INTERVIEW WITH PRESIDENT KRUGER
 AS is the rule with them everywhere, Englishmen in South Africa speak of Mr. Kruger with contempt and derision.
Unprejudiced Americans and other foreigners in South Africa admire him for his patriotism, his courage in
opposing the dictatorial policy of England's Colonial Office, and his efforts to establish a republic as
nearly like that of the United States of America as possible. My desire to see Mr. Kruger was almost
obliterated a week after my arrival in the country by the words of condemnation which were heaped upon him by
Englishmen whenever his name was mentioned. In nearly every Englishman's mind the name of "Oom Paul" was a
synonym for all that was corrupt and vile; few gave him a word of commendation.
When I came into the pretty little town
 of Pretoria, the capital of the Transvaal, where the President lives and where he mingles daily with the
populace with as much freedom and informality as a country squire, there was a rapid transformation in my
opinion of the man. The Boers worship their leader; to them he is a second George Washington, and even a few
Englishmen there speak with admiration of him.
The day before my arrival in the town John McCann, of Johannesburg, who is a former New-Yorker and a friend of
the President, informed Mr. Kruger of my intention to visit Pretoria. The President had refused interviews to
three representatives of influential London newspapers who had been in the town three months waiting for the
opportunity, but he expressed a desire to see an American.
"The Americans won't lie about me," he said to Mr. McCann. "I want America to learn our side of the story from
me. They have had only the English point of view." I had scarcely reached my hotel when an emissary from the
President called and made an appointment for me to meet him in the
after-  noon. The emissary conducted me to the Government Building, where the Volksraad was in session, and it
required only a short time for it to become known that a representative from the great sister republic across
the Atlantic desired to learn the truth about the Boers.
I was overwhelmed with information. Cabinet members, Raad members, the Commissioner of War, the Postmaster
General, the most honoured and influential men of the republic—men who had more than once risked their
lives in fighting for their country's preservation—gathered around me and were so eager to have me tell
America of the wrongs they had suffered at the hands of the British that the scene was highly pathetic.
One after another spoke of the severe trials through which their young republic had passed, the efforts that
had been made to disrupt it, and the constant harassment to which they had been subjected by enemies working
under the cloak of friendship. The majority spoke English, but such as knew only the Boer taal were given an
opportunity by their
 more fortunate friends to add to the testimony, and spoke through an interpreter. Such earnest, such honest
conversation it had never been my lot to hear before. It was a memorable hour that I spent listening to the
plaints of those plain, good-hearted Boers in the heart of South Africa. It was the voice of the downtrodden,
the weak crying out against the strong.
When the hour of my appointment with the President arrived there was a unanimous desire among the Boers
gathered around to accompany me. It was finally decided by them that six would be a sufficient number, and
among those chosen were Postmaster-General Van Alpen, who was a representative at the Postal Congress in
Washington several years ago; Commissioner of Mines P. Kroebler, Commissioner of War J. J. Smidt, Justice of
the Peace Dillingham, and former Commandant-General Stephanne Schoeman.
When our party reached the little white-washed cottage in which the President lives a score or more of tall
and soil-stained farmers were standing in a circular group on the low
 piazza. They were laughing hilariously at something that had been said by a shorter, fat man who was nearly
hidden from view by the surrounding circle of patriarchs. A breach in the circle disclosed the President of
the republic with his left arm on the shoulder of a long-whiskered Boer, and his right hand swinging lightly
in the hand of another of his countrymen. It was democracy in its highest exemplification.
Catching a glimpse of us as we were entering on the lawn, the President hastily withdrew into the cottage. The
Boers he deserted seated themselves on benches and chairs on the piazza, relighted their pipes, and puffed
contentedly, without paying more attention to us than to nod to several of my companions as we passed them.
The front door of the cottage, or "White House," as they call it, was wide open. There was no flunkey in
livery to take our cards, no white-aproned servant girls to tra-la-la our names. The executive mansion of the
President was as free and open to visitors as the farmhouse of the humblest burgher of the
re-  public. In their efforts to display their qualities of politeness my companions urged me into the President's
private reception room, while they lingered for a short time at the threshold. The President rose from his
chair in the opposite end, met me in the centre of the room, and had grasped my hand before my companions had
an opportunity of going through the process of an introduction.
There was less formality and red tape in meeting "Oom Paul " than would be required to have a word with Queen
Victoria's butcher or President McKinley's office-boy.
