The Bloemfontein Conference made retreat for ever impossible. Lord Milner himself was perfectly conscious that in holding President Krueger to the franchise question he had made the conference the pivotal occasion upon which turned the issue of peace or war. He knew, when he closed the proceedings with a declaration that his meeting with President Krueger had utterly failed to provide a solution of the franchise question, that from this day forward there could be no turning back for him or for the Imperial Government. But he knew, too, that poor as was the prospect of obtaining the minimum reforms by any subsequent negotiation, nothing could contribute more to the attainment of this object than the blunt rejection of the makeshift proposals put forward by President Krueger at Bloemfontein.
[Sidenote: After the conference.]
The result of the Conference, from this point of view, and its effect upon the British population in South Africa, may be gathered from the address presented to Lord Milner on his return to Capetown, and from his reply to it. By the mouth of Mr. Alfred Ebden, a veteran colonist, the British population of the Colony then (June 12th) expressed their "admiration" of Lord Milner's "firm stand" on behalf of the Uitlanders, offered him their "earnest support," and declared their "entire confidence in his fairness and ability to bring these unhappy differences to a satisfactory settlement." The essence of Lord Milner's reply lies in the words, "some remedy has still to be found." The nationality problem would be solved if the principle of equality could be established all round. The Transvaal is "the one State where inequality is the rule, which keeps the rest of South Africa in a fever." It is inconsistent, he says, with the position of Great Britain as paramount Power, and with the dignity of the white race, that a great community of white men "should continue in that state of subjection which is the lot of the immigrant white population of the Transvaal." And he concludes:
"I see it is suggested in some quarters that the policy of Her Majesty's Government is one of aggression. I know better than any man that their policy, so far from being one of aggression, has been one of singular patience, and such, I doubt not, it will continue. But it cannot relapse into indifference. Can any one desire that it should? It would be disastrous that the present period of stress and strain should not result in some settlement to prevent the recurrence of similar crises in the future. Of that I am still hopeful. It may be that the Government of the South African Republic will yet see its way to adopt a measure of reform more liberal than that proposed at Bloemfontein. If not, there may be other means of achieving the desired result. In any case, it is a source of strength to those who are fighting the battle of reform, and will, I believe, contribute more than anything else to a peaceful victory, to feel that they have behind them, as they perhaps never had before, the unanimous sympathy of the British people throughout the world."
[Footnote 73: C. 9,415.]
In the four months that followed the Bloemfontein Conference a burden of toil and responsibility was laid upon Lord Milner which would have crushed any lesser man into utter passivity or resignation. An Afrikander Cabinet, with a nationalist element reporting its confidential councils with the Governor to Mr. Hofmeyr, the Bond Master, and President Steyn, the secret ally of President Krueger, would have been sufficient in itself to paralyse the faculties of any ordinary administrator at such a crisis. But this was not the only adverse influence with which circumstances brought Lord Milner into collision. Incredible as it may seem, it is none the less the fact that Sir William Butler, the General-in-Command of the British forces in South Africa, and the military adviser of the High Commissioner, was in close political sympathy with Mr. Merriman and Mr. Sauer, and in complete agreement with their views. For General Butler held that a war to compel the Boer oligarchy to grant the elementary political rights to the British in the Transvaal, which even Mr. Gladstone's Cabinet intended to secure for them, would be the "greatest calamity that ever occurred in South Africa." And more than this, that if the Home Government did make war, it would be merely playing the game of "the party of the Raid, the South African League."
[Footnote 74: Evidence before War Commission. Cd. 1,791.]
[Sidenote: Milner and Butler.]
It is generally supposed that Lord Milner's disagreement with General Butler had its origin in the conduct of the latter, when Acting High Commissioner, in refusing the first Uitlander petition. This is quite untrue. Lord Milner's view of the Uitlander grievances was, of course, different from that of General Butler, who treated the appeal to the Queen as an unnecessary and artificial agitation against the Transvaal Government, and thereby placed the Acting British Agent, Mr. Edmund Fraser, in a position of extreme difficulty; since Mr. Fraser was, of course, desirous of carrying out his duties upon the general lines followed by Sir William Greene in accordance with the instructions of the Home Government. But the Transvaal question had never been discussed between Lord Milner and General Butler; and at the time of the Edgar incident Lord Milner was in England, and he had no means, therefore, of forming an opinion as to the significance which attached to this event, or the agitation to which it gave rise. On this particular point there was no opportunity for a conflict of opinion. Had Lord Milner been in South Africa he would, no doubt, have accepted the first petition to the Queen; but he made no complaint of General Butler's refusal to receive it. For the moment it was General Butler's business, as Acting High Commissioner, and not Lord Milner's. From a wider point of view, General Butler's action was injurious. It was one of the many instances in which their English sympathisers have led the Boers to destruction. But there was no friction, or argument, or unfriendliness between him and the High Commissioner on this account. This arose at a much later period; and arose, not on the general question of policy, but on the question of the necessity of military precautions in view of the imminence of war.
[Sidenote: Reinforcements requested.]
The friction between the High Commissioner and the General-in-Command in South Africa was the most disastrous manifestation of a disregard of the necessity for timely military preparations on the part of the Imperial Government, which, when war broke out, jeopardised the success of the British arms. For quite distinct reasons both General Butler and the Imperial Government were opposed to any preparations for war. The Salisbury Cabinet were reluctant to take any step that might seem to indicate that they considered that the door to a peaceful solution of the dispute was closed. In thus subordinating the needs of the military situation to those of the political, they acted in direct opposition to the maxim si pacem vis, bellum para. They carried this policy to such a point that they disregarded the advice of Lord Wolseley, the Commander-in-Chief, and that of the Intelligence Department, with the result that when the war did break out the available British forces in South Africa were found to be in a position of grave disadvantage. The motive of General Butler's opposition was entirely different. His view was that what made the situation dangerous was not President Krueger's obduracy, but what he called the "persistent effort" to "produce war" made by the British inhabitants who desired Imperial intervention in the Transvaal. And he, therefore, held that any reinforcements sent by the Home Government would "add largely to the ferment which he (General Butler) was endeavouring to reduce by every means." The position in June and July, from a military point of view, was as extraordinary as it was harassing to Lord Milner. In England the civil authority, the Cabinet, was refusing to make the preparations which its military adviser declared to be necessary. In South Africa the civil authority, the High Commissioner, was provided with a military adviser who cabled to the Home Government political reasons for not sending the reinforcements which the High Commissioner then urgently required. In these circumstances it is obvious that nothing but the supreme efforts of Lord Milner could have saved England from an overwhelming military defeat, or from a moral catastrophe even more injurious to the interests of the empire.
[Footnote 75: See p. 319 (note 2).]
[Footnote 76: Cd. 1,791.]
When Lord Milner saw, before the Bloemfontein Conference, that the situation was becoming dangerous—and still more after the Conference—he desired that preparations for war should be made by the Imperial Government as a precautionary measure. Between December 1st, 1896, and December, 1898, the South African garrison had been raised from 5,409 to 9,593 men. It remained at a little under 10,000 up to the end of August, 1899. Lord Milner had repeatedly impressed upon the Home Government, from the middle of 1897 onwards, that 10,000 men was the minimum force consistent with safety. In view of the increased tension after Bloemfontein and of the enormous armament of the South African Republic, he felt that this minimum had become inadequate, and that it was desirable, and would strengthen the chance of a peaceful submission of the Boers, to steadily but unostentatiously increase the garrison. And what he desired especially was that the general on the spot should do, locally and quietly, all that could be done to advance these preparations. The measures which he urged were that plans should be prepared for the defence of Kimberley and other towns on the colonial borders, and that all supplies and material of war necessary to put these plans into effect should be accumulated, and, as far as possible, distributed.
[Footnote 77: War Commission, Cd. 1,791.]
[Sidenote: General Butler's objections.]
General Butler, as we have seen, was opposed to all preparations for war; and it is not surprising, therefore, that everybody who offered assistance, or advice on the military situation, was coldly received by him. Mr. (now Sir) Aubrey Wools-Sampson, who, after the failure of the Bloemfontein Conference, threw up lucrative civil employment in Rhodesia in order to come to the Cape and place himself, as a volunteer, at the service of the military authorities in the event of war, was so completely discouraged that he went to Natal to form the nucleus of the splendid fighting force afterwards known as the Imperial Light Horse. When Colonel Nicholson, then head of the British South Africa Police in Rhodesia, suggested that, in the same event, an attack on the Transvaal, launched from the north, might prove valuable as a means of diverting a portion of the Burgher forces from employment against the Cape Colony and Natal, General Butler is said to have looked upon his proposal as another Jameson Raid. And when, after the Bloemfontein Conference had been held, the Home Government, in response to Lord Milner's repeated appeals, proposed to send out the very inadequate reinforcements which formed its first effort to strengthen the British military position in South Africa, General Butler immediately represented to the War Office that these additional troops were unnecessary, and protested against their being despatched.
