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King Leopold Ii And The Congo Free State

743 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 the famous explorer in 1876 to search and claim as much of the Congo Basin as he could. In the name of Belgium, Stanley claimed an area consisting of nearly 905,000 square miles. In conjunction with this massive claim of land, Leopold started the International African Association for the Exploration and Civilization of the Congo. Because of Leopold’s reputation as a philanthropist, he easily won the personal sovereignty of the land claimed by Sir Stanley at the Berlin Conference of 1884. 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...

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