While Mr. Kruger's small fat hand was holding mine in its grasp and shaking it vehemently, he spoke something
in Boer, to which I replied, "Heel goed, danke," meaning "Very well, I thank you." Some one had told me that
he would first ask concerning my health, and also gave me the formula for an answer. The President laughed
heartily at my reply, and made a remark in Boer "taal." The interpreter came up in the meantime and
straightened out the tangle by telling me
 that the President's first question had been "Have you any English blood in your veins?"
The President, still laughing at my reply, seated himself in a big armchair at the head of a table on which
was a heavy pipe and a large tobacco box. He filled the pipe, lighted the tobacco, and blew great clouds of
smoke toward the ceiling. My companions took turns in filling their pipes from the President's tobacco box,
and in a few minutes the smoke was so dense as nearly to obscure my view of the persons in front of me.
The President crossed his short, thin legs and blew quick, spirited puffs of smoke while an interpreter
translated to him my expression of the admiration which the American people had for him, and how well known
the title "Oom Paul" was in America. This delighted the old man immeasurably. His big, fat body seemed to
resolve itself into waves which started in his shoes and gradually worked upward until the fat rings under his
eyes hid the little black orbits from view. Then he slapped his knees with his hands, opened his large mouth,
and roared with laughter.
 It was almost a minute before he regained his composure sufficiently to take another puff at the pipe which is
his constant companion. During the old man's fit of laughter one of my companions nudged me and advised me:
"Now ask him anything you wish. He is in better humour than I have ever seen him before." The President
checked a second outburst of laughter rather suddenly and asked, "Are you a friend of Cecil Rhodes?" If there
is any one whom "Oom Paul" detests it is the great colonizer. The President invariably asks this question of
strangers, and if the answer is an affirmative one he refuses to continue the conversation.
Being assured that such was not the case, Mr. Kruger's mind appeared to be greatly relieved—as he is
very suspicious of all strangers—and he asked another question which is indicative of the religious side
of his nature: "To what Church do you belong?" A speaking acquaintanceship was claimed with the Dutch Reformed
Church, of which the President is a most devout member, and this served
 to dissipate all suspicions he might have had concerning me.
The interpreter was repeating a question to him when the President suddenly interrupted, as is frequently his
custom during a conversation, and asked: "Do the American people know the history of our people? I will tell
you truthfully and briefly. You have heard the English version always; now I will given you ours."
The President proceeded slowly and, between puffs at his great pipe, spoke determinedly: "When I was a child
we were so maltreated by the English in Cape Colony that we could no longer bear the abuses to which we were
subjected. In 1835 we migrated northward with our cattle and possessions and settled in Natal, just south of
Zululand, where by unavoidable fighting we acquired territory from the Zulus. We had hardly settled that
country and established ourselves and a local form of government when our old enemies followed, and by various
high-handed methods made life so unendurable that we were again compelled to move our families and
posses-  sions. This time we travelled five hundred miles inland over the trackless veldt and across the Vaal River,
and after many hardships and trials settled in the Transvaal. The country was so poor, so uninviting, that the
English colonists did not think it worth their while to settle in the land which we had chosen for our
"Our people increased in number, and, as the years passed, established a form of government such as yours in
America. The British thought they were better able to govern us than we were ourselves, and once took our
country from us. Their defeats at Laing's Nek and Majuba Hill taught them that we were fighters, and they gave
us our independence and allowed us to live peaceably for a number of years. They did not think the country
valuable enough to warrant the repetition of the fighting for it. When it became known all over the world
twelve years ago that the most extensive gold fields on the globe had been discovered in our apparently
worthless country, England became envious and laid plans to annex such a valuable prize.
Thou-  sands of people were attracted hither by our wonderful gold mines at Johannesburg, and the English statesmen
renewed their attacks on us. They made all sorts of pretexts to rob us of our country, and when they could not
do it in a way that was honest and would be commended by other nations, they planned the Jameson raid, which
was merely a bold attempt to steal our country."
At this point Kruger paused for a moment and then added, "You Americans know how well they succeeded." This
sally amused him and my companions hugely, and they all joined in hearty laughter.
The President declared that England's attitude toward them had changed completely since the discovery of the
gold fields. "Up to that time we had been living in harmony with every one. We always tried to be peaceable
and to prevent strife between our neighbours, but we have been continually harassed since the natural wealth
of our land has been uncovered."