[Footnote 78: This was precisely the role played by Mafeking, only defensively, not offensively.]
General Butler's action at this crisis is so remarkable, and so unprecedented, that the circumstances must be related with some precision. In 1896, and again in 1897, General Goodenough had submitted to the War Office schemes for the defence of the British colonies, in which both the enormous extent of the frontiers to be protected and the great numerical superiority of the burgher forces to the then existing British garrison were fully exhibited. A memorandum of the Department of Military Intelligence, dated September 21st, 1898, urged "that defence schemes should be drawn up locally for the Cape and Natal"; that "the arrangements which would be made for the despatch of reinforcements from England, and for the provision of supplies and transport, be worked out fully in the War Office; and that the General Officer Commanding, South Africa, be informed what action under these arrangements would be required of him on the outbreak of war." On December 21st, 1898, General Butler, upon succeeding to the South African command, was requested to furnish, at an early date, a fresh scheme of defence embodying his own proposals for the distribution of the 9,500 British troops then in South Africa in the event of war. At the same time the latest information as to the military strength of the two Republics—showing, among other things, a total of 40,000 burghers—was forwarded to him, and his attention was directed to the fact that the troops under his command must be considered as a purely defensive force, whose role would be to repel invasion pending the arrival of reinforcements from England. In the absence of any reply to this communication General Butler was again requested, on June 6th, 1899 (i.e. after the failure of the Bloemfontein Conference), to report on the defence of the British colonies. He then sent his scheme of defence, cabling the substance in cipher, on June 9th, and sending the text by despatch on June 14th. On June 21st he received a War Office telegram informing him that it had been decided to "increase the efficiency of the existing force" in South Africa. And to this communication was added the question: "Do you desire to make any observations?"
[Footnote 79: Cd. 1,789 (War Commission).]
[Footnote 80: These were the figures of the D. M. I. "Military Notes" of June, 1898; in the revised "Military Notes" of June, 1899, the estimated total of the Boer force was considerably greater—some 50,000 exclusive of colonial rebels.]
[Sidenote: "Ringing the War Office bell".]
The sequel can be given in General Butler's words: "I looked on the one side," he said, in giving evidence before the War Commission, "and I saw what seemed to me a very serious political agitation going on with a Party that I had not alluded to yet, whom I had always looked upon as a Third Party; they were pressing on all they knew. The Government did not seem to be aware of that, and this telegram brought matters to such a point that I thought it gave me the opportunity to speak. So I took these words 'any observations,' and answered in a way which I thought would at least ring the War Office bell."
The telegram with which General Butler "rang the War Office bell" was this:
"You ask for my observations: present condition of opinion here is highly excited, and doubtless the news quoting preparations referred to in your telegram, if it transpires, will add largely to the ferment which I am endeavouring to reduce by every means. Persistent effort of a party to produce war forms, in my estimation, gravest elements in situation here. Believe war between white races, coming as sequel to Jameson Raid, and subsequent events of last three years, would be greatest calamity that ever occurred in South Africa."
This telegram elicited the following reply from the Home Government:
"You cannot understand too clearly that, whatever your private opinions, it is your duty to be guided in all questions of policy by the High Commissioner, who is fully aware of our views, and whom you will, of course, loyally support."
In the course of his evidence before the War Commission General Butler gave some further explanation of the motives which had prompted his reply to the telegram of June 21st. In response to the question, "It was never in your contemplation that Mr. Krueger would declare war?" he replied:
[Sidenote: General Butler's view.]
"My view was this, that as long as I held the neck of the bottle, so to speak, there would be no war ... but to my mind the minute there was the least indication of the Imperial Government coming in, in front of, or behind, that party [i.e. "the party of the Raid, the South African League"], there would be a serious state of things. Until then there was, to my mind, no probability—no possibility—of an invasion. That was the state of my mind at the time ... [and] I wished to point it out before final decisions were arrived at."
And in a note which he desired to be appended to his evidence before the War Commission, General Butler wrote with reference to his failure to endorse Lord Milner's request for immediate reinforcements, that in his opinion "such a demand at such a time would be to force the hands of the Government, play into the hands of the 'Third Party,' and render [himself] liable to the accusation in the future that [he] had by this premature action produced or hastened hostilities."
[Footnote 81: All of these extracts will be found in Cd. 1,791.]
Here was an impasse from which obviously there was but one method of extrication. Either the High Commissioner or his military adviser must be recalled. That the Imperial Government did not recall General Butler then and there cannot be attributed to any ignorance on their part of Lord Milner's extreme anxiety for adequate military preparations. It arose, no doubt, from the circumstance that General Butler was known to be favourably inclined to the Boer cause, and that, therefore, his removal at this juncture would have been represented by the friends of the Boers in England, and by the official leader of the Opposition, as evidence of Mr. Chamberlain's alleged determination to force a war upon the Transvaal. General Butler was allowed, in these circumstances, to remain at the Cape until the latter part of August, when fresh employment was found for him, and Lieutenant-General Forestier-Walker was appointed to the Cape command. How General Butler was able to reconcile the opinions which he had expressed to the War Office with the discharge of his duties as military adviser to Lord Milner during these two critical months is a matter which need not be discussed. The decision to retain him in the South African command would seem, on the face of it, to have been a grave administrative error. It is enough for us to record the undoubted facts that Lord Milner was supremely dissatisfied with the action of General Butler as his military adviser, and that whereas the High Commissioner had requested the Home Government to provide him with a new military adviser in June, General Butler did in fact remain at the Cape until the latter part of August.
General Butler is reputed to be both an able man and a good soldier. It is interesting, therefore, to know what was his view, and to compare it with that of Lord Milner. In these opinions, which dominated General Butler during the period in question (May to August, 1899), there was only one point in which he and Lord Milner found themselves at one. This was the danger of the war; that is to say, the seriousness of the military task which would await Great Britain in the event of war with the Dutch in South Africa.
[Sidenote: What Lord Milner thought.]
As a great deal has been written on the subject of the military unpreparedness of England, and it has, moreover, been frequently stated in this connection that Sir William Butler was the only man to form a just estimate of the military strength of the burgher forces, it is very desirable to place on record what was really in Lord Milner's mind at this time. He agreed with General Butler in his estimate of the formidable character of the Boers; but he differed from him in everything else. To Lord Milner's mind the situation presented itself primarily from a political, and not from a military point of view. He believed that England was bound to struggle at least for political equality between the British and Dutch throughout South Africa. He felt that, after our bad record in the past, it would be absolutely fatal to begin to struggle for this equality unless we were prepared to carry our efforts to a successful issue. He thought that such a claim as this for the enfranchisement of the Uitlanders was one that admitted of only two alternatives—it must never be made, or, being made, it must never be abandoned. The whole weakness of our position in South Africa was a moral weakness. The contempt which the Dutch had learnt for England was writ large over the whole social and political fabric of South Africa. Englishmen could not look the Dutch in the face as equals. If, after all our previous humiliations and failures; after Majuba, and after the Raid, we were going to commence a struggle for equality—nothing more, and then not to get it, the shame would be too grave for any great Power to support, or for those who sympathised with us in South Africa to endure. We had raised the British party in South Africa from the dust by the stand which we had made against Dutch tyranny in the Transvaal. If we were going to retreat from that position, the discredit of our action would compel England to resign her claim to be paramount Power, and with the resignation of that claim England's rights in South Africa would inevitably shrink to the narrow limits of a naval base at Simon's Town, and a sub-tropical plantation in Natal. What was fundamental was not the possibility of war, but the impossibility of retreat.
[Sidenote: Retreat impossible.]
Lord Milner still thought it possible, though not probable, that, if the British Government took a perfectly strong and unwavering line, the Dutch would yield, not indeed everything, but something substantial. He also foresaw that it was possible, perhaps probable, that they would not yield, and that in this case a state of tension would be created which must end in war. His position was, therefore, definite and consistent from the first. As we are pursuing a policy from which we cannot retreat—a policy that may lead to war—it is wholly unjustifiable, he said, to remain unprepared, unarmed, without a plan, as if war were quite out of the question. And so far from thinking that the preparations which he urged upon the Imperial Government, and more especially upon General Butler, would make war more likely, he believed that they would make it less likely. But even if they did lead the Dutch to fight, it was not war but "retreat" that must be avoided at all costs.
