Memorandum by the Acting Secretary of State to President Roosevelt 1

The Department has for some months been making an intensive study of economic, political, and social conditions in the Republic of Liberia, which compare most unfavorably with the situation in neighboring colonial territories. The inefficiency and lack of initiative of the ruling group, the corruption in government circles, the scandalous treatment of the native inhabitants, and the lack of democratic practises in this independent republic are of particular concern to us at a time when the problem of dependent peoples is under widespread discussion.

Representatives of the Negro Newspaper Publishers Association, who recently made a tour of West Africa at your suggestion, are reported to be shocked at what they saw in Liberia hi comparison with British and French colonial administrations. Whether or not we admit it, Liberia is widely regarded as a responsibility of the United States.

At the suggestion of President Tubman,2 the chief3 of the FEA4 mission in Liberia recently delivered a forceful speech calling attention to Liberia’s shortcomings. President Tubman appears willing to undertake some housecleaning but not without “pressure” and moral support from the United States Government to enable him to face the resistance of the entrenched Americo-Liberian oligarchy. Mr. Felix Cole, our recent Chargé d’ Affaires in Monrovia, has urged that plain speaking is necessary regarding conditions in Liberia, where we are advancing $12,500,000 to construct a harbor5 and assisting the country with an economic survey, a health project and agricultural advice.

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There seems little use in handling our relations with Liberia in a sentimental vein or as if the Republic represented a successful experiment in democracy. Sincere friends of Liberia, as well as intelligent Negro opinion in the United States, are, in general, highly critical of that country. On the other hand, it is unreasonable to expect Liberians, without outside assistance, to make a showing that compares favorably with colonial areas which have regular subsidies from the mother country for education, health and administrative machinery.

If the sensitivities of the French, British or Dutch should be aroused over the question of trusteeship for dependent peoples, it is not impossible that some embarrassing charges against Liberia may arise at the San Francisco conference.6 There are indications that the British may, at some future time, to serve their own ends, throw a spotlight on compulsory labor practises in Liberia.

The Department considers that American interests in Liberia are of sufficient importance and our responsibilities compelling enough to justify strong representations to the Liberian Government, coupled with a program of moral, economic and possibly financial support, to bring about needed reform within the structure of Liberian independence. If you approve, the Department plans to proceed along these lines.

Dean Acheson
  1. Marginal notation: “D[ean] A[cheson] O.K. FDR” appears on a carbon copy of this memorandum attached to the file copy.
  2. William V. S. Tubman, President of Liberia.
  3. Earl P. Hanson.
  4. Foreign Economic Administration.
  5. For documentation relating to the conclusion of the agreement between the United States and Liberia for the construction of a port and port works, signed at Monrovia, December 31, 1943, see Foreign Relations, 1943, vol. iv, pp. 678 ff. For text, see Department of State Executive Agreement Series No. 411, or 58 Stat. (pt. 2) 1357. For preliminary agreement on mutual aid between the United States and Liberia, signed at New York, June 8, 1943, see Department of State Executive Agreement Series No. 324, or 57 Stat. 978.
  6. The United Nations Conference on International Organization, held at San Francisco April 25 to June 26, 1945; for documentation regarding the Conference, see vol. i, pp. 1 ff.