Here he relighted his pipe, which had grown cold while he was detailing the history
 of the Transvaal Boers, and then drew a parable, which is one of his distinguishing traits: "The gold fields
may be compared to a pretty girl who is young and wealthy. You all admire her and want her to be yours, but
when she rejects you your anger rises and you want to destroy her." By implication England is the rejected
suitor, and the Transvaal the rich young girl.
Comparing the Boers' conduct in South Africa with that of the English, the President said: "Ever since we left
Cape Colony in 1835 we have not taken any territory from the natives by conquest except that of one chief
whose murderous maraudings compelled us to drive him away from his country. We bartered and bought every inch
of land we now have. England has taken all the land she has in South Africa at the muzzles of repeating rifles
and machine guns. That is the civilized method of extending the bounds of the empire they talk about so much."
The Englishmen's plaint is that the republic will tax them, but allow them no representation in the affairs of
 President explained his side in this manner: "Every man, be he Englishman, Chinaman, or Eskimo, can become a
naturalized citizen of our country and have all the privileges of a burgher in nine years. If we should have a
war, a foreigner can become a citizen in a minute if he will fight with our army. The difficulty with the
Englishmen here is that they want to be burghers and at the same time retain their English citizenship.
"A man can not serve two masters; either he will hate the one and love the other, or hold to the one and
despise the other. We have a law for bigamy in our country, and it is necessary to dispose of an old love
before it is possible to marry a new."
"Oom Paul" is very bitter in his feeling against the English, whom he calls his natural enemies, but it is
seldom that he says anything against them except in private to his most intimate friends. The present great
distress in the Johannesburg gold fields is attributed by the English residents to the high protective duties
imposed by the Government and the high freight charges for the transmission of
ma-  chinery and coal. Mr. Kruger explained that those taxes were less than in the other colonies in the country.
"We are high protectionists because ours is a young country. These new mines have cost the Government great
amounts of money, and it is necessary for us to raise as much as we expend. They want us to give them
everything gratuitously, so that we may become bankrupt and they can take our country for the debt. If they
don't like our laws, why don't they stay away?"
Nowhere in the world is the American Republic admired as much outside of its own territory as in South Africa.
Both the Transvaal and the Orange Free State Constitutions are patterned after that of the United States, and
there is a desire lurking in the breasts of thousands of South Africans to convert the whole of the country
south of the Zambezi into one grand United States of South Africa. Sir Alfred Milner, the Queen's Commissioner
to South Africa, said to me several days before I saw Mr. Kruger that such a thing might come to pass within
 twenty years. The President hesitated when I asked him if he favoured such a proposition to unite all the
colonies and republics in the country. "If I should say 'Yes,' the English would declare war on us to-morrow."
He appeared to be very cautious on this subject for a few minutes, but after a consultation with my companions
he spoke more freely.
"We admire your Government very much," he said, "and think there is none better in the world. At the present
time there are so many conflicting affairs in this country as to make the discussion of an amalgamation
inadvisable. A republic formed on the principle of the United States would be most advantageous to all
concerned, but South Africa is not yet ripe for such a government. I shall not live to see it."
According to those around him, the President had not been in such a talkative mood for a long time, and,
acting upon that information, I asked him to tell me concerning the Boers' ability to defend themselves in
case of war with England. Many successes against British arms have caused the Boers to regard
 their prowess very highly, and they generally speak of themselves as well able to protect their country. The two countries
have been on the very verge of war several times during the last three years, and it was only through the
greatest diplomacy that the thousands of English soldiers were not sent over the border of the Transvaal, near
which they have been stationed ever since the memorable raid of Jameson's troopers.
The President's reply was guarded: "The English say they can starve us out of our country by placing barriers
of soldiers along the borders. Starve us they can, if it is the will of God that such should be our fate. If
God is on our side they can build a big wall around us and we can still live and flourish. We don't want war.
My wish is to live in peace with everybody."
It was evident that the subject was not pleasant to him, and he requested me to ask Commissioner of War Smidt,
a war-scarred hero of Majuba Hill, to speak to me on the ability of the Boers to take care of themselves in
case of a conflict.
 Commissioner Smidt became very enthusiastic as he progressed with the expression of his opinion, and the
President frequently nodded assent to what the head of the War Department said.
"It is contrary to our national feeling to engage in war," said Mr. Smidt, "and we will do all in our power to
avert strife. If, however, we are forced into fighting, we must defend ourselves as best we are able. There is
not one Boer in the Transvaal who will not fight until death for his country. We have demonstrated our ability
several times, and we shall try to retain our reputation. The English must fight us in our own country, where
we know every rock, every valley, and every hill. They fight at a disadvantage in a country which they do not
know and in a climate to which they are strangers.
