Liberia: Founding to 1980

Founding to 1980

Liberia was founded in 1821, when officials of the American Colonization Society were granted possession of Cape Mesurado by local De chiefs for the settlement of freed American slaves. African-American immigrants were landed in 1822, the first of some 15,000 to settle in Liberia. The survival of the colony during its early years was due primarily to the work of Jehudi Ashmun, one of the society's agents. In 1847, primarily due to British pressures, the colony was declared an independent republic. The Americo-Liberian minority controlled the country's politics, and the native population was economically exploited and denied the vote. New immigration virtually came to an end with the American Civil War. Liberia was involved in efforts to end the W African slave trade.

Attempts to modernize the economy led to a rising foreign debt in 1871, which the republic had serious difficulty repaying. The debt problem and constitutional issues led to the overthrow of the government in 1871. Conflicts over territorial claims resulted in the loss of large areas of land to Britain and France in 1885, 1892, and 1919. However, rivalries between the Europeans colonizing West Africa and the interest of the United States helped preserve Liberian independence during this period. Nevertheless, the decline of Liberia's exports and its inability to pay its debts resulted in a large measure of foreign interference.

In 1909 the government was bankrupt, and a series of international loans were floated. Firestone leased large areas for rubber production in 1926. In 1930 scandals broke out over the exportation of forced labor from Liberia, and a League of Nations investigation upheld the charges that slave trading had gone on with the connivance of the government. President C. B. D. King and his associates resigned, and international control of the republic was proposed. Under the leadership of presidents Edwin Barclay (1930–44) and William V. S. Tubman (1944–71), however, Liberia avoided such control.

Under Tubman, new policies to open the country to international investment and to allow the indigenous peoples a greater say in Liberian affairs were undertaken. The country's mineral wealth, particularly iron ore, began to be exploited, and there was a gradual improvement of roads, schools, and health standards, but many inequities between the Americo-Liberians and the rest of the population remained. Upon Tubman's death in 1971, Vice President W. R. Tolbert took charge, and in 1972 he was elected to the presidency. Although Tolbert cultivated a democratic climate and favorable relations abroad, an organized opposition emerged early in his regime, some of it from Liberian students living in the United States. In 1979, a government proposal to increase the price of rice produced widespread violence.

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