PLAYING FOR TIME
On June 8th, 1899, Mr. Chamberlain declared in the House of Commons, that with the failure of the Bloemfontein Conference, a "new situation" had arisen. If the Imperial Government had translated this remark into action, the South African War would have been less disastrous, less protracted, and less costly. But the same order of considerations which prevented the Salisbury Cabinet from recalling General Butler in June, caused it to withhold its sanction from the preparations advised by the Commander-in-Chief, Lord Wolseley. From the political point of view it was held to be desirable that the British Government should have an absolutely good case as before the world—a case which would not only ensure the whole-hearted support of the great bulk of the nation, and the active sympathy of the over-sea British communities; but one that would be so strong in justice as to overcome, or at least mitigate, the natural repugnance with which international opinion regards a great and powerful state that imposes its will upon a small and weak people by force of arms. Above all, it had become a cardinal principle in Mr. Chamberlain's South African policy to refrain to the last moment from any step which would necessarily close the door to a peaceful solution of the differences which had arisen between the South African Republic and the Imperial Government.
[Sidenote: Policy of Home Government.]
Influenced by these considerations, the Government refused to give effect to the measures demanded by the military situation, as it existed after the failure of the Bloemfontein Conference, except in so far as these demands could be satisfied without prejudice to the dominating political objects which it had in view. As to the nature of these measures there could be no reasonable doubt. It was necessary to raise the British forces in the Cape Colony and Natal to a point sufficient for defensive purposes, and to prepare an additional force—an army corps—for any offensive movement against one or both of the Republics. And as 6,000 miles of sea separated the seat of war from the chief base of the army, the United Kingdom, it was obvious that the defensive force should be despatched at once, and the offensive force prepared no less speedily, in order that it might be held in readiness to embark at the earliest moment that its services were required.
To Lord Milner's reiterated warnings of the last two years, there was now added the definite advice of Lord Wolseley and the Department of Military Intelligence. In a memorandum dated June 8th, 1899, and addressed to the Secretary of State for War, the Commander-in-Chief advised the mobilisation in England of a force consisting of one complete army corps, one cavalry division, one battalion mounted infantry, and four infantry battalions for lines of communication; the collection of transport in South Africa; and the immediate initiation of all subsidiary arrangements necessary for conveying these additional troops and their equipment to the seat of war. This advice was disregarded; but in place of the immediate mobilisation of the Army Corps the Cabinet decided to increase the efficiency of the existing force in South Africa, and General Butler was informed of this decision, as we have seen, on June 21st. On July 7th, Lord Wolseley recommended, in addition to the mobilisation of the offensive force—which he still deemed necessary—that "the South African garrisons should be strengthened by the despatch of 10,000 men at a very early date." Instead of adopting these measures, the Government confined itself to doing just the few necessary things, both for defence and offence, that could be done without creating any belief in its warlike intentions, and without involving any appreciable expenditure of the public funds. Undoubtedly this latter consideration—the desire to avoid any expenditure that might afterwards prove to have been unnecessary—added weight to the purely political argument against immediate military preparation.
[Footnote 82: Cd. 1,789.]
[Footnote 83: Cd. 1,789.]
[Sidenote: Preparations delayed.]
The course actually taken by the Salisbury Cabinet was this. Instead of the immediate mobilisation of the offensive force, Lord Wolseley was instructed to prepare a scheme for the "constitution, organisation, and mobilisation" of such a force; and to do this in consultation with Sir Redvers Buller, the General Officer commanding at Aldershot, who had been selected to lead the British forces in South Africa in the event of war. Instead of the immediate despatch of additional troops sufficient to render the South African garrisons capable of repelling invasion—which was what Lord Milner had especially desired—the actual deficiencies of the existing Cape garrison were made good by the despatch in July of small additions of artillery and engineers, and by directing General Butler to provide the fresh transport without which even this diminutive force was unable to mobilise. At the same time certain special service officers, including engineers and officers of the Army Service Corps, were sent out to organise the materials, locally existing, for the defence of the eastern frontier of the Cape Colony and the southern districts of Rhodesia; and generally to make preliminary preparations for the provisioning, transport, and distribution of any British forces that might be despatched subsequently to the Cape Colony.
[Footnote 84: Three battalions, 6 guns, and a company of Royal Engineers were all the troops available for the defence of the Cape frontiers at this time (i.e. June).]
[Footnote 85: Most of these came by mail boats on July 18th and 25th. Col. Baden-Powell (who was entrusted with the important duty of organising a force for the defence of Southern Rhodesia, and subsequently of raising the mounted infantry corps which held Mafeking) arrived on the latter date.]
These were the utterly inadequate reinforcements sent in response to Lord Milner's urgent appeal, and in disregard of General Butler's protest that they were wholly undesirable—an opinion which was endorsed in England by Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman, when, on June 17th, 1899, he declared that there was nothing in the South African situation to justify even preparations for war.
During the interval between the Bloemfontein Conference and General Butler's recall in the latter part of August Lord Milner's position was one of unparalleled difficulty. The Cape and Natal garrisons were maintained in a state of perilous weakness by the policy of the Home Government. The measures to be undertaken locally for the defence of the colonies, which the Cabinet had sanctioned, were wholly insufficient in Lord Milner's opinion. And the general execution of these wholly insufficient local measures was left in the hands of a General Officer who had told the Secretary of State that he absolutely disapproved of them on political grounds, since the mere announcement of their being made would "add largely to the ferment," which he "was [then] endeavouring to reduce by every means." The Cape Ministry, with whom rested the disposal of the colonial forces, was a ministry placed in office by the Bond for the especial purpose of opposing British intervention in the Transvaal. In these circumstances it needed all Lord Milner's mastery of South African conditions, and all his tact and address, to make the relations between himself and his Afrikander Cabinet tolerable; and, above all, in view of the refusal of the Imperial Government to sanction the military preparations advised by the Commander-in-Chief, it required ceaseless vigilance on his part to prevent the acceptance of an illusory settlement which would have sounded the death-knell of British supremacy in South Africa.
[Sidenote: President Krueger's proposals.]
On the last day of the Conference President Krueger had put in a memorandum in which he expressed his intention of introducing his franchise scheme to the Volksraad, and his hope that the High Commissioner would be able to recommend this, and a further proposal for the settlement of disputes by arbitration, to the favourable consideration of the Imperial Government. Lord Milner had replied that any such proposals would be considered on their merits; but that the President must not expect them to be connected in any way with the proceedings of the Conference, out of which, as he then declared, no obligation had arisen on either side.
The Raad met on Friday, June 9th; and on Monday, the 12th—the day on which Lord Milner received the Ebden address—President Krueger laid the draft Franchise law, containing his revised Bloemfontein scheme, before it. On Tuesday, 13th, Mr. Chamberlain's despatch of May 10th, on the position of the Uitlanders and the petition to the Queen, was delivered to the Transvaal Government by the British Agent; and on Wednesday, June 14th, as we have already noticed, the Blue-book containing this despatch, Lord Milner's despatch of May 4th, and the whole story of the franchise controversy up to the Bloemfontein Conference, was published in England. As the conditions under which Lord Milner's despatch had been telegraphed to England were now changed, it would have been better if it had remained unpublished, and the stage of fighting diplomacy, reached through the failure of the Bloemfontein Conference, had been at once opened—and opened in another way. What Lord Milner had learnt at Bloemfontein was not merely that President Krueger was unwilling to yield, but that he was psychologically incapable of yielding. He had learnt, that is to say, not that Krueger was determined to refuse the particular reform which the Imperial Government demanded, but that his whole system of thought was irreconcilably opposed to that of any English statesman. It is the knowledge which can be obtained only by personal dealings with the Boers, and no one who has had such personal dealings can fail to remember the sense of hopelessness that such an experience brings with it. The Boer may be faithful to his own canons of morality; but his whole manner of life and thought is one that makes his notion of the obligations of truth and justice very different from that of the ordinary educated European. He is not devoid of the conception of duty, but he applies this conception in methods adapted to the narrow and illiberal conditions of his isolated and self-centred life.
[Footnote 86: Expressing approval of the position Lord Milner had taken up at Bloemfontein. See p. 173.]
As for the mediation of the Cape Afrikanders, Lord Milner estimated it at its real value. The Cape nationalists believed that war would result in disaster to their cause; the Republican nationalists did not. They both hated the British in an equal degree. But the Afrikander leaders at the Cape knew that they had the game in their own hands. "For goodness' sake," they said, "keep quiet until we have got rid of this creature, Milner; and the Salisbury Cabinet—the 'present team so unjustly disposed to us'—is replaced by a Liberal Government."
[Sidenote: Lord Milner's task.]
That was the meaning of their mediation—nothing more. Lord Milner acquiesced in the negotiations after Bloemfontein, but what he wanted was a polite but absolutely inflexible insistence upon the Bloemfontein minimum, and at the same time such military preparations as, in view of the clear possibility of a failure of negotiations, seemed to him absolutely vital. This, however, was not the course which the Salisbury Cabinet thought right to adopt; and the problem that now lay before him was to convert the illusory concessions, which were all that Afrikander mediation was able or even desirous to wring from President Krueger, into the genuine reform that the British Government had twice pledged itself to secure.
