Presidents

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Office of the President

The President of the Republic of Liberia holds the highest office in the nation. This position is the Head of State and the Government and Commander in Chief of the national army. The president is under oath to protect and defend the constitution of the nation and enforce its laws. A Vice-President elected on the same political ticket assists the President in administering the duties and functions of the Executive office. This position serves as head of the Senate and chairs its deliberations, voting only when there is a tie.

The President and the Vice President shall, before entering on the execution of the duties of their respective offices, take a solemn oath or affirmation to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and laws of the Republic and faithfully execute the duties of the office.

-Constitution of Liberia, Article 53a, 1986

Prior to this structure of government, the natives in their various regions were ruled by kings. When the settlers arrived, their settlements were headed by agents and later governors. The Office of the President was created from the constitution of 1847 when Liberia gained her independence. On September 27, 1847, the nation elected her first president, then Governor Joseph Jenkins Roberts in an election against Samuel Benedict. Roberts appointed Benedict as the nation’s first Secretary of State.

The early republic had only Americo-Liberian presidents, most of them being mullatos or descendants of the freed slaves. The first pure black president was Stephen Allen Benson, although some historians claim it was E. J. Roye who became president in 1870. Roye was the first president that was deposed, and his subsequent death remains a mystery in Liberian history.

Following this incident, other presidents from the same Americo-Liberian class ran the nation with many claiming to foster relations with the indigenous. H.R.W. Johnson was the first president born in Liberia. Liberia’s longest serving and perhaps most beloved president was William V.S. Tubman. The first son of the soil to hold the presidency was Samuel K. Doe who became head of state in 1980.

Presidents of Liberia

1. Joseph Jenkins Roberts, 1848 – 1856 13. William D. Coleman, 1896 – 1900
2. Stephen Allen Benson, 1856 – 1864 14. Garretson W. Gibson, 1900 – 1904
3. Daniel B. Warner, 1864 – 1868 15. Arthur Barclay, 1904 – 1912
4. James Spriggs Payne, 1868 – 1870 16. Daniel E. Howard, 1912 – 1920
5. Edward James Roye, 1870 – 1871 17. Charles D. B. King, 1920 – 1930
6. James S. Smith, 1871 – 1872 18. Edwin J. Barclay, 1930 – 1944
7. Joseph Jenkins Roberts, 1872 – 1876 19. William V. S. Tubman, 1944 – 1971
8. James Spriggs Payne, 1876 – 1878 20. William R. Tolbert, 1971 – 1980
9. Anthony W. Gardner, 1878 – 1883 21. Samuel K. Doe, 1986 – 1990
10 Alfred F. Russell, 1883 – 1884 22. Charles Taylor, 1997 – 2003
11. Hilary R. W. Johnson, 1884 – 1892 23. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, 2006 – 2018
12. Joseph J. Cheeseman, 1892 – 1896 24. George Weah, 2018 – Present

Presidential Term

From J.J. Roberts in 1848 to Arthur Barclay in 1907, the presidential term was two years. In 1907, during Arthur Barclay’s administration, a referandum increased the presidential term to four years. Under President Edwin Barclay who served from 1930 – 1944, the presidential term was changed to eight years in 1935. This was with the provision that a president would serve only one term. Barclay therefore began his eight year term in 1935 and served until 1944 when Tubman assumed the presidency. At the time, Barclay was Liberia’s longest serving president.

Tubman’s eight year term would have ended in 1952, but during his administration, a referendum in 1949, removed the provision for a one term limit and changed the subsequent presidential term to four years. He then served 7 terms (27 years) and was the country’s longest serving president. On October 7, 1975, a referendum was passed, changing the presidential term back to a one term of eight years, as under President Edwin Barclay. This meant President Tolbert would serve until 1983 and could not run for re-election. Finally, the new constitution of 1986 changed the presidential term limit to two terms of six years.

Presidential Term Summary
1847 – 1908 2 years (no term limits)
1908 – 1935 4 years (2 term limit)
1935 – 1949 8 years (one term)
1949 – 1975 Term limit removed
(a president could serve one 8 year term and subsequent 4 year terms)
1975 – 1980 8 years (one term limit); the constitution was suspended in 1980
1986 – Present 6 years (2 term limit)
Presidential Succession

If the President dies or is unable to continue in that post, he/she is succeeded by the Vice President. In case the Vice President is unable to assume the position, the Speaker of the House is sworn in as Acting President. Next in the line of succession is the Senate Pro Temp. If any of these positions cannot serve as President, it is given to the Deputy Speaker and members of the Cabinet in the order of precedence as established by law. Within 90 days, the Elections Commission will conduct elections for a new President and Vice President.

-Joseph Saye Guannu


Sources

Anderson, Robert E. Liberia, America’s African Friend. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1952. Print.

Cassell, Abayomi. Liberia: History of the First African Republic. New York. Fountainhead Publishers, 1970. Print.

Elections in Liberia. African Elections Database. 25 Nov. 2011. Web. 04 Aug. 2013.

Guannu, Joseph S. Liberian Civics. Monrovia: Herald Publishing, 2004. Print.

Johnston, Harry Hamilton. Liberia,. Hutchinson & Co., 1906. Print.

Liberia. American Colonization Society Bulletin No. 1-9, Jan. 1892.

Richardson, Nathaniel R. Liberia’s Past and Present. Diplomatic Press and Pub. Co., 1959. Print.

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

Van Der Kraaij, Fred. The Presidents. Liberia’s Past and Present. Web.

Wreh, Tuan. The Love of Liberty : the Rule of President William V. S. Tubman in Liberia, 1944-1971. London: C. Hurst ;, 1976. Print.