History of Liberia - Johns Hopkins University Studies In Historical And Political Science
by J.H.T. McPherson
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The result was mortifying. Instead of disappearing, the exportation of slaves was found actually to increase, while the attending horrors were multiplied. Small, swift cutters took the place of the roomy slave-ships of older days, and the victims, hurriedly crowded into slave-decks but a few feet high, suffered ten-fold torments on the middle passage from inadequate supplies of food and water.

The colonists, even in their early feebleness, set their face resolutely against the slave trade: its repression was a cardinal principle. Their first serious wars were waged on its account. Ashmun risked his life in the destruction of the factories at New Cesters and elsewhere. The slavers, warned by many encounters, forsook at first the immediate neighborhood of the settlements, and, as the coast line was gradually taken up, abandoned at length, after many a struggle, the entire region. Six hundred miles of the coast was permanently freed from an inhuman and demoralizing traffic that defied every effort of the British naval force. Nor was this all. The natives were reconciled by the introduction of a legitimate commerce which supplied all they had sought from the sale of human beings.

In still another way did the colony exercise a humane influence. Among the natives exists a domestic slavery so cruel and barbarous that the lot of the American plantation Negro seemed paradise in comparison. Life and limb are held of such small value that severe mutilation is the penalty of absurdly slight transgressions, or is imposed at the arbitrary displeasure of the master, while more serious offenses are punished by death in atrocious form: as when the victim is buried alive with stakes driven through his quivering body.[16] The institution is of course a difficult one to uproot. But among the natives in the more thickly settled portions of the country it has ceased, and is mitigated wherever the influence of the Government penetrates, while the number of victims is greatly diminished by the cessation of inter-tribal warfare.

In this way Liberia has proved, from the standpoint of humanity, pre-eminently successful.

3. As a Step toward the Civilization of Africa.

George Whitefield is said to have declared to Oglethorpe when lamenting his failure to exclude slavery from Georgia, that he was making a mistake: the Africans were much better off as slaves than in their native barbarism, and would receive a training that would enable them ultimately to return and civilize the land of their nativity. In this bold idea he anticipated one of the leading thoughts of the fathers of colonization, and, perhaps prophesied, a great migration which the world is yet to see. But to confine ourselves to the present and the strictly practical—there is to the interior of Liberia, sweeping away beyond the valley of the Niger, a country of teeming population and vast resources. That this territory be opened to the commerce of the world, and the blessings of civilization be conferred upon the people, it is necessary that some impulse of enlightenment come from without. The casual visit of the trader has been proved by experience to do vastly more harm than good. Vice and demoralization have too often followed in his track. The direction and instruction of European agents accomplish little. The best efforts of all men of this class have resulted in an unequal hand-to-hand fight with the deadly climate, in which no white man can work and live. Besides, the natives need more than guidance; they must have before them the example of a civilized settlement.

It would be impossible to imagine a more ideal agent for accomplishing this work than Liberia. True, its slow development has prevented it as yet from penetrating to the most fruitful portion of the interior district; but so far as it has gone the work has been wonderful. One after another of the native chiefs has sought, with his people, admission to the privileges of citizenship, agreeing to conform to the laws of the country and abolish inconsistent aboriginal customs. The schools are full of native children, while large numbers are distributed in a sort of apprenticeship among Liberian families for training in the arts of civilized life. The English language has become widely known. More remote tribes, while retaining native customs, have entered into agreements or treaties to abstain from war, to keep open roads and routes of commerce, to protect travellers and missionaries and such Liberians as may settle among them. This is in itself an advance; and in addition various forms of knowledge, improved implements and methods of agriculture must enter in and insensibly raise these tribes to a higher plane.

In reclaiming the natives lies a source of great future power for Liberia. When immigration from the United States shall assume such proportions that numbers of interior settlements can be made which shall be radiating centres of civilization, the enormous potential energy of native intelligence and labor will be brought to bear on the development of the country with marvellous results.

4. As a Missionary Effort.

The attempts of the Christian Church to evangelize the western districts of Africa constitute one of the saddest and most discouraging records of history. From the first attempt of the Roman church in 1481, it has been one continuous narrative of a futile struggle against disease and death. A whole army of martyrs has gone bravely to its doom leaving no trace of its sacrifice save unmarked and forgotten graves. It has indeed been a bitter experience that has proved this work can be successfully undertaken only by men of African blood, for whom the climate has no terrors. And the superiority of an established Christian community to a few isolated missionary stations requires no demonstration. From the first the colonists were active in spreading a knowledge of the Gospel among the natives. Lot Cary, one of the earliest emigrants, was an earnest missionary, and besides efficient work at home he established mission stations at Cape Mount and elsewhere.

In 1826 four emissaries of the Basle Missionary College made Monrovia their headquarters, and did some good work; but they soon succumbed to the climate. The American churches of those denominations most largely represented in Liberia—the Episcopal, Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist—made strenuous efforts, and sent out a succession of missionaries, most of whom fell victims to the fever. Later, after learning the salutary lesson, they accomplished much through the organization and direction of the work of Liberian missionaries. In this way the gospel is safely and successfully propagated among the natives.

A foe more stubborn than paganism is to be met in the ranks of Islam. There seems to be something in its teachings which renders the native a ready convert. Its simplicity is readily understood; and it sanctions the practices of polygamy and slave-holding to which he is accustomed. Under the zealous proselytism of the Mandingoes the Mohammedan faith has taken a strong hold on the interior, and is spreading rapidly to the very doors of Liberia. Candor compels the admission that it brings with it a marked improvement in the condition and intelligence of the converts. Intemperance—which in many cases follows in the tracks of the Christian merchant—disappears. A knowledge of Arabic is soon acquired and the Koran is eagerly read and its principles put in practice. The whole life of the convert is transformed, and he becomes in turn zealous in the dissemination of the faith. The efforts of missionaries alone can never stem this torrent; if any impression is to be made upon the Mohammedan tribes it must be by the extension of Christian settlements and civilization.

