No. 141.
Mr. Bayard to Mr. McLane.

No. 67.]

Sir: I transmit to you herewith, for your information, a copy of a dispatch to this Department concerning the alleged proceedings of Lieutenant Aroux, commanding a gunboat of the French navy, in negotiating treaties with the chiefs of native tribes within Liberian territory.

You are desired to acquaint yourself with the former inquiries made at the time of the French attempt to control Kent Island, in the Manna River, and with the grounds on which our friendly intervention on behalf of Liberia was based. We exercise no protectorate over Liberia, but the circumstance that the Republic originated through the colonization of American citizens, and was established under the fostering sanction of this Government, gives us the right, as the next friend of Liberia, to aid her in preventing any encroachment of foreign powers on her territorial sovereignty, and in settling any dispute that may arise. The southeasterly boundary at the river San Pedro has never been questioned, and has the powerful sanction of general admission for many years. I will thank you, therefore, to ask the foreign office whether there is any foundation for the report that France, through its officers on the coast, has assumed to treat with Liberian tribes as independent; and you will endeavor to ascertain, if so, whether Lieutenant Aroux’s so-called treaty is in disparagement of Liberia’s sovereign rights in that territory.

I am, &c.,

[Inclosure in No. 67.]

Mr. Smyth to Mr. Bayard.

No. 149.]

Sir: I have the honor respectfully to furnish you the following information: On the morning of the above date I was called upon by Mr. Secretary Barclay, and was informed by him that there was apprehension felt on the part of His Excellency the President, and also by himself, that the French had been tampering with the chiefs in the Liberian territory southeast of Capo Palmas, at a place which is about 70 or 100 miles distant from Cape Palmas, at Berriby, to the end of making a treaty with the Greboe native race in that locality.

The circumstances of the above information were these: The gunboat Gabès, commanded by Lieutenant P. Aroux, steamed into the Monrovia Roads on the 2d of December, 1885, and said commandant paid a visit of courtesy to the President, December 3, 1885. In the interview which the commandant had with the President, mention was made of the fact that on the voyage from Gaboon he, the commandant, had stopped at Berreiby, and that he had landed, and by his further statement gave the President the impression that Berreiby was considered by him (the commandant) as without Liberian possessions. To this erroneous impression His Excellency promptly and clearly stated that Berreiby was a portion, of Liberian territory, and defined the southeast boundary as extending to the river San Pedro. Subsequent to the departure of the Gabès for St. Vincent, Cape do Verde, information was received, through a subagent of the German firm of A. Woermann, resident here, that the commandant, P. Aroux, had made a treaty with the native chiefs of Berreiby.

[Page 299]

An attempt was made in 1879, by the influence of a Frenchman resident of Paris, to have his Government exercise a protectorate over Liberia, and in 1884 Kent Island, in the river Manna, was occupied by a French firm, and a lease was taken from a native subect of Liberia of a part of the land on the south bank of said river. As to the matter of a protectorate, on representations made by me to the Department, and inquiries made at the foreign office at Paris, as a sequence, by the Minister of the United States, there was a prompt disclaimer made by the foreign minister of any such desire or purpose on the part of his Government. As to the Kent Island affair, after I had advised your predecessor, the Hon. Mr. Secretary Frelinghuysen, concerning the matter, and the Government of Liberia had communicated the facts to the French Government, the Liberian Government was advised that the unauthorized act of lease by a French citizen of Liberian territory unlawfully would not be countenanced by France, and that Liberia had no cause to fear contention on the part of the French Government as to claim upon the territory in question.

Now, as to the present affair, in the light of European effort to possess African soil, and France particularly, it is judicious in Liberia that she advise our Government at once of apprehensions felt of French territorial encroachments; and I call attention to this matter at the instance of the Liberian secretary of state, and in keeping with instruction contained in your predecessor’s No. 52, diplomatic series, dated Washington, October 9, 1884. In this connection I beg to state that the secretary of state also informed me that an act was to be passed at the present session of the Legislature authorizing the opening of a port of entry at San Pedro, and some intermediate point between there and Capo Palmas.

On account of this recent visit of the French commandant, the more recent report concerning his action, his secretiveness as to any conduct on his part other than an authorized (by the Liberian Government) visit to Berreiby, and the impossibility of communication with that portion of the coast by Government and hearing from the chiefs up to the time of this writing, there has been no verification of the report concerning a treaty.

As an indication of the possible accuracy of the above report of French encroachment, a review of the action of France in the rear of where Liberia now is, in the latter part of the eighteenth century (see supplement to my No. 52, diplomatic series, November 15, 1879), and subsequently with reference to Liberia, will tend to satisfy you, sir, in the absence of immediate direct corroboration, that the information or report is not incredible, and seems to point to the possibility of history repeating itself with regard to France in the matter of Liberia.

I have, &c.,