President Arthur Barclay (1904-1912)
External and internal threats to Americo-Liberian rule

Liberia’s deteriorating financial situation increased the country’s political vulnerability. In 1904 the British Government again tried to establish a Protectorate over Liberia. In 1907 Liberia officially ceded an area of approximately 2,000 square miles to France and accepted the Cavally River as the official boundary between Liberia and the neighbouring French colony. Ironically, as the Liberian Government did not exactly know the exact course of this river the loss of territory later proved to be far greater than was initially thought.

The Liberian negotiator of the Franco-Liberian Boundary Treaty, Edward Blyden, in 1905 proposed an “Anglo-French Protectorate over Liberia”. This proposal, however, was Blyden’s personal view and did not have the support of the Barclay Administration. Four years later, Blyden, who was known for his pro-British point of view, was accused of involvement in a coup attempt by the British Major of the frontier Force, Major Caddell. In the same year the Kru in the eastern part of the country (Garawe) hoisted the British flag during one of their numerous revolts against Liberian authority. At Cape Palmas the prophet William Harris raised the British flag too. Edward Blyden, who visited Cape Palmas in 1909, reportedly told the Krus and Greboes that the Republic was on its last legs. He advised them to ask Great Britain to annex the country.

The introduction of the Hut Tax (one dollar per hut) in 1910 failed to ease the financial situation but led to an increased political instability.

Everything seemed to work against the Liberian Government. It had been forced to create and pay for a Frontier Force to protect itself against seizure of its territory by European Powers, but it could not pay the military regularly owing to an empty Treasury. The Frontier Force was sent into the interior of the Republic to collect taxes, which had been introduced to fill the Treasury, but the soldiers of the Frontier Force started to loot the (tribal) villages when the Government failed to pay them their salaries. The resulting increase in the tribal resistance against the Liberian authorities led to increased expenditures for the Government and to political instability which was skillfully exploited by the European Powers who during the 1910’s were even asked by the tribal population to take over power in the Republic.

In 1910 the famous Grebo uprising climaxed a long history of “discrimination, oppression, and lack of protection under law”. They asked to be placed under the protection of Great-Britain. The U.S. Government sent the U.S.S. Birmingham to Cape Palmas for the primary purpose of preventing European intervention. Finally, it cost the Liberian Government £ 25,000 and six months of fighting to quell the rebellion.

In 1912 the Kru at River Cess revolted, in protest against the restrictions imposed by the – still prevailing – Port of Entry Law. The Bassa in the Buchanan area joined their fight against the Government. The latter reacted by burning the principal villages along the coast. The impossibility of the Liberian Government and hence its refusal to pay indemnities to German traders who had been attacked and looted by the rebellious tribal people resulted in three German gun-boats being sent to Monrovia. This forced the Liberian Government to pay the compensation demanded with (part of) the proceeds of the 1912 Loan.

In 1915 the Kru rebelled again, this time against the collection of the Hut Tax. In at least 8 villages the Union Jack was hoisted. Again Liberian tribes asked for British protection. Also in subsequent years the Kru protested against Liberian authority and killed tax collectors. It was reported that villages along the coast were deserted, the tribal people fleeing into the interior of the country where the absence of roads made it difficult, if not virtually impossible, for the military of the Frontier Force and for tax collectors to chase and find them.

Americo-Liberian – tribal relations

President Arthur Barclay



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