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National Unification

The Unification Policy introduced in Tubinan's first inaugural address was intended to prevent intracommunal conflict by breaking down the barriers between the Americo?Liberian community and tribal Africans and opening the way for the latter to participate in the political life of the country. "Deduced to its simplest terms," Tubman explained when the policy had been in operation for some years, "unification, as I perceive it, is the practical application of thinking and living on a national rather than a parochial, benighted basis.'

Legislation was enacted soon after the introduction of the Unification Policy, extending suffrage to all property holders and to all those who paid but tax. Tubman toured the interior and met with chiefs not only to discuss local problems but also to explain the policy to them. A special unification council was formed to draw together leaders from different parts of the country every few years, and executive councils were impaneled to meet more frequently to study the progress of unification in particular localities. The councils were attended, amidst pageantry and the exchange of gifts, by chiefs, headmen, anti local officials, who met for several days with the president and his entourage. During this time grievances were aired, and complaints against government and tribal authorities were lodged. Tubman sometimes dismissed officials on the spot in response to them. Subsequent legislation removed many of the distinctions between the coastal counties and the Hinterland districts, extending elected representation to the latter in the House of Representatives.

0he necessity for a change of direction in native African affairs had already become apparent in the 1930s as a result of the League of Nations reports and as a consequence of large numbers of tribal Africans entering the cash economy through employment opportunities offered by the Firestone operation. A realization of the probable effect of the latter was an important reason why some members of the old guard in the True Whig Party had opposed the Firestone investment from the first. Without detracting from the real accomplishments of the Unification Policy, what Tubman was attempting to do was to blur the distinction between tribal Africans and Americo?Liberians without altering the rules that would permit the latter to maintain their dominant role. Integration was not interpreted as implying the recognition of two separate but equal cultures or the melding of the two into a new society, but rather it was meant to encourage the gradual assimilation of tribal Africans into an enlarged Americo?Liberian community. Tubman clearly indicated the direction of his policy when he stated in the 1944 inaugural address that "we are aiming at developing a civilized state" but warned that its "civilization. . .will be as weak as its weakest pagan link, if due precaution be not taken. "

Tubman appointed a number of tribal Africans to government positions and was patron to others who ran for public office. After they had been co?opted into the system in this manner, they were used to advertise the advantages of assimilation through unification. Once a chief or other tribal personality had been accepted into the True Whig hierarchy and became an "Honorable," he was unlikely be an opponent of the Americo? Liberian ascendancy, it was believed.

Members of the Vai tribal group were the most ready to take advantage of the opportunities for advancement offered by unification. Among major groups, those from the Kru and Grebo were more reluctant to respond. What had been expected to blur differences, however, served in many instances to enhance tribal consciousness of their separate identities, as groups at first vied with one another for official recognition. Later there was some recognition that there could be strength in cohesiveness. Where possible, Tubman tried to incorporate tribal organizations into larger national associations, but on occasion he also felt required to neutralize certain groups so they could not be used as part of a nationalist movement that mobilized tribal Africans against his Americo-Liberian dominated government.

A generation after the inception of the Unification Policy, it would have been unlikely that Tubman or any other Liberian offi cial would have used the term "weakest pagan link" to describe the culture of tribal Africans. Indeed, the term "Americo?Libe rian" was in official disfavor. Assimilation had occurred to a limit ed degree, but a wider acceptance of tribal African cultures on the official level was the more noticeable aspect of the unification process. Many assimilated tribal Africans had restored their African names, and it had become acceptable? even fashionable?to wear African garb on public occasions. Even some members of the old elite boasted of their kinship ties with indigenous people and sought to capitalize on them. Tubman, who had no such ties, became the formal head of the Poro (as he was also grand master of the Masonic Order) in a double gesture of gaining control over it and of wooing support from the groups that were members of it. African culture, previously demeaned as "barbaric" and "un civilized," was officially recognized as being a genuine expression of the Liberian national experience, and the 1963 True Whig plat form included a plank urging "a national cultural awakening to develop the essential African and Liberian culture."

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