Arthur Barclay

President Arthur Barclay
Arthur Barclay
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Arthur Barclay

Term 15th President: 1904 – 1912
Born July 31, 1854, Bridgetown, Barbados, West Indies
Died July 10, 1938, Monrovia, Liberia
Race/Ethnicity Black, Americo-Liberian
County of Origin Montserrado
Profession Lawyer
Political Party True Whig Party


During the administration of Daniel B. Warner, 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.


Arthur Barclay was raised and educated in Liberia. He studied Law and graduated from Liberia College in 1873.


1873 Private secretary to President J.J. Roberts
Counselor at Law
1877 Joined the Montserrado bar
Leader of the Liberian bar
Treasurer of the True Whig Party
Professor at Liberia College
1880 Supreme Court Justice
1892 Postmaster-General
1892 – 1896 Secretary of State
1896 – 1904 Secretary of the Treasury
1904 – 1912 President

Vice President
1904 – 1908: Joseph D. Summerville
1908 – 1912: John J. Dossen

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.



1904 – 1906
1906 – 1908
1908 – 1912

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.

His presidency saw an end to the rivalry between the mulattos and black settlers. He extended the power of the Liberian government on the hinterland, creating various native authorities to head the tribal divisions; a form of indirect rule adopted from the British. The main goal of these policies was to prevent the British and French from taking land that weren’t occupied or managed by the Liberian government.

The natives were acknowledged as citizens of Liberia and this allowed the Americo-Liberian government to assert its power on the interior tribes through native authorities that maintained law and order at the local level. The tribes were still governed by customary laws. One issue was the disregard of the tribal units as some were divided into administrative districts that didn’t represent their tribal units. Another major problem was the introduction of a “hut tax” that the natives had to pay to the central government.

Barclay deemed outside funding essential in Liberia’s development. In 1906, he arranged for a 100,000lb loan from England to fund economic and interior development projects. This loan was managed by Sir Harry Johnston, head of the Liberian Development Company. Johnson and company failed to deliver on the projects, claiming the funds were exhausted. That was in addition to the conditions of the loan being detrimental to Liberia.

During his last year in office, President Barclay arranged for another loan of 1.7million US dollars on terms that were even worse than the 1906 loan. The British, Dutch, German and US participated in the loan agreement, ensuring it benefited their interest. Liberia also lost part of her sovereignty with US appointed Receiver of Customs having more power than the Secretary of the Treasury.

Other reforms included establishing the Liberian Frontier Police Force, defining the nation’s boundaries and improved monitoring of the customs. During his second 2-year term, the presidential term was changed from 2 to 4 years, making him the first president to serve for four years during his third term. With his final term drawing to an end, the True Whigs selected the former governor of Montserrado, Secretary of the Treasury and Chairman of the True Whig party, Daniel E. Howard as his successor. Howard won the election and succeeded Barclay in 1912.

Post Presidency

The former president remained in public affairs after he left the presidency in 1912. He temporarily served as Secretary of Interior, State, Treasury and War at different times. Barclay represented Liberia on the 3-man League of Nations investigation committee of President King Administration’s Fernando Po slavery and forced labor allegations. This led to King and VP Yancy’s resignation 1930.

At the age of 84, President Arthur Barclay died on July 10, 1938 at his Monrovia home.

Ex-President Barclay
Credit: H.H. Johnston


Ellis, George W. “Political Institutions in Liberia.” The American Political Science Review 5.1 (1911): n. pag. Print.

Maugham, R. The Republic of Liberia, Being a General Description of the Negro Republic, with Its History, Commerce, Agriculture, Flora, Fauna, and Present Methods of Administration,. C. Scribner’s sons, 1920. Print.

Starr, Frederick. Liberia : Description, History, Problems. Chicago: s.n., 1913.

The African Repository and Colonial Journal. V41. The American Colonization Society. 1865. Print.

Van Der Kraaij, Fred. President Arthur Barclay (1904-1912). Liberia’s Past and Present. Web.

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