The Secretary of State to President Roosevelt.
Washington, January 18, 1909.
The President: In the month of June last the Republic of Liberia, through a commission specially accredited to this Government, applied to the United States for assistance in maintaining its independence and to enable it to carry on a peaceful and orderly government. The particular form of assistance which the commissioners contemplated in their application was chiefly a guaranty by the United States of the territorial and political integrity of Liberia, with such reservations and upon such conditions as might be agreed upon.
Upon being convinced that such a guaranty was impracticable, the commissioners further requested that the United States should lend to Liberia officers to aid in the conduct of its administration and should confer with the Governments of other countries having, interests upon the west coast of Africa, and particularly with Great Britain, which has rendered material assistance to Liberia in the past, with a view to ascertain how best to render assistance and with a view to give to Liberia the moral support which would result from evidence of interest in her welfare on the part of the United States.
To these requests attentive consideration has been given. There have been full conferences with the commissioners and with Mr. Booker T. Washington, who was much interested in their mission, and with representatives of other interested powers, and reports from general and from special representatives of the United States in Liberia, and the conclusion reached by the State Department is quite clear that Liberia is very much in need of assistance, that the United States can help her substantially, and that it is our duty to help her.
The condition of Liberia is really serious. Between 40,000 and 50,000 civilized negroes, for the most part descendants of the original colonists from the United States, occupy a territory comprising 43,000 square miles, in which there are also over a million and a half members of uncivilized native tribes. The civilized part of the population have been to a great degree cut off from any intimate relation with the rest of the civilized world for two-thirds of a century. They began with but little education, with no acquired skill in the art of government, and they have had but little opportunity to improve through intercourse with other and more advanced communities. [Page 700] They find it especially difficult to control the native tribes or to conduct their own Government in accordance with modern requirements.
The British colony of Sierra Leone to the north and the French possessions closing in their hinterland to the east are almost continuously complaining of the failure of Liberia to maintain order upon the border. Notwithstanding the very kindly disposition on the part of Great Britain and the similar disposition on the part of France, there is imminent danger that the Republic, unless it receives outside assistance, will not be able to maintain itself very long.
Liberia is an American colony. It was established through the combined efforts of our Government and philanthropic and missionary enterprises in the United States, organized in the American Colonization Society and in societies in Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Louisiana, and other States. The Government participation in the establishment was the result of a series of statutes extending from 1794 to 1819 for the abolition of slavery. The last of these statutes, the act of March 3, 1819, provided that negroes from captured slavers should be safely kept, supported, and removed “beyond the limits of the United States.”
For the execution of this statute President Monroe in 1819 appointed two agents of the United States Government who proceeded to cooperate with the various colonization societies, and according to a report of Amos Kendall, Fourth Auditor to the Secretary of the Navy in 1830, the resources of the Government were employed “to colonize recaptured Africans, to build homes for them, to furnish them with farming utensils, to pay instructors to teach them, to purchase ships for their convenience, to build forts for their protection, to supply them with arms and munitions of war, to enlist troops to guard them, and to employ the Army and Navy in their defense.”
The first members of the colony were transported from America and landed upon African soil in vessels chartered by the Government of the United States.
On the 24th of March, 1843, Mr. Webster, then Secretary of State, writing of Liberia to Mr. Everett, then American minister in London, said:
Founded principally with a view to the melioration of the condition of an interesting portion of the great human family, this colony has conciliated more and more the good will, and has from time to time received the aid and support of this Government. Without having passed any laws for their regulation, the American Government takes a deep interest in the welfare of the people of Liberia, and is disposed to extend to them a just degree of countenance and protection.
On the 25th of September, 1843, Mr. Upshur, then Secretary of State, in a letter concerning Liberia, to the British minister in Washintgon, said:
To the United States it is an object of peculiar interest. It was established by our people, and it has gone on under the countenance and good offices of our Government. It is identified with the success of a great object, which has enlisted the feelings and called into action the enlarged benevolence of a large proportion of our people. It is natural, therefore, that we should regard it with greater sympathy and solicitude than would attach to it under other circumstances.
From time to time since 1843 there have been expressions of interest in Liberia on the part of the United States Government, including the recognition of the independence of the Republic and a treaty of commerce and navigation in 1862, and also including a correspondence [Page 701] with the British Government in an ineffective effort to be of assistance to the people of Liberia in 1897. The present situation is to some extent indicated by a recent correspondence through the American ambassador in London, a copy of which is annexed.
It is unnecessary to argue that the duty of the United States toward the unfortunate victims of the slave trade was not completely performed by landing them upon the coast of Africa, and that our nation rests under the highest obligation to assist them, so far as they need assistance, toward the maintenance of free, orderly, and prosperous civil society.
The interest of the people of the United States in the welfare and progress of the millions of American citizens of the black race in the United States also furnishes a strong reason for helping to maintain this colony, whose success in self-government will give hope and courage, and whose failure would bring discouragement to the entire race.
With all the study which it has been possible to give and with all the assistance which the Liberian commissioners themselves could give, it has been found very difficult to determine the precise things which the Government of the United States had better do by way of giving assistance, and upon the most careful consideration I am satisfied that we ought to send to Liberia a commission of three experienced and judicious Americans to examine the situation there and confer with the officers of the Liberian Government and with the representatives of other governments actually present in Monrovia, with a view to reporting recommendations as to the specific action on the part of the Government of the United States which will constitute the most effective measures of relief.
I accordingly advise that Congress be asked for an appropriation of, say $20,000, to pay the expenses of such a commission, and that in case of a favorable action by Congress a suitable vessel of the United States Navy be designated to transport the commission to and from Liberia.