Liberia Presidents Since Independence

The President of the Republic of Liberia is the head of state and government of Liberia, as well as serves as the leader of the executive branch and as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia. Prior to the independence of Liberia in 1847, executive power in the Commonwealth of Liberia was held by the Governor of Liberia, who was appointed by the American Colonization Society. The 1847 Constitution transferred the executive powers of the governorship to the presidency, which was largely modeled on the presidency of the United States.

Following the establishment of the Commonwealth of Liberia in 1838, executive power was vested in the Governor of Liberia, who was appointed and served at the pleasure of the American Colonization Society. The first governor, Thomas Buchanan, served from 1838 until his death in 1841. He was succeeded by Joseph Jenkins Roberts, the first black governor of Liberia. Under the 1986 Constitution, the president is directly elected by eligible voters to a six-year term, which may be renewed once. Overall, 22 individuals have served as president. On January 16, 2006, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was sworn in as the twenty-fourth and current president, making her the first elected female president in Africa.

The presidency of Liberia is largely modeled on the presidency of the United States. The 1986 Constitution gives the president the power to appoint all cabinet ministers, judges, ambassadors, sheriffs, county officials and military officers with the advice and consent of the Senate. Additionally, the president has the power to dismiss all appointees from office at his or her discretion. The president may also grant pardons or revoke sentences and fines. The president conducts all matters of foreign policy, though any treaties or international agreements must be ratified by both houses of the Legislature. Furthermore, the president serves as the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia.

The Constitution also grants the president the power to declare a state of emergency during times of war or civil unrest and suspend civil liberties during the emergency as necessary, with the exception of habeas corpus. Within seven days of the declaration, the president must state to the Legislature the reasons for the declaration, which both houses must then approve by a two-thirds majority. Otherwise, the president must repeal the state of emergency.

Liberia is the first African country to elect a woman for their president. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was elected as President of Liberia in 2005, but took office on January 16, 2006. She is also the world’s first elected black female president.

Here are the names of the presidents of Liberia, Africa’s  first republic.

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

George Manneh Weah
October 1, 1966

George Weah’s family is of the Kru tribe and from Grand Kru County. He was born and raised in Monrovia, Montserrado County. His father worked as a carpenter and Weah’s early years in the slums of Monrovia, and a poor family reflect his humble beginnings. He dropped out of high school and pursued a professional soccer career. His years as a soccer player spanned teams in Africa, Europe, and Asia with high achievements and worldwide recognition.

His entry into the political sphere began in 2004 with the launch of a presidential campaign and a new political party, the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC). Weah lost his presidential bid in 2005 and his vice presidential bid in 2011. He then ran and won a senatorial seat for Montserrado County in 2014, and finally won his chance at the presidency in 2017.

Failures of the Sirleaf administration to develop and restore Liberia, as well as nepotism and massive corruption led Liberian voters to reject her Vice President and elect Weah to the presidency. Sirleaf also supported Weah over Vice President Joseph Boikai.

He was inaugurated as Liberia’s 24th president on January 22, 2018. This transfer of power from one political party to another had not been seen in Liberia for over a century, since the True Whig Party took over from the Republicans with the inauguration of President Anthony W. Gardner in 1878.

Vice President – Jewel Howard Taylor

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
Born October 29, 1938

 The 24th President of Liberia  won the 2005 presidential election and took office on January 16, 2006. She was a successful candidate for re-election in 2011. Johnson-Sirleaf is the first elected female head of state in Africa. In June 2016, she was elected as the Chair of the Economic Community of West African States, making her the first female to occupy that position since it was formed.

President Johnson-Sirleaf was jointly awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize with Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakkol Karman of Yemen. The women were recognized “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was conferred the Indira Gandhi Prize by President of India Pranab Mukherjee on 12 September 2013. As of 2014, she is listed as the 70th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes.

