incident was the covert attempt made by the Bond to obstruct the business of the Cape Parliament, in order that Sir Gordon Sprigg might be prevented from taking his place among the other prime ministers of the self-governing colonies at the Colonial Conference, and representing the Cape in the Jubilee celebrations in England. This was the beginning of a disagreement between the Ministry and the Bond, which gradually increased in seriousness after Sir Gordon's return from England, until it culminated in the resignation of Dr. Te Water (May, 1898). The offer of an annual contribution to the cost of the British Navy, which was affirmed in principle by the Cape Parliament at this time, was understood in England to be a mark of Afrikander attachment to the British connection. In point of fact the measure received practically no support from the Bondsmen in Parliament; while, outside of Parliament, on Bond platforms and in the Bond Press, the Government's action in the matter was employed as an effective argument to stimulate disaffection in the ranks of its Dutch supporters. Mr. Hofmeyr, however, was careful not to allow the Bond, as an organisation, to commit itself to any overt opposition to the principle of a contribution to the British Navy—an attitude which would have been obviously inconsistent with the Bond's profession of loyalty—and with characteristic irony the third reading of the Navy Contribution Bill was eventually passed, a year later, without a division in the Legislative Assembly by a Ministry placed in office by Bond votes for the declared purpose of opposing the policy of the Imperial Government on the one question—the reform of the Transvaal Administration—upon the issue of which depended the maintenance of British supremacy in South Africa.
[Footnote 33: Sir Gordon Sprigg's long service as a minister of the Crown fully entitled him to this honour; nor was his presence rendered any the less desirable by the fact that Sir Henry de Villiers, the Chief Justice, was also attending the Jubilee in England.]
[Footnote 34: The Schreiner Ministry.]
[Sidenote: Rhodes's position.]
But circumstances of deeper significance contributed to deprive the Sprigg Ministry of the support of the Bond, causing its majority to dwindle, and driving Sir Gordon himself, in an increasing degree, into the opposite camp. The British population for the first time showed a tendency to organise itself in direct opposition to the Bond. As Sir Gordon Sprigg grew more Imperialist, the Progressive party was formed for parliamentary purposes; while for the purpose of combating the Afrikander nationalist movement in general an Imperialist organisation, called the South African League, was established with the avowed object of maintaining British supremacy in South Africa. Mr. Cecil Rhodes, immediately after the Raid, announced his intention of taking no further part in the politics of the Cape Colony, and of devoting himself, for the future, to the development of Rhodesia. But upon his return from England, after giving evidence before the Committee of Inquiry into the Raid, he was received with so much warmth by the British population at Capetown in July, 1897, that he had retracted this decision, and determined to assume the same position of real, though not nominal, leadership of what was afterwards the Progressive party as Mr. Hofmeyr held in the Bond. Mr. Rhodes's return to political life, following, as it did, upon the report of the Committee of Inquiry, aroused the most bitter hostility against him on the part of his former associates in the Bond. And the Sprigg Ministry, by their increasing reliance upon the new party of which he was the leader, incurred the distrust of its Dutch supporters to a corresponding extent. In the meantime the Bond leaders had adopted Mr. Philip Schreiner, who was not a member of the Bond, as their parliamentary chief in the place of Rhodes, and this new combination was strengthened by the accession of Mr. J. X. Merriman and Mr. J. W. Sauer. Thus the opening months of the new year, 1898, found the population of the Cape Colony grouping itself roughly, for the first time, into two parties with definite and mutually destructive aims. On the one side there was the Sprigg Ministry, now almost exclusively supported by the British section of the Cape electorate, soon to be organised on the question of "redistribution" into the Progressive party, with Rhodes as its real, though not its recognised, leader; and on the other there was the Bond party, with Schreiner as its parliamentary chief and Hofmeyr as its real leader, depending in no less a degree upon the Dutch population of the Colony, and naturally opposed to an electoral reform that threatened to deprive this population of its parliamentary preponderance. And in a few months' time, as we shall see, the Schreiner-Bond coalition took for its immediate aim the prevention of British interference in the Transvaal; while the Progressive party came, no less openly, to avow its determination to promote and support the action of the Imperial Government in seeking to obtain redress for the Uitlander grievances.
