The Chargé in Liberia (Wharton) to the Assistant to the Secretary of State (McBride)
Dear Mr. McBride: …
President Barclay has had quite a chat with me, he doing practically all the talking. As I have been here only a short time, I could very well take the part of an interested listener. His great concern is, as you know, the Neep concession. As far as I can ascertain, there has [Page 771]been no change in the situation since the Minister’s telegram of January 3 , 12 noon.
In beginning his talk on Neep the President said that he has been placed in a most embarrassing position. I asked him how. He replied that when the Holland Syndicate ascertained that they could not exploit diamonds on a large commercial scale, but had discovered valuable deposits of iron, it was he, President Barclay, who asked the Holland Syndicate to look for some firm to exploit the iron deposits; that in consequence, the syndicate, represented by D. Caffe, contacted and interested the Neep Company in the proposition; that Neep has thus far expended appreciable sums in surveys and drilling, establishing their credit at the bank, etc., and that the entire outlay to work the concession proposes an investment of something like $7, 000,000, including a harbor at Monrovia and a railroad from the Bomi Mountain district by way of Suehn, Arthington and Millsburg to Monrovia.
He continued that Liberia cannot remain unmindful of the wealth of the country and must afford opportunities to foreign interests to exploit this wealth, particularly in view of the well known pronouncements of certain foreign countries seeking colonies in Africa. He assures me that he has been cautious in seeing that foreigners of nations possibly antagonistic to Liberia’s best interest should not have control of any concession granted by his government. He added that he particularly brought this idea to the attention of Mr. Caffe, having in mind Great Britain and France because of their colonies contiguous to Liberia, and Germany whose repeated public statements on colonies are well known. He continued that in view of the present temper of the world and the desire of certain countries for territory and products in Africa, he feels it is imperative that Liberia at this time should not be accused of the “dog in the manger policy.” In answer to my question as to the attitude of the people with respect to the Neep concession, he said that the mass of the people are interested in having the company here, especially in view of the proposed railroad and harbor. President Barclay undoubtedly believes that if he does not get a better offer from some source unquestionably known to be friendly to Liberia, he cannot very well turn down Neep’s proposal without unfavorable repercussions. He feels that he has taken precautions in safe-guarding Liberia’s best interests through his later stand that 60 percent of the shares of Neep at all times should be held by the Dutch and/or Liberians. He intimated that the attitude of the Department towards the proposed Neep concession seemed all right at first, but that the attitude of the Department later had changed. At this juncture I told him that the Department’s interest has at all times been friendly and pointing towards the best interests of Liberia. The [Page 772]President then said that he appreciates the situation and our deep interest in Liberia.
I ventured to ask if he had explained his position to Minister Walton. He said that he has kept the Minister well informed on all steps in the negotiations and that the day prior to the Minister’s departure he had a long discussion with him along these lines. The President honestly believes that he has been cautious in the negotiations and that by requiring 60 per cent of the stock to be held by the Dutch and/or Liberians he is safe-guarding the interests of his country. I believe that he feels he will eventually have to reach a definite decision with reference to the Neep concession.
President Barclay appears to be deeply involved in view of his own request in the first instance to the Holland Syndicate, the present temper of certain powers who insist that potential wealth in Africa should be exploited and the desire of the people here to have further sources of employment and the railroad and harbor which are offered by Neep. I have carefully studied the files of the Legation and have been guided by your personal and confidential telegram to the Minister of December 3, seven p.m.4
During this conversation I had a good opportunity to ask President Barclay about the deposits and if he had furnished the Minister with geological reports and samples. He answered that the deposits are composed of both laterite and hematite, that he has not received geological reports and samples, but he hopes to receive them in the near future.
In briefly summarizing the present situation, it is my candid opinion that the President in asking the Holland Syndicate to find some firm to exploit the iron deposits here, the resultant coming of Neep, the President’s initialing of the concession prior to its submission to the Legislature, the Legislature’s approval of the concession with certain modifications which, I believe, were suggested by the President, and the Legislature finally empowering the President to solve controversial points in the concession places the entire responsibility of the outcome of the negotiations on the President’s shoulders. He has gone far in this matter and unless the restricted provision with reference to share holders safe-guards Liberia’s interests, it is my further opinion that there may be two solutions to the problem. Either some friendly interest must make a better offer than Neep or else American or other nationals of friendly countries must purchase sufficient shares in Neep to act as a balance of power in the company’s operations. Either of these two solutions would ease President Barclay out of his present dilemma.[Page 773]
I have thought it best to write you very frankly of the facts as I see them. The President is apparently waiting for further information and some indication from us as to the restrictive share provision. Any personal suggestions you may care to offer I am sure will be highly appreciated, for the President cannot hold Neep off indefinitely and save his face.
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Very sincerely yours,