File No. 882.00/450.
The American Chargé d’Affaires to the Secretary of State.
Monrovia, November 11, 1912.
Sir: I have the honor to submit, for the information of the Department, the following report on the recent disorders which have occurred in Liberia, and have been apparently so grossly exaggerated in European circles.
I am reasonably certain that none of these reports were made by any of the foreign representatives here. Like myself, possibly excepting the Acting German Consul, they were all very much surprised to receive cables from their home Governments instructing them to report immediately as to the true situation of affairs in Liberia, as most alarming reports had apparently reached the various foreign offices through other than official sources.
From what I have been able to ascertain, it would seem that the responsibility for these reports can be traced in only one or two directions, probably in both. At the time the stone-throwing, reported in my No. 53, of October 12, 1912, was going on in Monrovia, two German newspaper correspondents were sojourning here for a few days. I am informed that on leaving Monrovia they proceeded direct to Hamburg, where statements were published relative to the disorders that had taken place, and these statements magnified the incidents greatly beyond their true proportion. I am inclined to believe that some of these rumors originated with these press correspondents. I was further informed that the German Consul requested that these [Page 660]correspondents make no reports on Liberia that would likely be detrimental to the country, and that assurances had been given him by the correspondents that they would comply with his request, but subsequent developments seem to indicate that the request of the German Consul did little or no good.
The other source of these alarming rumors I think can be laid at the door of certain German merchants, possibly at Bassa, who became alarmed at the threatened sympathetic uprising which was being fomented in the vicinity of Bassa on the part of natives who it seemed intended to join forces with the Krus who were rebelling against the enforcement of the governmental regulation with respect to the sale of gunpowder to them by the foreign merchants at River Cess. As near as I can arrive at the truth of the matter, it would seem that the agents of German houses at Bassa sent by steamer a message to Freetown, Sierra Leone, to be cabled to their head office in Hamburg to the effect that a native uprising was imminent, and that foreigners’ lives and property would not be safe in the vicinity of Bassa. Local German agents and the German Consul seem to have had no information as to the action of the agents of Bassa, and disclaim any responsibility for the alarming reports which were sent to Hamburg. I have no means of verifying completely this explanation, and I may say, that I entertain some doubt as to the entire truthfulness of this version. I am under the impression that at least local German agents had some knowledge of what was being done, and perhaps were a party to it.
By promptly sending fifty men to Bassa, the backbone of the disorder was immediately broken and until the present no uprising has been reported from that district.
With reference to the River Cess incident, I have to say that it originated, as before indicated, on account of the Government’s refusal to permit foreign merchants to sell gunpowder to natives. Incensed at this prohibition, the Kru people living in this district rebelled and seriously crippled the business of this port of entry by refusing to work on the surf-boats by means of which cargo is landed from the steamers. The Government, of course, had to take immediate cognizance of this disorder, and dispatched, under Major Ballard, one of the American officers, about seventy-five well drilled, efficient men to suppress this rebellion. On October 25th the troops were dispatched. Official reports written on October 27th informed President Howard that the uprising had been completely suppressed, several of the ringleaders captured and order restored.
It is to be noted that there is a well defined impression in Government circles that the German merchants at River Cess instigated this uprising and were in sympathy with the natives.
Concerning the disorders of Brewerville, I have to say that it has been customary for the town of Brewerville to collect license from the foreign merchants’ stores there and use the money as may seem best to the authorities of the town. Recently, I understand, the Treasury Department has enforced a regulation which requires that the amounts accruing from these licenses be paid into the General Treasury. The amount involved is only some three hundred dollars per year, but it was sufficient to stir up great animosity in Brewerville against the regulation. The amount of property destroyed is reported to be about [Page 661]$1,200. A claim for this property will be placed against the Government, which probably will recognize it and make some provision for settlement. There is absolutely no connection at all between the Brewerville incident and the Bassa and River Gess disorders.
It is my personal opinion, as well as that of the other foreign representatives residing here, perhaps excepting the Acting German Consul, that there was nothing in the situation that looked alarming and threatened a general destruction of property and menaced the lives of foreigners.
Accordingly, it is not believed that it was by any means necessary to call for the presence of a war vessel. I understand that the German gunboat Panther will make a call here within a day or so, but as things are absolutely quiet and peaceful, I cannot see any use whatever for her presence at this time.
The alarming representations that have been made in consequence of these disorders verifies the statement I made in my despatch, of October 12th, with reference to the unstable condition of affairs in Liberia, and at any moment over-wrought foreigners might do things that would precipitate a very serious situation. I feel that we have not yet passed beyond the possibility of further trouble of this character. There is an evident hysterical sentiment prevailing among the foreign merchants here which might kindle into action that would have very unfortunate results. It is particularly noticeable that this sentiment exists mostly among the Germans. I believe that it is largely due to a total loss of confidence on their part in things Liberian. I would hesitate to ascribe their action and feeling to a more sinister motive, yet it is entirely within the realm of possibilities that such motives may exist. However, this much I believe I can state with a considerable degree of certainty: The German merchants have been and are completely hostile to the establishment of tin gold basis by Liberia, in the matter of paying customs, before the Receivership has actually gone into operation. In the first place this has largely cut down the profits they have been accustomed to make by “jobbing” in duty paper. Second, no effort has been made by the Liberian Government so far as I know, to pay anything on their current accounts, and at the same time the Government endeavors to secure additional credit which the merchants are now denying. It was probably this fact which led to the report that the Government was short of funds and was unable to suppress the uprisings on that account. I am informed that before Major Ballard and his troops were sent to River Cess, an effort was made by the Government to obtain supplies from German merchants at Monrovia on credit, and they were flatly refused, except duty paper was given. On its part it must be stated to the credit of the Government, that it refused to issue any more duty paper.
It would appear, therefore, that the longer the Receivership is kept from operation the more difficult it is becoming for the Government to raise funds to meet emergencies. It is to be hoped, therefore, that the end of the delay is well in sight and the time approaches when the Receivership can take charge. Personally, I am of the opinion that matters can be very easily controlled if confidence is restored by the Receivership going into effect at an early date.[Page 662]
Just as I was about to bring this despatch to a close I was informed that the German gunboat Panther has arrived in the harbor. It is reported that she proceeds to Bassa, the seat of the alleged disorder, at 11:00 this evening. I will promptly and fully advise the Department of future developments.
I am [etc.]