But Lord Milner had also grasped the fact that the one issue which could drive a wedge into Dutch solidarity was the franchise question. He had determined, therefore, that nothing that transpired at the Bloemfontein Conference should permit President Krueger to change the ground of dispute from this central issue. During the negotiations between the Home Government and the Pretoria Executive that followed the Conference, and especially during the period of Mr. Hofmeyr's active intervention, his most necessary and pressing task was to prevent the Salisbury Cabinet from being "jockeyed" by Boer diplomacy out of the advantageous position which he had then taken up on its behalf. The pressure of the Hofmeyr mediation increased the difficulty of this task by driving President Krueger into a series of franchise proposals of the utmost complexity. The danger was that Mr. Chamberlain and his colleagues in the Cabinet, in their earnest desire to avoid war, might recognise some illusory measures of reform as satisfactory, and then, after further consideration, finding them to be worthless, be driven by their previous admission to make war, after all, not on the single issue of "equality all round," but on an issue that might be plausibly represented to South Africa and the world as the independence of the Boers.
[Sidenote: The Draft Franchise Law.]
The period is crowded with demonstrations, despatches, mediations, petitions, and incidents of all kinds. A tithe of these—disentangled from the Blue-books, but vitalised by a knowledge of the master facts that lie behind the official pen—will serve, however, to present the play of the mingling, conflicting, and then frankly opposing forces. The "formidable personalities" are all in motion. At first it seemed as though the whole weight of the Schreiner Cabinet, acting in conjunction with General Butler's political objection to military preparation on the part of the Imperial Government, was to be thrown into the scale against Lord Milner's efforts. On June 12th President Krueger laid the draft of his new Franchise Law before the Raad, which then (the 15th) adjourned, in order that the feeling of the burghers might be ascertained. On the 17th a great assemblage of Boers met at Paardekraal, and, among the warlike speeches then delivered was that of Judge Kock, a member of the Transvaal Executive, who "dwelt upon the doctrine of 'what he called Afrikanderdom,' and said that he 'regarded the Afrikanders, from the Cape to the Zambesi as one great family. If the Republics are lost,' he continued, 'the Afrikanders would lose. The independence of the country was to them a question of life and death. The Free State would stand by the Transvaal, even to the death. Not only the Free State, but also the Cape Colony.'" Nor was this boast without some foundation. A week before (June 10th), Mr. Schreiner had requested Lord Milner to inform Mr. Chamberlain that, in ministers' opinion, President Krueger's franchise proposal was "practical, reasonable, and a considerable step in the right direction." Four days later (June 14th) he further informed the Governor that, in ministers' opinion, there was nothing in the existing situation to justify "the active interference of the Imperial Government in what were the internal affairs of the Transvaal." And this expression of opinion the Prime Minister also desired Lord Milner, as the only constitutional medium of communication between the Cape Ministry and the Secretary of State, to convey to Mr. Chamberlain. On the day (June 10th) on which the first of these interviews between Lord Milner and Mr. Schreiner took place, a meeting of five thousand persons—in Sir William Greene's words, "the largest and most enthusiastic ever held at Johannesburg"—passed three resolutions which sufficiently exhibit the extent to which the views of the Cape Ministry differed from those of the Transvaal British. After affirming the principle of equal political rights for all white inhabitants of South Africa, and declaring that President Krueger's Bloemfontein proposals were "wholly inadequate," this great meeting proceeded to place on record its "deep sense of obligation" to Lord Milner for his endeavour to secure the redress of the Uitlander grievances, and its willingness, in order to "support his Excellency in his efforts to obtain a peaceful settlement," to endorse "his very moderate proposals on the franchise question as the irreducible minimum that could be accepted."
[Footnote 87: C. 9,415.]
[Footnote 88: C. 9,415.]
[Footnote 89: Ibid.]
[Sidenote: Action of Schreiner ministry.]
In other words, the Schreiner Cabinet, immediately after the failure of the Conference, used its influence unreservedly to assist the Pretoria Executive in refusing the franchise reform put forward by the High Commissioner—a reform which, in the opinion of the community most concerned and most capable of judging of its effect, constituted an "irreducible minimum" only to be accepted in deference to Lord Milner's judgment, and in the hope of avoiding war. Mr. Schreiner's action on this occasion was characteristic of the blind partizanship of the Cape Ministry. On June 10th, when the Prime Minister pressed his and his colleagues' favourable view of President Krueger's proposals upon Lord Milner and Mr. Chamberlain, the draft Franchise Law, with its intricate provisions, had not been laid before the Volksraad. Mr. Schreiner, therefore, had made haste to bless before he knew what he was blessing. And a few weeks later, as we shall notice, he let his zeal for the Boer oligarchy outrun his discretion in an even more amazing manner.
In these difficult circumstances Lord Milner displayed the highest address in his relations with the Schreiner Cabinet. Thanks to his mingled tact and firmness, aided by the outspoken support which he received from Mr. Chamberlain, his intercourse with his ministers remained outwardly friendly, while at the same time he had the satisfaction of seeing that during the next few weeks the considerations of policy, which he laid before them with absolute frankness, appreciably modified their original attitude. He had at once availed himself of the one point on which he and they were in agreement. With reference to the first interview with Mr. Schreiner (June 10th), he telegraphed to the Colonial Secretary:
"In reply I told him [Mr. Schreiner] I was prepared to communicate this expression of his opinion, although I strongly held an opposite view, as he was aware.
"He admitted, in subsequent conversation, that the President of the South African Republic's scheme could, in his opinion, be improved in detail; for instance, by immediately admitting men who had entered the country previous to 1890, and by making optional the period of naturalisation....
"In reply, I told him that these were points of first-rate importance and not of detail, especially the latter; and that, since after all he seemed to agree with me more than with the President of the South African Republic, he had better address his advice to the latter, and not to Her Majesty's Government."
And at the long and rather unpleasant interview of June 14th, although, as we have seen, Mr. Schreiner desired Lord Milner to inform Mr. Chamberlain that the Cape Ministry considered the "active interference" of the British Government unjustified, yet he also said "that he and his colleagues were agreed that there were two respects in which the Government of the South African Republic might better their franchise scheme: (1) By admitting to the full franchise at once persons who had entered the country before 1890; and (2) By making it optional to obtain the full franchise without previous naturalisation after seven years' residence."
[Footnote 90: C. 9,415.]
Mr. Chamberlain's reply (June 16th), contained a more direct admonition. Lord Milner was instructed to inform the Cape Ministers that the Government trusted that they would "use all the influence they could to induce the Transvaal Government to take such action as would relieve Her Majesty's Government from the necessity of considering the question of being obliged to have recourse to interference of such a nature."
[Footnote 91: Ibid.]
[Sidenote: Mr. Chamberlain's speech.]
This was admirable backing, and precisely what Lord Milner required to aid him in his two-fold task of bringing both the Cape Ministry and the Pretoria Executive to a more reasonable frame of mind. But Mr. Chamberlain's next step was one of questionable utility.
In his speech at Birmingham (June 26th), after reviewing the relations of Great Britain with the Transvaal Boers during the last twenty years, Mr. Chamberlain declared that the Imperial Government, although deeply anxious not to use force, must somehow see that things were put right in South Africa.
"We have tried waiting, patience, and trusting to promises which are never kept," he said; "we can wait no more. It is our duty, not only to the Uitlanders, but to the English throughout South Africa, to the native races, and to our own prestige in that part of the world, and in the world at large, to insist that the Transvaal falls into line with the other states in South Africa, and no longer menaces the peace and prosperity of the whole."
This was the kind of speech which would have been suitable and effective, if the South African garrison had been 20,000 instead of 10,000 strong, and the expeditionary force had been mobilised on Salisbury Plain. It was unsuitable and ineffective under the existing circumstances; when, that is to say, the British Government, by refusing to sanction the measures advised by the Commander-in-Chief, had elected to put themselves at a military disadvantage for the sake of prolonging the stage of friendly discussion and in the hope of gaining their point by diplomatic means. In these circumstances such speeches were merely food for President Krueger to use in feeding the enthusiasm of his burghers. What Lord Milner desired of the Home Government was, as we have seen, a polite but inflexible demand for the Bloemfontein minimum, coupled with unostentatious, but effective, military preparations. The Home Government, as the sequel will show, were driven by the unpatriotic attitude of the Liberal Opposition into a precisely opposite course in both these respects. Their demand was vague in substance, and irritating in manner; while their inadequate defensive preparations were more than neutralised by the loudness with which, in deference to the views of the Liberal Opposition, they proclaimed their reluctance to undertake military measures on a scale that would really have made an impression on the Boers.
[Footnote 92: E.g. Mr. Balfour's statement in the House of Commons that the object of the despatch of the special service officers, and the small additions of engineers and artillery was "to complete the existing garrison." The purchase of transport, he said, had been long ago decided upon.]
