882.6176 F 51/9
Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State (Harrison)
Mr. Amos C. Miller, (address, 39 South LaSalle Street, Chicago, Illinois), Vice President and General Counsel of the Firestone Tire Company, accompanied by Mr. Robinson and Mr. Wierman, called by [Page 380] appointment to discuss the possibilities of securing a rubber concession in Liberia.
Mr. Miller stated that the Company had had the benefit of several interviews with Dr. De la Rue, Collector of Customs of Liberia, and had given careful consideration to the question of guaranties which would be necessary to protect them in making any large investment in Liberia. It was their desire to secure from Liberia a rubber concession to run for fifty years, with the right of renewal for an additional fifty years, on the basis of a rental of five to ten cents per acre, the Company being given an option for a million acres. The Company would also agree to pay two and a half cents per pound of rubber exported, the revenues from this export tax to be expended for public improvements and betterments in the Republic. The Company would also be prepared to make a loan to the Republic of Liberia through its fiscal agents, say the National City Bank of New York, for 5 million dollars, provided that all the revenues of Liberia were assigned to the service of the loan, and provided further that the Liberian Government should agree to the appointment by the President of the United States of Americans to collect and disburse all these revenues.
The Company had obtained a copy of the loan arrangement signed by representatives of the United States and of Liberia in October, 1921,6 and the Company felt that in order properly to protect its proposed concessionary interests and the service of the loan, provisions similar to those set forth in the American-Liberian loan agreement of 1921 should be incorporated in their proposed loan agreement and accepted by the Government of Liberia. The Company now wished to inquire whether the Department would be prepared, if a loan agreement were made on that basis, to appoint the officials in question, and, in a word, to assume the obligations and the duties set forth in the 1921 loan agreement.
I replied that the Department would take the matter under consideration and advise them in due course. Mr. Miller also stated that if it were so desired he would be glad to put their inquiry in writing.
In reply to a number of questions, the Company’s representatives furnished the following information: That the site of the proposed rubber plantation would be at least fifteen miles from the coast; that it would be necessary to construct roads and make other public improvements, including a harbor; that possibly thirty thousand laborers would be employed, including a large number of American engineers, and so forth, to handle the proposed developments; that careful sanitation would be necessary, as all forms of tropical diseases were rampant, [Page 381] and the average life of the white man in that territory was very short; that the purpose of the Company was to assure themselves an adequate supply of rubber which would be entirely within their own control, and as they would thereby be free from British control of markets they expected strong opposition from foreign quarters; that it was largely for this reason and in order to protect their investment … that they considered it necessary to obtain the extensive control contemplated, which would also be a safeguard against the possible failure to obtain adequate protection from this Government. To an inquiry why they did not consider it possible to secure the necessary safeguards through appropriate provisions in their proposed rubber concession, the reply was made that they had in mind the failure of this Government to accord what they considered adequate protection to American investments in Mexico. It was also observed that there was not even the protection of the Monroe Doctrine in Liberia. Reference was made to similar large enterprises, such as the United Fruit Company. While Mr. Miller did not appear to be acquainted with the United Fruit Company’s enterprises in the Caribbean, Mr. Robinson evidently had some conception of their extent, but he confirmed Mr. Miller’s views respecting the necessity of obtaining some definite control over the administrations of the Republic of Liberia.
Mr. Wierman spoke from personal knowledge of conditions in Liberia, and made it clear that he did not feel that an enterprise of the magnitude and importance of that contemplated could be successfully carried out without guaranties substantially along the lines of those set forth in the agreement of October, 1921. He also stated that the Company had rubber men in Liberia; that their reports were favorable, and that the Company had no doubt that if they were not interfered with they would find it possible to make a success of the production of rubber in Liberia.
- That Firestone be informed that the Department will be prepared to recommend to the President the designation of a Financial commission for the Government of Liberia, of a legal counselor and of four officials of military experience to act as the four senior officers of the Frontier Force. However, the Department could not assume other obligations and rights stipulated in the Agreement of 1921.
- That if it were desired to incorporate the provisions of the 1912 Loan Agreement7 in any new agreement for refunding purposes along the same lines, the Department would be prepared to assume in that event the same obligations as provided in the 1912 Agreement; and
- That the Department, after being informed of the proposed contract and the proposed loan agreement, and in the event that it had no objection thereto, would lend appropriate support to the Company in order that it might have a fair and equal opportunity to carry out its project in Liberia. The Department could not, of course, actually participate in the negotiation of the contracts in question.