5. As a Refuge to the Negro from the Pressure of Increasing Competition in America.

It would be unnecessary to bring into review the causes that are operating daily to make the conditions of earning a living in America more difficult. However much or little credence we place in the Malthusian theory of the increase of population, in the doctrine of diminishing returns, or the iron law of wages, all thinking men are agreed that the country is already entering upon a new era. The period of expansion, of the taking up of new territory by the overflowing population of the older districts, is practically ended; future development will be intensive, the country will be more thickly settled, and the sharpness of competition will be immeasurably increased. The possibility of rising in life will be reduced to a minimum; and there will exist a class, as in the older civilizations of Europe, who live, and expect to see their children live, in a subordinate or inferior relation, without the prospect of anything better.

There may be under this new regime a number of occupations in which the Negro, by contentedly accepting a subordinate position, may hold his ground. Or the conditions of life may become so severe that a sharp struggle for existence will leave in possession the race which shall prove fittest to survive. To follow the train of thought would lead into all the unsolved difficulties of the Negro Problem. But surely there will be some among all the millions of the race who will become dissatisfied with their life here. Some will aspire to higher things, some will seek merely a field where their labor will meet an adequate return; many will be moved by self-interest, a few by nobler motives. To all these Liberia eagerly opens her arms. The pressure in America finds an efficient safety-valve in the colonization of Africa.

With such additions to her strength, the resources of Liberia will be brought out and developed. Communication with America will be made easier and cheaper. The toiling masses left behind will have before them the constant example of numbers of their race living in comfort and increasing prosperity under their own government. Many will become eager to secure the same advantages, and gradually a migration will begin that will carry hundreds of thousands from the house of bondage to the promised land.

It is absurd to declaim about "expatriation" and to declare such a movement forced and unnatural. The whole course of history reveals men leaving their homes under pressure of one cause or another, and striking out into new fields. The western course of migration has reached its uttermost limit, and the tide must turn in other directions. One vast and rich continent remains; upon it the eyes of the world are fixed. Already the aggressive Aryan has established himself wherever he can gain a foothold; but the greater part of the country is forever barred to him by a climate which he cannot subdue.

To whom then can this rich territory offer greater inducements than to the colored people of the United States? And what is more natural and rational than that they, when the population of the country approaches the migration point, should follow the line of least resistance and turn their steps to the home of their forefathers.


The sources of information which proved most useful to the writer are:

The Annual Reports of the A.C.S., together with the files of its quarterly journal, the African Repository.

Messages of Presidents of Liberia, and the Reports of Secretaries of Treasury, War, and Navy.

The Archives of the Maryland State Colonization Society, preserved by the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore.

* * * * *

KENNEDY: Colonization Report.

ALEXANDER: History of Colonization. 1845.

GURLEY: Report on Condition of Liberia. 1850.

CARL RITTER: Begruendung u. gegenwaertige Zustaende der Negerrepublik Liberia. 1852.

ANDERSON: Narrative of a Journey to Musardu. 1870.

LATROBE: Maryland in Liberia. 1885.

WAUWERMANS: Liberia; Histoire de la Fondation d'un Etat negre libre. 1885.

SCHWARTZ: Einiges ueber das interne Leben der Eingebornen Liberias. Deutsche Kolonialzeitung. 1887.

—Die Neger-Republik Liberia. Das Ausland. 1888.

BLYDEN: Christianity, Islam, and the Negro Race.

BUeTTIKOFER: Reisebilder aus Liberia. 1890.


[Footnote 1: Letter to Philip A. Bruce, dated London, April 8, 1889.]

[Footnote 2: James Ferguson, Life of Hopkins. Hopkins' Circular, 1793.]

[Footnote 3: Jefferson, Notes on Virginia.]

[Footnote 4: Kennedy's Report, p. 160.]

[Footnote 5: A.C.S. Report for 1853, pp. 37-55.]

[Footnote 6: The remarks of these gentlemen and others of similar views have subjected the Society to many unjust attacks. Of course many would join such a movement from mixed motives; but the guiding principles of the Society itself have always been distinctly philanthropic.]

[Footnote 7: Report of Amos Kendall, Fourth Auditor, to the Secretary of the Navy, August, 1830.]

[Footnote 8: Ashmun.]

[Footnote 9: These were eventually paid by the United States Government. Kendall's Report to Secretary of Navy, December, 1830.]

[Footnote 10: The outbreak of the Civil War ended the arrangement after the third payment.]

[Footnote 11: This singular petition is preserved in Minute Book No. 4 of the M.S. C.S., p. 36.]

[Footnote 12: Carl Ritter, who saw him in 1852, speaks of him as "den edlen, hochgebildeten, erfahrenen, weisen, und der Rede sehr kundigen Staatsman Wir (i.e., Ritter,) haben wiederholt seinen wuerdenvollen Reden in den ersten Kreisen in London beigewohnt."]

[Footnote 13: Semi-Centennial Memorial, p. 190.]

[Footnote 14: B. Anderson, Narrative of a Journey to Musardu.]

[Footnote 15: A.C. Reports of 1881 and 1882.]

[Footnote 16: Anderson's Journey to Musardu.]


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