[Sidenote: The Fischer-Hofmeyr mission.]
One result which Mr. Chamberlain's speech produced was to bring Mr. Hofmeyr once more upon the scene. Before this date (June 26th) Mr. Fischer, apparently considering that the failure of the Bloemfontein Conference cast a reflection upon the statesmanship and influence of the Free State Government, had commenced a second essay in mediation. Early in June he had paid a visit to Capetown, where he was in close communication with Mr. Hofmeyr and the Cape Ministers, and had twice called upon the High Commissioner. He had left Capetown on the 19th for Bloemfontein; and then proceeded to Pretoria, which he reached on the 25th. At the Transvaal capital he entered into negotiations with the Executive, calling upon the British Agent on the 26th, and again on the 28th, and maintaining communication, through him, with Lord Milner. From Pretoria Mr. Fischer returned to Bloemfontein in company with Mr. Smuts and Mr. Groebler, on July 1st. Here he met Mr. Hofmeyr, who, leaving Capetown with Mr. Herholdt, on the same day (July 1st), reached Bloemfontein early on the following morning.
[Footnote 93: Under State-Secretary of the Transvaal.]
Mr. Hofmeyr was in Bloemfontein, because the events of the last few days had convinced him that the only hope of saving the situation—saving it, that is, from the Afrikander nationalist point of view—lay in prompt and energetic action on his part. On June 23rd Mr. Schreiner had been informed by the High Commissioner of the intention of the Home Government to "complete" the Cape garrison; and shortly afterwards the despatch of the special service officers was publicly announced in England. Mr. Chamberlain's speech at Birmingham on the 26th, cabled almost in extenso to the High Commissioner, was communicated to the local press on the 28th. On the same evening a mass meeting, held in the Good Hope Hall at Capetown, declared its strong approval of the action of the Imperial Government on behalf of the British population in the Transvaal. With these signs of an approaching Armageddon before his eyes, Mr. Hofmeyr had overcome his objection to personal dealings with President Krueger, and had resolved to go to Pretoria to confer with the leaders of the Boer oligarchy. But, in order to protect himself from the risk of a useless rebuff, he had first arranged to meet Mr. Fischer at Bloemfontein, and obtain through him and President Steyn some definite assurance that his counsels would be treated with respect, before finally proceeding to the Transvaal.
On Sunday, July 2nd, and in these circumstances, a conference was held between the Master of the Bond and Mr. Fischer and Mr. Smuts—two men not unworthy to represent the cause of Afrikander nationalism in their respective republics. As the result of their discussions, carried on almost uninterruptedly from the early morning until nearly midnight, Mr. Fischer, Mr. Smuts, and Mr. Groebler, in the words of Ons Land, "knew precisely what had to be done, in the opinion of the Colonial representatives, to gain the moral support of Colonial Afrikanders and to lead in the direction of peace."
[Footnote 94: Article on "The Mission of Messrs. Hofmeyr and Herholdt" in Ons Land, of July 11th, 1899, as reproduced in the South African News of the same date. This account of Mr. Hofmeyr's proceedings is presumed to have been published with his approval. C. 9,518.]
[Sidenote: Hofmeyr at Bloemfontein.]
On the following day (Monday, the 3rd) Mr. Fischer and his companions arrived again in Pretoria; but Mr. Hofmeyr remained at Bloemfontein, since he had decided not to go to the Transvaal capital, unless "he was assured of achieving something of importance there." Up to the afternoon of Tuesday (the 4th) no such assurance had been received; and, says Ons Land, "as it seemed the assurance was almost in a contrary direction, preparations were already made for the homeward journey." But a little later on in the day Mr. Hofmeyr and his companion "received a hint that, although their chances of success at Pretoria were but slight, they were not altogether hopeless." The facts thus far provided by Ons Land must now be supplemented by a reference to the telegrams which fell into the hands of the British authorities a year later upon the occupation of Bloemfontein. From these documents we know that President Krueger at first telegraphed to President Steyn a polite refusal of Mr. Hofmeyr's mediation. This was followed, on Tuesday morning, by a telegram from Mr. Fischer himself, informing President Steyn that the Transvaal Government "would be glad to meet Mr. Hofmeyr and Mr. Herholdt, but that he could not say what chance there was of their mission succeeding until the Volksraad had been consulted." This, as we have seen, was by no means sufficient for Mr. Hofmeyr. But later on there came a second telegram—the telegram which Ons Land delicately calls a "hint"—in which Mr. Fischer said that President Krueger "was willing to see Mr. Hofmeyr before he brought the matter before the Raad," and that he himself "hoped to obtain certain concessions from the Executive Council, with the members of which he was in consultation."
Thus encouraged, Mr. Hofmeyr and Mr. Herholdt at once left Bloemfontein by special train, and, travelling all night, reached Pretoria on Wednesday, the 5th, at seven o'clock.
"From the station," says Ons Land, "they were escorted by various officials and friends to the Transvaal Hotel, where rooms had been engaged for them as guests of the State. Even before they had taken breakfast they had an audience with President Krueger. On the invitation of His Honour they accompanied Mr. Fischer to three meetings of the Executive Council—two on Wednesday and one on Thursday. They had the opportunity, too, of meeting the greater part of the Volksraad members, and of conversing with them. What occurred on this occasion is, of course, private, and not for publication."
Mr. Hofmeyr and Mr. Herholdt left Pretoria on Friday, the 7th, and reached Capetown on Monday, the 10th.
[Sidenote: Lord Milner and the mission.]
[Sidenote: Bid for "moral support".]
Lord Milner did everything possible to secure the success of the Fischer-Hofmeyr mission. Provided President Krueger was induced to give the Uitlanders an appreciable share in the government of the Transvaal, it made no difference to the Imperial Government whether he did so from a desire to secure the "moral support" of the Cape Afrikander party, or from any other motive of political expediency. What was essential was that the existing franchise scheme should be so far improved as to become a genuine, and no longer a fictitious, measure of reform. On the understanding that the "mission" had no less an object in view—an understanding which he gained from conversation with Mr. Fischer himself as well as from Mr. Schreiner and Mr. Hofmeyr—Lord Milner placed the British Government code at the disposal of Mr. Fischer and the Prime Minister, and further arranged with the former to communicate with him (Lord Milner) through the British Agent at Pretoria. But Lord Milner especially impressed, alike upon Mr. Fischer, Mr. Hofmeyr, and Mr. Schreiner, the necessity of urging President Krueger to discuss any proposed modifications in the Draft Law with the Imperial Government or its representatives, before they were submitted to the Raad. The objection to the adoption of this course, which, according to Mr. Fischer's statement, the Pretoria Executive did in fact make, was their inability to "recognise the right of the British Government to be consulted on the franchise, which was an internal matter." This objection, however, as Lord Milner pointed out to the members of the Pretoria Executive, both directly through Sir William Greene, and indirectly through Mr. Hofmeyr and Mr. Fischer, was a mere pretext. "The whole world," he said in effect, "knows that whatever alterations you make in the Draft Law—and indeed the Law itself—will be the result of the pressure brought to bear upon you by the British Government. That being so, to refuse to discuss these alterations with us privately, and in a friendly manner, because the franchise is an 'internal matter,' is to strain at a gnat while you are all the while swallowing a camel." But neither at this time, nor at any other period in the three months' negotiations, did President Krueger desire to come to an agreement with the British Government at the price of granting a genuine measure of reform. As a bid for the "moral support" of the Cape Ministry, but without the slightest attempt to consult with the British Government or its representatives, he recommended to the Volksraad, on July 7th, certain amendments, the effect of which was to confer the franchise upon a very small body of Uitlanders, and that only if they succeeded in complying with certain cumbersome and protracted formalities. On the following morning the Bond Press announced, with a great flourish of trumpets, that Mr. Hofmeyr's mission had been remarkably successful, and set out the amendments of "The Great Reform Act" as representing the fruit of his and Mr. Fischer's efforts. This was for the public. To Mr. Fischer, Hofmeyr himself telegraphed on his return journey to Capetown, that he "deplored the failure" of his mission, when he "thought he had reason to expect success." Mr. Schreiner, on the other hand, was no less ready to bless the "Hofmeyr compromise" than Krueger's original scheme. Upon receiving by telegram the bare heads of the proposed amendments, and without waiting to learn what practical effect they would have upon the position of the Uitlanders, he hastily authorised The South African News to announce (July 8th) that the Cape Government considered the proposals of the amended law "adequate, satisfactory, and such as should secure a peaceful settlement." This opinion he subsequently modified; and, at Lord Milner's request, he advised Mr. Fischer (July 11th) to urge his friends at Pretoria to delay the passage of the bill through the Volksraad. And Lord Milner was authorised by Mr. Chamberlain to instruct Sir William Greene to offer the same advice to the Transvaal Government, with the more precise intimation that "full particulars of the new scheme" ought to be furnished officially to the Imperial Government, if the proposals which it embodied were to form "any element in the settlement of the differences between the two Governments." The High Commissioner's object was, of course, to reduce the area of formal negotiations, and therefore the risk of official friction, to its narrowest limits. But this was not President Krueger's object. His principle was the very opposite of that of the Imperial Government. They abstained from preparations for war in order to improve the prospect of a peaceable settlement. The force upon which he relied was the warlike temper of his burghers, and the answering enthusiasm which the spectacle of the Republic, prepared to defy the British Empire, would arouse among the whole Dutch population of South Africa. Mr. Reitz was, therefore, instructed to decline Mr. Chamberlain's request on the ground that "the whole matter was out of the hands of the Government"; meaning, thereby, that it had already been submitted to the Volksraad. This, again, was the thinnest of excuses, since President Krueger had never yet shown any scruple in modifying or withdrawing proposals already laid before the Volksraad, when it suited him to do so.