Vice President – Joseph Boakai

Gyude Bryant

Charles Gyude Bryant
October 14, 2003 – January 16, 2006

  • Born in Maryland County, Liberia 
  • Was ‘elected’ by Liberians/representatives of fighting parties, political parties and civil society during peace talks in in Ghana
  • Leader National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL)
Moses Blah

Moses Blah completed Taylor’s term 
August-October 2003 

Born in Toweh Town, Nimba County, Liberia.

Second President of tribal descent (Gio)

Charles G. Taylor
January 28, 1948

Charles Taylor was born in 1948 in Arthington. He was inaugurated as Liberia’s 22nd president on August 2nd, 1997. He took over from interim leader Ruth Perry who was the first African female head of state. He began his term with a message of national reconciliation, and brought some people from the opposing warring factions and political parties into his administration. He also toured the country along with other dignitaries, promising total peace and reconciliation. Liberians were expected to forget the war, and move on with no justice for the thousands of deaths, human rights violations, or looting of the citizens’ property and of the nation’s resources.

About two years after Taylor became president, Liberia was again at war. The Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebel group attacked the country from neighboring Guinea. By 2003, another group called the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) attacked from the Ivory Coast through Maryland County. Fighting between Taylor’s forces and these two groups intensified as both groups controlled most of the country, and Taylor was mainly confined to Monrovia. As these groups closed in on Monrovia with the goal of removing Taylor from power, the international community called for Taylor to resign and leave the country. Nigeria’s Obasanjo granted him asylum, and Taylor resigned and left Liberia on August 11, 2003 for Nigeria.

In spite of his atrocities on the Liberian population, Taylor’s final downfall came from his connection to a parallel rebel group that had trained in Libya and destabilized neighboring Sierra Leone.

Charles Taylor was tried in the Hague by the U.N Backed Special Court for Sierra Leone. He was found guilty of several war crimes charges, and is currently serving a term of 50 years in a UK prison. His ex-wife, Jewel Howard Taylor, is the current Vice President of Liberia under President George Weah.

Vice President (s) – Enoch Doglolea, Moses Blah

Ruth Perry
Wilton Sankawulo
David Kpomakpor
Philip Banks
Amos Sawyer

6 Interim Presidents during the civil war (1990s):

  • Amos Sawyer (November 1990 – August 1993)
  • Bismarck Kuyon (August 1993 – November 1993)
  • Philip Banks (November 1993 – February 1994)
  • David Kpormakor (February 1994 – September 1995)
  • Wilton Sankawulo (September 1995 – September 1996)
  • Ruth Perry (September 1996 – August 1997)
Samuel Kanyon Doe
May 6, 1951 – September 9, 1990

Doe was born in the small town of Tuzon, Grand Gedeh County, and was from the Krahn tribe. Like many native Liberians, his parents were poor and uneducated.

Doe joined the Liberian Army at age 18 and graduated from the Tubman Military Academy in 1970. A year later, he earned a diploma from the Ministry of Defense Radio and Communications School in 1971 (Africa Now, 1985). Rising in the ranks of the military, he became a master sergeant in 1979. He was also trained by the US Special Forces in Liberia and had a passion for the military (Perkins, 2006).

After Doe and other military personnel ended the Tolbert Administration and took power, Doe headed the governing body called the People’s Redemption Council and became the Head of State. In returning the nation to civilian rule, Liberia held national elections in 1985. Doe won the election which many believed were rigged. He was sworn in as Liberia’s 21st president in January 1986.

With the PRC administration, the military was in charge of major financial entities but this was a coalition government with a cabinet that included civilians, members of other political parties and a few people from Tolbert’s regime. The constitution was suspended until 1984 when a new one representing the entire nation was approved.

The PRC had promised to return Liberia to civilian rule but didn’t have elections until 1985. He won the election and remained in power and began his presidency on January 6, 1986. Many claimed the election was rigged and Jackson F. Doe was the true winner.

