The Secretary General of the Commission to Negotiate Peace (Grew) to the Acting Secretary of State

Sir: With reference to the Commission’s telegrams of April 7th, No. 1512, 6 p.m.,14 and April 17th, 1639, noon,14 referring to the informal conference which took place in the African Section of the French Foreign Office on March 27th, in reference to Liberian affairs, I have the honor to enclose herewith, for the information of the Department, the following documents:

A letter from the Secretary General, American Commission to Negotiate Peace to the American Ambassador, dated March 7th,14
A note verbale dated March 11th from the American Ambassador to the French Foreign Office.
A note verbale from the French Foreign Office to the American Ambassador, dated March 26th,
A memorandum prepared by Mr. Beer and Mr. Stabler of informal conference at French Foreign Office on March 27th,
Draft of a memorandum to be discussed in a further informal conference to be held at the French Foreign Office,14
Draft of a proposed treaty between the United States and Liberia.14

I have [etc.]

J. C. Grew
[Enclosure 1]

The American Embassy to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs

With reference to the Note Verbale from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, dated February 11th., it is the view of the Government of the United States that, as the Republic of Liberia is an independent sovereign state, questions touching its sovereignty, such as those of financial and economic rehabilitation and concessions, cannot properly be submitted to the Peace Conference or to a commission composed of representatives of Foreign Powers.

The Government of the United States feels, therefore, that the matter of concessions should be left to the Liberian Government for determination, in connection with existing Liberian legislation on the subject. Under their legislation, impartiality of consideration and equality of treatment to all applications, not monopolistic in character, are provided for, and the indiscriminate granting of [Page 471] concessions is guarded against. As regards financial rehabilitation, the United States, in compliance with the request of Liberia, has consented to advance a loan covering the general financial needs of Liberia.

It is felt, nevertheless, that the more expedient method of procedure as regards the putting into effect of the American plan for the general rehabilitation of Liberia, embodied in the Notes of the Government of the United States to England and France of November 19, 1918, will be to have informal conferences between those officials of the American, French, and British Governments conversant with Liberian affairs, now in Paris.

[Enclosure 2]

The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the American Embassy

In response to the Note of the Embassy of the United States of the 11th of this month, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs has the honor to state that the Government of the Republic, like the Federal Government and the British Government, [is] of opinion that it is advisable to proceed to a preliminary exchange of views upon the question of Liberian affairs between the British, American, and French representatives.

To this end, M. de Peretti de la Rocca, Minister Plenipotentiary, upon the suggestion of M. Knatchbull-Hugessen, British Delegate, proposed to Mr. Beer, of the American Delegation, to meet in his office at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs Thursday next, March 27th, at 3 p.m.

[Enclosure 3]

Memorandum of an Informal Conference of American, British, and French Representatives

As suggested in the answer of the French Foreign Office to the American Embassy’s note of March 11th, in regard to an informal conference concerning Liberia, Mr. Stabler and Mr. Beer went to Mr. de Peretti’s office in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs this afternoon. There were also present, Mr. Duchene, Director of the African Section of the French Ministry of Colonies, Mr. Sperling Chief of the American Section of the British Foreign Office, and Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen of the British Foreign Office.

Mr. de Peretti commenced by stating that it had been agreed that informal conferences were to take place in regard to the present situation in Liberia, particularly in the light of the plan of the Government of the United States for the financial and general rehabilitation [Page 472] of the country, presented to the French and British Embassies on November 19, 1918. He said that this plan of the United States, whether the United States desired to admit it or not, was practically a protectorate over Liberia. Mr. Beer said that the Government of the United States did not consider it at all in that light, but both the British and French contended that even if it were not called a protectorate it was virtually a protectorate as American officials would occupy practically the same positions as did the French officials in Morocco.

Mr. Hugessen then brought up the matter of the close connection between the theory of the League of Nations and the present situation in Liberia, stating that he felt that if the United States was not willing to accept a mandate over Liberia, the Powers could be accused of only desiring the League of Nations to be used as suited them. Mr Stabler and Mr. Beer made a reservation in this connection that they had no instructions in regard to the matter of a mandate, but would present the matter to the Commissioners.

As far as the American plan of November 19th went, apparently the British had no objections to it and the French only very few. The French seemed to be particularly interested in adequate government of the Liberian hinterland, in order that trouble on the French frontier from incursions of Liberian native tribes could be stopped.

The French were also particularly interested in the matter of concession for a railroad which the Société Coloniale pour le Commerce et l’Industrie, a French Corporation, desired to obtain to connect Monrovia with Beyla in French Guinea. Mr. Beer pointed out that the proposed concession would give a considerable portion of the Republic of Liberia to the concessionaire, for exclusive exploitation, which was considered impossible. Mr. de Peretti said that the company was perfectly willing to change this; that they had only followed in this the draft of a concession which an American had asked for.

The question was then discussed, if the American plan was put into effect, when the British and French officials should be withdrawn and if the American Government would be practically the intermediary between foreign nations and Liberia. The British were particularly interested in the question of allowing the Coast Kru boys to serve as sailors on British ships, and were also interested in a very minor claim against the Government of Liberia for property of British subjects destroyed.

The question of the German cables15 was by general consent not discussed as the matter had been left to the Sub-Commission on Cables of the Peace Conference.

[Page 473]

It was decided that Mr. Beer should make a draft of a possible form of an agreement for the three nations to accept, and a further discussion then to take place, based on this draft. Mr. Beer was also to draft an article for the Treaty of Peace, in regard to German rights and claims in Liberia.

To sum up this informal conference, it may be said that the British seem favorable to the American plan of November 19, 1918, but desire that the United States accept some form of an international mandate for the rehabilitation of Liberia; that the French were not opposed to the United States plan of November 19, 1918, but desired the United States to accept responsibility for order in Liberia and, if not in name, to accept responsibility for Liberia under a virtual protectorate. All advocated the open door policy in the country.

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  6. For papers concerning cable concession, see pp. 504 ff.