[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 Krüger. 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 Krüger, 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 Krüger 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 Krüger, 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 Krüger, should come first upon the list at the public banquet. He replied unhesitatingly that the courtesy due to President Krüger, 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 Krüger 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 Krüger." 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
[Sidenote: Transvaal affairs.]
Lord Milner's hope that President Krüger 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 Krüger, 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 Krüger 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 Krüger 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 Krüger for the
[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
If Lord Milner was prepared to make the most of Paul Krüger 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
[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
[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 Krüger; 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 Krüger 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. Krüger 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: Krüger re-elected president.]
This singular display of mingled effrontery and duplicity marked the closing months of the year (1897). In the February following Mr. Krüger 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--Krüger 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 Krüger, on his return to power, was to dismiss Chief Justice Kotzé. Mr. Kotzé'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 Krüger 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 Kotzé wrote to remind President Krüger 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. Kotzé 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 Krüger denied in the Volksraad,
after the dismissal of Mr. Kotzé, that he had ever given an
undertaking at all to Chief Justice de Villiers or to anybody
[Sidenote: His reactionary policy.]
This was the position in the Transvaal in February, 1898. President Krüger had demonstrated by his refusal to carry out the recommendations of the Industrial Commission, and by the dismissal of Chief Justice Kotzé, 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 Krüger'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 Krüger 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 Krüger 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
"Yet one cannot conceal the fact that the greatest danger to the
future lies in the attitude of President Krüger 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
"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 Kotzé, and the growing evidence of President Krüger'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 Krüger 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 Krüger 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:
[Footnote 41: Mr. Rhodes was opposed at Barkly West by a
candidate financed from Pretoria.]
"When one considers the state of affairs in the Cape Colony, it
must be confessed the future does not appear too rosy. The
majority of the Afrikander nation in the Cape Colony still go
bent under the English yoke. The free section of the two
Republics is very small compared to that portion subject to the
stranger, and, whatever may be our private opinion, one thing at
least is certain, namely, that without the assistance of the Cape
Colonial Afrikanders the Afrikander cause is lost. The two
Republics by themselves, surrounded as they are by the stranger
[i.e. British] are unable to continue the fight. One day the
question of who is to be master will have to be referred to the
arbitrament of the sword, and then the verdict will depend upon
the Cape Colonial Afrikanders. If they give evidence on our side
we shall win. It does not help a brass farthing to mince matters.
This is the real point at issue; and in this light every
Afrikander must learn to see it. And what assistance can we
expect from Afrikanders in the Cape Colony?... The vast majority
of them (Afrikanders) are still faithful, and will even gird on
the sword when God's time comes."
[Footnote 42: As translated in South Africa, October 15th,
At the same period the Dutch Reformed Church in the Colony had become what was, to all intents and purposes, a vehicle for the advocacy of rebellion. The manner in which the principles of Afrikander nationalism were combined with religious doctrine may be gathered from certain extracts from the Studenten Blad of the Theological Seminary of Burghersdorp, which were translated and published by The Albert Times. The passage following appeared on May 26th, 1899; and by November 16th the Seminary was closed, since the bulk of the students had at that date joined the Boer forces:
[Sidenote: Anti-british sentiment.]
"Must we love this people [the English] who robbed our ancestors
of their freedom, who forced them to leave a land dear to them as
their heart's blood--a people that followed our fathers to the
new fatherland which they had bought with their blood and
snatched from the barbarians, and again threatened their freedom?
Our fathers fought with the courage of despair, and retook the
land with God's aid and with their blood. But England is not
satisfied. Again is our freedom threatened by the same people,
and not only our freedom, but our language, our nationality, our
religion! Must we surrender everything, and disown our fathers? I
cannot agree with this. The thought is hateful to me--the thought
of trampling on the bodies of our fathers as we extend the hand
of friendship to those who have slain our fathers in an
unrighteous quarrel.... But some may say that the Bible teaches
us to love our enemies. I think, however, that the text cannot be
here applied. Race hatred is something quite distinct from
personal enmity. When I meet an Englishman as a private
individual I must regard him as my fellow-creature; if, however,
I meet him as an Englishman, then I, as an Afrikander, must
regard him as the enemy of my nation and my religion--as a wolf
that is endeavouring to creep into the fold. This is the chief
reason why we must regard them as our enemies; they are the
enemies of our religion."
