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Toasts of the President and President William R. Tolbert, Jr., of Liberia

June 05, 1973

Mr. President, Mrs. Tolbert, and all of our distinguished guests:

Secretary Rogers and I were just remarking about the fact that 2 weeks from tonight in this room, and at this place, we will be welcoming Mr. Brezhnev, the leader of a great and powerful nation. And tonight, just 2 weeks before that visit, we welcome another very distinguished guest, President Tolbert.

When we met today, he said that he represented a very small country, but I think what this visit signifies to all of us is that at a time when the United States, we think quite properly, in the interest of peace for our children and all the generations to come, is developing a new relationship with the People's Republic of China and a new relationship with the Soviet Union, that we not forget our old friends.

Our first visitor in this room in the year 1973 was Prime Minister Heath, and as all of us know, it has been said for many, many years that we have a special relationship with Britain. I should point out tonight that we have, and that I particularly have, a very special relationship with Liberia and with our distinguished guest.

This is true not only because for 150 years we have enjoyed the closest relations but is true also for very personal reasons. President Tolbert and I served together as Vice Presidents, and when people serve as Vice Presidents, they learn a great deal.

Little did we dream that one day we would serve together as Presidents. Of course, all Vice Presidents dream of being President, but few make it. And I suppose this is one of those rare cases in history when two men who have served as Vice President meet together as President. And so that makes our relationship very special.

It is very special for another reason. We share the same view of the world, not only of the necessity to develop a new and peaceful relation between the great powers, the United States and the Soviet Union, the United States and Europe, the United States and Peking and Japan, but also the necessity to think of the world as it will be 25 years from now, 50 years from now. We think of the new nations of Africa, and we think of the older nations. And we think of our friend, President Tolbert, and the leadership that he is giving to all of those new nations trying to develop a way to bring progress to their people, bring it with freedom and at the same time maintaining their independence.

I could simply say in presenting him to you tonight that it would be enough to mention him alone, but I must not forget his wife.

When I was in Liberia--and my wife, who has been there since, last year on a good will trip--but when we were there together in 1957, I remember going, Mr. President, out into the countryside. You were Vice President at that time, and we met a paramount chief, and he was a very old man, and he was very kind to me and proceeded to designate me as a paramount chief. And he told me that one of the rights of a paramount chief was to have as many wives as he liked. I have only one wife, President Tolbert has only one, and she is a lovely lady, and we are glad to have her here.

So as we drink our toast tonight, let us think of the relations between Liberia and America that go back so many years. Let us think of the broader concept of the relations between the United States and all the new states of Africa that have had their independence over the past 10 to 15 years. And let us think finally of our very good friend, President Tolbert, one who has been a friend of this country from the time he has been in public life, and one who is now a leader of Africa and, being a leader of Africa, one who speaks for the best that is in Africa and also the best for us, too.

To President Tolbert. Mr. President.

Note: The President spoke at 9:52 p.m. in the State Dining Room at' the White House.

President Tolbert responded as follows:

President Nixon, Mrs. Nixon, distinguished ladies and gentlemen:

In a world of demanding challenges, there is responsibility enough for everyone, and all must welcome the opportunity to change for the better the tenor of human life. In line with this vision, therefore, men in open relief are moving away from years of protracted confrontation into an era of reconciliation and responsibility.

We seem now, after so long, actually to be building that better world, and there is no greater builder than you, Mr. President. That is why it is so fulfilling to come here to the White House to break bread and sip wine together, even though I sip water, with men and women who, in fact, must share a deep sense of dedication to the welfare of this planet.

It is also fulfilling to be here because we know that we are in the company of good, old friends. Our trip has been a long one, starting on the west coast of Africa, speeding on that chartered aircraft, really speeding. We first attended in Ethiopia the 10th anniversary celebration of the Organization of African Unity. Then a few days ago we arrived on the west coast of America, having been invited to speak to the graduating class of California State University at San Francisco.

Our Government has had a 10-year contract with that institution under which we have been building together a consolidated school system for our capital city, Monrovia.

From the west coast of the United States, another jet craft symbolizing the Spirit of '76 brought us to this place and this time. And tonight we are gathered here in this most significant, historic setting to savor a few moments of quiet intimacy with friends we have known and highly esteemed for a long time.

Richard Nixon and I first met when he served President Eisenhower as a faithful Vice President, and in that capacity he visited Liberia. Again, it was my pleasure to enjoy his company when he paid a private visit to our country. Even as a private citizen, his interest and affection for Africa continued to be positively demonstrated.

Over the interim years our contacts have remained most cordial and fruitful, and no moment in this long relationship was more pleasant than when we had the singular honor of receiving Mrs. Nixon, the charming wife of our dear friend, at my inauguration in Monrovia in January of 1972, on which occasion she indeed represented you, Mr. President, with warmth and distinction. Her visit to Liberia and to the Republics of the Ivory Coast and Ghana, so widely heralded in various news reports, will long be cherished in the hearts of African people.

