Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Transmitted to Congress, With the Annual Message of the President, December 1, 1879
to Mr. Evarts.
Monrovia, Liberia, July 17, 1879. (Received August 19.)
Sir: I have the honor to again call your attention to the difficulty alluded to in my No. 31, dated June 17, 1879, between the Liberian Government and its aboriginal inhabitants occupying that portion of territory between Taboo and San Pedro.
I forward by this mail two copies of a letter sent from the state department of Liberia to the chiefs of the disturbed section.
I have concluded to make no further comment than to call attention to that portion of the letter which refers to the use and exercise by the government of “all pacific and gentle means” to induce these rebellious subjects to return to their allegiance, and on failing to do so the intention of the government to resort to “ulterior measures.”
It is to be hoped that this proposed conduct of the government will [Page 720] be acted upon In good faith.; for experience has demonstrated that to a failure to so act in the past many present complications may be traced.
It is also to be regretted that the government is not in condition to put such force in the field, should it become necessary to coerce these recalcitrant chiefs and their followers.
I am, &c.,
A letter from the state department to the Taboo, Berreby, Pedro, and other chiefs.
Messrs. Pisser Blahble, Kuhkkle Nimle, Tableh Nimle, and others:
Sirs: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of a document issued by you under the date of April 5, 1879, headed a “Circular,” said to be the proceedings of a meeting held by a number of chiefs occupying districts of Liberian territory between the Taboo and San Pedro Rivers.
Permit me, gentlemen, to assure you of the most anxious concern felt on the part of this government in behalf of all portions of our national domain, as well as in the welfare of the inhabitants thereof. Especially is this so with regard to that portion of our citizens who, owing to the fact that they are not as far advanced in the knowledge of international and municipal law as is desirable, may be too readily led into errors and wild extravagances by wicked and evil-designing men.
It is because of this unfeigned interest, and the earnest sympathy of the government for you, in view of your lack of extensive information on the great matters of the rights and laws of nations, that I take this method of addressing you, and of giving careful attention to the several resolutions embodied in your circular.
I have the honor to remark, however, that had such a paper as that which forms the subject of this dispatch emanated from a section of the more civilized and enlightened portion of our citizens, and of whose acquaintance with the constitution and laws of the country no doubt could be entertained, the government would ere this have proceeded to adopt severe and decisive measures for crushing out the spirit of insubordination therein manifested. For it is a well-established and universally-admitted principle that no government duly watchful over its national existence and the highest welfare of the body politic, can be too prompt in checking the first uprising of that hydra-headed spirit of rebellion which too often intrudes itself in even the most advanced and best governed communities and states.
But, aware of the fact that the chiefs who signed the document under consideration have but a limited stock of information on the grave questions involved therein, and firmly convinced that the dissatisfaction it betrays was instigated through the evil device of others, we feel it due to you that this communication pointing out your errors be forwarded before further steps be taken should any be found necessary.
The few reckless foreign adventurers contravening our laws in that section who will be dealt with in due time, and to whom we trace the whole, of this movement, care nothing for you, your country, nor your future welfare. All they seek is to enrich themselves at your expense and then go home, leaving you poor, defrauded, and as ignorant as they found you. The idea of elevating you and of advancing the welfare of your country never enters their plans.
But the Government of Liberia, whose citizens you are, and to whom your fathers, with remarkable foresight, of their own free will and accord, ceded these districts, are striving to build up an African nationality here, one that will command the respect of the world, which will confer upon you, your children, and future generations, the inestimable boon of civil and religious institutions.
Africa is capable of becoming as great a country as Europe or America, by stirring industry and the introduction of the arts and sciences; and to effect something toward this desirable end is the great object of this government.
You, a portion of the aboriginal inhabitants, joint owners with us of the land of our fathers, have an important part to perform in this noble enterprise.
Liberia is a country owned and controlled by Africans—your brethren, your kinsmen; not foreigners, such as Englishmen, Americans, Spaniards, Frenchmen, Germans, or Portuguese. We are Veys, Mandingoes, Golahs, Congoes, Bassas, Eboes, Pessas, Kroos, Greboes, Barboes, Taboos, &c., &c. These are the people, with their descendants returned from exile and oppression, who make up the population of this commonwealth. Our interests then are one, and united should be our objects and aims in seeking to advance the general welfare of the whole body politic.
The Liberian Government will intentionally take no advantage of any portion of her citizens. The laws apply equally to all. And if in the administration of them [Page 721] the inhabitants of any part of our territory feel that they are oppressed, grieved, or even slighted, they have a right according to the fifth article of the constitution to petition the government or any public functionary for the redress of such grievances. If the tribes between Taboo and the River San Pedro feel that they have any cause for complaint, or are laboring under any disadvantages whatever, let them meet as they have done in this case, draw up a statement of their grievances and either forward them to the President or send them by a delegation chosen to present their cause, and the government is bound to hear and redress their wrongs. Having made these remarks, I proceed now to notice the several articles of your circular.
