Capitalists had already begun to feel nervous about the final security of their investments; operations and credit became restricted, fresh projects were abandoned and a persistent withdrawal of capital set in. Trade and prosperity were progressively waning, accompanied with still more ominous portents for the Uitlanders' future. It all meant a very extensive weeding out of investments under enormous losses, except such as stood in relation with dividend-paying mines. England, though apparently apathetic and inactive, was not inattentive to the situation. Whoever had a stake, whether in South Africa or abroad, looked to Great Britain as the Power upon whom the duty devolved to provide a peaceable remedy. The suzerainty controversy was then followed by other questions of diplomatic difference, among which that of the franchise reform. Upon this matter English intervention took an insistent form. It clearly turned all upon that—and once it were satisfactorily arranged, the amicable solution of other questions might in turn be expected to follow. As to suzerainty, that claim appeared relegated to remain in abeyance. A conference was convened at Bloemfontein early in June, 1899, for the discussion of those topics between the Colonial Governor, Sir Alfred Milner, and the Presidents of the two Republics. The outcome was a final demand for the right of representation of the Uitlander interests in the legislative bodies of the Transvaal, amounting to one-fifth of the total aggregate of members, the voting qualifications to consist in the usual reasonable conditions and a residence in the State of five years, operating retrospectively.
We may here consider whether such a demand contained any real feature of unfairness to warrant refusal.
Three-fifths of the entire white Transvaal population were Uitlanders, the majority of them English. They own four-fifths of the total wealth invested in the State. About half of them have been domiciled, with house and other fixed property, for periods of from five to ten years and more.
The preponderance is not only in numbers and wealth, but also in intelligence and in contributing at least four-fifths of the total State revenues.
Is it right or prudent to exclude such interests and such a majority from legislative representation?
Could a minority of one-fifth, that is to say, twelve Uitlander members against forty-eight Boer members, be said to constitute a menace to the status or to the conservative interests of State?
Do Uitlanders not deserve equal recognition with the burghers in respect to intrinsic interest in the land, seeing that the former supplied all the skill and the capital to explore and exploit the mine wealth, all at their risk, and without which it would all have remained hidden and the country continued fallow and poor?
Though one-fifth would be so small a minority, it would at least have afforded the constitutional method of declaring the wishes of Uitlanders, and have done away with the disquieting and less effective practices of Press agitations, public demonstrations, and petitions. The measure could also have been expected to open up the way towards reconciling relations between the English and Boer races, beginning in the Transvaal, where it was hoped that the burghers would be gained over as friends, and so to stand aloof from the Afrikaner Bond. These were the supreme objects for peaceful progress and not for annexation. Solemn assurances from highest quarters were repeatedly given that no designs existed against the integrity of the Republic, that nothing unfriendly lurked behind the franchise demand, but that necessity dictated it for general good and the preservation of peace. Nor were other diplomatic means left unemployed to ensure the acceptance of the franchise reform. In addition to firmness of attitude and a display of actual force, most of the other Powers, including the United States of America, were induced to add their weight of persuasion in urging upon the Transvaal the adoption of the measures demanded by England for correcting the existing trouble. It may be urged that the display of force in sending the first batches of troops would have afforded grounds for exasperation, and be construed by the Transvaal as a menace and actual hostility, tending to precipitate a conflict which it was so earnestly intended to avoid. To this may be replied that the 20,000 men sent in August were readily viewed as placing the hitherto undermanned Colonial garrisons upon an appropriate peace effective only; but not so with respect to the army corps of 50,000 men despatched in September—this was felt as an intended restraint against "Bond" projects, to enforce the observance of any agreement which the Transvaal might for the nonce assent to, and above all it was tending, unless at once opposed by the Bond, to weaken its ranks by producing hesitation and ultimate defection from that body; the die was thus to be cast, duplicity appeared to be played out—the ultimatum of 9th October was the outcome; and England, though unprepared, could not possibly accept it otherwise than as a wilful challenge to war.