[Footnote 95: C. 9,415.]
[Footnote 96: Then Mr. Conyngham Greene.]
[Footnote 97: C. 9,415.]
[Footnote 98: C. 9,415.]
[Footnote 99: Ibid.]
[Footnote 100: C. 9,415.]
[Sidenote: The Bogus Conspiracy.]
[Sidenote: War fever in the Transvaal.]
It may be questioned, however, whether, even at this time, the "whole matter" had not passed, in another and more serious sense, "out of the hands" both of the Pretoria Executive and the British Government. The political atmosphere of South Africa had become electric. The Uitlanders themselves cherished no illusion on the subject of President Krueger's proposals. Amended and re-amended, the Franchise Law, as the Uitlander Council then and there declared, left the granting of the franchise at the discretion of the Boer officials or the Pretoria Executive, and as such it was "a most dangerous measure, and apparently framed with the object of defeating the end it was presumed to have in view." Further and convincing evidence of the utterly vicious and depraved character of the personnel of the Boer administration was afforded by the proceedings arising out of the alleged "conspiracy" against the Republic, of which the unfortunate Englishman Nicholls was the innocent victim (May 18th to July 25th). In this disgraceful affair the gravest offences against international comity were committed; high officials, including Mr. Tjaart Krueger, the President's youngest son, were implicated in a gross and scandalous prostitution of the machinery of justice; and yet no apology was offered to the Imperial Government, nor any compensation awarded to Nicholls for the two months' imprisonment and continuous persecution by the agents-provocateurs, to which he had been subjected. The impassioned speeches delivered at the Paardekraal meeting was only one among many signs of the dangerous hostility to England and everything English that had taken possession of the Republic. The British residents who had petitioned the Queen were denounced as "revolutionaries," and threatened with the vengeance of the burghers. "If war breaks out," wrote De Rand Post," the Johannesburg agitators are the real instigators, and to these ringleaders capital punishment should be meted out." In the Volksraad discussion of the Franchise Law the same passionate hatred of the Uitlanders was manifested. "Is it the English only who have the right to make conditions?" asked Mr. Lombard on July 15th. "If it comes to be a question of war, there will be a great destruction. And who will be destroyed if it comes to a collision? Why, the subjects of Her Majesty in Johannesburg."
[Footnote 101: C. 9,415.]
[Footnote 102: On May 15th, 1899—i.e. a fortnight before the Bloemfontein Conference met—five persons alleged to be British subjects were arrested on a warrant, signed by Mr. Smuts as State-Attorney, on a charge of high treason. All of them, except one man—Nicholls, who was innocent—were agents of the secret service. The statement that the men were ex-British officers, and that one of them alleged that he was acting under direct instructions from the War Office, was disseminated through the Press by the Transvaal Government, with the object of discrediting (1) the South African League, and (2) the British Government, in the eyes of the civilised world. The whole of the alleged "conspiracy against the independence of the Republic," thanks to the endurance of Nicholls and the persistence of the Imperial authorities in South Africa, was shown to be the work of the Transvaal police, favoured by the negligence or political bad faith of certain Government officials. The prosecution was abandoned on July 25th. Mr. Duxbury, the counsel for the defence retained by the British Government, in reviewing the case and the proceedings, wrote (August 9th): "It seems abundantly clear, from all the facts which have come to light, that the whole of this disgraceful prosecution found its inception in the minds of Mr. Schutte, the Commissioner of Police, and Acting Chief Detective Beatty.... I must direct your attention to the very grave accusation contained in Thomas Dashwood Bundy's affidavit against Mr. Tjaart Krueger. This gentleman is the son of President Krueger, and is the Chief of the Secret Service department of this State." And of Mr. Smuts he writes: "I believe he was deceived by the detectives, and yet at the same time I fail to understand why, in a matter of such-magnitude, he allowed himself to sign warrants for the arrest of persons charged with such a serious crime as high treason on the strength of an affidavit signed by a detective, who, on the very day such affidavit was signed, had been denounced by the Chief Justice from the Bench of the High Court as a perjurer." C. 9,521 (which contains a full record of the whole affair).]
[Footnote 103: The words are quoted by Mr. M. P. C. Walter, the editor, in a letter of protest published in the Transvaal Leader of July 7th, 1899. C. 9,521.]
[Footnote 104: Ibid.]
These expressions scarcely do justice to the spirit of vindictiveness with which certain of the republican leaders regarded the British population of the Rand. On May 22nd, 1900, less than a year after the date of the Volksraad discussion of the Franchise Bill, and when Lord Roberts was advancing rapidly upon Johannesburg, a conversation took place with Mr. Smuts in Pretoria, which was reported in The Times. In the course of this conversation the State Attorney said, with reference to the proposed destruction of the mines, that "he greatly regretted that Johannesburg should suffer, but that the Government had no choice in the matter, as the popular pressure upon them was too great to be resisted." This determination is rightly characterised by Mr. Farrelly, the late legal adviser to the Government of the South African Republic, as the "fiendish project of wrecking the mines and plunging into hopeless misery for years tens of thousands of innocent men, women, and children." But that is not all. He has put upon record the sinister fact that the man entrusted with the execution of this infamous design was Mr. Smuts himself. The mines were saved, therefore, not by the Boer Government, but in spite of it, and solely through the independent action of Dr. Krause, the Acting-Commandant of Johannesburg, who "arrested the leader of the wreckers, sent by Mr. Smuts, the day before the surrender to Lord Roberts."
[Footnote 105: The Settlement after the War, p. 218.]
[Footnote 106: Ibid.]
[Sidenote: Action of the British.]
The British population, although it provided no such displays of racial passion, was in an equally determined mood. Undismayed by the threats of the Boers, the Uitlander Council continued calmly to analyse the Franchise Bill in each successive phase—an unostentatious but very useful service, which materially assisted Lord Milner in following the windings and doublings of Boer diplomacy. After the great meeting at Johannesburg (June 10th), the British centres in the Cape Colony, Natal, and Rhodesia gave similar demonstrations of their confidence in Lord Milner's statesmanship, and their conviction of the justice and necessity of the five years' franchise demanded by the Imperial Government. On the other hand, the irritation against British intervention was growing daily in the Free State; and the Dutch Reformed Church and the Bond had organised a counter-demonstration in the Cape Colony. The Synod of the former, meeting on June 30th, drew up an address protesting that the differences between Lord Milner's franchise proposals and those of President Krueger were not sufficient to justify the "horrors of war," and requested the Governor to forward it to the Queen. At Capetown (July 12th) and in the Dutch districts throughout the Colony, Bond meetings were held at which resolutions were passed in favour of a "compromise" as between Lord Milner's five years' franchise and the scheme embodied in President Krueger's law. More sinister was the circumstance that the information, that a consignment of 500 rifles and 1,000,000 cartridges, landed at Port Elizabeth on July 8th, had been permitted by the Cape Government to be forwarded through the Colony to the Free State, only came to the ears of the High Commissioner by an accident. In the meantime, more definite evidence of the almost unanimous approval of Lord Milner's policy by the British population in South Africa was forthcoming. In all three British colonies petitions to the Queen praying for justice to the Uitlanders, and affirming absolute confidence in Lord Milner, were signed. The Natal petition contained the names of three-fourths of the adult male population of the Colony, while the signatures to the joint petition of the Cape and Rhodesia had already reached a total of 40,500 before the end of July. In other respects the testimony of Natal was clear and unmistakable. In this predominantly English Colony identical resolutions supporting the action and policy of the Imperial Government, were carried unanimously in both Chambers of the Legislature.
[Sidenote: Hofmeyr's warning.]
In the middle of July the situation improved in a slight degree through the influence which Lord Milner had exercised upon the Afrikander leaders in the Cape Colony. On the 14th the Cape Parliament met, and on this day Mr. Hofmeyr, chagrined at a suggestion for further support which he had received from the republican nationalists at Pretoria, despatched a telegram to Mr. Smuts, in which he, as the recognised head of the Afrikander Bond, reminded the members of President Krueger's Executive that the promised co-operation of the Cape Government with them had been definitely limited to "moral support." And he plainly hinted that, unless greater deference was shown to his advice, even this "moral support" might be withdrawn.
