James S. Smith

James Skivring Smith
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

James Skivring Smith

Term 6th President: 1871 – 1872
Born February 26, 1825, Charleston, South Carolina, USA
Died 1892, Buchanan, Grand Bassa, Liberia
Race/Ethnicity Black, Americo-Liberian
County of Origin Grand Bassa
Profession Medical Doctor
Political Party True Whig Party


Smith was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1825. His family migrated to Liberia in 1833 when he was fairly young. He was orphaned at an early age, losing both parents to malaria. Not much is known of his early years in Liberia.


He studied medicine under Dr. James W. Lugenbeel, who was a white doctor hired by the ACS to work in Liberia. Smith returned to the US and studied at the Berkshire Medical College in Massachusetts where he received his medical education and degree in 1848. He was a successful doctor in Grand Bassa County for twenty years before entering politics.


Medical doctor for 20 years
1856 – 1860 Secretary of State
1868 – 1869 Senator, Grand Bassa County
1870 – 1871 Vice President under Roye
1871 – 1872 President
1874 – 1884 Superintendent, Grand Bassa County


There have been mixed reports about Smith serving as Liberia’s 6th president. While some sources note that he occupied the high office, others indicate that he was deposed with Roye and did not serve as President. These claim that being a True Whig, he was afraid and avoided the political scene while the nation was under the Chief Executive Committee comprising Charles Benedict Dunbar, Amos Herring, and Reginald A. Sherman.

Sources that support Smith’s presidency indicate that after Roye was overthrown on October 26, 1871, the nation was governed by the Chief Executive Committee from October 26, 1871 to November 4, 1871. Smith was not in Monrovia when the coup occurred and upon his return, the Republicans had him assume the presidency to make it seem like their actions in deposing Roye was all legal. He then served the remainder of Roye’s term from November 4, 1871 to January 1, 1872, when Roberts who had won the Presidential election in May 1871 began his term. Hence, Smith was the first vice president to ascend to the presidency.

Post Presidency

After his brief presidency, Dr. Smith served as the Superintendent of Grand Bassa County for many years. He died in 1892 in Liberia.


Annual Report of the American Colonization Society, Volume 28. Washington: C. Alexander. 21 Jan. 1845. Print.

Cahoon, Ben. Counties of Liberia. World Statesmen. Web.

Ciment, James. Another America : the Story of Liberia and the Former Slaves Who Ruled It. 1st ed. New York: Hill and Wang, 2013. Print.

Dunn, D. The Annual Messages of the Presidents of Liberia 1848-2010 : State of the Nation Addresses to the National Legislature : from Joseph Jenkins Roberts to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Berlin ;New York: De Gruyter, 2011. Print.

Elections in Liberia. African Elections Database. Web.

Huberich, Charles Henry. The Political and Legislative History of Liberia : a Documentary History of the Constitutions, Laws and Treaties of Liberia from the Earliest Settlements to the Establishment of the Republic, a Sketch of the Activities of the American Colonization Societies, a Commentary on the Constitution of the Republic and a Survey of the Political and Social Legislation from 1847 to 1944 : with Appendices Containing the Laws of the Colony of Liberia, 1820-1839, and Acts of the Governor and Council, 1839-1847. New York: Central Book Co., 1947. Print.

James Skivring Smith, three-quarter length portrait, three-quarters view, seated at desk. Prints & Photographs Online Catalog. Library of Congress. Web.

The African Repository and Colonial Journal. V46. The American Colonization Society. Washington.1870. Print.

The African Repository and Colonial Journal. V48. The American Colonization Society. Washington.1872. Print.

Visits: 315