The Secretary of State to the National City Bank of New York

Sirs: The receipt is acknowledged of Mr. Hoffman’s letter of January 16,21 regarding the appointment of American officers for the Liberian Frontier Force under the provisions of Article 12, Paragraph 3 of the Loan Agreement of September 1, 1926.22

It will be recalled that the question of securing suitable men for these positions is one which has long occupied the close attention of the Department both under the 1912 Loan Agreement23 and under the present agreement.

The matter was discussed informally with Mr. Edwin Barclay, Secretary of State of Liberia, during his visit to the United States in 1925, and as a result of these conversations certain qualifications for the positions were formulated. It was felt that a nominee should be thirty to thirty-five years of age, be of sound health and should have a physician’s certificate regarding his ability to withstand the rigors of service in a tropical climate; that he should be capable of commanding and training troops, and should have a good knowledge of administrative work; and that he should have the ability to adapt himself to the unusual conditions of service under a foreign government and in an unfamiliar environment.

Early in the autumn of 1925 a vacancy in the frontier force occurred which the Department proceeded to fill, upon the request of the Liberian Government, by the method adopted in previous cases of nominating a non-commissioned officer from one of the colored regiments in the [Page 446] United States Army. The candidate selected was Hansen Outley, formerly of the United States Cavalry, who was found to meet the requirements mentioned above and who was given a discharge from the United States Army upon the request of the Department for the convenience of the service. Following his nomination to the position by the President he was appointed thereto by the Government of Liberia as Captain, and he is still serving in that capacity, his contract with the Liberian Government having been renewed.

Some doubt has been expressed by the Legation at Monrovia whether he should be regarded as occupying one of the positions specified in Article 12, Paragraph 3 of the present Loan Agreement owing to his having been nominated prior to the adoption of that agreement. However, it appears that he is being paid out of the assigned revenues and accordingly, in the view of the Department, he should be considered as occupying one of those positions. Nevertheless, if it should be felt that his position requires further regularizing it would be a simple matter for this Government to nominate him formally to the position which he now occupies in fact.

Early in the spring of 1927 the Department was informally approached by the Financial Adviser to the Republic of Liberia, acting under instructions from the President of Liberia. He represented that the Liberian Government felt that the type of Americans recently nominated as officers in the frontier force (i. e. non-commissioned officers from American negro regiments) was unsuitable; that it asked whether West Point officers could be sent, that it would prefer that they be negroes but that it would accept white officers if negroes were not available. The Department discussed this suggestion with the War Department, but was informed that the assignment of officers on the active list of the regular army for service with the Liberian frontier force would require specific Congressional sanction. This information was duly communicated to the Liberian Government and there the matter rested for the time being.

On July 1, 1927, the new Loan Agreement went into effect and the question of the appointment of officers under Article 12, Paragraph 3, arose.24 In view of the fact that the contracts between the Liberian Government and Major Staten,25 an earlier appointee, and Captain Outley (both of whom had been appointed under the 1912 Loan Agreement) still had some time to run, the Department determined to take no action in the matter during the life of those contracts. However, in July, 1927, Major Staten resigned, and accordingly one of the positions provided by Article 12 became definitely open.

[Page 447]

As a result of the Department’s survey of the various candidates proposed to fill this vacancy it became clear that officers of the regular army were not available by reason of the legal bar referred to above, that retired colored officers of the United States Army were unsuitable, either by reason of health, age, or long separation from the military service, and that the choice accordingly lay between continuing to select colored non-commissioned officers on active duty with United States Army or seeking qualified white men who had had recent experience as officers either in the regular army or national guard or in constabulary organizations in the Philippines, Porto Rico, or elsewhere.

