Page:EB1911 - Volume 03.djvu/699

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HISTORY]
679
BELGIUM

anniversary of the Paris Commune, and rapidly spread in other industrial centres of the Walloon districts. Thousands of workmen went on strike, demanding better wages and the suffrage. The ministry acted promptly and with vigour, the outbreak was suppressed by the employment of the military and order was restored. But as soon as this was accomplished the government opened a comprehensive enquiry into the causes of dissatisfaction, which served as the basis of numerous social laws, and Agmuun led eventually to the establishment of universal for a re-

vision of suffrage and the substitution in Belgium of a democratic for a. middle-class régime. It was not effected stitution.

till several years had been spent in long parliamentary discussions, by demonstrations on the part of the supporters of franchise revision and by strikes of a political tendency. At last the senate and chamber declared, May 1892, that the time for a revision of certain articles of the constitution had come., As prescribed by the constitution, a dissolution took place and two new chambers were elected. The Catholics had a majority in both, but not enough to enable them to dispense with the assistance of the Liberals, the constitution requiring for every revision a two-thirds majority. The bills proposed for extending the franchise were all rejected (April 1 1th and 1 zth). Thereupon the council of the Labour party proclaimed a general strike. Fifty thousand workmen struck, in Brussels there were violent demonstrations, and the agitation assumed generally a dangerous aspect. Both the government and the opposition in the chambers saw that delay was impossible, and that revision must be carried out. Agreement was reached by the acceptance of a- compromise proposed by M. Albert Nyssens, Catholic

The N-Vs' deputy and professor of penal procedure and commercial law at the university of Louvain, and on the 18th of April the chamber adopted an electoral system until then unknown-le sujrage. universe! plural. »T he citizen in order to possess a vote for the election of representatives to the chambers was to be of a minimum age of twenty-five years, and of thirty years for the election of senators and provincial and communal councillors. For the four categories of elections a supplementary vote was given to (a) citizens who having attained the age of thirty-five years, and being married or widowers with children, paid at least 5 f. income tax, and (b) to citizens of the age of twenty-five years possessing real estate to the value of 2000 f. or Belgian state securities yielding an income of at least 100 f. Two supplementary votes were bestowed upon citizens having certain educational certificates, or discharging functions or following professions implying their possession. This elaborate system was only carried into law after considerable and violent opposition in the sessions of 1894 and 1895. It was chiefly the work of the ministry of M. de Burlet, who succeeded to the place of M. Beernaert in March 1894.-The composition of the elected bodies for the years 1894-1895 was:-for the chamber of representatives 1,3 54,891 electors with 2,085,605 votes, for the senate and provincial C"“'°"" councils 1,148,433 electors with 1,856,838 votes. Ziggy The result of the first election in October 1894 was to give the Catholic party an overwhelming majority. The old Liberal party almost disappeared, while the Walloon provinces returned a number of Socialists. In February 1896 M. de Burlet, being in bad health, transferred the direction of the government to M. Smet de Naeyer. The election of 1894 had given the Liberals a much smaller number of seats than they ought to have had according to the number of votes they polled, and a cry arose for the establishment of proportional representation. Both sides felt that reform was again necessary, but the Catholic majority disagreed among them-selves as to the form it should take. In 1899 M. Smet de Naeyer gave place as head of the ministry to M. van den Peereboom. But the proposals pm “ of the latter met with organized obstruction on the noni; part of the Socialist deputies, and after a. few months represent- tenure of office he gave way to M. Smet de Naeyer ““""' once more. The new cabinet at once (August 1899) introduced a bill giving complete proportional representation in parliamentary elections to all the arrondissenrents. and it was 'passed despite the defection of a number of Catholic deputies led by M. Woeste. The election in May 1900 resulted in the return of a substantial (though reduced) Catholic majority in both chambers.

During this period of Catholic ascendancy social legislation was not neglected. Among the enactments the following are the most important:-the institution of industrial ~ A and labour councils, composed of employers and S"°""” legisla-

employes, andof a superior council, formed of ofhcrals, , iam workmen and employers (1887); laws assisting the erection of w0rkmen's dwellings and supervising the labour of Women and children (1889); laws for ameliorating the system of Friendly Societies (1890); laws regulating workshops (1896); conferring corporate rights on trades' unions (1898); guaranteeing the security and health of working men during hours of labour (1899). In 1900 laws were passed regulating the contract of labour, placing the Workman on a footing of perfect equality with his employer, assuring the married woman free control of her savings, and organizing a system of old-age pensions. Primary education was dealt with in 1895 by a law, which made religious instruction obligatory, and extended state support to all schools that satisfied certain conditions. In 1899 there were in Belgium 6674 subsidized schools, having 775,000 scholars out of a total of 950,000 children of school age. Only 68,000 did not receive religious instruction. The Catholic party also strove to mitigate the principle of obligatory military service by encouraging the system of volunteering and by a reduction of the time of active service and of the number with the colours. In 1905 the 75th anniversary of Belgian independence was celebrated, and there was a great manifestation of loyalty to King Leopold II. for the wisdom and prudence shown by him during his long reign. Owing to dis- gggffs in sensions among the Catholic and Conservative party on the subject of military service and the fortification of Antwerp, their majority in the chamber in 1904 fell from 26 to 20, that in the sena.te from 16 to 1 2. The partial election in 1906 reduced the majority in the chamber to 12, while the partial election in 1908 brought the majority down to 8. The Smet de Naeyer ministry which had held office since 1900 was defeated in April 1907 in a debate on the mining law over the proposal concerning the length of the working day. A new cabinet was formed on the 2nd of May following under the presidency of M. de Trooz, who had been minister of the interior under M. Smet de Naeyer, and who retained that portfolio in conjunction with the premiership. M. de Trooz died on the 3ISl of December 1907, and was succeeded by M. Schollaert, president of the chamber. The count of Flanders, brother of the king, died on the 17th of November 1905, leaving his son Albert heir to the throne.

The Congo question had meanwhile become an acute one in Belgium. The personal interest taken by Leopold II. in the exploration and commercial development of the equatorial regions of Africa had led, in the creation of Eefglf;- the Congo Free State, to results which had originally C';, , g, , not been anticipated. The Comité des Etudes du Haut Congo, formed in 1878 at the instance of the king and mainly. financed by him had developed into the International Association of the Congo, of which a Belgian officer, Colonel M. Strauch, was president. Through the efforts in Africa of H. M. Stanley a rudimentary state was created, and through the efforts of King Leopold in Europe the International Association was recognized during 1884-1885 by the powers as an independent state. Declarations to this effect were exchanged between the Belgian government and the Association on the 23rd of February 1885. In April of the same year the Belgian chambers authorized the king to be the chief of the state founded by the Association, which had already taken the name of Eta! Indépendant du Congo. The union between Belgium and the new state was declared to be purely personal, but its European headquarters were in Brussels, its officials, in the course of time, became almost exclusively Belgian, and financially and commercially the connexion between the two countries became increasingly close.