882.6176 F 51/19

Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State (Harrison)

Memorandum of a conversation respecting the desire of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company to obtain a rubber concession in Liberia.

  • Present: The Secretary of State.
  • Mr. Harvey S. Firestone.
  • Mr. Amos C. Miller.
  • Mr. Harrison.

The Secretary referred to the proposed agreements submitted by the Company informally to the Department, the first relating to the lease “of the Mount Barclay Rubber Plantation for experimental purposes”, the second relating to the lease of one million acres of land in Liberia, and the third relating to the improvement of the port of Monrovia.

The Secretary desired at the outset to express his full appreciation of the importance of obtaining an independent source of supply of rubber for American interests. On the other hand, the Company should not be under any misapprehension as to the relationship of the United States to the Republic of Liberia. He, himself, in supporting the proposed loan agreement of 1921 before the Congress, had stressed the peculiar historical relationship between the United States and Liberia, and had emphasized the special considerations involved, aside from any question of moral commitment that may have existed with respect to the loan. He would point out that no matter what his personal feelings had been respecting our obligations in the matter, Congress had not supported these views or given its concurrence to the agreement in question.
The Company had asked the Department to indicate whether it had objection to the proposed arrangements. He had noticed a proposed provision whereby the Company undertook to obtain either from the Government of the United States or from private persons a loan to the Government of Liberia upon the terms and conditions proposed in 1921, which, for its part, the Government of Liberia was to agree to accept. This provision might be misunderstood and afford in Liberia grounds for belief that there was a possibility of [Page 386] reopening the question of a Government loan. It should be made quite clear that the proposed provision involved no committal on the part of this Government.
With respect to the relationship of this Government to private loans of an analogous character, in certain instances, particularly in Central America, the Department had done what it properly could to be helpful, and in certain instances had, upon the request of both parties, undertaken to assist, so far as it properly could, in the settlement of difficulties that might arise, for example, through recourse to arbitration. Having no special relationship or obligation to Liberia, this Government could not assume more extensive responsibilities in connection with a loan by private parties to Liberia.
With respect to the term of the lease, now set at ninety-nine years, renewable for fifty, the Secretary felt that some provision should be made for a revision of the taxation features of the agreement. As now drawn, the proposal was too inelastic. It was desirable that the contract should be fair per se. The Company itself might well desire not to be bound too rigidly to the terms fixed at this time. It might be even a distinct advantage to the Company to insert a provision which would make it possible, say after fifty years to revise these taxation features of the proposal.
In examining the papers before him, the Secretary had found certain allusions to protection and support in the future. The Secretary would not and could not commit his successors in office in such a matter. He could, however, state that it was the historic policy of the Department to lend proper support of a diplomatic character to the just claims of its citizens. Each claim as presented was considered on its merits, and if found to be well founded in justice the Department took such action as was appropriate to the occasion. It should be clearly understood that there was no question of resort to force. It was a matter of appropriate diplomatic support. In this connection, the Secretary wished to emphasize the fact, which he hoped Mr. Firestone would appreciate, that the Secretary could give no different assurance in the case of Liberia than he could give in a similar case with respect to any other country.
Mr. Firestone thanked the Secretary for his statement of the Department’s position in the matter, and expressed the hope that his enterprise in Liberia might have the moral support of the Department. He emphasized the importance of a free source of supply of rubber to American interests, and pointed out the great advantages which would undoubtedly accrue to Liberia if his proposition went through. It was far from his thought to pirate or promote that country for purely selfish ends.
At this point the Secretary took occasion to refer to certain information which had reached him and which Mr. Castle, the Chief of the Western European Division, would explain to Mr. Firestone, respecting the attitude of certain of the Company’s representatives in Liberia towards the Government and people of Liberia. In a personal way the Secretary alluded to the importance of the use of great tact and judgment in dealing with the Liberian Government, where a kindly and understanding attitude would have an important responsive effect and would also avoid the possibility of unfortunate backfires in this country.
In returning to the question of the loan, Mr. Firestone’s remarks indicated that he had not lost hope of obtaining eventually a loan from the Government of the United States to Liberia. He touched upon the importance of the protection to his interests which would be afforded by the provisions of the 1921 agreement, and he expressed his understanding that in the event that it were found desirable to arrange a private loan, which would include a refunding of the 1912 loan, this Government would not object to assuming a similar relationship to that now existing to the 1912 loan. In reply the Secretary referred to his previous remarks in that connection, and again emphasized the importance of the agreement being fair and equitable to the Liberian Government.
The Secretary asked Mr. Firestone and Mr. Miller to take up with Mr. Harrison in more detail possible amendments to the provisions in the agreements relating to the life of the concession, taxes, and exemptions from import duties.