Charles Taylor and his rebels called “freedom fighters” started the civil war on Dec 24, 1989 stating that their intention was to remove Doe from power and free the Liberian people from an oppressive regime. During the heat of the war, President Doe was lured to the Freeport of Monrovia in September 1990 under the guise that he and his men would leave the country on a ship. This setup landed him in the hands of then warlord and current Nimba County senator, Prince Johnson of INPFL. Johnson and his rebels brutally killed Doe and mockingly laid him in state for residents of the Freeport community to see.

The war lasted 13 more years after Doe’s death and claimed many more lives (about 250,000) than anticipated. An ECOWAS peace agreement in Banjul installed Amos Sawyer as the nation’s interim leader in October 1990.

Vice President – Harry Moniba

William R. Tolbert
May 13, 1913 - April 12, 1980

William Richard Tolbert was born in Bensonville in 1913. 

His career began in the government as a treasury clerk in 1935, and he was later elected to the House of Representatives in 1943. In 1951, Tolbert ran as William V.S. Tubman’s Vice President and remained in said position for 19 years. Tubman and Tolbert were reelected in May 1971. Upon Tubman’s death in July 1971, Tolbert succeeded him and served the rest of his term.

Tolbert came to power when the nation was still ethnically divided and most of its wealth concentrated in the possession of the Congo class. Considering his Vice President role under Tubman had been mainly ceremonial, he had to quickly establish his influence and political power when he assumed the presidency.

On April 12th 1980, a military coup led by Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe ousted the Tolbert administration. The President along with others at the Executive Mansion were killed during the coup. Many top government officials were arrested and jailed. On April 22, thirteen of those that had been arrested were executed on South Beach after a speedy military trial found them guilty of human rights violation and corruption.

This ended the True Whig dominance of Liberian politics and raised the hope and prestige of some native Liberians. The nation continued under the leadership of the People’s Redemption Council comprising members of the coup and headed by Samuel Doe.

Vice President (s) – James Edward Green, Bennie D. Warner

William V. S. Tubman
November 29, 1895 - July 23, 1971

The Tubman family were freed slaves from the state of Georgia in the USA. Upon his death, Richard Tubman of Georgia left in his will $10,000 to transport his freed slaves to the colony in West Africa. This group included William Shadrach and Sylvia Tubman who arrived in Maryland in Africa (Cape Palmas) via the brig Baltimore in 1837. William V.S. Tubman was born on November 29, 1895 in Harper, Cape Palmas, Maryland County.

Tubman became a minister like his father, joined the Liberian Militia and worked as a revenue collector in Maryland County. After passing the bar and opening his law practice, he was elected to the Senate. He later served as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court and from that post was elected Liberia’s 19th president.

He served six terms and was elected for a seventh term on May 4, 1971. Tubman died in London on July 23, 1971 and his remaining term, and the one for which he had been reelected were completed by VP William R. Tolbert from 1971 – 1975.

Tubman was an endearing president and had an indisputable power over the government. He connected with everyone including the indigenous Liberians. His presidency marked numerous changes in the government, social, economic, infrastructural and political composition of Liberia.

During his era, the natives were allowed to vote and women could run for political offices. His term also included training the Liberian Frontier Force and establishing the public school system. The administration passed the Civil Servants Law allowing the hiring of qualified applicants to some government positions.

The hinterland provinces became counties and were fully represented in the House and Senate. Over his 27 year presidency, he visited many towns around the country, hosting hearings and communing with the natives. His unification program promoted the concept of a Liberia without the native and Congo divisions.

Vice President(s) – Clarence Simpson, William R. Tolbert

Edward J. Barclay
January 5, 1882 - November 6, 1955

Liberia’s eighteenth president was born on January 5, 1882 in Brewerville, Liberia to Ernest James Barclay and Isabel Williams. Ernest Barclay had immigrated to Liberia as a child, from Barbados. Edwin Barclay attended Liberia College, and wrote THE LONE STAR FOREVER at nineteen. While serving as Secretary of State in the CDB King administration, Liberia came under close international scrutiny over the Fernando Po forced labor shipments, which resulted in the resignation of President CDB King and Vice President Yancy in 1930. Barclay served out the remainder of King’s term and was then elected in his own right in 1931. His astuteness and mastery of international relations helped save Liberia’s sovereignty and restore its credibility.

