123 Brown, James E/13

Mr. Hugh S. Gumming, Jr., of the Division of Western European Affairs to the Minister in Liberia (Walton)


My Dear Mr. Minister:

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

We have been giving very serious thought to Mr. Wharton’s despatch No. 63, dated November 24, 1936,38 reporting a conversation which he had with President Barclay on the Polish attitude towards Liberia. It is, of course, not possible for us to answer President Barclay’s hypothetical question as to what our attitude would be in the event of a foreign aggression against Liberia. Moreover the question is a particularly awkward one to answer because of our neutrality policy and the widespread opposition among our people to participation in any activities abroad which might in any way involve us in hostilities. I think it is safe to assume, however, that, while if aggressive acts were taken against Liberia there would be a storm of protest from a large block of our public opinion which might lead to complications, there is little or no likelihood of our ever undertaking military measures in Liberia’s aid. It follows, therefore, that the obvious policy for us to adopt at this juncture is to attempt to forestall future aggressive action by a quiet but steady display of our friendly interest in Liberia in the hope that certain other countries will be [Page 825] deterred thereby from any plans they may have for colonial expansion at the expense of Liberia. This policy is already unfolding:

Acting Secretary Moore’s statement to the press39 expressing gratification over the recognition of Liberia by Great Britain.
The President’s statement to the press on Liberia’s recent progress.40
The announcement of the approval of funds for the construction of our new Legation building in Monrovia.41
The Secretary’s recent statement to the Polish Ambassador, a conversation which I had with one of the Secretaries of the Polish Embassy, and a conversation which Mr. Kelley, Chief of the Division of Eastern European Affairs, had with the Polish Counselor.
The Secretary will probably make a statement to the German Ambassador similar to that made to the Polish Ambassador.
We are now preparing a statement to the press based on the recently adopted 1937 budget, as reported by you.
We are trying to arrange with the Navy Department for the friendly visit of a naval vessel to Liberia in November or December of this year. We earnestly wish to keep this possibility strictly confidential for the time being, and no intimation whatsoever should be given to the Liberian Government until we have completed the arrangements and we inform the Legation officially. I should be very glad to receive any observations which you may care to make on the desirability of such a visit at the time mentioned.

It is obvious, however, that a policy on our part such as that sketched above can accomplish little unless Liberia does her part. In the final analysis Liberia’s security must depend on the esteem in which she is held by the public opinion of the world. Her recent progress has gone a long way towards gaining her this esteem, but for years to come, particularly in the present world situation, she should take especial care to see that her policies, external and internal, are such as to commend them to public opinion. If on the one hand she continues to improve her internal administration, her financial position, her transportation system, her sanitation and public health, et cetera, and on the other hand while scrupulously observing such foreign engagements as she may have entered into, refrains from entering into further engagements which may prove politically embarrassing, and refrains from arbitrary acts which might antagonize those who are trying to help her, then I believe there will be little likelihood of her independence being endangered.…

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Sincerely yours,

Hugh S. Cumming, Jr.
  1. Not printed.
  2. December 17, 1936; Department of State, Press Releases, December 19, 1936, p. 529.
  3. December 29, 1936.
  4. January 4, 1937; Department of State, Press Releases, January 9, 1937, p. 18.