"The Boers are born sharpshooters, and from infancy are taught to put a bullet in a buzzard's skull at a
hundred yards. One Boer is equal in a war in our own country to five Englishmen, and that has been proved a
number of times. We have rugged constitutions,
 are accustomed to an outdoor life, and can live on a piece of biltong for days, while the Queen's soldiers
have none of these advantages.
"They can not starve us out in fifty years, for we have sources of provender of which they can not deprive us.
We have fortifications around Pretoria that make it an impossibility for any army of less than fifty thousand
men to take, and the ammunition we have on hand is sufficient for a three years' war. We are not afraid of the
English in Africa, and not until every Boer in the Transvaal is killed will we stop fighting if they ever
begin. Should war come, and I pray that it will not, the Boers will march through English territory to the
Cape of Good Hope, or be erased from the face of the earth."
Never was a man more sincere in his statements than the commissioner, and his companions supported his every
sentence by look and gesture. Even the President gave silent approval to the sentiments expressed.
"Have you ever had any intention of securing Delagoa Bay from the Portuguese, in order that you might have a
seacoast, as has
 been rumoured many times?" I asked the President. Delagoa Bay, the finest harbour in Africa, is within a few
miles of the Transvaal, and might be of great service to it in the event of war.
"'Cursed be he who removes the landmarks of his neighbour,'" quoted he. "I never want to do anything that
would bring the vengeance of God on me. We want our country, nothing more, nothing less."
Asked to give an explanation of the causes of the troubles between England and the Transvaal, he said:
"Mr. Rhodes is the cause of all the troubles between our country and England. He desires to form all the
country south of the Zambezi River into a United States of South Africa, and before he can do this he must
have possession of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. His aim in life is to be President of the United
States of South Africa. He initiated the Jameson raid, and he has stirred up the spirit of discontent which is
being shown by the Englishmen in the Transvaal. Our Government endeavours to treat
 every one with like favour,
but these Englishmen are never satisfied with anything we do. They want the English flag to wave over the
Transvaal territory, and nothing less. Rhodes spent millions of pounds in efforts to steal our country, and
will probably spend millions more. But we will never leave this land, which we found, settled, and protected."
Then, rising from his chair and raising his voice, he continued slowly and deliberately:
"We will fight until not one Boer remains to defend our flag and country; our women and children will fight
for their liberties; and even I, an old man, will take the gun which I have used against them twice before and
use it again to defend the country I love. But I hope there will be no war. I want none and the Boers want
none. If war comes, we shall not be to blame. I have done all in my power for peace, and have taken many
insults from Englishmen merely that my people might not be plunged into war. I want no war. I hope that I may
spend the rest of my days in peace."
The President's carriage had arrived in
 front of the cottage to convey him to the Government Building, and the time had arrived for him to appear
before one of the Volksraads. He displayed no eagerness to end the interview, and continued it by asking me to
describe the personality and ability of President McKinley. He expressed his admiration of former President
Cleveland, with whose Department of State he had some dealings while John Hays Hammond was confined in the
Pretoria prison for complicity in the Jameson raid.
His opinion of the Americans in South Africa was characteristic of the man. "I like and trust true Americans.
They are a magnificent people, because they favour justice. When those in our country are untainted with
English ideas I trust them implicitly, but there were a number of them here in Jameson's time who were
Americans in name only."
He hesitated to send any message to the sister republic in America, lest his English enemies might construe it
to mean that he curried America's favour. His friends finally
per-  suaded him to make a statement, and he dictated this expression of good fellowship and respect:
"So long as the different sections of the United States live in peace and harmony, so long will they be happy
and prosperous. My wish is that the great republic in America may become the greatest nation on earth, and
that she may continue to act as the great peace nation. I wish that prosperity may be hers and her people's,
and in my daily prayers I ask that God may protect her and bless her bounteously."
It being far past the time for his appearance at the Government Building, the President ended the interview
abruptly. He refilled his pipe, bade farewell to us, and bustled from the room with all the vigour of a young
man. On the piazza he met his little, silver-haired wife, who, with a half-knit stocking pendant from her
fingers, was conversing with the countrymen sitting on the benches. The President bent down and kissed her
affectionately, then jumped into the carriage and was rapidly conveyed to the
Govern-  ment Building. When the dust obscured the carriage and the cavalrymen attending it, one of my companions
turned to me and remarked:
"Ah! there goes a great man!"
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