"The most important suggestions sent from here will apparently not be adopted. The independence of the Republics is in danger. As to the Colony, the utmost prospect held out was moral support. The Ministry and the Bond have acted up to that. If Parliament [i.e. the Cape Parliament] goes too strongly in the same direction, there may be a change of Ministry, with Sprigg or Rhodes backed by Milner. Would your interests be benefited thereby? Verb. sat. sap."
[Footnote 107: Secured by the Intelligence Department. The telegrams thus referred to, in this and the following chapter, have not been published in the Blue-Books. They were published, however, in The Times History of the War. Their authenticity is undoubted. Sir Gordon Sprigg had held a conversation with the Governor on the 13th.]
As President Krueger wanted to retain the "moral support" of the Cape Government for a few weeks longer, he listened to Mr. Fischer's advice to humour their prejudices, and forthwith recommended a further modification of the Franchise Bill to the Volksraad. This final amendment, under which a uniform seven years' retrospective franchise was substituted for a nine years' retrospective franchise, alternate with a seven years' retrospective franchise taking effect five years after the passing of the law (i.e. in 1904), was accepted on July 18th, and the new Franchise Law was passed on the 19th and promulgated on the 26th. Its provisions were so obscure that it was accompanied by an explanatory memorandum furnished by the State Attorney, Mr. Smuts. But even assuming that the legal pitfalls could be removed, and the law, thus simplified, would be worked in the most liberal spirit by the officials of the Republic, President Krueger's proposals failed to provide the essential reform which Lord Milner had pledged himself and the Imperial Government to obtain. That reform was the immediate endowment of a substantial proportion of the British residents in the Transvaal with the rights of citizenship. To use his own words, "the whole point" of his Bloemfontein proposal was "to put the Uitlanders in a position to fight their own battles, and so to avoid the necessity of pressing for the redress of specific grievances."
[Footnote 108: Mr. Fischer was still at Pretoria. C. 9, 415.]
[Footnote 109: C. 9,415.]
No one in South Africa had any doubt as to the entire inadequacy of the Franchise Bill to fulfil this essential object. In the opinion of the Uitlander Council it was "expressly designed to exclude rather than admit the newcomer." Sir Henry de Villiers complained to Mr. Fischer:
[Footnote 110: Ibid.]
[Footnote 111: On July 31st, Cd. 369.]
"Then there is the Franchise Bill, which is so obscure that the State Attorney had to issue an explanatory memorandum to remove the obscurities. But surely a law should be clear enough to speak for itself, and no Government or court of law will be bound by the State Attorney's explanations. I do not know what those explanations are, but the very fact that they are required condemns the Bill. That Bill certainly does not seem quite to carry out the promises made to you, Mr. Hofmeyr, and Mr. Herholdt."
[Sidenote: An illusory measure.]
And Lord Milner, in his final analysis of the law on July 26th, concludes that "the Bill as it stands leaves it practically in the hands of the Government to enfranchise, or not to enfranchise, the Uitlanders as it chooses." And he then draws attention to the very grave consideration that if the paramount Power once accepts this illusory measure, it will deprive itself of any future right of intervention on the franchise question.
[Footnote 112: C. 9,518.]
"And the worst of it," he wrote, "is that should the Bill, through a literal interpretation of its complicated provisions, fail to secure the object at which it avowedly aims, no one will be able to protest against the result."
For one moment it seemed to the anxious warden of British interests in South Africa as though the Home Government might be caught in President Krueger's legislative net. The incident is one that well exhibits the tireless effort and unflinching resolution with which Lord Milner discharged the duties of his office.
President Krueger's Bloemfontein scheme was a maze of legal pitfalls. What these pitfalls were the reader may learn from the analysis of the scheme which was published in The Cape Times of June 10th, 1899. When the Franchise Bill was before the Volksraad this complicated scheme, as we have seen, was amended and re-amended; and each new provision was as intricate in its working as the parent scheme. It is obvious that nothing short of a commission of inquiry could have determined with certainty the manner in which the representation of the Uitlanders was affected by each successive amendment. While these changes were in progress in the Raadzaal at Pretoria—changes so "numerous and so rapid," as Lord Milner said, that it was "absolutely impossible at any given moment to know what the effect of the scheme, as existing at that moment, was likely to be"—Lord Milner himself at Capetown was at one and the same time overwhelmed with detailed criticisms from Uitlanders, anxious that no legal pitfall or administrative obstacle should remain undetected, and besieged with cables from the Colonial Office requesting precise information upon any point upon which an energetic member of the House of Commons might have chosen to interrogate the Secretary of State. And, in addition to this rain of telegrams, people on the spot were constantly calling at Government House to ask if the High Commissioner had observed this or that defect or trap in clauses, the text of which he had not yet had time to receive, still less to read or comprehend. All this, too, was over and above the heavy administrative and official duties of the Governor and High Commissioner—duties which Lord Milner was called upon to perform with more than usual care, in view of the political ascendancy of the Dutch party in the Cape Colony.
[Footnote 113: August 23rd, C. 9,521.]
[Sidenote: Mr. Chamberlain's assumption.]
On July 13th, Lord Milner sent warning telegrams to Mr. Chamberlain, pointing out specific defects in the Franchise Bill, and showing how seriously President Krueger's proposals fell short of the Bloemfontein minimum. Five days later the Volksraad accepted the final amendments. The face value of the Bill, as it now stood to be converted into law, was a seven years' franchise, prospective and retrospective. When, therefore, Mr. Chamberlain heard this same day (July 18th) that the Volksraad had accepted the bill in this form with only five dissentients, he seems to have assumed that a really considerable concession had been made by President Krueger at the last moment, and that, with the President and the Volksraad in this mood, still further concessions would be forthcoming. Under this impression he informed the House of Commons lobby correspondent of The Times that "the crisis might be regarded as at an end." His words were reproduced in The Times on the day following (July 19th), and at once cabled to South Africa.
[Footnote 114: C. 9,415.]
It is impossible for any one who has not lived in South Africa to realise the sickening distrust and dread produced in the minds of the loyal subjects of the Crown by this statement. War they were ready to face. But to go back to every-day life once again bowed down with the shame of a moral Majuba, to meet the eyes of the Dutch once more aflame with the light of victory, to hear their words of insolent contempt—was ignominy unspeakable and unendurable. The Uitlander Council at once cabled an emphatic message of protest to Mr. Chamberlain, and every loyalist that had a friend in England telegraphed to beg him to use all his influence to prevent the surrender of the Government. How near the British population in South Africa were to this ignominy may be gathered from the fact that on this day Lord Milner received a telegram in which Mr. Chamberlain congratulated him upon the successful issue of his efforts. Lord Milner's reply was one that could have left no doubt in Mr. Chamberlain's mind as to the gravity of the misconception under which he laboured. It was, of course, beyond the High Commissioner's power to prevent the Home Government from accepting the Franchise Bill; but he could at least remove the impression that he was anxious to participate in an act, which would have made the breach between the loyalists of South Africa and the mother country final and irrevocable.
[Footnote 115: "The Uitlander Council is keenly disappointed at the Times' announcement that the seven years' franchise is acceptable to the Imperial Government. We fear few will accept the franchise on this condition, so the result is not likely to abate unrest and discontent, nor redress pressing grievances. Such a settlement would not even approximate to the conditions obtaining in the Orange Free State and the [British] colonies, and would fail to secure the recognition of the principle of racial equality. We earnestly implore you not to depart from the High Commissioner's five years' compromise, which the Uitlanders accepted with great reluctance. The absolute necessity for a satisfactory settlement with an Imperial guarantee is emphasised by the insincerity and bad faith persistently shown during the Volksraad discussion of the Franchise Law."—C. 9,415.]
[Sidenote: The relapse in England.]
It is scarcely possible to believe that Mr. Chamberlain, with Lord Milner's telegrams before him, was himself prepared to accept President Krueger's illusory franchise scheme. The source of the weakness of the Government in the conduct of the negotiations, no less than in its refusal to make adequate preparations for war, is to be found in the inability of the mass of the people of England to understand how completely British power in South Africa had been undermined by the Afrikander nationalists during the last twenty years. How could the average elector know that the refusal or acceptance of the Volksraad Bill, differing only from the Bloemfontein minimum in an insignificant—as it seemed—particular of two years, would, in fact, make known to all European South Africa whether President Krueger or the British Government was master of the sub-continent? In view of this profound ignorance of South African conditions, and the consequent uncertainty of any assured support, even from the members of their own party, the Salisbury Cabinet may well have argued: "Here is something at last that we can represent as a genuine concession. Let us take it, and have done with this troublesome South African question; or leave it to the next Liberal Government to settle."