Repealed the Ports of Entry Act which had restricted Kru trade, granted amnesty to Kru Coast rebels, and instituted reforms that ensured peace on the Kru Coast. Forged close ties with the US during World War II, with US military installations bringing infrastructural development (Robertsfield, the Freeport).

Barclay died on November 6, 1955 in Monrovia.

Vice President – James Skivring Smith, Jr.

Charles D. B. King
March 12, 1871 - September 4, 1961

Charles Dunbar Burgess King was born in Monrovia, Liberia, in 1871. Some sources claim that he was born in Sierra Leone. His father, T.O. King was a Nigerian who migrated to Liberia via Sierra Leone. King’s mother, Elizabeth Jean Hamilberg was an Americo-Liberian. He received his elementary education in Liberia and studied in Sierra Leone for many years. He later earned his law degree from Liberia College.

C.D.B. King also held a number of other public and private positions before he became president of Liberia. As Secretary of State, he represented Liberia at the Peace Conference and was a signatory to the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War I.

King began his presidency with the country in troubled financial situation as a result of World War I and decreased trade with Europe and the United States. During his presidency, Liberia saw its first vehicle and the telephone system was introduced.

Firestone Rubber found Liberia’s climatic conditions ideal for its rubber production. In 1926 Firestone leased 1 million acres of land from the government and established the Firestone Rubber Plantation in Harbel. This was considered an economic opportunity as Firestone would create jobs for 25,000 Liberians. A loan of 5 million dollars was arranged to allow Liberia to pay off her debts.

In 1927, King won re-election in a landslide and his victory was recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the most fraudulent election in history. After the election, King’s opponent, Thomas Faulkner, accused King, VP Yancy and Postmaster General Samuel A. Ross of using the Liberian Frontier Force of forcefully sending Liberian natives to the Spanish Island of Fernando Po and other regions as contracted laborers. These accusations gained international attention and the League of Nations organized a committee to investigate the situation.

The investigations uncovered that the Liberian government was involved in a form of slavery by forcefully sending its native citizens to Fernando Po and using others as farm help in Liberia. Not just the Americo-Liberian government, but Firestone Plantation had also benfitted from this arrangement. After the report was published, the House of Representatives began procedures to impeach President King. To avoid public trial, King and his VP resigned. He was succeeded by Secretary of State Edwin Barclay. Many Liberian men that were taken to Fernando Po were returned to Liberia and their families.

King turned his focus to his rubber plantation after leaving office in 1930. By 1944, he was back in the political public sphere and considered an elderly statesman. He was the first Liberian Envoy to Washington DC and later the first representative to the United Nations. The former president finally retired from public service in 1952, and dedicated his time to the Protestant Episcopal Church and Mason until his death at age 90 in 1961.

Vice President – Samuel Ross, Henry Wesley, Allen Yancy

Daniel E. Howard
August 1, 1861 - July 9, 1935

Daniel Edward Howard was born in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County in 1861. His father Thomas Howard was Secretary of the Treasury, and for many years served as Chairman of the True Whig Party. At that time, the True Whig chairman position had much influence and power. President Coleman’s hinterland policies drafted by Thomas Howard caused pressure from the public and led to Coleman’s resignation in 1900.

Taking in his father’s footsteps and achieving more rank and power, Daniel Howard worked as Secretary of the Treasury and Chairman of the True Whig Party before becoming president. He studied under Edward Wilmot Blyden who made his last visit to Liberia in 1912 to attend Howard’s inauguration.

Howard won the election in May 1911 and began his presidency on January 1, 1912. He was considered an able and appropriate successor to Barclay and would continue the work of his predecessor. He also surrounded himself with the best cabinet of his time.

