File No. 882.00/486.
The American Chargé d’Affaires to the Secretary of State.
Monrovia , September 27, 1913 .
Sir: I had the honor to report to the Department somewhat at length in my No. 110 of May 15, 1913, concerning the disorder which existed among the native tribes that occupy Liberian territory adjacent to the Sierra Leone-Liberia boundary. I regret to inform the Department that from reports which have recently reached Monrovia it would seem that conditions have gotten worse in this section of the country instead of better.
The specific causes which have led up to the present state of affairs are so obscured in a mass of conflicting reports from the Liberian commissioners operating in the affected district, which are conspicuous for apparent inaccuracies, petty jealousy, rivalry, spite and venality, that I seriously doubt whether the Government itself has a correct understanding of the situation. In a general way it seems that the root of the difficulty may be found in the untrustworthiness of the commissioners which the Government has appointed to look after its affairs in the boundary districts. The proper supervision of native tribes that dwell in Liberian territory contiguous to the Sierra Leone-Liberia boundary is one of the most pressing problems before the Republic, and is destined, if not speedily and satisfactorily solved, to involve the Liberian Government in controversies with the Colonial Government of Sierra Leone that may have far-reaching consequences.
The Liberian Government lives in constant fear of aggressive acts and encroachments upon its territory by the Sierra Leone authorities, and yet it seems to me that very little care is exercised to keep down contentions and disorders which could easily furnish plausible excuses for additional aggressions by officials of the Sierra Leone Government. In a recent conversation with the British Consul General, conditions along the Liberian side of the border were represented to me as being very grave. He stated that the whole population of a large and populous district was in revolt, and many chiefs with their retainers had fled into Sierra Leone for protection and safety. The Consul General unhesitatingly blamed the maladministration of Liberian officials for the disorders and sought to leave with me the impression that the situation was hopeless. However, he took great pains to deprecate the suspicion entertained by the Liberian Government, which apparently had come to his knowledge, that there were ulterior motives back of the strong representations which I understand he has been making concerning conditions on the boundary. As if to remove any doubt that might have lodged in my mind respecting the matter, he earnestly assured me that there was not the slightest desire on the part of the British Government to acquire any of the territory now recognized as Liberian. But he did not tell me, what I subsequently learned from the Secretary of State, that the Government was being urged to accept a proposition that would permit the disgruntled natives to throw off their allegiance to Liberia [Page 685] and become British subjects. Great emphasis was laid on the immediate necessity of restoring order, and the Consul General gave it as his opinion that the task would be altogether too great for the Liberian troops now stationed along the border. These number some two hundred and fifty men, who are under the command of Captain Hawkins, one of the American officers. It is admitted that he and his detachment have been and are doing good work, but the distracting activities of the commissioners among the natives have kept up such a turmoil that much of the good that Captain Hawkins could otherwise have accomplished has been nullified by their presence. The intimation was also dropped by the Consul General that the Sierra Leone Government was willing to use its police force to assist in the work of pacification, and from what was said one might readily infer that the next step would be to insist that the use of the Sierra Leone police force had actually become necessary.
From the General Receiver I have learned that the Collector of Customs, A. D. Thomas, at Laingeclue, an interior station on the Sierra Leone-Liberia boundary, was killed and the customs house looted by rebellious natives in the early part of September. This incident is also a reflex of the same boundary disorder.
The delimitation of the Sierra Leone-Liberia boundary has been in progress since March of the current year and is now, I understand, practically completed. Mr. James G. B. Lee, an American of New York City, who has represented Liberia on the Delimitation Commission, has apparently given general satisfaction to the British and Liberian Governments by his work. There are a few undetermined questions remaining which are, I am informed, in process of adjustment. The presence of Mr. Lee on the boundary has been very helpful in preventing the native disorders from assuming far greater proportions. It seems that Captain Hawkins and Mr. Lee have both succeeded in inspiring respect for their personal worth on the part of the British officials with whom they have come in contact. More men of their kind could undoubtedly unravel for the Republic the muddle existing on the boundary. But I very much fear that there are no Liberians of this quality who are likely to become interior commissioners, while the Americans in the employ of the Government at this time are too few to admit of sending even one more officer from their number to the Sierra Leone frontier.
The long-continued practice of sending weak, arbitrary, venal agents to the interior and boundaries to perform the functions of Government for their superiors, who remain constantly at Monrovia playing petty politics, will have to cease or disaster will overtake the Government. Just what the Government will do to rectify conditions that have brought about the present revolt along the Liberian side of the border, remains to be seen. Until now its efforts have been confined to talk.
I have [etc.]