As the pursuit of our study will show, the success of Mr. Chamberlain's diplomacy to avert war depended upon the very slender prospects that the Transvaal Government might have been induced to waver, and finally to break with the Afrikaner Bond—a forlorn hope indeed, considering the perfection which that formidable organization had reached. Its cherished objects were not meant to be abandoned. The advice of "Bond" leaders prevailed. War was declared and the Rubicon crossed in enthusiastic expectations of soon realizing the long-deferred Bond motto: "The expulsion of the hateful English."
It is true the Transvaal had made a show of acquiescence to British and foreign pressure. This first took the shape of an offer of a seven years' franchise, and then one of five years, exceeding even Mr. Milner's demands as to the number of Uitlander representation. That of seven years was so fenced in with nugatory trammels and conditions that it had for those reasons to be rejected; whilst that at five years was coupled with the equally unacceptable conditions that the claim of suzerainty should be renounced, and that in all other respects the Transvaal should be recognised as absolutely independent in terms of the Sand River Convention of 1852.
Those offers could hardly have been made in sincerity, but rather as a temporary device and to meet the susceptibilities of the advising Powers, for all the time preparations for war were never relaxed for a moment, but were pushed on with extreme vigour. On the other hand, the British programme seeking to ensure peace by the franchise expedient had been strictly followed without deviation. When the Transvaal Government professed irritation over the disposition of some British troops too near the Transvaal border, they were promptly removed to more remote and less strategic positions, rather than incur the risk of rupture. During the month preceding the outbreak of the war, some large continental consignments of war munitions were, as usual, permitted to reach the Republics unhindered through several Colonial ports, portions being actually smuggled over the Colonial railways as merchandise addressed to a well-known Pretoria firm, but on arrival were secretly delivered, under cover of night, at the various forts and arsenals. These proceedings were carried out with the connivance of the Colonial Bond authorities, and though known to the British Governor, it was all winked at rather than hazard the momentous objects of peace by the introduction of another knotty subject. To sum up the situation, it was a diplomatic contest on the part of Great Britain aiming at peace and to safeguard her possessions and prestige, while the Afrikaner Bond, on the other part, continued active in the work of sedition and preparing for a war of usurpation. Every one must admit that the demand of the British Ministry for an immediate and adequate representation proceeded from the necessity and the desire to overcome the South African crisis in a just and pacific way. The measure was counted upon to effect conciliation between the Uitlander and burgher elements, and as a further result was earnestly hoped to bring about the secession of the Transvaal from the Afrikaner Bond, and so reduce that dangerous confederacy to a somewhat negligible impotence. To discover other objects of a sinister sort lurking behind needs a more than inventive genius. A united Afrikaner Bond, persistent to carry out its fell project, definitely meant war sooner or later. Its first step in launching out to it was that notorious ultimatum, which was tantamount to snatching back the feigned offers of the seven and five years' franchise. According to original programme, the very next step to accomplish the coup d'étatwas the immediate seizure of all Colonial ports, and to complete a general and irrevocable Boer rising all over the Colonies.
All the while the old device had been put into practice of hiding Bond guilt by accusing England of designs against the integrity of the Boer Republics. But directly after, in the exultation of victorious invasions, the mask was shamelessly dropped, and Boerdom stands out defiantly and nakedly self-confessed, aiming at conquest and supremacy over all South Africa. Will the ensuing century have in store an instance to match that record plot of artifice and dissimulation, and see half the world duped into partisanship with it—by journalistic craft?
It may well be imagined that Mr. Chamberlain and his noble colleagues had anything but beds of roses whilst pursuing the diplomacy adopted to checkmate the Bond. They had to gain national support without divulging their own proceeding, and were at the same time reduced to a situation which imposed a spartan fortitude in concealing and repressing involuntary perturbation in the presence of an impending national crisis, and also the stoical endurance of bitter recriminations on the part of an opposition comprising a large and honourable but poorly informed section of the English nation.