President Arthur Barclay (1904-1912)
The origin of Liberia’s Open Door Policy:
modeled on the US example

In his 1904 Inaugural Address President Barclay repeatedly indicated that he was aware of the U.S. policy with respect to China around the turn of the century, notably the Open Door Policy which opened up this country (China) for European and American trading and other economic influences and prevented further seizure of territory by imperialistic European Powers. Very likely, President Barclay wanted something similar with respect to Liberia. Between 1883 and 1900 Liberia had seen its territory considerably reduced by European colonial powers such as France and England.

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As Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of State Barclay had been involved in the British seizure of Liberian territory (in 1898 and 1903) and he was also well aware of the pressure France exerted on Liberia’s boundaries. In 1897 a third European Colonial Power, Germany, had still tried to establish a Protectorate over Liberia. Americo-Liberians had always been oriented towards the U.S.A. Events in the USA were closely observed by the ruling elite of the African Republic. A significant example forms the assassination of the President of the U.S.A., William McKinley (1901), after which some Americo-Liberians named children after the murdered President1).
1) The most well-known of these Liberians was McKinley Alfred DeShield, who was born in 1907, and who was Secretary-General of the True Whig Party from 1943 till his death in 1978. He is also known for his loyalty to William Tolbert when the latter’s succession to President Tubman was in danger.
In 1908, after new border conflicts with France, President Barclay sent a mission to the U.S.A., composed of C.B. Dunbar 2) (who in 1893 had been on a similar mission to the U.S.A.) Vice-President J.J. Dossen, and former President Gibson, asking for a formal protection. However, the mission failed to obtain both an Arbitration Treaty with the U.S.A. and U.S. assistance in obtaining similar Treaties with notably France and Great Britain. Liberia was afraid it would share the fate of the Congo Free State, which had disappeared from the Community of States, as President Barclay stated in an address delivered in 1908.3)

Meanwhile, the economic and financial condition had deteriorated in Liberia. Like his predecessors Roye and Coleman, President Barclay strongly advocated a policy of internal economic development, but like his predecessors he inherited an empty Treasury and an unfavourable economic climate.

2) C.B. Dunbar was a descendant of Charles Benedict Dunbar member of the Chief Executive Committee that seized power after Roye’s destitution.


3) In 1908 the third term of office of President Arthur Barclay started. He had succeeded in extending the Presidential term of office from 2 to 4 years – an ambition which had contributed to the fall and the subsequent loss of life of Edward J. Roye.


The 1906 Loan and the appointment of foreign supervisors

President Arthur Barclay



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