Page:EB1911 - Volume 20.djvu/183

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

should be given up by Great Britain. One thing at least is certain with regard to the diamond fields—they were the means of restoring the credit and prosperity of the Free State. In the opinion, moreover, of Dr Theal, who has written the history of the Boer Republics and has been a consistent supporter of the Boers, the annexation of Griqualand West was probably in the best interests of the Free State. “There was,” he states, “no alternative from British sovereignty other than an independent diamond field republic.”

At this time, largely owing to the exhausting struggle with the Basutos, the Free State Boers, like their Transvaal neighbours, had drifted into financial straits. A paper currency had been instituted, and the notes—currently known as “bluebacks”—soon dropped to less than half their nominal value. Commerce was largely carried on by barter, and many cases of bankruptcy occurred in the state. But as British annexation in 1877 saved the Transvaal from bankruptcy, so did the influx of British and other immigrants to the diamond fields, in the early ’seventies, restore public credit and individual prosperity to the Boers of the Free State. The diamond fields offered a ready market for stock and other agricultural produce. Money flowed into the pockets of the farmers. Public credit was restored. “Bluebacks” recovered par value, and were called in and redeemed by the government. Valuable diamond mines were also discovered within the Free State, of which the one at Jagersfontein is the richest. Capital from Kimberley and London was soon provided with which to work them.

The relations between the British and the Free State, after the question of the boundary was once settled, remained perfectly amicable down to the outbreak of the Boer War in 1899. From 1870 onward the history of the state was one of quiet, steady progress. At the time of the Cordial relations with Great Britain.first annexation of the Transvaal the Free State declined Lord Carnarvon’s invitation to federate with the other South African communities. In 1880, when a rising of the Boers in the Transvaal was threatening. President Brand showed every desire to avert the conflict. He suggested that Sir Henry de Villiers, Chief Justice of Cape Colony, should be sent into the Transvaal to endeavour to gauge the true state of affairs in that country. This suggestion was not acted upon, but when war broke out in the Transvaal Brand declined to take any part in the struggle. In spite of the neutral attitude taken by their government a number of the Free State Boers, living in the northern part of the country, went to the Transvaal and joined their brethren then in arms against the British. This fact was not allowed to influence the friendly relations between the Free State and Great Britain. In 1888 Sir John Brand died. In him the Boers, not only in the Free State but in the whole of South Africa, lost one of the most enlightened and most upright rulers and leaders they have ever had. He realized the disinterested aims pursued by the British government, without always approving its methods. Though he had thrown the weight of his influence against Lord Carnarvon’s federation scheme Brand disapproved racial rivalries.

During the period of Brand’s presidency a great change, both political and economic, had come over South Africa. The renewal of the policy of British expansion had been answered by the formation of the Afrikander Bond, which represented the racial aspirations of the Dutch-speaking people, and had active branches in the Free State. This alteration in the political outlook was accompanied, and in part occasioned, by economic changes of great significance. The development of the diamond mines and of the gold and coal industries—of which Brand saw the beginning—had far-reaching consequences, bringing the Boer republics into vital contact with the new industrial era. The Free Staters, under Brand’s rule, had shown considerable ability to adapt their policy to meet the altered situation. In 1889 an agreement was come to between the Free State and the Cape Colony government, whereby the latter were empowered to extend, at their own cost, their railway system to Bloemfontein. The Free State retained the right to purchase this extension at cost price, a right they exercised after the Jameson Raid. Having accepted the assistance of the Cape government in constructing its railway, the state also in 1889 entered into a Customs Union Convention with them. The convention was the outcome of a conference held at Cape Town in 1888, at which delegates from Natal, the Free State and the Colony attended. Natal at this time had not seen its way to entering the Customs Union, but did so at a later date.

In January 1889 Mr F. W. Reitz was elected president of the Free State. His accession to the presidency marked the beginning of a new and disastrous line of policy in the external affairs of the country. Mr Reitz had no sooner got into office than a meeting was arranged with Alliance with the Transvaal.Mr Kruger, president of the Transvaal, at which various terms of an agreement dealing with the railways, terms of a treaty of amity and commerce and what was called a political treaty, were discussed and decided upon. The political treaty referred in general terms to a federal union between the Transvaal and the Free State, and bound each of them to help the other, whenever the independence of either should be assailed or threatened from without, unless the state so called upon for assistance should be able to show the injustice of the cause of quarrel in which the other state had engaged. While thus committed to a dangerous alliance with its northern neighbour no change was made in internal administration. The Free State, in fact, from its geographical position reaped the benefits without incurring the anxieties consequent on the settlement of a large uitlander population on the Rand. The state, however, became increasingly identified with the reactionary party in the Transvaal. In 1895 the volksraad passed a resolution, in which they declared their readiness to entertain a proposition from the Transvaal in favour of some form of federal union. In the same year Mr Reitz retired from the presidency of the Free State, and was succeeded in February 1896 by M. T. Steyn (q.v.), a judge of the High Court. In 1896 President Steyn visited Pretoria, where he received an ovation as the probable future president of the two Republics. A further offensive and defensive alliance between the two Republics was then entered into, under which the Free State took up arms on the outbreak of hostilities with the Transvaal in 1899.

In 1897 President Kruger, bent on still further cementing the union with the Free State, visited Bloemfontein. It was on this occasion that President Kruger, referring to the London Convention, spoke of Queen Victoria as a kwaaje Vrouw, an expression which caused a good deal of offence in England at the time, but which, to any one familiar with the homely phraseology of the Boers, obviously was not meant by President Kruger as insulting.

In order to understand the attitude which the Free State took at this time in relation to the Transvaal, it is necessary to review the history of Mr Reitz from an earlier date. Previously to his becoming president of the Free State he had acted as its Chief Justice, and still earlier in The Afrikander had practised as an advocate in Cape Colony. In 1881 Mr Reitz had, in conjunction with Mr Steyn, come under the influence of a clever German named Borckenhagen, the editor of the Bloemfontein Express. These three men were principally responsible for the formation of the Afrikander Bond (see Cape Colony: History). From 1881 onwards they cherished the idea of an independent South Africa. Brand had been far too sagacious to be led away by this pseudo-nationalist dream, and did his utmost to discountenance the Bond. At the same time his policy was guided by a sincere patriotism, which looked to the true prosperity of the Free State as well as to that of the whole of South Africa. From his death may be dated the disastrous line of policy which led to the extinction of the state as a republic. The one prominent member of the volksraad who inherited the traditions and enlightened views of President Brand was Mr (Afterwards Sir) John G. Fraser. Mr Fraser, who was an unsuccessful candidate for the presidency in 1896, was the son of a Presbyterian minister, who had acted as a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church since the middle of the century. He grew up in the country of his father’s adoption, and he consistently warned the Free State of the inevitable