At the beginning of September, when the bulk of the elections were over, 40 Afrikander members and 36 Progressives had been returned. Three seats remained to be filled. Mr. Rhodes, who had been returned both for Barkly West and Namaqualand, decided to sit for the former constituency, and the decision of the Bond to contest the seat thus vacated caused a delay in the new election for Namaqualand. The return of the two representatives of the Vryburg division was not to take place until the 15th. As all three constituencies were expected to elect Progressives--an expectation which was fulfilled--the result of the general election was to give the Bond a bare majority of one, and this in spite of the fact that a considerably larger total of votes had been cast for the Progressive than for the Bond candidates.
[Footnote 43: In a house of 79, 40 Afrikander and 39
Progressive members were returned. A very careful and
reliable calculation showed that, of an aggregate of 82,304
votes polled, 44,403 were cast for Progressive, and 37,901
for Afrikander candidates. More than this, while no
Progressive member was returned by a majority of less than
137, three Afrikanders won their seats by respective
majorities, of two, ten, and twenty. The Progressives,
therefore, were entitled, on their aggregate vote, to a
majority of six.]
[Sidenote: Milner's impartiality.]
These somewhat unusual circumstances gave rise to an incident which is significant of the absolute impartiality with which Lord Milner discharged the duties of his office as constitutional Governor of the Cape Colony. In view of the circumstance that the Progressives had polled a majority of the electorate, although they were actually in a minority in the Assembly, Mr. Rhodes was of opinion that the Ministry should remain in office, and postpone the meeting of Parliament until the Namaqualand election had been held. He believed, further, that in the period of grace thus obtained it would be found possible to induce one or other of the Bond members to change sides, and thereby put the Ministry again in a majority. The immediate obstacle to the execution of this plan of action was the necessity of obtaining "supply." The partial appropriation made by Parliament before the dissolution was exhausted, and the only method by which funds could be provided without the authority of Parliament was the issue of Governor's warrants on the Treasury. Lord Milner was willing to sign warrants to enable the Ministry to carry on the administration during the unavoidable interval between the exhaustion of the last appropriation and the commencement of the new session. But, in view of the constitutional principle that no ministry which cannot obtain supply is justified in remaining in office, he absolutely refused to issue warrants for any longer period. He held, moreover, that as the Namaqualand election was a bye-election, the new Parliament would be completed, and therefore competent to transact business, so soon as the two members for Vryburg had been duly returned. Lord Milner was, no doubt, aware that the Sprigg Ministry would have had a fair prospect of retaining office if Mr. Rhodes had been allowed time to put his tactics into effect. On the other hand, he can scarcely have failed to observe that there was another aspect of the question. A loyalist ministry, by showing an undue desire to cling to office, with or without the employment of questionable political methods, would run the risk of alienating the more scrupulous of the British members, and of failing to obtain the support of the moderate Afrikander, who might otherwise have been won to the Progressive and Imperialist side. But, as Governor of the Colony, he refused to allow any considerations of party interest, on this or on any subsequent occasion, to influence his judgment. While he conceived it to be his duty to give advice and criticism to public men of all shades of political opinion, he showed himself inexorably opposed to the thought of straining his constitutional powers in the slightest degree for the benefit of one side or the other. Accordingly provision for the expenses of administration was made by Governor's warrants up to September 30th, and on the day following the Vryburg election (September 16th), a proclamation summoning Parliament for October 7th was issued.
