Edwin J. Barclay

Edwin Barclay. May 27, 1943, Blair House, DC, USA.
Credit: Library of Congress

Edwin James Barclay

Term 18th President: 1930 – 1944
Born January 5, 1882, Brewerville, Montserrado County, Liberia
Died November 6, 1955, Liberia
Race/Ethnicity Black, Americo-Liberian
County of Origin Montserrado
Profession Lawyer
Political Party True Whig Party


Edwin Barclay’s family migrated to Liberia from Barbados, West Indies in 1865 through the Barbados Colonization Society. He was born in Brewerville Township, Montserrado County on January 5, 1882, an out of wedlock son of Ernest Barclay. Other members of his family were prominent in the government like his father who was Secretary of State under President Cheeseman, and his uncle Arthur Barclay, President of Liberia from 1904 – 1912.

he was a person born out of wedlock, which alone was a stigma in the social and political culture of the Nation during his day. His father, Ernest Barclay, although a former Secretary of State and an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, died in 1896 leaving Edwin during his early formative years to struggle on his own except for the guidance of his uncle, Arthur Barclay…

-George Arthur Padmore, 1996


Barclay was educated in Liberia and earned his B.A (1903), M.A. and L.L.D. from Liberia College. His drive and hard work propelled him to excel in law, literature, mathematics, music and a brief tenure in the mililary (Padmore, 1996).


Math instructor at Liberia College
County Attorney for Montserrado County
Circuit Court Judge
1916 – 1920 Attorney General of Liberia
1920 – 1930 Secretary of State under President King
1930 – 1944 President

Vice President:
James Skivring Smith, Jr.

Eddie Barclay was a renowned professor, lawyer, poet, musician and politician. His most famous music is the Liberian patriotic song, The Lone Star Forever. His literary works include “Fugitive Fancies”, “Leaves from Love’s Garden” and “The National Idea”. He was also successful in the government and as Secretary of State, was involved in the Firestone Contract, as well as the onset of the League of Nations’ Fernando Po slavery and forced labor investigations into the King administration (Dunn, 2001).

When the League of Nations published its report after the investigations, some in Liberia and the world were astonished that this nation that was founded as a beacon of freed slaves, was involved in similar practices against its native citizens. Consequently, Vice President Yancy and President King resigned.

However, before finalizing their resignation, the Legislature had consulted with Barclay on succeeding the President. The Speaker of the House of Representatives was out of Monrovia, perhaps urged to leave the city for his home in Sinoe County, to facilitate the transition. Hence, Secretary of State Edwin Barclay was sworn in to complete King’s term on December 3, 1930.


The younger Barclay took over from King in 1930 and served until 1944. He was Liberia’s longest serving president at the time. His tenure saw more tribal people were coming to Monrovia and establishing cordial relationship with the government.

Firestone was the largest employer in Liberia with control of its finances and economy. Barclay implemented various measures to improve the nation’s economy and bring in more foreign investment. He stopped payment of the nation’s loan until there was enough revenue in the treasury. The military was also dissolved due to a lack of funding.

Barclay tried to reorganize the government’s services in the hinterland and worked on creating a public health system and other programs to benefit the natives. These efforts were undoubtedly hindered by high ranking Whig members who were vengeful towards the Americo-Liberians and natives involved in the League of Nations investigation. There was news of an uprising on the Kru Coast and an attempt to overthrow the President. Many people including Nathaniel Massaquoi were tried for these allegations and imprisoned.

The President decided the Liberia was a pacific nation and would stay neutral in World War II. However, US influence eventually caused Liberia to enter the war. The need for a US landing strip on the West African coast led to the construction of Roberts International Airport in 1942. The US was given authority to operate and defend all air space and ports in Liberia. By 1843, the US Airforce and Army engineers began creating roads into the Liberian hinterland. US President Franklin Roosevelt Visited Liberia in 1942 and Barclay paid a visit to the White House before he left office.

Barclay is described as a president that was in control of the government and involved in many of it operations. His main point of contention was with the Judiciary which insisted on being an independent arm of the government. He sometimes walked the streets of Monrovia unescorted. He took the reins of a nation with no money in its coffers and boasted of leaving more than a million dollars in the treasury when he left the presidency. Barclay was succeeded by Associate Justice William V.S. Tubman of the True Whig Party and Grand Masons of Liberia.

Post Presidency

With Tubman’s stronghold on the presidency and his ever growing power, some disaffected members of the True Whig Party joined Barclay in starting the Independent True Whig Party in 1954. Former Interior Secretary and Tubman’s ex-confidante Samuel Coleman was its chairman. With his leadership, they created a slate of candidates for the upcoming election with Barclay vying for the presidency and Nete Sie Brownell as his vice president.

A very tense election season had Barclay describing the administration as totalitarian and Tubman claiming Barclay and the ITWP were trying to kill him. The True Whig Party also prevented another rival, the Reformation Party, from participating in the elections. As usual, the True Whig Party prevailed and Tubman was reelected president in May 1955.

This victory led to a made-up failed attempt to assassinate the president where Tubman blamed the ITWP. In the end Coleman and his son were killed and their decomposing bodies were brought to Monrovia and put on display at the barracks. This sealed Tubman’s fate and prevented any serious opposition from organizing.

Barclay was aging and his health started failing. He had lost interest in the affairs that had mattered a few months prior and refused the chance to travel abroad for medical treatment. He died in Liberia on November 6, 1955 and was buried at his Mount Olive Farm Estate close to Firestone.


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