The movements here briefly indicated were, of course, perfectly well known to Lord Milner as constitutional Governor of the Colony. But at Graaf Reinet he probes the situation too deeply, and speaks with too authoritative a tone, to allow us to suppose that the remonstrance which he then addressed to the Cape Dutch was based upon any sources of knowledge less assured than his own observation and experience. For the Graaf Reinet speech is not an affair of ministers' minutes or party programmes; it is the straight talk of a man taught by eye and ear, and informed by direct relationships with the persons and circumstances that are envisaged in his words. To restate our question, which among these facts of personal observation and experience produced the change from the ready appreciation of the Cape Dutch, shown in the Jubilee despatch, to the earnest remonstrance of the Graaf Reinet speech? The historian cannot claim, like the writer of creative literature, to exhibit the working of the human mind. In the terms of the Aristotelian formula, he can relate only what "has" happened, leaving to the craftsman whose pen is enlarged and ennobled by the universal truth of art to tell what "must" happen. But such satisfaction as the lesser branch of literature can afford is at the disposal of the reader, in "good measure, pressed down, and running over." Without assuming, then, the philosophic certainty of poetry, we know that between the Jubilee despatch and the Graaf Reinet speech the development of the great South African drama reached its "turning-point" in the Transvaal; while in the Cape Colony Lord Milner was learning daily more of the "formidable personalities" and the "embarrassing problems" to which Mr. Asquith had referred.
[Sidenote: No reform in the Transvaal.]
The more hopeful situation in the Transvaal that followed upon the determined action of the Imperial Government in May was succeeded by a period punctuated by events which, taken collectively, obliterated all prospect of "reform from within." The treatment accorded to the report of the Industrial Commission, which, as we have noticed, established the truth of practically all the fiscal and administrative complaints of the Uitlanders, was a matter of especial significance. The Commission was created by President Krueger; it was in effect the fulfilment of his promises, made after the Raid, to redress the grievances of the Uitlanders. The Commissioners were his own officials, Boers and Hollanders; men who had no prejudice against the Government, and no sympathy with the new population, yet their recommendations, if carried into effect, would have removed the most serious of the industrial grievances of the British community. The Report had raised great expectations. It was thought that, not all, but a substantial proportion of its recommendations would be put into effect. Here, then, was an opportunity for reform which involved no loss of prestige, entailed no danger to the independence of the Republic, and held not the slightest threat to the stability of burgher predominance. If what President Krueger was waiting for was a convenient opportunity, he had such an opportunity now. This reasonable forecast was utterly falsified by the event. Mr. Schalk Burger, the Chairman of the Commission, was denounced by Mr. Krueger in the Volksraad as a traitor to the Republic, because he had dared to set his hand to so distasteful a document. The report itself was thrown contemptuously by the grim old President from the Volksraad to the customary committee of true-blue "doppers," whose ignorance of the industrial conditions of the Rand was equalled only by their personal devotion to himself. Here the adverse findings of the commissioners on the dynamite and railway monopolies were reversed; and the recommendation for a Local Board for the Rand was condemned as subversive of the authority of the State. At length, after the report had been tossed about from Volksraad to committee, and from committee to Volksraad, until very little of the original recommendations remained, the Government took action. In addition to an immaterial reduction of the exorbitant rates charged by the Netherlands Railway Company—a concession subsequently alleged to have been the price paid by the Hollander Corporation to avoid further inquiry into its affairs—it was announced that, with the object of lessening the cost of living on the Rand, the import duties upon certain necessaries in common use would be reduced, in accordance with the recommendations of the Commissioners on this point; but that, since it was obviously inexpedient to diminish the revenue of the Republic, the duties upon certain other articles of the same class would be raised to an extent more than counterbalancing the loss upon the reduction. Parturiunt montes; nascitur ridiculus mus.
[Sidenote: Krueger re-elected president.]
