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Boer War - Path to War

During September, 1899, the relations between the British government and the Transvaal Republic became greatly strained, and a very little spark was needed to kindle a conflagration. Great Britain would not relinquish her suzerainty claims, and President Kriiger was determined to release himself from this vassalage. The suzerainty question and the British paramountcy question now overshadowed all franchise proposals and all counter proposals, the former questions eventually becoming the real issue, all British imperialists now recognizing that the continued existence of the British Empire itself was at stake; but Great Britain disclaimed any design of annexing the Transvaal.

In the meantime both parties were making active military preparations and hurrying troops to the front. Uitlanders fled in crowds from Johannesburg. The Boers were making ready for a sudden invasion of Natal; and the British Ministry was making haste to transport a large military force to South Africa, twenty-five thousand troops being immediately ordered to their colors, while General Sir Redvers Henry Bullcr was appointed to the chief command of the British forces in South Africa. In pursuance of a British order-in-council, a royal proclamation was issued for the summoning of Parliament and the mobilization of the reserves.

Finally, on October 9, 1899, the Transvaal government handed an ultimatum to Mr. Conyngham Greene, the British agent at Pretoria, the Transvaal capital, demanding that all the disputed questions be submitted to arbitration or any other amicable course; that the British troops on the Transvaal frontiers be withdrawn instantly, and that all British reinforcements that had arrived in South Africa since June 1, 1899, or which were en route thither be recalled immediately; the Transvaal government declaring that any failure on the part of the British government to comply with these demands before 5 p. m. on October 11th would be regarded by the Transvaal as a formal British declaration of war. In reply to the Boer ultimatum, the British government stated that the peremptory demands of the Transvaal Republic were such as it was impossible to discuss. Mr. Conyngham Greene, the British agent, left Pretoria on the day set for the expiration of the time fixed by the ultimatum, starting for Cape Town. On the same day President Steyn, of the Orange Free State, issued a proclamation to his people, in which he denounced Great Britain and called upon them to fight that power. Thus the two Boer Republics jointly declared war against Great Britain. On the same dayOctober 11, 1899both the Transvaal and the Orange Free State forces invaded British territory by passing the frontiers on both the east and the west, thus commencing aggressive military operations while the British were still unprepared, the Boers in the field being three times as numerous as the British troops in South Africa at that time.

Thus the war was declared and begun by the Transvaal and not by Great Britain. It was begun by the invasion of the British colonies of South Africa by the Boers and not by the invasion of the Boer Republics by the British. We will give merely a skeleton outline of the most important events of this great war in this connection, reserving a detailed record of this mighty struggle for another portion of this work. There was almost daily fighting over a vast area.

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