No. 438.
Mr. Smyth to Mr. Blaine.

No. 144.]

Sir: On the 8th of August, 1881, I called upon Hon. G. W. Gibson, secretary of state of Liberia, and had a very interesting interview. I discussed fully the matter of ports of entry, agriculture, and the relations of foreigners resident here as affected by legislation. The secretary said that he with the other members of the existing administration appreciate the interest the United States Government has ever manifested toward Liberia.

He expressed himself as being in sympathy with my views as to the wisdom of granting larger privileges to foreigners, and requested me to furnish him with a memorandum of my views, which I have done.

Please find inclosed copy of memorandum marked No. 1.

I am, &c.,


Mr. Smyth to Mr. Gibson.

Mr. Secretary: According to request made at our recent interview that I would furnish you memoranda of my views upon the subject of enlarged privileges that should in my opinion, the opinion of my government, be accorded American citizens as a reason for my government giving full credence to the desire of your people for increased commercial relations with the United States, I have the honor, very respectfully, to submit the following:

The port of entry statute of 1865, on page 42 of the Liberian statutes, contains the gist of the objectionable legislation to which I would invite attention.

The first section makes it an offense punishable with a heavy fine for a foreigner to re-establish, after establishing at a port of entry, a factory without the immediate jurisdiction of a port of entry. The second section of said act, on careful examination and by fair legal construction and interpretation, prohibits Liberians as it does foreigners, against whom it, by intendment, was made to operate, chartering a foreign vessel to come within the Republic for purposes of trade. This was evidently an oversight, mistake on the part of the law makers; but, notwithstanding this, it is the law. Having set out the principal object of complaint, I respectfully invite attention to the facts that have transpired with reference to the objectionable matter complained of. The American firm of Messrs. Yates and Porterfield was established at Grand Bassa for several years, but since has abandoned the keeping of a house in Liberia, on account of annoyances it was subjected to by the law of 1865.

A former adviser of the government, Attorney-General Davis, was of opinion that the right to trade away from ports of entry, east of the coast and at interior settlements, on the part of foreigners, under the law, should be conceded.

Further, the honored President of Liberia, A. W. Gardner, in his annual message of 1879, favored, and in substance advised the abrogation of the law of 1865, by recommending enlarged privileges to foreigners under proper safeguards (vide message).

Since the passage of the law of 1865, the firm of Messrs Yates & Porterfield has established a successful business at Sierra Leone and Lagas, and contemplate opening business at Senegal within the present year.

C. Woerman & Son., of Hamburg, desired to lease large estates here for the culture of coffee, but from the illiberality of the laws, abandoned the effort, and have since established successfully at Gaboon, the French Government making the firm a gift of land for agricultural purposes. The coffee that has been successfully cultivated at Gaboon, is Liberian.

Dudes upon imports are such as are calculated to seriously injure the progress of the masses, and are of questionable benefit to the revenue.

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The foregoing facts represent the absence of so much capital from the state that would otherwise have been here, and from which the people would have received a share in compensation for labor, and the state a portion in increased revenue.

Had this potential capital been introduced, commodities would have been reduced in price by competition and the masses, the common people, would have been made more comfortable by increased facilities of employment.

The object of past legislation has been in the interest of the trading, rather than the producing class, and for reasons that are obvious. It requires but little sagacity to predict the result of such legislation, if persisted in. Already the results are painfully apparent in the agricultural condition of the country. While more coffee has been produced within the last three years than in any other like period of time in the nation’s history, yet the exorbitant prices of necessary commodities have kept the people poor.

The two published annual reports made by me to my government for the fiscal years 1878 and 1879, show the imports to Liberia to have been largely in excess of the exports from Liberia to the United States, making the balance of trade against the Republic.

I venture the assertion that the imports from England, Germany, and Holland are vastly in excess of those of the United States. There are not any consular reports from the German and Dutch consular officers resident in the Republic.

Since Liberia cannot profitably consume what is produced, not to speak of its possible productions, the state must export its surplus productions; but to do this farming interests must be specially fostered. The increase of Christian emigration from the United States, is the increase of poverty as to money, but may be made an increase of wealth in muscular industry, by liberal legislation. While labor and capital should never be made antagonistic elements, it is the duty of government to be so liberal in its legislation upon these subjects as to avoid any such result.

Without further trespassing upon your time, I most respectfully submit that so much of the port of entry law of 1865, as I have referred to, should be repealed, that leases should be made to foreigners by the Government and by citizens, for business purposes for varying periods of time and for ninety-nine years, the rental being made payable annually or otherwise, as the contracting parties may decide, and that duties on imports be decreased.

With renewed assurances of the very sincere interest I have in the future progress of the Republic. I am, &c.,