In continuing Barclay’s policy of an intimate and harmonious relationship with the natives, he invited several influential native chiefs in planning his first inauguration ceremony. This gesture was the first of its kind and very impressive and pleasing to the chiefs.  Like Barclay, he persisted on increasing the government’s control of the hinterland, causing conflicts with the natives. He also arranged for the loan of 1912.

Most of Liberia’s revenue was from trading with Germany, England, the US, and other European nations. With the onset of WWI, Liberia remained neutral considering both sides affected her economy.When the US entered the war, Liberia broke diplomatic ties with Germany and sided with the Allied forces in May 1917. Liberia declared war on Germany on August 4, 1917 and all Germans in the country were deported. The only battle with Liberia involved a German submarine bombarding Monrovia on April 10, 1918 when Liberia refused to close the French wireless tower. The Germans bombarded Monrovia, destroying the French tower, the navy steamer “President Howard” and killing four people. Eventually, Liberia was one of the signatories to the Versailles Treaty signed on June 28, 1919 which brought an end to WWI.

In 1920 he was succeeded by C.D.B. King who had served as his Secretary of State. Howard died in Monrovia on July 9, 1935.

Vice President – Samuel George Harmon

Arthur Barclay
July 31, 1854 - July 10, 1938

Immigrants from the West Indies joined the settlers in Liberia in 1865. This group included the family of young Arthur Barclay who was born in Barbados in 1854. His parents Anthony and Sarah Barclay were of pure African descent and their son Arthur was the 10th of 12 children. Barclay was the last Liberian president born outside of Liberia. From the Barclays would emerge other prominent members of the government like Secretary of State Ernest Barclay and his son President Edwin Barclay.

He began his public career working under President Roberts and filling other minor positions. Barclay became a reputable lawyer and held several high ranking positions before becoming Liberia’s 15th president in 1904.

After serving under various presidents, Barclay won the election of 1903 with the motto “Internal Development”. Like his predecessors, he had to deal with European powers trying to take Liberian land, conflicts with the tribal people and a poor economy. He had big ideas about developing the nation and the role of the discarded natives.

The main challenge facing the Arthur Barclay administration was a severe economic crisis, precipitated by overwhelming debt obligations and an empty treasury. The once vibrant merchant marine trade in coffee, palm oil, sugarcane and other commodities had peaked in the period from the late 1840s to the 1860s when it began a rapid decline due to internal and external factors. By the 1870s, the country was almost bankrupt, its independence seemingly mortgaged to European financial houses. The 1864 Ports of Entry Act, aimed at controlling trade between the Kru and the Europeans, was also seen by President Barclay as detrimental to the nation’s economy. His efforts to repeal that law would be met with strong opposition from some quarters, mainly Sinoe. Repercussions from the disastrous 1871 EJ Roye loan from Britain were still being felt as, in order to make payments, the country got further and further into debt. For twenty-five years the country had haggled with its creditors over the legality of the loan transaction, achieving only a further deterioration in its credit status, as there was no escaping this obligation. A hundred thousand dollars of the loan amount had been spent almost before President Roye returned from London in 1871. In 1898, it was Arthur Barclay as Secretary of the Treasury, that had finally succeeded in reaching a settlement with the British creditors, adjusting the loan principal, in default for twenty years, to $375,000, down from 1.5 million.

He used the findings of Benjamin J. K. Anderson’s 1888 explorations to organize the interior for administrative purposes and applied the term Liberian to the unassimilated population for the first time. “What we need,” Barclay said in his inaugural address of 1904, “is wider and deeper culture, and more intimate intercourse with our interior brethren.” Barclay sought greater consultation with the chiefs of the interior and involved himself in the appointments of Paramount and Clan chiefs. The vision of a genuine African state, envisioned and articulated by Edward Wilmot Blyden, was beginning to take shape. Blyden and Barclay shared a deep respect for and understanding of indigenous culture and society. Blyden spoke several indigenous languages while Barclay possessed encyclopedic knowledge of local ethnography and anthropology. The fourteenth president was also in later years a supporter of Marcus Garvey, and often in attendance at UNIA meetings in Monrovia. Barclay also succeeded in finally settling the boundary disputes with the French and British governments, heading a mission in 1907 to Paris and London.

