President Arthur Barclay (1904-1912)
Why was the Administration of President Arthur Barclay so important?

President Arthur Barclay was confronted with various attempts of European Powers to seize part or all of the territory of the only independent republic in Africa. He also had to deal with threats from within, uprisings of the various tribes, living in the Hinterland, which endangered the continuity of the Black Republic. Moreover, the economic situation of the country was gloomy and the State was nearly bankrupt.

President Arthur Barclay, however, had a clear view on how to develop the country.
The Administration of President Arthur Barclay represents a political turning point in the history of Liberia. It brought to an end the conflict between mulattoes and black emigrants. During his Administration the Liberian Constitution was changed 1), giving citizenship to the people of tribal origin, and a system of ‘indirect rule’ was introduced. He also tried to open up the country for foreigners and foreign capital by granting concession agreements and attracting international loans. However, he was not able to prevent several serious tribal uprisings since the Ports of Entry Law of 1864 remained in force. In 1910 he added new reasons for the tribal people to rebel by introducing unpopular taxes, notably the Hut Tax.


Liberia’s ‘Closed Door’ to foreigners

In his First Inaugural Address to the Legislature, President Arthur Barclay attacked the ‘closed door’ policy of his predecessors and notably the Ports of Entry Law of 1864:

“(…) Liberia was purchased for us from its native inhabitants by the Europeans (Barclay referred to the American Colonization Society and he included white Americans in this group as well – note of the author, FVDK). The colony was founded by the European. Its expenses paid by the money of the European, until it declared its independence. They lavished their money on the establishment of schools, churches and other agencies for the elevation of successive bodies of Negro colonists. (…) It was a European, too, who made possible, the annexation of the State of Maryland in Liberia to the Republic (…) (but) By Organic Law we shut him out from citizenship, and denied him the right of holding real estate in gee simple. (…)
The European having stood shoulder to shoulder with us in the organization and building up of this State naturally expected his reward. Shut out from privilege and property, but one thing remained with which to compensate him for his services, that was Commercial Freedom (…) But our policy of Commercial Freedom to the European lasted but fifteen short years.”

Barclay refers here to the 1850-1864 period. He expressed open disagreement with the 1864 Ports of Entry Law:

“(…) In 1863, on a suspicion that Europeans incited the natives to rebel, but probably at the dictation of Liberian traders, then all-powerful with the electorate, the port of Entry bill was passed. (…) The restrictive policy has been persisted in for forty years. Are our traders richer than they were in 1864? Has the national capital increased? Did the exclusion of the European trader prevent native wars? (…) He is still our banker. He still furnishes capital for our business enterprises. His money is still being poured out to build churches, to pay ministers, serving not only native but also Americo-Liberian congregations. He is still founding schools and colleges for our youth.” (source: Guannu, 1980).

Concluding, he ends with a surprising admission, accepting Liberia’s economic dependence, when stating:

1) The 1847 Constitution, Article V, Section 13 reads: “The great object of forming these Colonies being to provide a home for the dispersed and oppressed children of Africa, and to generate and enlighten this benighted continent, none but persons of color shall be admitted to citizenship.” whereas the previous section stipulated: “No person shall be entitled to hold real estate in this republic unless he be citizen of the same.” (Article V, Section 12). Together with the Port of Entry Act of 1864 this was considered as among the major obstacles to work together with Europeans or whites for the development of the country.

The 1907 Amendment of Article V, Section 13 reads as follows: “The great object of forming these Colonies being to provide a home for the dispersed and oppressed children of Africa, and to generate and enlighten this benighted Continent, none but Negroes or persons of negro descent shall be eligible to citizenship in this Republic.”

In 1907, the same year in which the word “Negro” replaced the word “Colored” in the Constitution’s clause, which defined eligibility for citizenship of the Republic, the naturalization Act of 1876 was repealed. The old Act required ‘ alien’ Africans to spend at least four years in the Republic before they could be granted citizenship. The restrictive Act had been passed during the second Administration of President Payne when the Republican Party dominated and controlled Liberian politics. In 1907 the naturalization period was reduced to one year.

“(…) We can only save and develop our hinterland by the help of the European trader. (….)” 2)

However, he was not successful in realising (parliamentary) support for a basic change despite his attempts to conclude deals with foreign investors.
2) Arthur Barclay 'Inaugural Address 1904'
The origin of Liberia’s Open Door Policy:
modeled on the US example

President Arthur Barclay



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