This singular display of mingled effrontery and duplicity marked the closing months of the year (1897). In the February following Mr. Krueger was elected to the presidency of the South African Republic for the fourth time. It was generally recognised that the success of his candidature was inevitable, but few, within or without the Transvaal, had expected him to secure so decisive a victory over his competitors. The figures—Krueger 12,858, Schalk Burger 3,750, and Joubert (Commandant-General) 2,001—were additional evidence of the impotency or lukewarmness of the reform party among the burghers. The first act of President Krueger, on his return to power, was to dismiss Chief Justice Kotze. Mr. Kotze's struggle for the independence of the law courts, thus summarily closed, had commenced a year before with what was known as the "High Court crisis." At that time President Krueger had obtained power from the Volksraad by the notorious law No. 1 of 1897 to compel the judges, on pain of dismissal, to renounce the right, recently exercised, to declare laws, which were in their opinion inconsistent with the Grondwet (Constitution), to be, to that extent, invalid. As a protest against this autocratic proceeding the entire bench of judges threatened to resign, and the courts were adjourned. The deadlock continued until a compromise was arranged through the intervention of Chief Justice de Villiers. The President undertook to introduce a new law providing satisfactorily for the independence of the Courts, and the judges, on their side, pledged themselves not to exercise the "testing" right in the meantime. In February, 1898, Chief Justice Kotze wrote to remind President Krueger that his promise remained unfulfilled, withdrawing at the same time the conditional pledge not to exercise the "testing" right given by himself. The President then dismissed Mr. Kotze under Law No. 1, compelled a second judge, Mr. Justice Amershof (who had supported the Chief Justice in the position he had taken up) to resign, and appointed, as the new Chief Justice, Mr. Gregorowski, who, as Chief Justice of the Free State, had presided at the trial of the Reformers in 1896, and at the time of the crisis a year before had declared that "no honourable man could possibly accept the position of a judge so long as Law No. 1 remained in force." The judicature was now rendered subservient to the Executive, and the Uitlanders were thus deprived of their last constitutional safeguard against the injustice of the Boer and Hollander oligarchy.
[Footnote 35: There appears to have been some question as to whether the terms of the President's undertaking bound him to introduce the proposed measure into the Volksraad in 1897, or in 1898. Chief Justice de Villiers held that the latter date was contemplated by the President. But the point is immaterial, since President Krueger denied in the Volksraad, after the dismissal of Mr. Kotze, that he had ever given an undertaking at all to Chief Justice de Villiers or to anybody else.]
[Sidenote: His reactionary policy.]
This was the position in the Transvaal in February, 1898. President Krueger had demonstrated by his refusal to carry out the recommendations of the Industrial Commission, and by the dismissal of Chief Justice Kotze, that he was determined not merely to set himself against all measures of reform, but to increase the disabilities under which the Uitlanders had hitherto lived. He had been placed, for the fourth time, at the head of the Republic by an overwhelming majority; he had refused to sacrifice a penny of revenue, and he was in possession of ample resources, which were being sedulously applied in increasing his already disproportionate supply of munitions of war. Through Dr. Leyds, who had returned from his mission to Europe, he had opened up communications with European Powers, that placed him in a position to avail himself to the full of the possible embarrassment of Great Britain through international rivalries or disagreements. In South Africa he had carried through a treaty of offensive and defensive alliance with the Free State, and he had received more than one recent assurance that the flame of Afrikander nationalism had been kindled anew by the Bond in the Cape Colony.
These events were disquieting enough in themselves; but what made the disappearance of any prospect of spontaneous reform in the Transvaal still more serious to the High Commissioner for South Africa, was the complaisance with which President Krueger's reactionary policy was regarded by the Dutch subjects of the Crown. It was just here that Lord Milner's observations must have yielded the most startling results. We know that the days which had passed since the Jubilee despatch was written had brought him constant and varied opportunities for seeing "things as they really were" in South Africa; we know that he was keenly alert in the accomplishment of his mission, and we may presume, therefore, that few, if any, of these opportunities were lost.
In September Lord Milner had travelled right round the Colony. At every little town and dorp—wherever, in fact, he went—he conversed with the Dutch, whom his pleasant manner quickly won to friendliness; and all the speeches that he made in reply to the addresses of welcome were extremely conciliatory in tone. This was the time when there were hopeful anticipations of the good results that were to come from the Industrial Commission; and Lord Milner often began his speech with an expression of the sense of relief which he felt—a feeling which his audience must share—that now there was to be peace in South Africa. These conciliatory utterances of the new High Commissioner were almost completely ignored by the Dutch Press. An exception to this rule of silence was significant. The High Commissioner was accompanied by the Minister of Agriculture, Mr. (now Sir Pieter) Faure. On one occasion Mr. Faure made some remarks in the same spirit as that in which Lord Milner had spoken. "People," he said, "talk of Africa for the Afrikanders; but what I say is, Africa for all." The expression of this moderate sentiment drew down upon Mr. Faure a sharp reproof from Ons Land. From this and many other such incidents it must have begun to dawn upon Lord Milner's mind that what the Dutch of the Cape Colony wanted was not conciliation but domination.
