Leopold II, 1835–1909, king of the Belgians (1865–1909), son and successor of Leopold I. His reign saw great industrial and colonial expansion. In 1876 he organized, with the help of H. M. Stanley, the International Association for the Exploration and Civilization of the Congo. At a European conference (Berlin, 1884–85), the Congo Free State was established under Leopold's personal rule (see Congo, Democratic Republic of the). He proceeded to amass a huge personal fortune by exploiting the Congo directly and by leasing concessions. Forced labor was extorted from the natives, frequently by barbarous methods, until scandal compelled Leopold to turn over the Congo to the Belgian government (1908). In Belgium itself the Conservative Catholic party replaced (1880) the Liberals in power. Increasing social discontent and the rise of the Labor party forced the introduction (1893) of universal male suffrage, but unrest continued because of the appalling condition of industrial workers. Leopold's private life was as scandalous and dissolute as his public conduct. He was succeeded by his nephew, Albert I.
See A. Hochschild, King Leopold's Ghost (1998).