Republicans Return to Power
The Republicans returned to power in 1872 as J.J. Roberts was elected (unopposed) by the Legislature at their Joint Convention in 1871. He proposed reconciling with the True Whigs because they were becoming powerful in national politics. He pardoned those that were wrongfully accused and jailed during the coup. Roberts also tried recruiting Elmot W. Blyden who was an intellectual Whig as Secretary of State. Blyden declined, seeing the government as inefficient and he preferred focusing on his education work with the natives.
There was tribal warfare in the Vai country and the Liberian militia was sent to intervene. Fighters from both sides were wounded including General Reginald Sherman who was in command of the government troops. Some were killed in battle but in the end there was a peace between the government and the tribal people of Cape Mount.
Liberia remained undeveloped due to the lack of sufficient aid and resources. Most of the aid she received was spent towards relocating freed and recaptured slaves to the new nation. Liberia College on the contrary, grew in the number of students and added a Preparatory Department.
Although he was aging, Roberts was now tasked with running the affairs of the nation and Liberia College. His main focus was establishing schools throughout the nation. Roberts and Gardner easily won reelection in 1873. By this time Roberts’ health was failing and he had to rely on others in performing his duties. This hindered many public projects and the President instead focused on keeping peace and building relationship with the natives.
During this term Benjamin Anderson undertook another expedition of Liberia in search of gold mines close to Mursardu. It seems he covered the same area as his initial expeditions and found no gold.
The tribes were also growing in number and seeking favorable lands for dwelling and trading. Conflict arose in the Grebo country between the Grebo “united kingdom” and foreign traders. There was also news of tribal warriors on the Liberian farms. The absolute facts of this situation remain unknown.
Vice President Gardner was sent to Maryland to work on restoring peace. He however showed up with a large militia force of about 800 men. Forewarned, the Grebo chiefs gathered all of their warriors and Allies, about 50000 men. Well prepared for battle, they attacked the Liberian militia, killing about 15 and wounding about 69. This defeat was humiliating for the inexperienced VP and he lost the election to Payne.
Roberts left the presidency in January 1876 and died on February 1, 1876. He was succeeded by James Spriggs Payne who had lost to Roye in 1869. Payne was elected for a second term in 1875 with Charles Harmon as his Vice President. The Whigs were still crushed from the Roye coup and hadn’t recovered as a strong political force. Payne learned from Gardner’s mistake that they were outnumbered by the natives and were not guaranteed military success against the tribes.
Payne sought the US help in solving the Grebo problem. The USS Alaska was sent to Cape Palmas and its captain A.A. Semmes was to serve as mediator between Liberia and the Grebo tribal kingdom. President Payne and Semmes met with 9 or more Grebo Kings.
After a few days of talks, they came up with a treaty that considered the Grebos to be Liberians and would give them equality in trade, protection, land ownership and amnesty from all of the offenses that had ensued from the uprising. The President thanked the Captain and his crew and returned to Monrovia where he also thanked Washington for their help. The chaos behind him, Payne was determined to lead a self sufficient nation.
The Liberian economy improved with the cost of exports tripling that of imports. The nation’s finances were in good shape and enough to keep the government functioning and solvent. More freed slaves from the American south joined the nation and starting building their community in the St. Paul River valley.
Although he had good intentions, implementing his policies like opening the interior and expanding education was hampered by lack of funding. The American Colonization Society didn’t provide sufficient funding and other philanthropies focused on missionary work controlled by foreign entities.
By 1877 Gardner had redeemed his reputation and the True Whigs were revived again. Gardner joined the Whigs and ran for the presidency with Russell as his VP. The Whigs defeated the Republicans and returned to power in 1878.
Cassell, Abayomi. Liberia: History of the First African Republic. New York. Fountainhead Publishers, 1970. Print.
Ciment, James. Another America : the Story of Liberia and the Former Slaves Who Ruled It. 1st ed. New York: Hill and Wang, 2013. Print.
Elections in Liberia. African Elections Database. 25 Nov. 2011. Web.
Liebenow, J. Liberia : the Quest for Democracy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987. Print.
Richardson, Nathaniel R. Liberia’s Past and Present. Diplomatic Press and Pub. Co., 1959. Print.
Wilson, Charles Morrow. Liberia: Black Africa in Microcosm. [1st ed.]. Harper & Row, 1971. Print.