Saturday, January 26, 2013

Albert Porte Versus William V.S. Tubman

A. Porte 1906-1986
Introduction: Veteran Liberian social crusader Albert Porte's letter to President Tubman on August 25, 1951 brought out the best in the veteran Liberian political journalist and pamphleteer. Porte, with verve took on President William V.S. Tubman in an era when it was unwise to do so given Tubman's autocratic tendencies especially at a time when he was near to silencing his critics. He cautioned the Liberian chief executive not to purchase a luxury Presidential yacht which is said to have been 463-tons with a passenger capacity of 36. The posh carrier required an international crew, and a separate department within the Department of State and bought at $125,000.00.  The exchanges gives the reader a comprehensive glimpse into Porte’s character who is also considered by many as the father of social justice in Liberia


Dear Mr. President:

Ever since I read a copy of the Listener in which you published your message to the Legislature convoking the special session, I have been thinking and trying not to think, and feel urged to let you know some of the thoughts that have been passing through my mind, sincerely hoping and believing that it will be taken in the real democratic spirit, realizing fully, as I know you do, that ultimate success or failure in a democracy rests not only upon the President, but upon each citizen as well.

Liberia is classified among the undeveloped countries of the world. She lacks some of the basic minimum requirements, and needs much more than she can muster at the present time for her internal development. And although this is so, we are undertaking to spend $150,000 for the purchase of a yacht for the use of the President. In addition to this, it will require a tidy sum for its upkeep. It is my humble opinion that at the present stage of the country’s development, this amount could be more profitably used towards real development with more permanent results. Yes, other countries have these things and in time as our country is developed we too will have some of them, but I think we should concentrate upon fundamentals.

Unfortunately, the citizens of this country do not feel free to express themselves upon vital questions affecting them, but sit by and grumble “the people don’t mean anything”. I am afraid that even in the Legislature there is a great reluctance if not the absence of the free expression of thoughts and opinion, especially where the President is concerned. To tell the truth, it has required a huge effort on my part to have expressed my thought here. So I have no justification in condemning the reluctance in others.

This only brings to face to face with great responsibility weighing so heavily upon the President, which could be lightened if the people felt free to express themselves and their views were taken in the right spirit.

Very sincerely your,
Albert Porte

Pres. William Vacanarat Shadrach Tubman 1895-1971

Dear Mr. Porte.

Your letter of August 25th in which you informed me that you have been worried since you read the copy of the Listener which carried my Special Message to the Legislature and my reference to the purchase of a Yacht for the President of Liberia have been received.

You state in your letter that One Hundred Fifty Thousand Dollars should be utilized for some other more beneficial purpose and not for the purchase of a yacht for the President of Liberia, and that some people are grumbling but that they do not come forward and state their dissatisfaction, even some Member of the Legislature you state.

I appreciate you candor in the matter, but I am in total disagreement with your views expressed and method of thinking on the subject.

I take the liberty to tell you an experience that I had in 1939 at which I was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. The Legislature and the Supreme Court were to be opened and for two weeks they could not get a quorum. An American ship came in the Captain name was Mr. Bogden. He knew me personally and therefore agreed to bring me to Monrovia, but refused to take any other Member of the Legislature or Member of the Supreme Court. I pleaded with him to take the other Members but he insisted that he would not.

Finally, he asked me the following question: “Justice Tubman, do you mean to tell me that your Government has no means to by which she can get Members of the Legislature and the Supreme Court to the Seats of the Legislature and the Supreme Court except they are transported there by our ships or some foreign ships?” Although embarrassed, I had to reply in the affirmative. He then asked another question: “If your President desire to come to Cape Palmas, you mean to tell me that he could not come unless our ship or ships of some other line brought him?” Again, although embarrassed, I had to reply in the affirmative. He then came forth with the last question: “Then Justice Tubman, do you think you should have a President, a Legislature, or a Supreme Court if the Members of these bodies have had to be transported to the seats of the Legislature and the Court by foreign craft?” This question baffled me and I could not answer it.

I narrate this experience of mine to show you the difference in the thinking of civilized people about the type of thing that you are objecting to.

On the other hand, you and the rest of the grumblers, although I do not know who they are but they seem to be known to you, make no contribution or make so little contribution to the resources of the country that you should be ashamed to talk about the public expenditure.
How much taxes have you or any of the grumblers paid into the public treasury from 1944, when I took office and met the net revenues at One Million Dollars, to the present? 