[Sidenote: Attitude of the Cape Dutch.]
[Sidenote: "Hands off" the Transvaal.]
And so it came about that in the months that President Krueger was busy shutting the door against reform, Lord Milner was learning to realise that on this all-important matter there was nothing to hope from the Cape Dutch. When once the question of reform, or no reform, in the Transvaal came up, all conciliatory speeches were useless. It made no difference whether the Transvaal was right or wrong; it was always, "Our Transvaal, good or bad." In short, all that happened both in the Transvaal and the Cape Colony during this (South African) spring and summer was of the nature to impress conclusively upon Lord Milner's mind that on the crucial issue between the Imperial Government and the Transvaal, the leaders of Dutch opinion in the Cape Colony were against the British cause. The rank and file of the Dutch population, if left to themselves, might be indifferent, possibly friendly; but the Bond organisation had placed them under the control of the Bond leaders; and the Bond was hostile. What, more than anything else, would serve to confirm this impression was Lord Milner's constant study of the Dutch Press. Among these journals, Ons Land presented the most authoritative and significant expression of the Bond policy, as directed by Mr. Hofmeyr's astute brain and unrivalled experience. The editorial columns of Ons Land rarely contained a sentence that, standing alone, could be quoted as evidence of its advocacy of anti-British action. Its method was far more subtle. In everything in which Great Britain was concerned the attitude which it adopted was one of profound alienation, rather than of aggressive hostility. England's position in the world was presented and discussed as though "Afrikanders" were no more interested in it than they were in that of any foreign country. And, in South African matters, the tone of the Dutch Press, and of the Bond leaders, was not merely discouraging; at any hint of possible British action for the improvement of the administrative conditions of the Transvaal, it took a note of menace. "Hands off" the Transvaal: that was the sum and substance of Bond policy.
Between the Jubilee despatch and the Graaf Reinet speech, then, the Transvaal Government had shown that it had set its face definitely against reform, and Lord Milner had had time to realise the true state of political feeling in the Colony of which he was Governor. While there was anger among the British at the hopeless situation in the Transvaal, among the Dutch was a fixed determination not to allow the Transvaal to be interfered with. And there was something else that Lord Milner would have observed during his travels throughout the Colony. It was the utter despondency of the British population, and the condition of abasement to which they had been reduced. Nor can he have failed to observe that everywhere among the British there was a constant apology for the Raid; while, on the part of the Dutch, there was no recognition of all that the British had done to wipe out its stain and to mitigate its effects: in a word, that the moral conquest of the Colony by the Dutch was practically complete.
[Sidenote: Milner at Graaf Reinet.]
It was with this accumulated evidence in his mind that Lord Milner travelled down, on March 2nd, 1898, from Capetown to Graaf Reinet, expecting to take part in a Governor's function of the ordinary sort at the opening of the railway on the following day. The conventional expressions of loyalty to the Queen, and the scarcely veiled hypocrisy and defiance with which the Dutch reiterated them, at the time when the whole weight of their influence was thrown against Great Britain on the only South African question that really mattered, had become nauseating even to his serene temper and generous disposition. He was wearied, too, of receiving a frivolous or unfriendly reply from the Pretoria Executive to the most reasonable proposals of the Imperial Government. Late at night there was brought to him, in the train, a copy of an address from the Graaf Reinet branch of the Afrikander Bond, which was to be presented to him on the morrow. It contained, in more than usually pointed language, a protest against "the charges of disloyalty made against the Bond," and a request that the High Commissioner would "convey to the Queen the expression of its unswerving loyalty." As he read on we can imagine how, in ominous contrast to the superficial protestations of the text, something exceptionally aggressive in the tone of the address, something which emphasised the inconsistency of these formal professions of attachment to the throne with the very practical hostility of their authors to British policy, struck the High Commissioner with peculiar force. The Dutch, who, under British rule, enjoyed—one might almost say abused—every privilege of citizenship in the Cape Colony, were quite prepared to see the British excluded, under Dutch rule, from these same privileges in the Transvaal. More than that, they were determined to employ all the agencies at their command to prevent any effective interference with the Transvaal oligarchy. Lord Milner evidently felt that the time had come for remonstrance, so, gathering up the impressions which had been accumulating in his mind, he wrote down then and there his answer, which was delivered on the following day.
