File No. 882.00/447.
The American Chargé d’Affaires to the Secretary of State.
Monrovia, October 12, 1912.
Sir: I have the honor to make the following report to the Department with reference to certain disorders that occurred in the city of Monrovia recently, which at the time seemed to be assuming very serious proportions.
During the last week in September and the first three or four days in October, several Europeans residing in the city of Monrovia were set upon after dark presumably by irresponsible young Liberians [Page 656]and stoned. I have been credibly informed that there were four distinct attacks of this character on as many different parties. The first persons who were victims of these attacks were Englishmen, but after two or three days Germans and Dutchmen were assailed in a similar manner.
One instance I personally investigated and found that a German clerk had been struck on the hand by a missile of considerable size. The hand was rather seriously injured. This was the only case I know of in which bodily injury was sustained. But it was reported to me that several persons had the lanterns which they were carrying smashed, and were compelled to run to avoid being struck. So far as I have been able to ascertain, it does not seem that any of the parties attacked were in any way guilty of actions likely to stir up disorder. They were simply walking the streets in a peaceable manner, as was their custom.
The serious feature about these disorders is, that all the Europeans in the city complained bitterly to their respective consuls. Among the foreign consuls there was much talk to the effect that foreigners’ lives were not safe in Monrovia, and Liberian officials were either so inefficient or indolent as not to be able to control the situation. The Acting German Consul was actually on the point of cabling to his Government this view of the situation, on account of pressure from the irritated German residents here. I let it be known that it was my opinion that the situation was by no means beyond the control of the Liberian civil authorities, and that a fair opportunity ought at least be given them to deal with the disorder before any steps were taken by the foreign representatives that were likely to involve consequences the end of which could not be foreseen. The Acting German Consul informed me verbally that it was his intention to cable his Government, if there were another single instance of an attack upon a German subject or property. He made me the promise, however, that if in his opinion it became necessary for him to cable, he would advise me of his intention before so doing.
I have also orally discussed these disorders with the French and English consular officers here, and it has been decided that it would be better to have a conference, of all the foreign representatives in Monrovia, at which a common course of action could be outlined, if it became apparent that the Liberian authorities were unable to cope with the situation, than for each officer to act independently and possibly give rise to serious misunderstanding.
I do not think the Liberian authorities are unable to deal adequately with disorders of this character, but I feel in the case under discussion that they might have moved more expeditiously and completely suppressed the outbreaks of a few rowdy incorrigibles after the first attack, and thus prevented the question from ever assuming international proportions. The slowness of the authorities gave an opportunity to this lawless element to make an attack on the American Legation.
On the night of October 3rd, 1912, after the retirement of all the occupants of the Legation, a stone of about one-half pound in weight was thrown by unknown parties through one of the office windows on the first floor, where with the fragments of the shattered pane I found it next morning. The noise of breaking the window had not [Page 657]been sufficient to attract my attention at the time it was done, so the fact was not discovered until next morning.
I promptly took the matter up with the Secretary of State in a despatch of October 4th, 1912, in which I protested against the assault on the Legation and requested protection. In his reply the Secretary of State made appropriate apologies and offered me a guard of frontier soldiers to protect the Legation. This I respectfully declined, as I pointed out to him that a guard of soldiers stationed around the Legation would confirm the impression current in the minds of Europeans in Monrovia, that the civil authorities were unable to take care of the situation; and if this information were to get abroad, it would likely be very embarrassing to the Liberian Government not only this, I also expressed the opinion that the disorder could have been very easily subdued by a little greater activity on the part of the civil authorities. I therefore, confined my request for protection to the nightly detail of a policeman to do duty in the vicinity of the Legation until such time as I could feel reasonably sure that all danger from a recurrence of the assault had passed. This request was immediately complied with, and until the time of writing I have heard of no more attacks, either on foreigners or their property.
I am further informed that the Secretary of State offered a guard of soldiers to each of the foreign consular officers here, in his reply to their respective protests and demands for protection. None of the consular officers, I have learned, accepted the guard.
The thing that appears to call forth the most unfavorable comment by the resident consular officers is that they seem to feel that the Liberian authorities too seldom detect criminals; and the punishment inflicted when they are caught and brought into court is not in keeping with the offense. The claim is frequently made that this condition invariably develops if the party undertaking the prosecution is a foreigner. The recent disorders might easily have created a very difficult situation, as I am reliably informed that after the first attack was reported most of the foreigners went about the streets after dark heavily armed and had expressed their intention to protect themselves if they were assaulted. Fortunately no occasion arose which required any foreigner to undertake his own protection.
It is gratifying to report that the Liberian Government and the best citizens greatly deplore these disturbances and I have no evidence that would tend to fix responsibility for the trouble in this direction. Some say that it is an expression of resentment on the part of sympathizers with Cooper and Lomax, directed against foreigners because it was felt that they had scant respect for the court proceedings which acquitted the accused men.1 I have heard many times that Europeans have frequently and openly expressed their contempt for the outcome of the Cooper-Lomax trials, but I am not yet personally prepared to account for the disorder on this ground. Other reports say, that it was an effort to discredit the present administration by stirring up trouble which it could not manage and involve it in international complications. This explanation I also discard. I think the most probable solution is, that the whole .affair was started by rowdy, [Page 658]irresponsible boys and young men who very likely had personal grievances against some foreigners and undertook to take revenge by stoning them after dark. Finding that the mischief was creating widespread alarm throughout the city, the disturbers took a malicious glee in continuing their attacks until the thoroughfares were adequately policed and it was generally known that a recurrence would certainly cause somebody to be seriously hurt. Only then did the trouble cease. This interpretation does not find very general acceptance among the other foreign representatives here.
The thing that I feel must be emphasized to the Department is the unstable condition of affairs in the Republic at this time. The most trivial incident may at any time cause overwrought foreigners to precipitate a situation that would be quite beyond the control of the Liberian Government. The cause of the unrest is to be found, I believe, in the delay in the effective operation of the new loan agreement and the prevalent local European impression, that it is highly probable that the agreement will never become operative. Also there is an ever-increasing opinion among foreigners that the Liberian Government cannot long continue to exist, unless there soon comes an effective supervision of its affairs by forces outside of itself. Meanwhile, the Liberian Government is doing its very best to meet the essential requirements of a most awkward and distressing situation with a fortitude that is, to say the least, commendable.
I am [etc.]