to Mr. Evarts.
Monrovia, April 20, 1879. (Received June 9.)
Sir: As I have not up to the present written a dispatch with exclusive reference to the practical policy which has steadfastly been adhered to by the colonial and republican forms of governments of Liberia toward the native or aboriginal people within their geographical jurisdiction, and of the social relations of the Liberians, and believing that a retrospect and present view of the same may not be uninteresting, and may throw some light upon the subject of emigration, I have concluded to state some general facts which can be fully and clearly established, and deduce as justly as I may the conclusions that seem inevitable.
Without further preliminaries, it is a fact that the first emigration to Liberia, in the year 1820, or thereabouts, consisted almost entirely of negroes, “pure and simple,” from the United States; but from 1824, when the next one came, to the last emigration by the bark Monrovia, of New York, January 6, 1879, there has not been, of the estimated 25,000 or 30,000 emigrants who have come from the United States and elsewhere here, so full and complete a negro emigration.
From the beginning of the philanthropic effort, first suggested by a negro, which subsequently took form as the Colonization Society, through the media of which organization a negro government was sought to be established here for the colonization and Christianization of the African negro, and as an asylum for the oppressed people of African or negro descent, a false consciousness seems to have possessed and controlled the American philanthropists, the Colonization Society, and the “colored” people of the United States and the West Indies—that all persons who were “held to labor,” who were emancipated, who were born free negroes, or “colored” persons possessing a conscious drop of the blood which courses the veins of the negro race, were negroes or persons of African descent.
The fallacy of this impression, this opinion, this unfortunate belief, had, prior to the years 1820 and 1824, been known to science, and was clearly inferable from writings of scientific men, then extant in the English and other languages; and is it not astonishing that gentlemen and scholars, con trolling so important a matter as emigration, in the presumed interest of the negro and his descendants here and in America, the American negro and colored man being the agents in so sublime a duty, should have overlooked in their honest effort to contribute to the present and future well-being of a race, so primarily an important fact?
As to the negro out of Africa, in the United States, South America, the isles of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf, in the immediate presence of a Christianity not his, that taught and teaches him his natural inferiority, [Page 714] falsely, of course, and a civilization that daily impressed the sanctions of that Christianity; the fact that the “colored” man was, under the laws of the several States and the Constitution of the United States, accepted and regarded the same as a negro, went far to form and continue the existence in him of this false consciousness, that colored people and negroes together were one people, that they combined were a race, when they were the same alone in condition.
The newspapers of the United States, managed and edited by negroes and “colored” persons, were recently urging a conference of “colored men,” and in the light of past error the inference may be properly drawn that neither Mongolians nor Indians were included.
With the fact clearly before us that the negro may be colored, as in the example of the Eboes, but that colored people are not necessarily negroes, I call attention to the composition of the colonial and republican governments of Liberia.
There is here but one race and a subdivision of two races, the Caucasian and negro, which subdivision may be properly termed a class of people known as mixed persons.
This mixed hybrid class the unwritten history of Liberia declared to be superior in intellectual development and pecuniary condition to the native or emigrant negro, many of the class possessing moderate competencies through their former masters, parents, though not superior numerically to the negroes, nor otherwise than relatively.
These persons by reason of this difference, and the possession of the element, cunning, so peculiar to physically inferior animals as a means of protection and destruction, tacitly became the ruling class here as to the aboriginal and emigrant negro, and next in authority to the original supreme power of the colony, the white governors, and on their retirement took their vacant chair.
Acting upon the assumption, as a class, of their superiority to a race, by reason of descent, color, imperfect culture, and an unfortunate comprehension of the principles of Christianity, they treated the formerly free man in his habitat as a servile inferior; legislated him an existence with rights he was unable to enforce or avail himself of against the general sentiment which was against him, though justice might be outraged by such tyranny and absolutism on the part of rulers.
