882.5048/299: Telegram

The Chargé in Liberia (Reber) to the Secretary of State

115. Legation’s telegram No. 114. The findings of the Commission relating to the terms of reference31 (see enclosure to Legation’s [Page 349] despatch No. 366 of September 3, 192932) may be summarized as follows:

Slavery as defined by the anti-Slavery Convention does exist but [insofar as] interand intra-tribal domestic slavery exists. Pawning is recognized in the social economy of the Republic.
Domestic slavery is discouraged by the Government in that any slave appealing to the courts may be granted his freedom.
There is no evidence that leading citizens of the country participate in domestic slavery but some Americos take natives as pawns and in some instances have criminally abused the system.
Forced labor has been made use of for road construction, public buildings, porterage, et cetera. This labor has been wastefully recruited and used frequently under conditions involving intimidation and ill-treatment on the part of Government officials and frontier force soldiers. Labor recruited for public purposes has been devoted to private uses on farms of high Government officials and private citizens. None of this labor has been paid.
A large proportion of contract laborers shipped to Fernando Po has been recruited under conditions of criminal compulsion scarcely distinguishable from slavery raiding and slave trading.
Labor employed for private purposes has been impressed for this service on the authority [of] high Government officials. There is no evidence that the Firestone plantations consciously employ any but voluntary labor but this was not always the case when recruiting was subject to Government regulations over which the company had little control.
The Vice President and other high officials, as well as county superintendents and district commissioners, have given their sanction to the compulsory recruiting of labor by the aid of the frontier force and have condoned the utilization of the force for physical compulsion on road construction, intimidation of villages, humiliation and degradation of chiefs, for imprisonment of inhabitants and for convoy of gangs of carbon natives to the coast.

The Commission recommends inter alia:

Policy of the open door in the interior;
Native policy to be radically reconstructed [and] policy of suppression abandoned;
Complete reorganization of the government of the interior with rearrangement of the political divisions of the country;
Removal of all present district commissioners;
Appointment of European or American commissioners with assistants selected by a form of civil service examination;
Reestablishment of tribal authority of chiefs;
Pawning and domestic slavery to be made illegal;
Shipment of laborers to Fernando Po to cease;
Temporary curtailment of road program until confidence of natives can be regained;
Stricter control of frontier force and reconsideration of its duties;
American negro immigration to be encouraged.

[Page 350]

The report concludes with the observation that more advances to greater efficiency and honesty will not be sufficient. Any hope of improvement is rendered futile “in the present conditions without the introduction of outside specialist assistance, the reduction of superfluous offices and other drastic internal provisions made.”

  1. Telegram in two sections.
  2. See Department of State, Report of the Commission of Inquiry, p. 149.
  3. Not printed.