By recommendation to the Legislature of measures to increase the revenues which they approved, within seven years it is expected that revenues will reach eight to ten million dollars at the end of the year. How much taxes of any kind or financial contribution have you or the grumblers put into the revenue to cause this increase? Have you or any of you contributed towards the Income Tax, the Ticket Tax, the Injury Tax, the Sales Tax or the Profit tax? Have you paid your Real estate Taxes; if so in what amount?

It might interest you to know that I paid Income tax of more than Two Thousand Dollars for the last year alone. Firestone paid nearly Three Million Dollars Income Tax.
The people who pay taxes in the country and would be entitled to interpose objections are those up country, the foreigners and few of your element who really do pay taxes. The grumblers are the set who contribute nothing for the protection, right and benefit of citizenship which they enjoy.

Now you just sit down and forget that it is you and begin to think what financial contribution do you or have you made to your country.

Your spirit appears to me to be anarchical I remember during the last Administration, you were critical and censorious of it. When it comes to the present Administration, you are occasionally censorious and critical of it. I have never known you to compliment any administration, but you always look for what you think to be weak spots in it. I think this is an evil spirit and an evil eye which will not do you or the country any good. Supposed every or most persons had the same spirit, what would happen to the country!

It may be necessary to inform you that in 1949, without consultation with me, the Legislature voted One Hundred Thousand Dollars to purchase a yacht for the President> I did not do so but delay it because I felt the revenue had not reached where I wanted them; now the revenue justify it. I made contacts to get one but found that the One Hundred Thousand Dollars could not purchase it. I therefore requested the additional Fifty Thousand Dollars and the same has been approved, and I will but the yacht.

During the early days when the founding fathers first came here, they had ships which were not owned by Government but by private citizens and companies. That industry was permitted to die out and for more than sixty to seventy years there was not a solitary means of transport from one point to another until recently when I succeeded in procuring two airplanes for Government since private citizens could not do it. And now we have an Airline in the country and the planes land airstrips built by Government.

I will but the yacht without regard to the grumbling of you grumblers. That yacht will be used for the recreation of the President from his onerous duties that have been increased by more than one thousand percent since 1944, and may invite you to accompany me on one of my cruises that you might get a benefit of some rest from your onerous duty as a school teacher and which may possibly broaden your vision.

Kind regards,
Sincerely yours,
W. V. S. Tubman


The Porte-Tubman Combat 

Following the 1944 emergence to the Presidency by William V. S. Tubman, Albert Porte's writings took on a more political flavor. It is believed that his prolific bent gained added momentum as a result of the readiness with which he tooled up his spirited pen against the excessive use of power by Tubman. It is not surprising that one of his first major clashes with Tubman centered around monthly deductions of funds from his meager teacher's salary to support the ruling True Whig Party.

Here was a man declaring boldly that he would neither be a member nor supporter of the ruling and only political party permitted to operate, at a time when everyone was presumed to be partisan or was too afraid to say otherwise. Taken by the moral and intellectual courage of Porte's posture, the real significance of his stance was lost on many.

In effect, however, Porte was articulating the almost nonexistent opposition to Tubman's autocratic rule. In substance, the political activist was setting the stage for his crusade against the Tubman hegemony, crystallized by the Church, State and Party triumvirate - the superstructure of Tubman's 27-dictatorship.

If no one else felt the threat or saw the need to oppose this over-concentration of power in in the hands of one man, to the detriment of the nation and people, Albert Porte saw his mission "to be about his Father's 'business' was at hand."

Without a moment's hesitation, it seems that Porte resigned himself to the recognition that his own business was not his Father's business, but that his Father's 'business' was now to become his. Tautology? Hardly! The willing crusader was well-acquainted with the Biblical Proverb: "Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven and all other things shall be added unto you." Porte believed that once he undertook what his Master set him out to do, rather than give priority to his personal or domestic affairs, the Lord would secure and provide for him and his family. Indeed, Albert Porte's children as well as several others whom he and his wife fostered are a living example to those who would cherish their duty to God and their country.

Tubman Cult
The political theatre in which Porte found himself positioned at center stage during the mid 1950's, was not new to him. He had passed this way before. While Porte had been making virtue of the curse: "By the sweat of thou brow shall thou eat bread," Tubman had been engaged in what might be described as 'turning God's curse on its head.' In a bid to strengthen his totalitarian hold over the country, Tubman had, to a large extent, triumphed in undermining the agro-based economic independence of the Liberian people.

Indeed, by the end of his second term in 1954, as perceived by presidential challenger, former president Edwin J. Barclay, Tubman had succeeded in making "people, expected to be leaders in the process of maintaining personal liberty and universal freedom, reduced to the condition of parasites, time-savers, 'yes' men and cringing servants to one man's will."

