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740.00112 European War 1939/2884 Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. Henry S. Villard and Mr. Charles W. Lewis, Jr., of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs
[WASHINGTON,] May 13, 1941. . Participants: Mr. Helm 3 and Mr. Calvert of the British Embassy
Mr. Harvey S. Firestone and Mr. Larabee of the Fire
Mr. Lewis Mr. Firestone opened the conversation by stating that his company had become very much concerned over the recent action of the British Chargé d'Affaires at Monrovia in recommending that the Bank of Monrovia and the United States Trading Company, subsidiaries in Liberia of the Firestone Plantations Company, be placed on the British Statutory List. He said that the British Chargé d'Affaires had for some months been endeavoring to force the Bank and the trading company to cease transacting business with German firms in Liberia and with neutral firms on the Statutory List and had, during last November, prevailed upon the manager of the Bank to acquiesce in writing to the British demands. Mr. Firestone said that this action on the part of the Bank manager was done without the authority of the company and that, in any case, whatever the understanding reached between the manager and the Chargé d'Affaires it should not have been put in writing, since, if the agreement became known to the Government of Liberia, the company and its subsidiaries might be liable to serious penalties, the terms of the agreement being in violation of the Liberian Proclamation of Neutrality. He continued by stating that, as Mr. Helm knew, it was the policy of the Firestone interests throughout the world to cooperate in every practicable way with the British Government, and that naturally all steps were being taken to see that the operations of the company did not in any way benefit the Germans. However, in Liberia the Government's Proclamation of Neutrality, and the determination of the Government to enforce it, made it extremely difficult for the Bank of Monrovia and the United States Trading Company to comply with the demands of the Chargé d'Affaires.
Mr. Helm said that he had written, in April, to the Ministry of Economic Warfare concerning this matter and had been assured, in
* A. K. Helm, First Secretary of the British Embassy.
reply, that adjustments would be made to meet this particular situation.
Mr. Murray remarked that while Mr. Ponsonby was Chargé d'Affaires at Monrovia the question at issue was being handled fairly satisfactorily but that the present Chargé d'Affaires, Mr. Routh, gave the impression of being anti-American, which was out of step with present Anglo-American relations. Mr. Murray continued by saying that while Mr. Routh was probably not in actual fact antiAmerican it was nevertheless evident that his methods were bringing on a serious situation. He thought that Mr. Routh was magnifying the problem unnecessarily, and in doing so he was placing the Firestone interests in a dangerous position and was, at the same time, antagonizing the Liberian Government. He added that Mr. Routh, by lack of tact, had during his previous tour of duty at Monrovia caused the Liberians to regard him unfavorably and that the available evidence seemed to indicate that he was doing nothing to improve his relations with the Liberians during his present tour of duty; on the contrary, his aggressiveness toward the American companies in question, upon which the Liberians were dependent for banking facilities and, in large measure, for merchandise, was having very unfavorable repercussions and was further impairing his already strained relations with the Government.
Mr. Helm commented at length on the policy of his Government with reference to the economic blockade, pointing out that while admittedly the economic and financial considerations at stake in Liberia were small, it was nevertheless the desire of the Ministry of Economic Warfare to strike at the enemy wherever results, large or small, could be achieved. He added, however, that he felt sure that an understanding could be reached in the questions at issue with respect to Liberia.
It was then decided that Mr. Helm and Mr. Firestone should discuss the matter further in a conference between themselves, and should endeavor to eliminate written agreements or conditions from the record as much as possible. This would apply in particular to the conditions enumerated by the British as being precedent to the granting of navicerts for shipments to the Firestone Plantations. The arrangements under which such navicerts were to be granted would be worked out by oral agreement in so far as possible. Moreover, Mr. Firestone would consider it a favor if the British could expunge from the record the correspondence signed by the General Manager in Liberia without authority of the Home Office, an action which Mr. Firestone was now repudiating.
740.00112 European War 1939/2760 : Telegram
The Minister in Liberia (Walton) to the Secretary of State
MONROVIA, May 22, 1941–2 p. m.
[Received May 23—12:22 p. m.] 47. Bank of Monrovia's application for navicert to ship 419 ounces of gold refused on the ground that bank has not agreed not to transfer funds for Germans. British Chargé d'Affaires has instructed traders not to ship gold through Bank of Monrovia but through two British firms.
British Chargé d'Affaires in the presence of prominent Liberian and two Europeans today avowed he was out to get Harvey Firestone and that he paid no attention to Liberian neutrality because Liberia was not strong enough to enforce it.
Please advise this Legation if the British Chargé d'Affaires is acting under instructions of his Government; also should this Legation refuse British applicant consular invoices for gold shipments.
740.00112 European War 1939/2886
Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Chief of the Division
of Near Eastern Affairs (Villard)
[WASHINGTON,] May 24, 1941. I telephoned to Mr. Helm in regard to the most recent telegram from the Legation at Monrovia regarding the aggressive and unfriendly attitude of the British Chargé d'Affaires toward the Firestone subsidiaries in Liberia. Mr. Helm said he would come down to discuss the matter, which he did later in the morning.