[Footnote 44: Mr. Rhodes had obtained an interview with Lord
Milner for the purpose of laying his views before him. But,
it is said, the unwonted sternness of the Governor's
expression at once convinced him of the hopelessness of his
mission; and he withdrew without any attempt to argue his
case. As Rhodes was a man of great personal magnetism, the
incident is not without significance.]
[Sidenote: Schreiner, prime minister.]
On October 11th the Government was again defeated on a vote of "no confidence" by a majority of two. On the 17th the House assembled with an Afrikander Ministry formed by Mr. Schreiner. In addition to the Premier it contained Dr. Te Water and Mr. Herholdt, both members of the Bond; Messrs. Merriman and Sauer, who were now in close association with the Bond; and Mr. (now Sir) Richard Solomon. The latter, who had been defeated in the general election, was provided with a seat upon his accepting office as Attorney-General. The Progressives continued to be led in opposition by Sir Gordon Sprigg. Mr. (now Sir) James Rose Innes was returned as an "independent," since he had found himself unable to work in association with a party in which Mr. Rhodes had a dominant influence. The new Ministry was not strong enough to resist the continued demand of the Progressives for a measure of electoral reform; but the Redistribution Bill, as now passed, took the form of a compromise so disastrous to the British population that the Bond majority was increased to eight by the new elections held in April, 1899.
[Footnote 45: Both sides were one short of their full
strength, but a Progressive, Dr. (now Sir William) Berry, was
chosen Speaker of the House.]
[Footnote 46: The second reading of the Navy Contribution
Bill, giving effect to Sir Gordon Sprigg's pledge, was
carried on December 2nd, 1898, without a division.]
Mr. Chamberlain's policy, as we have seen, was based upon the belief that it was possible to win over the Dutch in the Cape Colony and the Free State to the side of the Imperial Government. But here, in October, 1898, was an Afrikander ministry in power in the Cape Colony pledged to prevent the intervention of the Imperial Government in the affairs of the Transvaal. From that moment the issue became more and more one not of right, but of might. In the Free State, as we have seen, what was virtually an offensive and defensive alliance with the northern Republic had been ratified by the Volksraad. In the Transvaal the work of armament was proceeding apace, and Dr. Leyds had been despatched to Europe, as Envoy Extraordinary of the Republic, with authority and funds calculated to enable him to enlist the active sympathy of the Continental powers on behalf of the Pretoria Executive. His place as State Secretary had been filled, in July, by Mr. Reitz, the former President of the Free State, and one of the actual founders of the Afrikander Bond; and Mr. Smuts, a younger and even more enthusiastic believer in the nationalist creed, was appointed to the office of State Attorney. With the exception of Rhodesia and Natal and the native territories immediately under the control of the Imperial Government, the Afrikander nationalists dominated the whole of South Africa. Nor is it surprising that, in these circumstances, the tone of the communications passing between the Transvaal Government and the paramount Power should have become increasingly unsatisfactory.
[Footnote 47: The State-Secretaryship was offered first to
Mr. Abraham Fischer, of the Free State, by whom it was
declined (Memoirs of Paul Krüger, vol. ii., p. 297). The
Cape Afrikanders desired the appointment of Mr. Smuts.]
[Footnote 48: On May 7th, 1897, President Krüger had formally
requested the Imperial Government to allow all questions at
issue between the two Governments under the Convention to be
submitted to the arbitration of the President of the Swiss
Republic. To this proposal Mr. Chamberlain replied, on
October 10th, that the relationship of Great Britain to the
South African Republic being that of a suzerain Power, it
would be impossible for the Imperial Government to permit the
intervention of a foreign Power. On April 16th, 1898, in a
despatch embodying the legal opinions of Mr. Farelly,
President Krüger claims that the South African Republic is an
independent State, and denies the existence of any
"suzerainty" on the part of Great Britain. In forwarding this
despatch Lord Milner made the apposite comment that the
propriety of employing the term suzerainty to express the
rights possessed by Great Britain is an "etymological
question," and Mr. Chamberlain, replying on December 15th,
accepts President Krüger's declaration that he is willing to
abide by the articles of the Convention, reasserts the claim
of suzerainty, declines to allow foreign arbitration, and
demands the immediate fulfilment of Article IV. In a despatch
of May 9th, 1899, Mr. Reitz asserts that the Republic is "a
sovereign international State"; and on June 13th Mr.