On leaving the presidency in 1912, he served at different times as Acting Secretary of State, Treasury, War, and The Interior. His most important and most challenging assignment in the service of his country came when the ex-President was eighty years old and in semi-retirement on the legal staff of the Firestone Company. The CDB King government nominated him in 1929 as the country’s representative on the League of Nations Commission of Inquiry Into The Existence of Slavery And Forced Labor In The Republic of Liberia.

Vice President – Joseph D. Summerville, J. J. Dossen

Garretson W. Gibson
May 20, 1832 - April 26, 1910

Garretson Gibson was born to Jacob and Rebecca Gibson in Talbot County, Maryland, USA. The family, including his parents and siblings Joseph, Henry, Mary Ann, Samuel, James and Louisa and their cousin Ellen Gibson arrived in Cape Palmas, on the Schooner Harmony on June 23, 1835. His father died in 1836 and their mother married William Delany in 1837. His stepfather died between 1838 and 1840 and he lost his mother in 1847. Garretson and the younger siblings lived with their brother Joseph and he later lived with his brother Henry in 1852.

Based on President Coleman’s unpopular interior policy and subsequent resignation in December 1900, then Secretary of State Garretson W. Gibson assumed the presidency as there was no Vice President at the time. He completed Coleman’s term and was elected and served as president from 1902-1903, leaving the presidency in 1904 with Barclay’s inauguration.

Vice President – Joseph D. Summerville

William D. Coleman
July 18, 1842 - July 12, 1908

American-born Liberian politician, a True Whig Party member, and the 13th President of Liberia, President William D. Coleman served from 1896 to 1900. Immigrating to Liberia in 1853, he worked his way up to election to the House of Representatives and served as Speaker of the House. Later he served in the Senate and then as Vice President before assuming the Presidency when Joseph James Cheeseman died in office.

Coleman was born in Fayette County, Kentucky, and he emigrated to Liberia with his family when he was 11 years old. Arriving in 1853, the family consisted of William, his now widowed mother, and three others, all settling in Clay-Ashland near Monrovia. Coleman was trained as a carpenter and had other manual labor jobs before becoming a successful trader. Studying at night, he picked up the education he had abandoned as a child when poverty had prevented further schooling.

After a falling out with political allies and his own cabinet over his policies placed more pressure on his administration, he resigned from office in December 1900. Coleman’s successor was his Secretary of State, Garreston W. Gibson, since the Vice President had already died in office. Under existing succession laws Robert H. Marshall was set to become the President as Speaker of the House, but others felt he was unsuited for the position. The National Legislature then repealed the 1873 succession law and placed Gibson in the office of President.

After resigning from the Presidency, Coleman continued to be an active player in Liberian politics. He ran for president three more times (1901, 1903 and 1905) as a member of the People’s Party, losing each election. William David Coleman died in 1908 in Clay-Ashland at the age of 65. His son, Samuel David Coleman, was also involved in politics and was killed by government forces on June 27, 1955, after accusations of a failed coup.

Vice President – Joseph J. Ross

Joseph James Cheeseman
1843 – November 12, 1896

The 12th President of Liberia was born in Edina, Grand Bassa County, Liberia; and was elected three times on the True Whig ticket. Cheeseman was educated at Liberia College, now University of Liberia.

Ethnic struggles with the Kru, Gola, and Grebo tribe who resented incursions into their territory occurred several times during Cheeseman’s reign. Cheeseman initially attempted to settle tribal conflicts by peaceful negotiations. One notable uprising occurred in 1893 when the Grebo tribe attacked the settlement of Harper. Troops and the gunboat Gorronomah were sent to defeat the tribesmen.