To the course of selecting colored non-commissioned officers from the regular army the Liberian Government had expressed, and continued to express, objections and accordingly the Department turned to the other field of selection, confident that in so doing it would best meet the wishes and needs of the Liberian Government and that it would be able to find men both technically equipped and temperamentally adapted for commissions as officers in the Liberian frontier force. It quickly found a number of eminently suitable candidates, but after conversation with them it was forced to conclude that the salary limit of $8,000 for the two positions provided in the Loan Agreement was not sufficient to secure their services. After discussion with various United States Army authorities it appeared that a salary limit of $12,000 (representing approximately the base pay of a Major and a Captain in the United States Army, plus seniority allowances, plus $1,000 per annum each for tropical service) would be sufficient to attract men of the type desired and would afford a fair and reasonable standard of pay for such men. A statement of the situation as to West Point officers and colored commissioned officers was communicated to the Liberian Government, and inquiry was made whether the Liberian Government would be willing to accept white officers of the type referred to and if so whether it would be willing to increase the salary limit to $12,000 in view of the considerations described above.

On September 8, 1927, a reply was received from the Liberian Government stating that for the present it could not approve the appointment of white officers to the frontier force, that it preferred that the employment of negro officers be continued, and that the sum of $12,000 was at present beyond the financial capacity of the Liberian Government. The reply further referred to the powers to be exercised by the frontier force and concluded by suggesting that the matter of appointments be held in abeyance for the time being.

The Department then instructed Minister Francis, who was about to start on his mission to Liberia, to discuss the matter informally with the Liberian Government at the first opportunity after his arrival. As [Page 448] a result of his conversations with the Liberian Government he cabled the Department in September, 1928, that the Liberian Government was still unwilling to accept white officers or to raise the salary limit, that it was willing to retain Captain Outley in his then capacity and that it requested the nomination of a negro Major.

However, when it came to acting upon the Liberian request for the nomination of a negro Major, the Department felt that the result of the negotiations described above was such as to make it impossible for it to fulfill its functions under Article 12 of the Loan Agreement since: one, West Point or other officers of the regular army could not regularly be assigned to service with the Liberian frontier force; two, there were no suitable qualified colored officers available; three, the Liberian Government had expressed its objections to the nomination of colored non-commissioned officers from the United States Army for commissions in the Liberian frontier force; four, the Liberian Government was not willing to accept qualified white officers from outside the regular army, nor was it willing to pay the salary necessary to attract such men. Accordingly, the Department took no action upon the Liberian request and the matter has been held in abeyance since that date.

So long as the situation described above continues the Department will be unable to assume the responsibility of advising the President of the United States to nominate officers for the frontier force as provided in the Loan Agreement. The Department would be glad to select colored commissioned officers if such could be found and in the absence of these it believes it could continue to secure colored nominees from the enlisted personnel of the United States Army. It also believes that it can obtain the services of qualified white nominees from outside the regular army provided the indicated salary increase is made. However, it is not prepared to nominate candidates whom it does not consider suitable and it feels that it should be left free to make its selection on the basis of technical ability and temperamental fitness, regardless of color, as is done in the case of the Financial Adviser.

The Department is not a party to the Loan Agreement and accordingly it does not feel that it can proceed further in the matter on its own initiative. It would, however, observe that the circumstances appear to suggest the advisability of direct discussions between the Liberian Government and the Finance Corporation of America and the National City Bank, Fiscal Agents, with a view to arriving at an understanding that will satisfactorily cover the questions of color and salary as well as the powers to be exercised by the American officers serving with the frontier force and which will enable the President of the United States to resume the function assigned to him by Article 12, Paragraph 3 of the Loan Agreement. Should [Page 449] such negotiations be undertaken, the Department will be glad to be advised as to their progress and outcome in order that its relation to the Loan Agreement may be clearly defined.

I am [etc.]

For the Secretary of State:
W. R. Castle, Jr.
  1. Not printed; W. W. Hoffman was vice president and trust officer of the National City Bank of New York.
  2. Foreign Relations, 1926, vol. ii, pp. 574, 583.
  3. Refunding loan agreement signed March 7, 1912; see ibid., 1912, pp. 671, 693.
  4. See letter of July 14, 1927, to Messrs. Shearman & Sterling, Foreign Relations, 1927, vol. iii, p. 151.
  5. Moody Staten.