The Acting Secretary of State to the Commission to Negotiate Peace
147. For Secretary Lansing.
The French Chargé d’Affaires is pressing the Department to support the French request for permission to connect to the French terminus in Liberia the cable between Monrovia and Pernambuco, Brazil, formerly owned by the Germans and cut by the French during the war which if granted would give to French monopoly of cable communication with Liberia. In a telegram dated November 29th,55 the American Chargé d’Affaires at Monrovia reported “If carried out this proposition would give French Cable Company possession of what was substantially old German cable between Monrovia and Pernambuco. Liberian Government has not given requested permission; in addition to several reasons, national in scope, maintains that final disposition of former German cable lines may be question of International concern and it is thought inadvisable for Liberia to take independent action in the question at the present time. Accordingly Liberian Government earnestly requests the Government of the United States to support the position taken by the Republic in this matter with a view to an adjustment after it has been definitely ascertained by consulting the Department.”
Yesterday the French Chargé d’Affaires advised the Department that he was in receipt of a telegram to the effect that if Liberia did not act immediately on the request of the French Cable Company, a French ship would be sent to Liberia with instructions to carry out the work.
Today Phillips has had a long conversation with the French Chargé d’Affaires. He informed him, with my approval, that we hoped the French Government would not take the step contemplated which could only be regarded by us as unfriendly to Liberia, a country associated with both France and the United States in the war against Germany; that Liberia was a sovereign state; that there did not seem to be any reason why the United States should, contrary to Liberia’s expressed desire, insist that she hand over the terminus of the cable to the French Company and that we were, therefore, prepared to support Liberia in the premises.
The French Chargé d’Affaires also brought up the question of the railroad concession. The position taken by us was that railroads in Liberia would be of undoubted advantage to the country [Page 512] provided the concessions for their construction were granted with proper safeguards and in accordance with the Liberian Constitution; that the welfare of the Liberians in general, however, depended not so much on the granting of concessions to foreign capital as upon the internal reforms contemplated by the refunding of the 1912 loan; that if we were in a position to place Liberia on a substantial basis, Liberia on her part would be in a far better position to grant the concession without in any way affecting her own sovereignty.
The Department believes that the French and the British desire to obtain not only commercial but also political control in Liberia and that unless this Government insists now upon the position taken in the matter of refunding the 1912 loan, the political structure of Liberia will be dominated by foreign governments acting through foreign invested interests; consequently on its part the Department will continue to press the British and French Governments for their approval to the refunding proposal.
The above information is given to you because the French Chargé d’Affaires indicated that as no further progress could be made in Washington regarding the cable situation, he would suggest that Mr. Pichon56 take the matter up with you direct.
Please give a copy of this telegram to the Embassy for its information.