This was the practical policy which succeeded, by the delusion and snare set by the class for the emigrant negro who became a party to the wrong, by convincing him that the class and he were one people, the native negro another, and so far inferior to them that their relations to him must be that of a master class. Their inability to succeed alone in this wrong was equaled alone by their cunning.
Fifty years have so riveted this error in the brain of the emigrant negro and his issue that no citizen of the United States could realize the sentiment and practices of the Liberian toward the aboriginal man and woman without an involuntary expression of surprise and astonishment, and this feeling would be at once succeeded by seeking the cause of the existence of so unnatural a feeling between a civilized and an uncivilized or semi-civilized people of the same race.
The government was formed with the aboriginal freeman the base, the general structure the emigrant negro, the superstructure the hybrid.
This design formed, this edifice existent was intended to develop into a negro nationality on the west coast of Africa; but now being happily changed and purified by the naturalization of the destructive element or class, and the giving play to the natural instincts of emigrant negro which seemed lost, but which are now being gradually restored.[Page 715]
When the negro presidents—so by sufferance—Benson, Warner, and Koye were the executives of the republic, the class was restless in consequence of their successes, and the fate of the first and last seems to indicate plainly that the class and the race were not one; and when such minds as those of the negroes Crommell, Blyden, Freeman, and others became fully alive to the condition of affairs and asked justice, persecution followed.
The power to crush the class, the enemy of the state, existed with the negro, but the unimpaired instinct of forgiveness of injuries so peculiar to him controlled, and he suffered, bided the time of his deliverance from the class who had little in common with his race; and he has seen the hand of death sever the foremost of his enemies from a power that threatened the life of Liberia.
Within the schools established in various parts of Liberia, with few exceptions, no friendly relations existed between the few native children admitted and the liberian pupils. Kings’ and chiefs’ sons were sent to prominent Liberians to be taught “book,” as they call it, to be educated; they were received, and the promise to perform the trust given and disregarded, and these sons were made to do the menial offices their fathers would impose upon their domestic slaves. Their scholastic training was entirely neglected. An example of this treatment of natives is deserving of notice in view of the distinction of the actors, Hon. James J. Roberts, late president of Liberia and an African negro king.
King James West, a man of distinction among his and other tribes, requested President Boberts to take his son and have him schooled. The President consented, and, after having the boy more than a year at Monrovia, he was constantly and systematically made a servant in his household until, in despair and disgust, the boy returned to his father’s kingdom, profitless.
The only evidence of the benefits derived by aboriginal children who have from time to time been placed in the families of Liberians, many of whom are now grown up, is that they can understand and speak English imperfectly.
Among the Vey or Veii people, many of whom I have conversed with, men and women who have long lived in Liberian families, I have found the same results, and that they uniformly testify to the dislike of the Americans, as they call the Liberians, to them, to their people, and their absence of any love for the Liberians.
Marriages, bona-fide, to the number of fifty between native men and women and Liberians have never been consummated. All like relations have been contrary to the sanctions of moral law and the laws of the republic. The absence of marriage relations has not been due to the paganism of the aboriginal people of Liberia, as in the conspicuous absence of paganism this portion of Western Africa is the most favored, Sierra Leone being of course excepted. Nor has this been due to the immeasurable distance between heathenism lettered, as among the Veii and Greaboes, both of whom have written languages, and civilization and Christianity (here) too generally unlettered, bigoted, and intolerant.
Nor can this opposition and resistance to assimilation be urged on account of the immoral influence of polygamy, because the native woman of the tribes within Liberian jurisdiction, though sold in her infancy, in some instances, to her future husband, is not a subject of marriage, or the consummation of the relation, until she attains the age of fifteen or sixteen years, and from an early age to this period of her life she is kept under the strictest surveillance of matrons in the “gree gree bush,” the [Page 716] object being with reference to her morality and domestic industry; and marriage cannot be consummated until this tutelage terminates.
Among some of the native tribes of Liberia, the chastity of the male is as carefully guarded as that of the female, and as a consequence he entertains and practices a rigid respect for the female of his tribe.
