The Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs (Murray) to the Minister in Liberia (Walton)
My Dear Mr. Minister: An instruction29 is going forward by next pouch regarding the revocation of customs exemptions enjoyed in the past by missionaries in Liberia, a matter about which you reported at length in your despatch of March 6, last.
Dr. Jones of the Phelps-Stokes Fund has recently written to Mr. McBride30 expressing again the concern and keen disappointment of the Advisory Committee on Education in Liberia at the action of the Liberian Government in placing so heavy a strain upon the modest salaries of missionaries.
It is my own belief that the Liberian Government should not be unmindful of the very generous contributions in services and money which are being made by Americans to Liberia. Nine missionary organizations, for which facts are available, have contributed in the past year $133,000, for work in Liberia. They expect to increase that sum substantially when circumstances permit. They also maintain at present in Liberia 66 American workers, besides three or four times as many Liberians. Three other missionary societies, for which figures are not available, also make substantial contributions and maintain a considerable number of American and Liberian teachers and workers. It seems to me that these facts (not to mention the proposed gift of $8,000 worth of motor buses) constitute a genuine claim upon the Liberian Government for its considerate treatment of Americans living in Liberia.
There is also another very important consideration which ought not to be ignored, namely that the nine mission boards mentioned above represent an adult membership of American citizens numbering almost eleven million persons. It is these people who take the most lively interest in Liberia and are most active in keeping unimpaired the traditional American friendship for Liberia. It would be a great pity if their strong sympathies for Liberia should be alienated by inconsiderate treatment of American nationals.
In the official instruction which will go forward at the same time as this letter reference is made to the arrangements recently made with the French Government regarding customs exemption for American missionary, educational and philanthropic institutions in Syria. Under that arrangement, and the regulations issued in connection therewith, individuals and institutions are permitted to bring in free [Page 817] of duty all classes of merchandise, including food and clothing, required for the functioning of their organizations, but a maximum limit is set for each class of institution. Thus in the case of institutions of higher learning such as the American University of Beirut, the maximum amount on which free entry is permitted is twenty-five Syrian Pounds per year per student. (A Syrian Pound equals twenty French francs or approximately $0.75 at the present rate of exchange.) Since the University has over a thousand students it is evident that the total customs exemption permitted amounts to a considerable sum. Again, in the case of missionaries a maximum limit is set to the amount which they may import free of duty annually. These various limits are high enough to permit the American institutions and their personnel in Syria to carry on their work without hardship. At the same time the maximum amount set prevents excessive importations and protects the Government’s revenues. It occurs to me that it might be possible for you to work out a compromise along the lines of the precedent set in Syria. Thus each missionary and member of his immediate family might be given customs exemption on foodstuffs, wearing apparel, et cetera, to the extent of, say $200 per annum, or whatever amount might appear to be reasonable and fair to all concerned.
I am offering these personal views for your consideration in the hope that you may find them useful in preparing to bring this matter informally to the attention of the Liberian Government.