"Of course, I am glad to be assured that any section of Her Majesty's subjects is loyal, but I should be much more glad to be allowed to take that for granted. Why should I not? What reason could there be for any disloyalty? You have thriven wonderfully well under Her Majesty's Government. This country, despite its great extent and its fine climate, has some tremendous natural disadvantages to contend against, and yet let any one compare the position to-day with what it was at the commencement of Her Majesty's reign, or even thirty years ago. The progress in material wealth is enormous, and the prospects of future progress are greater still. And you have other blessings which by no means always accompany material wealth. You live under an absolutely free system of government, protecting the rights and encouraging the spirit of independence of every citizen. You have courts of law manned by men of the highest ability and integrity, and secure in the discharge of their high functions from all external interference. You have—at least as regards the white races—perfect equality of citizenship. And these things have not been won from a reluctant sovereign. They have been freely and gladly bestowed upon you, because freedom and self-government, justice and equality, are the first principles of British policy. And they are secured to you by the strength of the power that gave them, and whose navy protects your shores from attack without your being asked to contribute one pound to that protection unless you yourselves desire it. Well, gentlemen, of course you are loyal; it would be monstrous if you were not.
"And now, if I have one wish, it is that I may never again have to deal at any length with this topic. But in order that I may put it aside with a good conscience, I wish, having been more or less compelled to deal with it, to do so honestly, and not to shut my eyes to unpleasant facts. The great bulk of the population of the Colony—Dutch as well as English—are, I firmly believe, thoroughly loyal, in the sense that they know they live under a good constitution, and have no wish to change it, and regard with feelings of reverence and pride that august lady at the head of it. If we had only domestic questions to consider; if political controversy were confined to the internal affairs of the country, there would, no doubt, be a great deal of hard language used by conflicting parties, and very likely among the usual amenities of party warfare somebody would call somebody else disloyal; but the thing would be so absurd—so obviously absurd—that nobody would take it seriously, and the charges would be forgotten almost as soon as uttered.
[Sidenote: The loyalty of the Bond.]
"What gives the sting to the charge of disloyalty in this case, what makes it stick, and what makes people wince under it, is the fact that the political controversies of this country at present unfortunately turn largely upon another question—I mean the relations of Her Majesty's Government to the South African Republic—and that, whenever there is any prospect of any difference between them, a number of people in the Colony at once vehemently, and without even the semblance of impartiality, espouse the side of the Republic. Personally I do not think that they are disloyal. I am familiar at home with the figure of the politician—often the best of men, though singularly injudicious—who, whenever any disputes arise with another country, starts with the assumption that his own country must be in the wrong. He is not disloyal, but really he cannot be very much surprised if he appears to be so to those of his fellow-citizens whose inclination is to start with the exactly opposite assumption. And so I do not take it that in this case people are necessarily disloyal because they carry their sympathy with the Government of the Transvaal—which, seeing the close tie of relationship which unites a great portion of the population here with the dominant section in that country, is perfectly natural—to a point which gives some ground for the assertion that they seem to care much more for the independence of the Transvaal than for the honour and the interests of the country to which they themselves belong.
"For my own part, I believe the whole object of those people in espousing the cause of the Transvaal is to prevent an open rupture between that country and the British Government. They loathe, very naturally and rightly, the idea of war, and they think that, if they can only impress upon the British Government that in case of war with the Transvaal it would have a great number of its own subjects at least in sympathy against it, that is a way to prevent such a calamity.
"But in this they are totally wrong, for this policy rests on the assumption that Great Britain has some occult design on the independence of the Transvaal—that independence which it has itself given—and that it is seeking causes of quarrel in order to take that independence away. But that assumption is the exact opposite of the truth. So far from seeking causes of quarrel, it is the constant desire of the British Government to avoid causes of quarrel, and not to take up lightly the complaints (and they are numerous) which reach it from British subjects within the Transvaal, for the very reason that it wishes to avoid even the semblance of interference in the internal affairs of that country, and, as regards its external relations, to insist only on that minimum of control which it has always distinctly reserved, and has reserved, I may add, solely in the interests of the future tranquillity of South Africa. That is Great Britain's moderate attitude, and she cannot be frightened out of it. It is not any aggressiveness on the part of Her Majesty's Government which now keeps up the spirit of unrest in South Africa. Not at all. It is that unprogressiveness—I will not say the retrogressiveness—of the Government of the Transvaal and its deep suspicion of the intentions of Great Britain which makes it devote its attention to imaginary external dangers, when every impartial observer can see perfectly well that the real dangers which threaten it are internal.