Chamberlain replies that he has no intention of continuing
[Sidenote: Milner's visit to England.]
In the (English) winter of 1898-9 Lord Milner paid a visit to England. Sir William Greene, who had left Pretoria on a holiday on June 29th, was also at home during the same period. Lord Milner's visit was due in part to the necessity for medical treatment; but, in any case, it had become desirable that he should be able to communicate fully to Mr. Chamberlain the grave views which he had formed on the South African situation. He left for England on November 2nd, landed on the 19th, sailed on January 28th, and reached Capetown again on February 14th. During the whole of the two months that he was in England he was engaged in an endeavour to impress upon Mr. Chamberlain, and everybody else with whom he could converse, that the existing state of affairs was one which, if allowed to remain unchanged, would end in the loss of South Africa.
[Footnote 49: Owing to a slight affection of the eye.]
During nineteen months of close observation and earnest, patient study, Lord Milner had grasped the situation in its completeness. What he saw was the demoralising effect of the spectacle of the Dutch ruling in the Cape Colony, and the British being tyrannised over in the Transvaal. Looking at South Africa as a whole, there was the fact, as indisputable as it was grotesque, that the British inhabitant was in a position of distinct inferiority to the Dutch; and this although the Cape and Natal were British colonies, while the Transvaal and the Free State were states subject to the authority of Great Britain as paramount Power. It was an impossible position. What Lord Milner urged upon the Imperial Government was the plain necessity of putting an end to an intolerable state of things which showed no capacity of righting itself; of pressing for justice to the British population of the Transvaal, with an absolute determination to obtain it. That such a policy might result in war, he knew; though neither he nor any one else realised, in the beginning of 1899, how near war actually was. The reliance of the Transvaal oligarchy on the Orange Free State, now bound to them by a formal alliance, and on the party of the Bond now in power at the Cape, might tempt them to resist even the most moderate demands. But Milner no doubt hoped that, if the British Government grasped the nettle firmly, and, while treating the Transvaal with all possible diplomatic courtesy, yet left no doubt whatever of its inflexible resolution, war might still be avoided. And in any case he felt that there was no option for the British Government but to take up the case of the Transvaal British, if a shred of respect for the power and name of Britain was to be preserved in South Africa. To embark on such a policy involved two dangers: the danger of war, and what in Milner's eyes was perhaps even greater, the danger that, by advancing just claims and then, letting ourselves be "bluffed" out of them, we might yet further lessen, and indeed totally destroy, what hold we still possessed upon the affection of the South African British or on the respect either of British or Dutch. In the light of past experience the second danger may well have seemed to him the greater of the two. But, with perils on both hands, he still felt that there was nothing for it but to go forward, to make one supreme effort to save a situation which was rapidly becoming a hopeless one. To have remained quiescent, with the forces which were gradually edging us out of the Sub-Continent growing on every side, could only have ended in the overthrow, or at best, the euthanasia of British dominion in South Africa.
[Sidenote: His verdict.]
It was in the course of this visit that Lord Milner realised the magnitude of the task that lay before him. To save England in spite of herself; to keep South Africa a part of the Empire in spite of ignorance at home, in the teeth of an armed Republic and an Afrikander ministry, required not merely an iron will and mastership in statecraft, but a reasoned and unfaltering belief in the justice of the British cause. "Certainly I engaged in that struggle with all my might," he said long afterwards in his farewell speech at Johannesburg, "because I was, from head to foot, one mass of glowing conviction of the rightness of our cause."