No. 146.
Mr. Vignaud to Mr. Bayard.

No. 267.]

Sir: Referring to your instructions No. 67, of January 13, and No. 142, of July 12, concerning the alleged proceedings of two officers of the French navy in negotiating and communicating with certain native tribes within the Liberian territory as independent, I have the honor to send herewith copy of the correspondence thereon which took place place between this legation and the French foreign office, viz:

Mr. McLane to M. de Freycinet (February 3, 1886).
Mr. Vignaud to the same (August 6, 1886).
M. de Freycinet to Mr. Vignaud (August 18, 1886), with a translation of the same.

The interest the Department takes in this matter is well understood by Mr. McLane and myself, and the legation will lose no opportunity of ascertaining if really France has any design upon a part of Liberia.

I have, &c.,

[Page 306]
[Inclosure 1 in No. 267.]

Mr. McLane to M. de Freycinet.

Sir: Your excellency is certainly aware of the peculiar interest the United States take in the independence and prosperity of the Republic of Liberia, on the west coast of Africa. This interest is more of a moral character than of a political one. We exercise no protectorate over Liberia, but the circumstance that this Republic originated through the colonization of American citizens, and was established under the fostering sanction of the United States, entitles it to the sympathy of our people, to their encouragement, and, when practicable, to their protection. As the next friend of Liberia, my Government conceives that it has the obligation to aid her when she needs support, and that it can do so properly without giving offense to any foreign power.

This legation, acting under instructions from the United States Secretary of State, has ventured to lay before your excellency’s predecessors facts or reports which had given occasion to the supposition that France entertained the idea of extending her political action over Liberia or a part of her territory.

Appreciating the motives which had prompted these observations, Mr. Waddington, in 1879, and Mr. Jules Ferry, in, 1884, disclaimed that France had any design upon the territory which Liberia could claim, and my Government has not the slightest reason to suppose that such is not the case.

Certain recent proceedings of Commandant Aroux, of the French gunboat Gabès, however, have led the Liberian Government to fear that France might now have other views.

It seems that this officer has made a treaty with the native chiefs of certain Liberian tribes—the Grebce, at Berreby, in the Liberian territory southeast of Cape Palmas. The nature and character of this alleged treaty is not known, but the fact that it was entered upon with tribes which cannot be considered as independent from Liberia, whose southeastern boundaries extend to the river San Pedro, has very naturally alarmed the Liberian President, who called the attention of my Government to the fact.

In the same friendly spirit which has dictated the previous interposition of my Government in this matter, I am requested by Mr. Bayard to ask 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 to ascertain, if so, if this treaty is in disparagement of Liberian sovereign rights.

Trusting that your excellency will not misconstrue the character of this request, and, that in view of quieting the natural apprehensions caused by the report above mentioned, it will be found agreeable to furnish the information applied for,

I avail, &c.,

[Inclosure 2 in No. 267.]

Mr. Vignaud to Mr. de Freycinet.

Sir: On the 3d of February of the current year, Mr. McLane had the honor of addressing a note to your excellency recalling the circumstances which entitle the Republic of Liberia to the sympathy and protection of the United States, and also the fact that the legation had previously laid before your predecessors reports which led to the belief that France entertained the idea of extending her political action over the whole or a part of the territory of that Republic.

Mr. McLane then stated that, although Mr. Waddington in 1879, and. Mr. Jules Ferry in 1884, had disclaimed any design upon any territory which Liberia could claim, certain proceedings of Commandant Aroux, or Arnoux, of the French gun boat Gabès, had led the Liberian Government to fear that France might now have other views, and that upon its representations at Washington, he was directed to ask in a friendly spirit, whether there was any foundation in the reports that France, through its officers on the coast, had assumed to treat with Liberian tribes as independent.

[Page 307]

Since the above dispatch was written, the Liberian Government has given to the United States representative at Monrovia information which shows that another officer of the French navy, Capt. E. Dumont, of the war steamer Voltigeur, had also been engaged in negotiating with tribes under the jurisdiction of Liberia.

It appears from a statement made by Captain Dumont himself to the President of Liberia, that his ship had stopped at Berreby on her way up the coast, and that he had communicated with the people of that place by order of his Government, who had directed him to protect them. On being informed by the President that Berreby is within the Liberian territory, Captain Dumont said that the French Government had had some treaty or agreement with the people of Berreby ever since 1833, before the establishment of the Republic. He was then shown a French official map of West Africa, issued by authority in 188£, and furnished to Mr. Carrance, the Liberian consul-general at Paris, for transmission to Monrovia, on which the San Pedro River is described as the southeastern boundary of Liberia. The captain examined closely this map, took notes, and said he would communicate with his Government with reference to the matter.

The language of Captain Dumont, who expatiated on the benefit that would accrue to Liberia if she would avail herself of French protection, and his action following so closely the mission attributed to Lieutenant Arnoux, have given to the Monrovian Government reason to apprehend that the French Republic might have now other views than those expressed by Mr. Waddington and Mr. Jules Ferry. As for my own Government, which takes a deep interest in the preservation of the territorial integrity of Liberia, it has learned with much concern that French officers have been treating with, and considering as independent, tribes within the long and universally recognized boundaries of the Liberian Republic, and I am directed to bring the subject to the attention of your excellency with a view of ascertaining whether or not the proceedings of Lieutenant Arnoux and Captain Dumont are sanctioned by the French Government.

For the spirit in which this inquiry is made I venture to refer your excellency to the dispatch of Mr. McLane, above mentioned, to which no answer has yet been made.

I avail, &c.,

Chargé, &c.
[Inclosure 3 in No. 267.—Translation.]

Mr. de Freycinet to Mr. Vignaud.

Sir: In consequence of information communicated to the Cabinet at Washington by the Government of Liberia, the representative of the United States at Paris has been charged to inquire of us as to the value it would be deemed proper to attach to certain incidents which had marked the passage of two of our cruisers at the Berreby on the west coast of Africa.

We have been directly informed of the same facts by the interested Government, and it has not been difficult for us to convince it, through the intermediary of its representative in France, that the facts signaled to us had not the character attributed to them by rumors too easily credited. We have also deemed it necessary, on this occasion, to recall to the Liberian Government the ties, already old, which unite to France the populations of Grand and Petit Berreby, in virtue of a treaty signed with us by their chief February 4, 1868, and which was made public.

In view of the interest which the Cabinet at Washington appeared to attach to be advised of the result of the initiative taken near us by the Republic of Liberia, I had taken care to make known to our chargé d’affaires at Washington the sense in which the reply to the Government of Monrovia had been made. I have reason to think, at all events, that the indications which precede will satisfy the desire manifested by the Government of the United States.

Receive, &c.,