If the Cabinet did so reason to themselves, what English statesman could have "cast the first stone" at them? But how profound is the interval between the spirit of the policy of "the man on the spot," with his eyes upon the object, and the spirit of the policy of the island statesman with one eye upon the hustings and the other strained to catch an intermittent glimpse of an unfamiliar and distant Africa!
[Sidenote: Lord Milner's anxiety.]
This 19th of July was a dark day for the High Commissioner. In the morning came Mr. Chamberlain's telegram with its ominous suggestion of a change for the worse in the attitude of the Home Government. And this change in the Cabinet was, as Lord Milner knew, only the natural reflection of a wider change, which had manifested itself among the supporters of the Government and in the country at large since the publication, on June 14th, of his despatch of May 4th. Private letters had made him aware that to men to whom Dutch ascendancy at the Cape and Boer tyranny in the Transvaal, Afrikander nationalism and Boer armaments, were meaningless expressions, his resolute advocacy of the Uitlanders' cause and his frank presentation of the weakness of Great Britain had seemed the work of a disordered imagination or a violent partisanship. Nor was his knowledge of the relapse in England limited to the warnings or protests of his private friends. The South African News, the ministerial organ, which of late had filled its columns with adverse criticisms taken from the London Press, this morning contained a bitter article on him reprinted from Punch, which had arrived by the yesterday's mail. After all, it seemed, the long struggle against mis-government in the Transvaal was going to end in failure; and the British people would once more be befooled. With such thoughts in his mind, Lord Milner must have found the work of making up the weekly despatches for the Colonial Office—for it was a Wednesday—a wearisome and depressing task. The mail was detained until long past the customary hour. But before it left, in spite of discouragement and anxiety, Lord Milner had gathered together into a brief compass all the documents necessary to put Mr. Chamberlain in possession of every material fact relative to the new law—passed only on the day before—and to the proceedings of the Transvaal Executive and the Volksraad between the 12th and the 19th. And, in addition to this, he had written a fresh estimate of the Franchise Bill in its latest form, in which he emphasised his former verdict that the proposals which it contained were not such as the Uitlanders would be likely to accept. And in particular he pointed out that the fact of the final amendment being thus readily adopted by the Volksraad disposed of the contention, upon which President Krueger had laid so much stress at Bloemfontein, that his "burghers" would not permit him to make the concessions which the British Government required. He wrote:
[Footnote 116: The English outward mail-boat arrived on Tuesday, and the homeward boat left on Wednesday.]
"On July 12th Her Majesty's Government requested the Government of the South African Republic to give them time to consider the measure and communicate their views before it was proceeded with. To this the Government of the South African Republic replied, on July 13th, with a polite negative, saying that 'the whole matter was out of the hands of the Government, and it was no longer possible for the Government to satisfy the demands of the Secretary of State.' The State-Attorney informed Mr. Greene at the same time that 'the present proposals represented absolutely the greatest concession that could be got from the Volksraad, and could not be enlarged. He personally had tried hard for seven years' retrospective franchise, but the Raad would not hear of it, and it was only with difficulty that the present proposals were obtained.' This was on the 12th, but within a week the seven years' retrospective franchise had been adopted. Indeed, the statement of the absolute impossibility of obtaining more than a particular measure of enfranchisement from the Volksraad or the burghers has been made over and over again in the history of this question—never more emphatically than by the President himself at Bloemfontein—and has over and over again been shown to be a delusion."
[Footnote 117: Sir W. Greene became a K.C.B. after the war had broken out.]
[Footnote 118: C. 9,518.]
[Sidenote: Mr. Chamberlain's statement.]
But this full record of the shifts and doublings of Boer diplomacy would not reach London for another two weeks and a half. It was necessary, therefore, to use the cable. Early the next morning Lord Milner sent a telegram to the Secretary of State, in which he warned the Home Government of the extreme discouragement produced among all who were attached to the British connection by The Times statement of their readiness to accept the Franchise Bill. On that afternoon (July 20th), Mr. Chamberlain made a statement in the House of Commons in which he took up a much more satisfactory position. The Government, he said, were led to hope that the new law "might prove to be a basis of settlement on the lines laid down" by Lord Milner at the Bloemfontein Conference. They observed, however, that "a number of conditions" which might be used "to take away with one hand what had been given with the other" were still retained. But they—
"felt assured that the President, having accepted the principle for which they had contended, would be prepared to reconsider any detail of his schemes which could be shown to be a possible hindrance to the full accomplishment of the objects in view, and that he would not allow them to be nullified or reduced in value by any subsequent alterations of the law or acts of administration."
That is to say, Mr. Chamberlain was no longer willing to take the bill at its face value, but in accordance with his determination to exhaust every possible resource of diplomacy before he turned to force, he gave President Krueger credit for a genuine desire to promote a peaceable settlement. A week later he formulated the method by which the President was to be allowed an opportunity of justifying this generous estimate of his intentions. In the meantime Lord Milner had sent lengthy telegrams to the Secretary of State on the 23rd, and again on the 26th, and the Salisbury Cabinet had determined to make a definite pronouncement of its South African policy, and to endeavour to arouse the country to a sense of the seriousness of the situation with which President Krueger's continued obduracy would bring it face to face. On July 27th Mr. Balfour declared, in addressing the Union of Conservative Associations, that—
"If endless patience, endless desire to prevent matters coming to extremities, if all the resources of diplomacy, were utterly ineffectual to untie the knot, other means must inevitably be found by which that knot must be loosened."
On the day following (July 28th) the Transvaal question was debated in both Houses of Parliament. In the House of Lords the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, delivered a moderate and almost sympathetic speech. After making all allowance for the natural apprehension experienced by President Krueger at the sudden inrush of population caused by the discovery of the Witwatersrand gold-fields, he expressed the opinion that an attempt "to put the two races fairly and honestly on the same footing" would bring a peaceful solution of the crisis. But, he added—
"How long we are to consider that solution, and what patience we are bound to show, these things I will not discuss. We have to consider not only the feelings of the inhabitants of the Transvaal, but, what is more important, the feelings of our fellow-subjects.... Whatever happens, when the validity of the Conventions is impeached, they belong from that time entirely to history. I am quite sure that if this country has to make exertions in order to secure the most elementary justice for British subjects,—I am quite sure [it] will not reinstate a state of things that will bring back the old difficulties in all their formidable character at the next turn of the wheel. Without intruding on his thoughts, I do not think President Krueger has sufficiently considered this."
[Sidenote: The Joint Commission.]
In the House of Commons Mr. Chamberlain announced that he had proposed to the Transvaal Government that a joint commission should be appointed to test the efficacy of the scheme of electoral reform embodied in the new Franchise Law. This proposal was set out in detail in a despatch already addressed to the High Commissioner, the substance of which had been telegraphed to him on the preceding day (July 27th). The British Government assumed that "the concessions now made to the Uitlanders were intended in good faith to secure to them some approach to the equality which was promised in 1881"; they proposed that the "complicated details and questions of a technical nature" involved in the new law should be discussed in the first instance by delegates appointed by the High Commissioner and by the South African Republic; and if, and when, a "satisfactory agreement" had been reached on these points, they further proposed that all disputes as to the terms of the Convention should be settled by a "judicial authority, whose independence ... would be above suspicion," and all remaining matters in respect of the political representation of the Uitlanders by "another personal Conference" between the High Commissioner and President Krueger.
[Footnote 119: C. 9,518.]
Although the position which the Salisbury Cabinet had now taken up was one which placed them beyond the danger of accepting an illusory franchise scheme in lieu of an adequate measure of reform, it was not the course of action which was best to follow, except from the point of view of opening the eyes of the British public. In itself further delay was dangerous. It gave the Boers more time to arm, while we, for this very reason for which it was necessary to protract the negotiations, were prevented from arming vigorously. It discouraged our friends in South Africa, and made them even begin to doubt whether Great Britain "meant business." It was good policy to offer the Joint Inquiry, given the truth of the assumption upon which this offer was based—namely, that the Bill represented an honest desire on the part of President Krueger to provide a peaceable settlement of the Uitlander question. Lord Milner knew, within the limits of human intelligence, that this assumption was wholly unwarranted. The Home Government apparently did not. As the result of this difference, Lord Milner's policy was again deflected to the extent that two months of negotiation were devoted to a purely futile endeavour to persuade the Pretoria Executive to prove the good faith of a proposal, which was never intended to be anything more than a pretext for delay. And, as before, the injury to British interests lay in the fact that, while the Home Government was prevented from making any adequate use of this delay by its determination not to make preparations for war until war was in sight, the period was fully utilised by President Krueger, who since Bloemfontein had been resolutely hastening the arrangements necessary for attacking the British colonies at a given moment with the entire burgher forces of the two Republics.