King Leopold II and the Congo Free State

655 Words 3 Pages
King Leopold II of Belgium (1835-1909) was the reigning king of Belgium from 1865 until his death in 1909. He managed the throne after the death of his father, Leopold I. He was born under the original name of Louis Philippe Marie Victor in Brussels. He joined the Belgium armed forces at a relatively early age and, in 1853, he took as his wife the Archduke of Austria’s daughter, Maria Henrietta. He became widely noted as a philanthropist, his work earning him worldwide fame. Upon his death, Leopold’s nephew, Albert I, succeeded him to the throne of Belgium.

The famous travels of Sir Henry Stanley in search of Dr. Livingstone through the unexplored regions of Africa caught the attention of Leopold. He hired
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He had his own piece of “that magnificent African cake.” The newly named Congo Free State was handed over to Leopold essentially as his personal country. With such authority, he easily exploited the natives and their abundance of natural resources.

The presence of ivory, rubber, copper, and diamonds in the Congo only whetted Leopold’s appetite for wealth. He sent Sir Stanley deeper and deeper into the unexplored jungles in search of profitable resources. However, his treatment of the native population was not quite in line with his philanthropic reputation. He extorted the indigenous peoples with often called “barbaric” methods. Leopold strove to further develop the Congo nation by establishing an exportation network which included the building of river ports and roads into the interior of the nation. The expeditions proved to be quite successful for the Belgian king. Some figures report an income of approximately ₤30,000 per year earned through his ventures in the Congo.

However, the rest of Europe began to take notice of the inhumane methods utilized by Leopold after his African state grew larger. In addition, the financial returns started to wane after the initial stages of colonization. By 1908, the Congo project had overstretched its financial resources and Leopold was not able to manage it independently. He began to sell parts of the state like stock in a corporation. This