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Edwin James Barclay


Edwin James Barclay (1882-1955) was a Liberian politician. He served as President of the country from 1930 until 1944.

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Created: 22nd Jul 2008
Modified: 22nd Jul 2008
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Edwin Barclay, a member of the True Whig Party which ruled at that time, served as foreign minister and secretary of state of Liberia in the government of Charles D.B. King from 1920 until 1930. He became President of Liberia in 1930 when President King and Vice-President Allen B. Yancey resigned because of a scandal. He was elected in his own right for the first time in 1931.

Barclay was selected to complete King's term as president. One of his first official decisions was to repeal the famous Port of Entry Law of 1864 that had restricted the economic activities of foreigners in the country. Subsequently, in the early 1930s concession agreements were signed between the Liberian Government and Dutch, Danish, German and Polish investors.

The depression of the 1930s brought Liberia to the verge of bankruptcy. By 1931, it became apparent to the Liberian administration that continued loan repayments were not possible. The government asked for consideration from the lending bank and Firestone but to no avail. Firestone attempted to use the United States Government, to force the Liberian Government to comply with the loan agreement, through the use of gunboat diplomacy. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt rejected this interference in Liberia internal affairs, in a memorable memorandum to the State Department, Roosevelt wrote: "At all times we should remember that Firestone went to Liberia at his own financial risk, and it is not the business of the State Department to pull his financial chestnut out of the fire except as a friend of the Liberian people." Ultimately, the Liberian Legislature passed the Moratorium Act suspending payment of this loan until terms could be negotiated that were more suitable to Liberia's ability to pay.

Barclay is credited with helping the country survive some of Liberia's greatest threats to its sovereignty in that country's history. These included threats by the League of Nations led by Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States to recolonize the country unless reforms were made, aggressive actions by France and a coup attempt by the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company which owned much of Liberia's land.

When Barclay appealed to the League of Nations for financial aid, the Council of the League of Nations expressed a willingness to assist Liberia with certain stipulations. The League of Nations drew up a plan of assistance which could have, if it had been implemented, eventually abrogated the independence of Liberia. One chief sticking point was the League's requirement to have their delegates placed in key positions within the Liberian government. Barclay and other Liberian officials considered this request to be an infringement upon the sovereignty of Liberia.

When Liberia refused to accept the League's plan, the major powers, including the United States, withdrew recognition of the Barclay's administration. In 1934, President Franklin Roosevelt restored diplomatic relations with Liberia, after President Barclay implemented some of the measures that had been proposed by the League of Nations. After three years of negotiation, an 'agreement' was reached along lines suggested by the League, which were beneficial to Firestone. Two key officials were placed in positions to advise the government, but with limitations set forth by the Liberian government. Loan payments were continued with the assistance of the League.

Barclay retired in 1944 and was replaced by William Tubman. On May 27, 1943, Edwin Barclay became the first black man to appear as a guest of honor before the United States Congress and be officially introduced from its rostrum. He was repaying President Franklin D. Roosevelt for the trip he had made to Liberia after the Casablanca Conference.
Biographical Information
Edwin James Barclay
(At a Glance)
Gender: male
Interests: Politic, Culture, Art
Place of Origin: Liberia
Edwin Barclay's paternal grandparents moved from Barbados to Liberia with their children in 1865. Edwin's father, Ernest Barclay and uncle, Arthur Barclay were also important Liberian politicians. In 1901, at the age of 19, Edwin wrote a Liberian patriotic song, "The Lone Star Forever." (source wikipedia)

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Liberia, Administration