Edward J. Roye

Edward James Roye
Credit: Wikipedia

Edward James Roye

Term 5th President: 1870 – 1871
Born February 3, 1815, Newark, Ohio, USA
Died February 11 (or 12), 1872, Monrovia, Liberia
Race/Ethnicity Black, Americo-Liberian
County of Origin Montserrado
Profession Merchant
Political Party True Whig Party


E.J. Roye’s story begins with his father John Roye, a former slave from Kentucky, and his wife Nancy who moved to Newark, Ohio. The elder Roye was a successful land owner and partial owner of a Wabash River ferry. Edward James Roye was born in Newark, Ohio in 1815. He was of pure African descent from the Ibo tribe of Nigeria. He inherited his father’s wealth and worked as a barber during his early years.

Although he briefly taught at Chillicothe, he was more business focused and involved in various ventures including real estate. With his mind fixed on higher achievements, he was convinced to move to Liberia. Soon after his wife died, he left Terre Haute, Indiana on May 1, 1846 for Liberia.


Roye’s family’s wealth afforded him a good education in the USA, although his parents were uneducated. His early education was in Newark, Ohio. He attended the University of Athens, Ohio (1832-1835) and Oberlin College between 1845 and 1846.


1830 Barber and Real Estate in the USA
1836 Teacher in Chillicothe, Ohio, USA
1846 Merchant
1849 Representavie (Speaker of the House)
1854 Journalist, published the Liberia Sentinel for one year
Secretary of the Treasury
Associate Justice
1865 – 1868 Chief Justice
1870 – 1871 President

In Liberia, Roye’s became a wealthy merchant with a successful import-export business, with his own ships and warehouses. He also excelled in politics, serving as Speaker of the House of Representative, an Associate Justice and later Chief Justice.

A decline in the national economy had many people looking for a new leadership and solutions. They called on the richest man in the nation for a new direction and economic recovery. Like President Benson, Roye was of pure African descent. His election on the True Whig party ticket marked the weakening of Republican dominance in Liberian politics. Holly Lynch, in her account of Blyden, notes that Roye was:

An American College graduate, Roye had immigrated to Liberia in 1846, and as a shrewd trader and ship-owner, had become one of the wealthiest men in the Negro Republic. In his public career, he had been a journalist, a member of the Liberian House of Representatives, and a government official in several capacities, including that of Chief Justice from 1865 to 1668.

-Lynch, 1970


Roye won the presidency in May 1869 in a contested election decided by the House of Representatives, unseating the incumbent President James S. Payne. He believed in true blackness and is thought to have resented mulatto influence on the nation. He was of the conviction that Liberia’s future relied on including the natives as part of the republic. In his inaugural address was an ambitious plan that would involve:

…a thorough financial reconstruction and the establishment of a national banking system, the general education of the masses, the introduction of railroads, the improvement and incorporation of the native tribes contiguous to Liberia, and the formation of a friendly alliance with distant and powerful tribes.

-Lynch, 1970

In order to finance these plans, he negotiated a loan of #100,000 with the British, having the permission of the Liberian Legislature. The loan was finally arranged between David Chinery (British Consul-General) and two Liberian commissioners – House Speaker Anderson and Interior Secretary H.W.R. Johnson. The terms of this loan proved very unfavorable to Liberia and angered many.

The constitutional amendment of 1869 (when Roye was elected) changed the presidential term to 4 years. This would have been in the interest of the Republicans if the Payne had remained in office. Although the House declared the Constitution amended, the Senate did not approve the amendment and the proposal was resubmitted in the election of 1870. Results from this election were disregarded and the presidential term remained at 2 years.

It is noted that Roye and former President Roberts were adversaries. With Roye claiming his term was 4 years and an election in his second year (1871) was unconstitutional; Roberts, a Republican, ran unopposed in May 1871. Roye said the elections were illegal and his term would end in 1874, but the Republicans claimed that the amendment had not passed.

There was chaos in Monrovia and Roye was arrested and jailed. Rancor over the British loan and disagreement about the presidential term lead to Liberia’s first coup. The Legislature ousted President Roye through a manifesto in October 1871.

Post Presidency

A de facto Executive Committee comprising Charles Benedict Dunbar, Reginald A. Sherman and Amos Herring took charge of the country. VP James S. Smith had been out of Monrovia when the events occurred. Upon his return, they had Smith take over the presidency and he completed Roye’s term. This was attempt to show that they were following the constitution.

Roye died in February 1872. Some accounts claim that he escaped jail and drowned while swimming towards a British Vessel off the Liberian coast. Others state that a canoe taking him to the vessel capsized and he died. Some assert that he was captured and dragged to his death in the streets of Monrovia. The true story of his demise remains a mystery.



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