President Cheeseman died in office on November 12, 1896, and vice president William David Coleman served the remainder of the term as well as another four years until 1900.

Vice President – William D. Coleman

Hilary Richard Wright Johnson
June 1, 1837 – 1901

The 11th President of Liberia from 1884 to 1892, Hilary R. W. Johnson, was elected four times. He served as Secretary of State before his presidency, under the administration of Edward James Roye.

Johnson was the first Liberian president born in Africa. His father was Elijah Johnson, one of the original African-American settlers who founded the colony at Cape Mesurado. His son Frederick Eugene Richelieu Johnson was Liberia’s longest serving Chief Justice.

Nominated by both the Republican Party and True Whig parties, Johnson ran unopposed in his first election and then declared himself a True Whig after winning the election.

Vice President – James Thompson

Alfred Francis Russell
August 25, 1817 – April 4, 1884

A missionary, planter and politician, Alfred F. Russell was elected as vice-president of Liberia in 1881 under Anthony William Gardiner. He succeeded to the presidency after the latter resigned due to poor health and served as tenth President of Liberia from 1883 to 1884.

Born in Lexington, Kentucky, Russell was emancipated in 1833 (with his mother Amelie “Milly” Crawford) by their mistress Mary Owen Todd Russell Wickliffe (Russell’s grandmother through his white father). Wickliffe also emancipated his cousin, Lucretia Russell, and her four children. Both families emigrated together from the United States to Liberia that year. Alfred Russell served as a Methodist missionary and later owned a large coffee and sugarcane farm. Russell continued to serve as a Methodist minister after entering politics; he was also elected to the Liberian Senate.

Russell was trained to be a teacher after having suffered an illness that caused an injury in one leg. He later became an Episcopal priest in the St. Paul River area, where he had 200 acres in the Clay Ashland district, purchased for the free people of color by the Kentucky Colonization Society, an affiliate of the ACS. He cultivated sugar cane and coffee, for which he hired indigenous workers.

Russell also became active in politics. In 1881 he ran for vice-president with Anthony W. Gardiner, who won the presidency for a third term. When health issues resulted in Gardiner’s resigning three years later, Russell became president.

Vice President – vacant

Anthony William Gardiner
Jan. 24, 1820–1885

The ninth President of Liberia from 1878 until 1883, Anthony W. Gardiner was the first of a series of True Whig presidents who held power uninterruptedly until 1980.

President Gardiner was born in Southampton County, Virginia in the United States. In 1831, when he was still a child, his family relocated to Liberia under the sponsorship of the American Colonization Society. Gardiner received his law degree in Liberia and, in 1847, he served as a delegate to the National Convention, which drafted Liberia’s declaration of independence and constitution. He became Liberia’s first attorney general and later served in the National Legislature from 1855 to 1871.

President Gardiner resigned on January 20, 1883, due to a serious illness. He was succeeded by the vice president, Alfred F. Russell.

Vice President – Alfred F. Russell

James Skivring Smith
February 26, 1825 – 1892

James S. Smith served as the 6th President of Liberia from 1871 to 1872. Prior to this, he served as the 8th Vice President of Liberia from 1870 to 1871 under President Edward James Roye and as Secretary of State from 1856 to 1860 in the cabinet of President Stephen Allen Benson.

Smith was born in Charleston, South Carolina on February 26, 1825, the fourth of seven children of free blacks Carlos and Catharine Smith. He and his family arrived in Liberia in 1833, and his parents died of malaria within one year of their arrival. After working with a white doctor of the American Colonization Society, Smith returned to the United States to study medicine at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. He transferred to the Berkshire Medical College in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, from which he received his medical degree in 1848. Smith was the first African American to receive a medical degree from an American college. He then returned to the newly independent Liberia, working for the ACS as a doctor.