The Liberians among themselves ignored the negro boys as a rule, in admission of applicants to the Liberian college; the appointing power being confined to the strong men of the class. Seldom could a vacancy be found for a negro boy, notwithstanding the fact that no man of the class, no mixed man in the Republic, was held competent to perform the office of professor in the institution. The professors were all pure negroes, and were divested of any and all authority as to the admission of candidates, further than examination. Designation preceded examination.
Disregard of the native population tended to estrange them from the government of the colony and the republic, as is shown in this, that whenever the Liberian makes a settlement near them, they move their settlement to some place other than the one just occupied by them.
In the portion of territory now in dispute between the Liberian Government and Great Britain, the interests of the natives have been neglected, and the government’s own material interests have suffered in the non-opening of a port of entry in so rich a palm district.
Below Cape Palmas, in and beyond the Taboo district, for at least 100 miles of that south coast, no port of entry has been opened, no attention paid to the welfare of the aborigines by the government.
At the last session of the legislature, according to a wise custom or enactment some time since adhered to, by which native kings and chiefs were permitted to sit as members of that body, and deliberate but not vote, a senator refused to sit in the body with the native chief, alleging as a reason that his people were hostile to the republic. This native negro chief was an intelligent, well dressed Kroo.
The sequence was, the senator’s prejudice was pandered to, and the chief was deprived of this partially just and important privilege, ay, right.
That discrimination should be made in the matter of colonization must suggest itself to the thoughtful mind, in view of the fact that science has placed a barrier in temperate zones as to propagation, with regard to mixed or hybrid classes. The mortality which from 1824 to 1879 has been among this class in Liberia, and the general health of the class from the Govee to the Congo River, should tend to advise this class against emigration here, in their own interests.
The apparent harmony between this class and the negro in the colony and as citizens of the republic, but the actual incongruity between them, is a fact that cannot be disergarded in the interest of a negro government that is to have an influence for good upon the negro race.
The wisdom of God in placing the negro here will not be questioned, where he has attained to the highest physical excellence, and under truly friendly and competent secular and Christian instructors, who shall regard him alone as a relative, but not an absolute, natural inferior, will attain to a high civilization, not European, not American, but negro, African civilization, which will be as important in its influence on mankind as the other civilizations, is a fact to be noticed in the interest of Liberia specially and Africa generally.
The significant fact that the Caucasian race has never, as a race, in this habitat or elsewhere, consented to amalgamate with any other race, has preserved the Caucasian race, and made its civilization possible. [Page 717] It is a fact that this class has no claim on the negro race, as such, nor the negro race any on it such as the race has upon other races.
These facts must suggest to the “colored people,” to the negro void of self-respect, wanting which must make his race less to him than any other, and to the Caucasian philanthropist who would really serve the cause of Africa through the Republic of Liberia, that the means to that end is not to be found in assisting, by emigration, in making any community of Africa a mixed or hybrid one, by encouraging a class to aid in the civilization of a race.
Such, briefly, has been the practical policy of Liberia toward her aboriginal denizens, such the conduct of the class toward the emigrant negro, whose American teaching had led him into gross error. At no period of the existence of colony or republic has Liberia acted wisely, justly toward those whose claim upon her for her light has commended her to the special philanthropic sentiment of America and generally of the world. It is only recently that prominent negro citizens have been tolerated in advancing views hostile to this practical policy of the government.
When at a luncheon recently given in honor of the distinguished gentleman, Commodore Shufeldt, the able jurist, Ex-Attorney General Davis, in response to a toast, “The Aborigines,” advised the young men in the interest of the republic’s present and future prosperity to marry native damsels, the patriotic and loyal racial sentiment was laughed at and applauded; and serious doubts possessed some as to the gentleman’s sincerity, although a negro.
Fortunately for the republic, in the now severe school of adversity through which she is passing, she is learning that the success of the effort of self-government is to be solved through the loyalty of the negro to himself, to his race.
I am, &c.,