I told Mr. Helm that our latest information was to the effect that the British representative had notified clients of the Bank of Monrovia that he would refuse to grant navicert facilities for gold shipments made by the bank; that he would refuse a navicert application by the bank for 419 ounces of gold on the ground that the bank had not agreed to refrain from transferring funds for Germans; and that he had instructed traders to ship their gold not through the Bank of Monrovia but through two British firms. In addition, according to a report from our Minister, the British Chargé d'Affaires had stated in the presence of two Europeans and a prominent Liberian that he was out to get Harvey Firestone, and that because Liberia was not strong enough to enforce it he would pay no attention to Liberian neutrality.
I said this indicated that far from modifying his attitude the British Chargé d'Affaires was becoming more insolent and apparently hostile both to Liberia and the United States. I said that in my view this might warrant a request from our part that the British Government change its representation in Monrovia, in order that amicable relations might be restored. I reminded Mr. Helm of our traditional interest in Liberia and intimated that if, in the opinion of the British Chargé d'Affaires, Liberia was not strong enough to maintain its neutrality the Government of the United States might have to extend its informal advice and assistance.
Mr. Helm replied that he agreed entirely with everything I had said, and that in his opinion the tactlessness of the British Chargé had gone far enough. Mr. Helm said that he had sent a detailed report to London on the subject of our conference with Mr. Firestone on May 13, but that the pouch which carried the report had not yet arrived in England. He said that he had also sent a carbon copy of the report by Clipper to an official in the Foreign Office with the urgent request to look into the situation at Monrovia and to transfer all negotiations relating to Firestone to the British Embassy in Washington for the present. Mr. Helm said that he felt a change would be made in the British representation at Monrovia, but that in the meantime it would be very helpful if our Embassy in London would support our views by direct conversations with the appropriate officials.
Mr. Helm urged that we telegraph instructions to London as soon as possible in order that his report and our own message would arrive simultaneously. I said that we were on a point of doing so and that a telegram would go forward forthwith.
740.00112 European War 1939/2760 : Telegram The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in the United Kingdom
WASHINGTON, May 28, 1941–2 p. m. 1836. We have been concerned recently at the attitude of the British Chargé d'Affaires in Monrovia toward the Firestone Plantations Company and its subsidiaries in Liberia. Apparently on his own initiative the Chargé d'Affaires has persistently endeavored to compel the Bank of Monrovia and the United States Trading Company, both owned by Firestone, to cease transacting business with German firms in Liberia and with neutral firms on the British statutory list. On the other hand, the Liberian Secretary of State has warned the Manager of the Bank that to deny facilities to a belligerent or neutral national in the ordinary course of banking business would be a tacit violation of the Proclamation of Neutrality issued by the Government of Liberia
and might also subject the bank to action at law for damages. Incidentally the Bank of Monrovia is the official repository of Liberian government funds.
On May 14 the British Chargé d'Affaires in writing demanded a "solemn undertaking” from the Bank that it would transfer no more funds abroad for German interests. He is also reported (1) to have written to clients of the bank that he will issue no navicerts for gold shipments made through that institution, (2) to have refused the bank’s navicert application for 419 ounces of gold on the ground that the bank had not agreed to refrain from transferring funds for Germans, and (3) to have instructed traders to ship their gold through two British firms. On a previous occasion the Chargé d'Affaires sought to have the bank placed on the statutory list, but is understood that no action was taken on this recommendation following informal representations made by the Department to the British Embassy.
The American Minister in Monrovia reported by telegraph on May 22 that the British Chargé d'Affaires on that date in the presence of a prominent Liberian and two Europeans had stated he was “out to get” Harvey Firestone and that he paid no attention to Liberian neutrality because Liberia was not strong enough to enforce it.
While the Department has on several occasions suggested to officials of the British Embassy that the aggressive attitude of the Chargé d'Affaires seemed wholly unwarranted in the light of the small amount of trade in Liberia still in German hands, the friction and irritation caused by his apparently unfriendly approach to existing problems now seems to have reached a point where there may arise the question of his further usefulness in Liberia. For your confidential information much of the trouble seems to lie in the tactlessness of the Chargé d'Affaires, whose return to Monrovia for a second assignment was far from welcome to Liberians.
Please seek an early opportunity to discuss this situation with the appropriate officials of the Foreign Office, pointing out the traditional interest which the United States Government has in the economy and welfare of Liberia and the great importance from the defense standpoint which we attach to the legitimate operations of Firestone in that country. In the latter connection it would appear singularly inappropriate that Firestone should encounter difficulties with the British representative in Liberia when his organization everywhere is endeavoring to cooperate with the British war effort to the fullest possible extent. We are confident that an amicable informal understanding can be reached on all problems arising in Liberia, given the proper amount of good will and a reasonable attitude on the part of the British Legation.