1. In the first you resolve never to “acknowledge the authority of the Republic of Liberia on the pretense that our country was purchased by Dr. Hall or any other persons.”
You are quite right in resolving not to acknowledge any mere pretense or unfounded; claims to authority over your country. But the claim of the Republic of Liberia is not of this character. There are now filed in the archives of the government accessible to any of you who may be inclined to visit Monrovia, original deeds of cession executed by the kings and chiefs of all the territory claimed by this state in that section, conveying the same to Liberia for the joint use of the original owners and other Liberian settlers who may be inclined to occupy them, subject to the constitution and laws of this republic.
If there be doubts entertained by you on this point, correct and true copies of the deeds with the names of the chiefs and witnesses who signed the same, will be forwarded to you at your request, or the original instruments can be inspected by any of you who may be delegated for that purpose.
2. You allege, secondly, that when on board of the United States flagship Ticonderoga, off river Taboo, certain chiefs were offered $100 per year to take the Liberian flag.
I beg permission to correct an error in your statement with reference to the circumstance here alluded to. Learning that our revenue laws were being violated by certain foreign traders on that part of the coast, and, there being no customs’ officers there to protect the interest of the government, it was deemed advisable by the executive to appoint a few reliable persons or chiefs as head police officers, with instructions to note any infringements of said laws, to give information of the same to the officials at Cape Palmas, as well as to enforce order among the tribes in their respective neighborhoods. And, as the government imposes no service without a compensation, the annual remuneration of $100 was ordered to be paid to such persons as the superintendent of the county should see fit to appoint. He was also directed to furnish every such appointee with the Liberian flag, representing the authority and jurisdiction of the government.
3. You resolve, thirdly, that you will “never accept it,” meaning, I suppose, the offer made,
In reply to this, I have only to remark that it is the privilege of any citizen of Liberia to accept or refuse an appointment to office by the government, which right is continually exercised in all parts of the republic. Nor is any one liable to pains or penalties for such refusal. The chiefs, in refusing to accept the commission tendered them, had a perfect right to do so, however unwise or unpatriotic it may appear. We have no law compelling a citizen to hold any given office contrary to his wish.
4. You resolve, fourthly, that you consider your people under the protection of England, whose flag was sent to you many years ago by that government you allege, and which you will fly, and also call upon in your present difficulty.
Here, gentlemen, I have the honor to call your attention, most respectfully, to another error into which you have fallen. From the date of the deeds of cession above referred to, now thirty-three years ago, up to the present, Her Majesty’s Government have never, to our knowledge, set up any claim to possession of, or protectorate over, any portion of the territory under consideration. So far from it, Great Britain has long since acknowledged our right to the coast as far below Cape Palmas as the San Pedro River, which she would scarcely have done had that government possessed a prior claim to any portion thereof.
5. In your fifth and last resolution you propose to stop all trade and communication with the Republic of Liberia until this question about the rights of your country is settled to your entire satisfaction
Being within and forming a part of the republic, I do not see how you will be able to carry out this resolution. If, however, you mean that your intention is to cease all trade and commercial intercourse with other parts of Liberia, I have only to remark that it is optional with every Liberian citizen to choose his market. As desirable as it is that you continue friendly trade and commercial transactions with other Liberian importers and dealers, yet there is no law in our compilation making it binding upon you to do so. You are under no legal obligation to patronize the home market. You have equal privileges under the law with other Liberian producers to ship the result of your labor to Europe, America, or to dispose of it to foreign traders on the coast, [Page 722] who are transacting business in compliance with the revenue laws of this republic. So far from discouraging it the government will be glad to see you availing yourselves of the advantages of a foreign market in common with other good citizens. And to facilitate this object a special law was enacted two years ago permitting foreign vessels to trade directly with the inhabitants of the whole line of coast from the Gavalla River to the San Pedro; thus more than compensating you for the disadvantages of having no ports of entry in that district.
Another idea was conceived last year which will likely culminate in the passage of a law at the ensuing session of the legislature, opening two or three ports of entry and delivery between the rivers aforementioned, which will afford you the advantages of shipping your produce by steamers or other vessels direct to the European and other markets. These privileges and benefits are yours under the laws of the land, be it understood, but not in repudiation of them.
Having thus noticed the resolutions set forth in your circular, and having pointed out some errors under which you are evidently laboring, I have the honor to assure you, gentlemen, that, while the government are willing to remonstrate with, advise, point out errors, instruct, and in fact exhaust all pacific and gentle means to settle difficulties of this character, yet, upon the failure of these, ulterior measures must be adopted. A spirit of disloyalty and insubordination cannot be tolerated within the limits of the state.
Trusting, gentlemen, that you will not fail to see the propriety of reconsidering your resolutions, and of returning to your wonted allegiance,
I have the honor to be, sirs, your obedient, humble servant,
Secretary of State.