So Mrs. Tolbert and I are extremely delighted to be here, and we highly appreciate and are grateful to our friends, President and Mrs. Nixon, for this splendid opportunity.

At one single setting we can recognize that the record of long, private friendship with historic Americans is inclusive of a longer national relationship between our two countries, and we can declare with sincerity that our exhilaration in the company of old friends is matched in intensity only by our steadfast quest for new aspirations and new destinies.

At the celebration of its Bicentennial in 1976, the United States of America will be only 71 years older than the Republic of Liberia, her traditional ally in Africa. Throughout the years, the relationship between our two countries has been repeatedly described as unique, as special. We befittingly acknowledge the special quality of that relationship.

After all, the whole concept of the founding of Liberia as an asylum for black men was born in the minds of Americans, and where else do you have a capital city of one country named after a President of another?

But what I ask now: What will be the nature of our special relationship in the future, and very special relationship at that? Will it mean more than strategic expediency? Will it mean more than unwavering support at every international forum, or will the friendship between the United States and Liberia come to rest, in fact, upon a solid fulcrum of purpose, of progress, and of continuity as we face the future?

President Nixon has stated, and we are heartened by his statement, that in the years ahead the United States will not only maintain old friendships, but will also reach out for new relationships. We are particularly heartened by that, because as old and trusted friends, we hope the United States and Liberia will indeed continue in very special ways to reach out for each other.

In Liberia, however, we are determined today to take the first steps in a new direction: to help ourselves, to lift ourselves. And speed is truly the symbol of the new Liberia. For while in other developing countries men would speak of the revolution, in the Republic of Liberia our people are seeking a speedy evolution.

Today, Liberians are impatient to proceed with the work of development and progress. They are impatient with illiteracy, with poverty, with hunger, with disease, with the irritating old problems of social imbalance.

Liberians can no longer tolerate the living conditions of people, young and old, who must sleep on mats laid on floors of clay. They find it intolerable that their children must walk for miles in the rain to inadequate rural schools. They find it even agonizing that a majority of the children cannot go into school at all. They are truly frustrated by the effects of economic strangulation.

But there is a compelling question which arises here. That question is: how? How do we fulfill the urgent aspirations of our people? How will we order our national priorities? Just how will we obtain the necessary facilities for accelerated development so urgently needed?

There is a twofold answer, Mr. President. Realistically, we must, with appropriate appreciation, encourage and effectively utilize any development cooperation and assistance that is available to us. Then, with greater faith in the supreme source, we must self-reliantly come to depend more and more upon ourselves.

We believe the time has truly come to create new structures and to activate the latent resources of our institutions and peoples so that we may eventually transform their lives.

Recently in Liberia, we launched a new effort, the National Fund-Raising Rally. We called upon our people to consider together the urgent goals of their own development. We called upon them to rekindle the pioneering spirit of self-reliance. We called upon our people to reawaken within themselves a new national consciousness. And they have responded, Mr. President.

On a sunny day a few weeks ago, after 9 months of voluntary contributions, yielding about $4.5 million, the people of Liberia undertook simultaneous ground breaking ceremonies across the country for the construction of farm-to-market roads, for schools, for hospitals, and for clinics.

It was much more than a symbolic venture. These people have truly inspired themselves with this unprecedented effort to create a more decent and respectable way of life, thus enhancing their human dignity.

But in the largest sense, we understand, too, that our praise and our resolve are the heart of this whole matter. We have seized the faith to uphold the free heritage of a small but proud nation. We have assumed the responsibility to preserve that heritage, not only for Liberia but also for citizens of the world, for the fate of mankind is our challenge.

When Richard and Pat Nixon visit Liberia again--and we hope they soon do---they will find an energized republic on the move. They will meet a nation not looking only beyond the horizon for ideas and resources but working primarily herself with imagination, with zest, and with zeal, with creativity and productivity, to uplift the standard of human life.

Richard and Pat Nixon will meet a republic caught up in the spirit of pride, of real independence, and of self-reliance, a manifestation of the unique American spirit, somehow securely embedded in the African dream.

Men of all times have dreamed dreams, some simple, some fantastic, some utterly unimaginable.

As I propose a toast to the President of these great United States, I wonder if my grandfather, D. Frank Tolbert--freed over a century ago by the signature of a man who occupied the seat that Richard Nixon, the noble architect of peace, now occupies--I wonder if D. Frank Tolbert could have dreamed that his grandson would ever have had the honor of being toasted in this place by so great a personality as you, Mr. President?

Thank God it happened to me, the representative of a grateful people committed to work together with all men of good will in structuring a better world for all men to live together in peace, with justice, happiness, and with human dignity.

Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.

Richard Nixon, Toasts of the President and President William R. Tolbert, Jr., of Liberia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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