Smith served as Secretary of State from 1856 to 1860 and was later elected as a senator from Grand Bassa County from 1868 to 1870. In the 1869 presidential election, Smith was elected vice president under President Edward James Roye. The two were the first True Whig politicians to hold their respective offices. On October 26, 1871, President Roye was forcibly removed from office after unconstitutionally extending his term, leading Smith to serve the remaining two months of Roye’s term as president. Smith’s tenure as president remains the shortest in Liberian history.

Vice President – Vacant

Edward James Roye
February 3, 1815 – February 11, 1872

Presidency (1870-71)

E. J. Roye served as the fifth President of Liberia from 1870 to his overthrow in 1871 and subsequent violent death. He had previously served as the 4th Chief Justice of Liberia from 1865 until 1868. He was the first member of Liberia’s True Whig Party to serve as President.

Born into a prosperous African American family in Newark, Ohio, Roye was a descendant of the Igbo people. His father, John Roye, managed a ferry across the Wabash River at Terre Haute, Indiana and acquired considerable land in Terre Haute as well as Vandalia in the neighboring state of Illinois.

Attracted by the American Colonization Society, Roye immigrated to Liberia in 1846, and set up business as a merchant. Within three years of his arrival, he became active in Liberian politics. Before being elected president he served as Speaker of the Liberian House of Representatives and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia.

Vice President – James Skivring Smith

James Spriggs Payne
December 19, 1819 – January 31, 1882

James S. Payne served as the fourth and eighth President of Liberia, from 1868 to 1870 and from 1876 to 1878. He was the last President to belong to Liberia’s Republican Party.

Payne was born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1819 to former slaves who were each of mixed race, of European and African ancestry.  When he was ten years old, his family emigrated to Liberia through sponsorship by the American Colonization Society on the ship Harriet. On the same ship was Joseph Jenkins Roberts, Liberia’s future first president.

In January 1882, he was awarded an honorary doctor of divinity degree by Liberia College (now University of Liberia) for his life achievements. The Spriggs Payne Airport in the Monrovia area is named after him.

Vice President – Joseph Gibson

Daniel B. Warner
April 19, 1815 – December 1, 1880

Daniel B. Warner was born on Hookstown Road in Baltimore County, Maryland to a father who was a farmer and ex-slave who acquired his freedom one year before Warner was born.

Warner served as the 3rd President of Liberia from 1864 to 1868. Prior to this, he served as the 5th Vice President of Liberia under President Stephen Allen Benson from 1860 to 1864, and as the 3rd Secretary of State in the cabinet of Joseph Jenkins Roberts from 1854 to 1856. He also served as a member of the Liberian House of Representatives and Liberian Senate.

President Warner wrote the lyrics to the Liberian National Anthem, which the country officially adopted when it got independence from the American Colonization Society in 1847.

Vice President – James M. Priest

Stephen Allen Benson
May 21, 1816 – January 24, 1865

Served as the 2nd President of Liberia from 1856 to 1864. Prior to that, he served as the 3rd Vice President of Liberia from 1854 to 1856 under President Joseph Jenkins Roberts.

Benson was born in Cambridge, Maryland, United States, to free African American parents. In 1822, his family expatriated to the newly created country of Liberia, on the ship Brig Strong. Shortly after his arrival in August 1822, the colony was taken over by African natives, holding Benson and his relatives captives for four months.

Vice Presidents(s) Beverly Page Yates, Daniel B. Warner

Joseph Jenkins Roberts
March 15, 1809 – February 24, 1876

The first (1848–1856) and seventh (1872–1876) President of Liberia. Born free in Norfolk, Virginia, US, Roberts emigrated to Liberia in 1829 as a young man. He opened a trading store in Monrovia, and later engaged in politics. When Liberia became independent on July 26, 1847, Roberts was elected the first Black American president for the Republic of Liberia, serving until 1856. In 1872 he was elected again to serve as Liberia’s seventh president.

Vice President(s) Nathaniel Brander, Anthony D. Williams, Stephen Allen Benson


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