James Spriggs Payne

James Spriggs Payne
Credit: Wikipedia

James Spriggs Payne

Term 4th President: 1868 – 1870
8th President: 1876 – 1878
Born Dec. 15, 1819 (1820?), Richmond, Virginia, USA
Died Jan 31, 1882
Race/Ethnicity Mulatto, Americo-Liberian
County of Origin Montserrado
Profession Minister
Political Party Republican


James Spriggs Payne was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1820 to a mixed race Christian family. He and his father David Payne moved the family to the colony, arriving on the West African Coast on March 21, 1829 via the ship “Harriet”. David Payne was an ordained minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church. The Payne family was large and James was known for his firm character.

James Payne was educated in Liberia and became an active member of the Methodist Episcopal Church at a young age. In 1880 he represented Liberia at the Methodist Episcopal General Conference in Ohio, USA.


Coming to the colony as a child, Payne was raised and educated in Liberia. He later received a Doctor of Divinity degree from Liberia College in 1881.


1840 Ordained Minister
1840 – 1859 Active duties with Methodist Episcopal Mission
1848 – 1858 Presiding Elder, Methodist Episcopal Church
1868 – 1870 President

Vice President
Charles H. Harmon

1876 – 1878 President

Vice President
S.J. Crayton

Like his father, James Payne was an active member of his church. Reverend Payne, as he was sometimes called, was ordained in 1840 in New York. Payne started his public service career at the young age of 22. He also travelled to the US in 1848 to discuss the conditions of Liberia’s separation from the ACS.

The Republicans picked Payne as their presidential nominee in the election of May 1867. He was described as a young black Republican who had an interest in political economy and believed in the “black tide of destiny”. Hi literary work on political economy was one of the exhibits at the second National Fair in December 1859. Payne was a Republican and mulatto like Warner, but more radical in his expression of black identity and interested in meeting the needs of the Liberians and natives.


1868 – 1870

Payne was determined to meet the tribal people and his term saw Joseph Anderson’s exploration into the Liberian hinterland. Anderson’s team travelled as far as Boporo and visited the Mandingo kingdoms in the region. They observed the practice of slave ownership in some Mandingo kingdoms where some Kpelles and Buzzis were kept as slaves.

They also encountered the peaceful and prosperous Kingdom of King Ibramhama Sissi at Masradu. Sissi signed a treaty to bring his kingdom under Liberia and use his influence to counter slavery in the region. Anderson’s team also met other disciplined and honorable tribes who advised the explorers that native slavery could be eliminated with education and moral persuasion.

Payne was focused on handling the slavery situation in the native region by investing in roads and opening up access to the hinterland. However, he ran out of time to make an impact on this situation. The True Whig Party representing true blackness had arisen and won the election of 1869 with Edward J. Roye as their presidential candidate. Roye began his term in 1870.

1876 – 1878

After Roye was deposed, Roberts returned to the presidency. Faced with the uprising between the Grebos and settlers at Maryland, VP Gardner was sent with the Liberian militia to foster peace between the two groups. His inexperience hindered the peace treaty and paved the way for Payne to return as the nation’s 8th president in 1876.

Payne, being a realist, knew that the small number of Liberian colonists could not succeed against the large number of tribal people along the coast or inland. He then decided to bring in a neutral party to intercede in settling the dispute. From the US came Captain A.A. Semmes as the mediator to foster a peaceful treaty between the Grebo chiefs and the Liberian Republic with Payne also in attendance.

A peace treaty was signed on March 1, 1876 between 9 Grebo chiefs representing the Grebo Kingdom, and the Republic of Liberia to have lasting peace and equal rights pertaining to land ownership, trade and other interactions. The President was grateful to the US and in standing on his word of being solely independent, asked no other favors of the US.

The Liberian economy improved with exports about $3 million and imports close to $1 million. Another group of roughly 300 settlers from the American South moved to Liberia and started a farming community in the St. Paul River Valley. Anthony Gardner, now adopted by the True Whig Party, won the election of 1877 and replaced Payne in 1878.

Post Presidency

The church minister of 40 years and former President, Reverend James Spriggs Payne died at his Monrovia home on January 31, 1882. James Spriggs Payne Airfield in Monrovia is named in his honor.


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Death of Ex-President Payne. The African Repository and Colonial Journal. V57-59. The American Colonization Society. 1883. Print.

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

Guannu, Joseph Saye. A Short History of the First Liberian Republic. 1st ed. Pompano Beach, FL: Exposition Press of Florida, 1985. Print.

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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.

The African Repository and Colonial Journal. V51-53. The American Colonization Society. Washington. 1877. Print.

The African Repository and Colonial Journal. V57-62. The American Colonization Society. Washington. 1883. Print.

Wilson, Charles Morrow. Liberia: Black Africa in Microcosm. [1st ed.]. Harper & Row, 1971. Print.