File No. 768.72/6870

The Minister in Liberia ( Curtis) to the Secretary of State

No. 124

Sir: I have the honor to transmit herewith enclosed for the information of Department a copy of the Liberian Government’s reply to the protest of the Imperial German Government, through the Spanish Consul, against the contemplated deportation of the Germans resident in Liberia, whereby the thread of the narrative begun in Legation’s No. 120,1 is woven into a completed story.

I have [etc.]

James L. Curtis

The Liberian Secretary of State ( King) to the Acting Spanish Consul ( Hoenigsberg)

249/C. F.

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your note of the 3d instant, in which you inform me that you have been instructed by your Government to say that the Imperial German Government, referring to the treaty of commerce between the Republic of Liberia and Germany, dated the 31st of October, 1867, and with respect to Article 2 thereof, insists that this treaty is not abolished by a simple rupture of diplomatic relations, and that in consequence liberty of sojourn as well as of commerce remains guaranteed to subjects of the two contracting parties. Therefore, deportation or internment of the German subjects in Liberia against their will, as well as the liquidation of their businesses is inadmissible; and in view of the foregoing, you are ordered by your Government to “energetically protest” against any arbitrary action contrary to the stipulations of said treaty of commerce, and to formally declare that the Imperial Government has to render Liberia responsible for any damage that might result therefrom.

The Liberian Government, after a very careful consideration and study of the view taken by the Imperial German Government of the Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation, between Germany and Liberia, and the effects of the present rupture of relations between the two Governments upon the provisions of this treaty, as set forth in your said note, now begs to submit the following as its reply thereto:

1. While it is conceded by the Liberian Government that all subjects of the German Empire have the right under Article 2 of the [Page 487] treaty of 1867, between the North German Confederacy and the Republic of Liberia, to reside and carry on trade in Liberia, yet it does not admit that by said treaty Liberia divested herself of the right inherent in her, as a free, sovereign, and independent state, to close her doors at any time to any foreigner or group of foreigners who for social, political, or economic reasons, she may deem expedient to exclude from her territories.

Realizing this inherent right, the Legislature of Liberia at its session of 1915–16 enacted a law regulating the residence of aliens within the Republic. This law provides, inter alia, that—

The President of Liberia is hereby invested with authority to deport or cause to be deported from the Republic, any alien permanently or temporarily residing therein, whose presence would by the authorities be deemed a menace to public security, or who is otherwise or in anywise undesirable as a resident within the borders of the Republic.

The validity and soundness of such legislation, on the part of the Legislature of Liberia, has never been questioned or contested by the Imperial German Government as an infringement upon the treaty rights of German subjects in Liberia; but, to the contrary, the German residents, with the knowledge and tacit approval of their Government, have most cheerfully and willingly complied with all of its conditions and provisions.

The right, therefore, of the Government of Liberia to expel from the Republic such foreigners whose presence are a menace to its security and political safety being thus tacitly admitted by the Imperial German Government, it only remains to show in what way would the continued presence of the Germans in Liberia be in any way a menace to the Republic’s present safety and security, in order to justify their expulsion.

In the President’s proclamation of June 28, 1917, copies of which were duly forwarded you, it is stated that the engagements growing out of the definite alignment of the Republic of Liberia with the Allied powers now at war with the German Empire render the continued residence of German subjects within the borders of the Republic a source of embarrassment to the Government of Liberia. This fact alone renders the Germans undesirable in Liberia, and, therefore, in the opinion of the Liberian Government, would justify their expulsion.

2. The Liberian Government regrets its inability to follow the Imperial German Government in its conclusions that Article 2 of the treaty of commerce between Liberia and Germany, concluded the 31st of October 1867, “is not abolished by a simple rupture of diplomatic relations.”

[Page 488]

In the consideration of treaties and their binding effects it will be discovered that there are several circumstances under which a treaty may be modified and abrogated. As for an instance: “When a state of things which was the basis of the treaty, and one of its tacit conditions no longer exists.” (See Moore’s International Law Digest, volume 5, page 319, paragraph 720.)

… By reference to the treaty of 1867 between Liberia and Germany it will be discovered that said treaty is not only a treaty of commerce, as would appear from the observations made upon the same by the Imperial German Government, as set forth in your said note, but also a treaty of “amity.”

The title and Article 1 of said treaty read as follows:


“Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation between the Republic of Liberia and the North German Confederacy, concluded October 31st, 1867, ratified by the Senate December 20th, 1867, ratifications exchanged April 28th, 1868.”

Article 1

“There shall be perpetual peace and friendship between the Republic of Liberia and the North German Confederacy, their subjects and citizens.”

From the above-quoted title and article of said treaty, it can not but be apparent that the basis of the treaty was that of “amity” or friendship between the Republic of Liberia and the North German Confederacy, their subjects and citizens.

The announcement, by the Liberian Government in its note addressed to the then Acting Imperial German Consul at this capital on the 8th of May last, of the rupture of its relations with the Imperial German Government was not intended as a mere empty diplomatic statement, but as a solemn declaration on the part of the Liberian Government of the breach, by Germany, of that “amity” or friendship which, according to the terms of the treaty of 1867, should be the basis of the relations between the two Governments.

Therefore, it is the opinion of the Liberian Government that the rupture of that friendship, which was the basis of the treaty between Liberia and Germany, operates as a suspension of Article 2 of said treaty until the resumption of friendly relations between the two Governments.

Furthermore “If a treaty,” says Mr. Taylor, an eminent authority on International Law, “is consistent at the outset with the right of self preservation it is an implied condition that it shall remain so. …

“Therefore, a treaty which was not intended to be a menace to the life or independence of a state at the time of its execution becomes voidable the moment subsequent events invest it with that character.”

[Page 489]

Now, the progressive destruction of that system of rules which have for centuries given security to international relations; the denial to neutrals the right freely to travel the ocean highways of the earth; the repudiation, without just and legal causes, of international engagements, are all acts committed by Germany in the present world’s war, which seriously menace the life and independence of Liberia, and therefore at once render voidable, on the part of the Liberian Government, the treaty of 1867 between Germany and Liberia.

As to the request of the Imperial German Government, made through your Government, that a safe-conduct for every German without distinction of age and sex who would be willing to leave Liberia for Spain, or any other neutral country, be procured by the Liberian Government, I beg also to say that in view of the position taken by the Liberian Government upon the treaty of 1867, as herein above indicated, it is not conceived that such obligations rest upon the Liberian Government, except in the case of the former Acting Imperial German Consul and the German Receiver of Customs.

With the continued assurances of my high esteem and profound respect,

I have [etc.]

C. D. B. King
  1. Not printed; see telegram of July 6, ante, p. 471.