In addition, Barclay indicated that he saw "the lines of demarcation constitutionally fixed between the several powers of government so obliterated that the process had successfully achieved the dictatorship of one man. The indecent voice of the legislature is stifled. The courts have become obedient to his slightest nod," Barclay concluded.

It was such unconstitutional fusion of powers that Albert Porte identified as being the source of Tubman's dictatorial powers. Small wonder that most of has writings during that period, including Glimpses of Justice in Liberia, An Explanation, etc., attacked this usurpation and co-option of legislative and judicial powers that were further enhanced by executive emergency powers, which, according to Porte, Tubman's "rubber stamp legislature unjustifiably restored at his behest from time to time."

Moral Vacuum
A recurring theme which punctuated much of Porte's essays at this stage was the supremacy of God as the Great Designer of all things, and man's co-partnership status in the general scheme of things.

Porte appears to have been convinced that Tubman's emasculation of Liberian manhood and his success in influencing every aspect of their individual lives pushed them to the brink of deifying or making god of their leader.

In True Whig partisan D. Nyeka Chie's May 2, 1968, Liberian Star article, he said of Tubman: "We see the hand of God at work. He is the gift of Providence to Liberia at such a time as this, for no man can do the things he has done except God be with that man. Name or show me what he has left undone and I will enumerate thousands of things he has accomplished within a relatively short space of time in government, the religious, social fraternal and cultural life of the nation; the physical plant of Liberia, the human and natural resources on land; on the sea and in the air."
With the Church, State, Party and fraternities so closely bound together and controlled by one man, Porte's responsibility seemed to be - or so he thought - to try and fill the moral vacuum which the situation had created. His articles, thereafter, always started with several quotations from the Bible.

Convinced that Porte was determined to keep up the fight, Tubman, it seems, decided to ignore him. But Porte was not a person to be ignored as Tubman came to realize. Believing that sending Porte to jail would slow him down, Tubman had Porte imprisoned on several occasions, all to no avail. Despite Porte's persistence, however, Tubman remained unwilling to bow to the crusader's moral superiority. When Tubman died in July, 1971, the Tubmanic cult which had been created survived and lingered on.

The Tolbert Years
When Tolbert took the reins of power in 1971, he appeared to be in agreement with the need to fill the religious vacuum which Tubman had created. From his point of view as an ordained Baptist preacher and President of the Baptist World Alliance, however, he found himself well positioned to exploit to the fullest, his public image as a 'man-of-God.' 

In a very short while it became clear that this white-clad man-of-God had plans of his own. Expectedly, as early as 1973, Tolbert ran into conflict with the Porte philosophy of accountability of government officials to the public in general. As an editor of the critical magazine, the 'Revelation,' which first appeared that year, Albert Porte, along with his co-editors lashed out at nepotism in government, the misuse of public funds and other abuses. 
Barely a year later, the moral and intellectual conflicts inherent in the Americo-Liberian hegemony would flare up with Porte's stinging pamphlet, Gobbling Business. This article laid open the high-handed and unfair business practice of the Tolbert administration.

Following the overthrow of the Tolbert regime by the People's Redemption Council in 1980, Albert Porte was, for the first time, accorded some official recognition for his dedication to public welfare. Some, however, regarded certain moves intended to honor the "old Man," as a public relations gimmick, intended to silence him. 
While Porte accepted the change in government as a necessary evil, he refused to be taken by the professed good intentions of the military. Hopeful that the military would return the country to civilian rule in 1986 as pledged, Porte consented to work on the drafting of a new constitution for the "Second Republic."

Understandably Porte, the critic, and Head of State Doe, found themselves on different sides of the fence. 
Porte spent the last few months of his life shuttling amongst opposition parties. His message..? "Unite - especially in the face of opposition." Unfortunately, the leaders of those opposition parties were marching to different drums. 

In the darkest hour of their existence, Liberians would be fools not to recall the most important lesson that Port's life has taught: "that a people must never lose hope in God; that they should generate confidence in themselves; and that they should always act in their own interest as a people, relentlessly protesting social injustice, stamping out individual and collective indifference and apathy and defying political tyranny."

The huge mixture of friends and enemies at Albert Porte's funeral activities in Monrovia and Crozierville truly reflected the man's concern for his country. Indeed, a patriot of the century had fallen. 

 This article by Keith Neville Best was first published in the June Edition of the X-RAY Magazine in Monrovia in 1986.

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