[Sidenote: Milner's appeal to the Dutch.]
"Now, I wish to be perfectly fair. Therefore, let me say that this suspicion, though absolutely groundless, is not, after all that has happened, altogether unnatural. I accept the situation that at the present moment any advice that I could tender, or that any of your British fellow-citizens could tender in that quarter, though it was the best advice in the world, would be instantly rejected because it was British. But the same does not apply to the Dutch citizens of this colony, and especially to those who have gone so far in the expression of their sympathy for the Transvaal as to expose themselves to these charges of disloyalty to their own flag. Their good-will at least cannot be suspected across the border; and if all they desire—and I believe it is what they desire—is to preserve the South African Republic, and to promote good relations between it and the British Colonies and Government, then let them use all their influence, which is bound to be great, not in confirming the Transvaal in unjustified suspicions, not in encouraging its Government in obstinate resistance to all reform, but in inducing it gradually to assimilate its institutions, and, what is even more important than institutions, the temper and spirit of its administration, to those of the free communities of South Africa, such as this Colony or the Orange Free State. That is the direction in which a peaceful way out of these inveterate troubles, which have now plagued this country for more than thirty years, is to be found."
[Footnote 36: Cape Times, March 4th, 1898.]
Here was a bolt from the blue! All South Africa stood to attention. No such authoritative and inspiring utterance had come from the High Commissioners for South Africa since Frere had been recalled, now eighteen years ago. The Afrikander nationalists saw that their action and policy were exposed to the scrutiny of a penetrating intellect, and grew uneasy.
The position which Lord Milner had taken up was impregnable. What is the good of your loyalty, he said in effect to the Cape Dutch, if you refuse to help us in the one thing needful? And this the one thing of all others the justice of which you Afrikanders should feel—that the Transvaal should "assimilate its institutions ... and the tone and temper of its administration, to those of the free communities of South Africa such as this Colony and the Orange Free State."
The impact of these words was tremendous. The weight behind them was the weight of inevitable truth.
A week later Mr. J. X. Merriman wrote to President Steyn to beg him to urge President Krueger to be careful. Under date March 11th, 1898, he says:
"You will, no doubt, have seen both Sir Alfred Milner's speech at Graaf Reinet and the reported interview with Mr. Rhodes in The Cape Times. Through both there runs a note of thinly veiled hostility to the Transvaal and the uneasy menace of trouble ahead....
"Yet one cannot conceal the fact that the greatest danger to the future lies in the attitude of President Krueger and his vain hope of building up a State on a foundation of a narrow, unenlightened minority, and his obstinate rejection of all prospect of using the materials which lie ready to his hand to establish a true Republic on a broad Liberal basis. The report of recent discussions in the Volksraad on his finances and their mismanagement fill one with apprehension. Such a state of affairs cannot last. It must break down from inherent rottenness, and it will be well if the fall does not sweep away the freedom of all of us.
"I write in no hostility to republics; my own feelings are all in the opposite direction.... Humanly speaking, the advice and good-will of the Free State is the only thing that stands between the South African Republic and a catastrophe."
[Footnote 37: Cd. 369.]
[Sidenote: Sprigg and the Bond.]
Still more striking and salutary was the effect produced upon the British population in the Cape Colony. All who were not utterly abased by the yoke of Bond domination stood upright. Those whose spirit had been cowed by the odium of the Raid took heart. Never had the essential morality of England's dealings with the Dutch been vindicated more triumphantly. The moral right of the Power which had done justice to the Dutch in its own borders to require the Dutch to do justice to the British within the borders of the Republic was unassailable. We have noticed before how in the year 1897 the different sections of the British population were manifesting a tendency to draw closer together. After the Graaf Reinet speech this movement rapidly developed into a general determination to challenge the long domination of the Bond. It had been recognised for some time past that the recent and considerable growth of the urban population of the Colony, which was mainly British, had not been accompanied by any corresponding increase in the number of its parliamentary representatives. In February (1898), the anomalous condition of the Cape electoral system was brought before the Ministry. The indignation caused by the dismissal of Chief Justice Kotze, and the growing evidence of President Krueger's determination to ride rough-shod over the British population in the Transvaal, contributed to unite the Colonial British of all sections, with the exception of the one or two men who were wholly identified with the Bond, in the common aim of obtaining a fair representation for the chief centres of British population in the Cape Colony; and the practically solid British party thus formed adopted the title of "Progressives." The Ministry knew, of course, that any such measure would be displeasing to Mr. Hofmeyr; but Sir Gordon Sprigg, being now assured of the almost united support of the British members in the Colonial Parliament, resolved to bring forward a Redistribution Bill. The draft Bill was approved by the Executive Council on May 13th, and Dr. Te Water, Mr. Hofmeyr's representative in the Ministry, thereupon resigned.
[Footnote 38: He was succeeded in the Colonial Secretaryship by Dr. Smartt, a former member of the Bond, but now a Progressive, and at the same time Sir Thomas Upington, who had resigned from ill-health, was succeeded by Mr. T. Lynedoch Graham, as Attorney-General.]
Sir Gordon Sprigg had now done a thing unprecedented in the parliamentary history of the Cape Colony in the last fifteen years. He had defied the Bond. He knew that the Bond was quite able to turn his Ministry out of Office. But he had made up his mind, in this event, to throw in his lot with the Progressive party, of which Mr. Rhodes was the actual chief. Mr. Hofmeyr did not leave him long in doubt. On the resignation of Dr. Te Water all the Bond artillery was at once turned on to the Ministry. On May 31st Mr. Schreiner gave notice of a vote of "no confidence." It was put off until June 13th, and in the meantime the second reading of the Redistribution Bill was met by the "previous question" moved by Mr. Theron, the Chairman of the Provincial Council of the Bond. No attempt was made, either in Parliament or in the Press, to conceal the fact that, under the question of redistribution, wider and more momentous issues were at stake. The counts in the Bond's indictment of the Ministry, as set out in Ons Land, were (1) its Imperialist tendencies as evidenced by the proposed gift of a warship to the British Navy; and (2) its lack of sympathy with the South African Republic. Against these crimes it had nothing to place, except that it had permitted the employment of the captured Bechuanas, as indentured labourers—its sole merit, in the opinion of the Bond journal. The Cape Times, on the other hand, declared with equal frankness that the real point to be decided was, whether the interests of President Krueger and the South African Republic, or those of the Cape Colony, as part of the British Empire, had the greater claim upon the Government and Parliament of the Colony. And Mr. Schreiner, when, on June 13th, he introduced the "no confidence" motion, asked the House to condemn the Ministry on the ground that it had not shown any "sympathy" with, or made any "conciliatory approach" towards, the "sister Republic." On Monday, June 20th, the second reading of the Redistribution Bill was carried by a majority of seven, but two days later, June 22nd, the Ministry found itself in a minority of five on Mr. Schreiner's motion of "no confidence." In these circumstances Sir Gordon Sprigg determined not to resign, but to appeal to the electorate—a course justified by constitutional usage—and Parliament was dissolved.
[Footnote 39: These were prisoners taken in the suppression of the revolt in Bechuanaland in 1897.]
[Footnote 40: The little group of six, of which Sir James Innes was the head—including Sir R. Solomon and four others—voted with the Ministry for the Redistribution Bill, but against it on the "no confidence" motion (with the exception of Sir James himself). Also one moderate Bondsman voted for "redistribution," but went against the Ministry on the "no confidence" motion.]
[Sidenote: The general election, 1898.]
The election which ensued was fought with great determination and no little bitterness. Both the Progressive party and the Bond were supplied with ample funds; the former had the purse of Mr. Rhodes and other Englishmen to draw upon, while the latter was subsidised by President Krueger and his agents from the revenues of the Transvaal. Mr. Schreiner's election utterances were studiously moderate; indeed, his letter of thanks to the electors of the Malmesbury division, by whom he was returned to Parliament, contained a reference to "the noble empire which was theirs, and to which they belonged." But such pronouncements by no means represented the sentiment of the party with which he had identified himself. The objects of the Afrikander party, as presented in their most attractive form by Ons Land, were to overthrow Rhodes and all his works, to oppose the "Chartered clique" and "the influence of Mammon in politics," and to secure a "pure administration" and "the cultivation of friendly relations with the neighbouring states:" in other words, to give every possible encouragement to the Transvaal in the diplomatic struggle with Great Britain. The Dutch press in general preached the creed of Afrikander nationalism without disguise. The under-current of anti-British feeling which prevailed among the Dutch population may be understood from the fact that the following frank appeal from a republican nationalist to the Cape Afrikanders was published in the columns of Ons Land: