Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States
LIBERIA. The republic of this name is situated to the south of Sierra Léone, on that part of the west coast of Africa called the Seed Coast. Its territory consists of a series of settlements, some commercial, others agricultural, stretched along the seacoast for a distance of 960 kilometres, and extending back an unlimited distance into the interior. Its capital is Monrovia, situated on the bay of Cape Masurado and the river of the same name. It was, when first founded, 1821-2, merely a colony of free negroes, which the American colonization society (founded Dec. 31, 1816) established to procure for these victims of color prejudice a better lot than in America, and at the same time to rid the soil of America of an element of its population judged inferior to the white race even by the members of the society themselves. By additions from within and without, the free and Americanized population of Liberia amounted, in 1872, to 19,000 souls, who exercised a political influence over 700,000 negroes (natives, but not savages), scattered over the territory that extends from the sea to the chain of mountains which separates the Liberian territory from the basin of the river Niger in the interior. The primitive colony, governed at first by white men, became, Aug. 24, 1847, an independent republic, governed by a black (or rather a mulatto) head, and was admitted into the family of civilized nations. It has been recognized by England, France, Belgium, Holland, Prussia, the Hanseatic cities, Italy, Denmark, Portugal, and finally (in 1861) by the cabinet at Washington. Its relations with foreign nations have been regulated by a dozen friendly treaties.
—The constitution provides for a president, a vice-president, a house of representatives (thirteen in number), elected for two years, and a senate (of eight members), elected for four years. The president may be reelected. The first president, Roberts, after having administered the government for the colonization society during six years, was elected when the republic was proclaimed, and three times re-elected (1848-56); his successor, Stephen Allen Bensen, was re-elected four times (1856-64); the third president was D. B. Warner (1864-8); the fourth, J. S. Payne (1868-71); the fifth, who again assumed the office in 1872, was J.J. Roberts. Anthony W. Gardner is the present president.
—This dignity, like other governmental offices, can be conferred only on a negro. Various ministers form its executive agents. Suffrage is universal.
—The judicial power is vested in a superior court, and two tribunals, established, as occasion requires, by the legislature.
—In administrative matters the republic is divided into four counties (Monferrado, Grand. Bassa, Sinoë and Maryland), which are subdivided into districts. The civil affairs of the counties are managed by four superintendents chosen by the president with the advice of the senate; those of the districts by municipal magistrates elected by the citizens.
—The revenues of the republic amount to about $120,000, of which more than $70,000 are derived from customs duties, and about $50,000 from the various other taxes. The expenses are a little less than this sum. The public debt, contracted for the erection of establishments of general utility, amounts to upward of $600,000, $500,000 of which were borrowed in London in 1871. Since 1874 no interest has been paid on this debt.
—Education is furnished in the district schools and churches. English is the official language. Monrovia has a college and library. The wealthier families send their children to Europe to complete their education. Protestantism is the dominant religion.
—Labor is obligatory; each inhabitant is obliged to cultivate a piece of land.
—The Liberian colony has developed, in spite of the frequent aggressions of hostile negroes from the adjacent country; the Liberians are faithful to the laws which they have adopted, honest in their dealings, religious and moral, to at least as great a degree as other African colonies governed by whites. The Liberians have not, however, escaped all criticism; they have been reproached with reducing to slavery the natives who resist their power, and through the complicity of their citizens, selling them to the slave traders; but severe regulations imposed by the legislature in the session of 1857-58 upon this traffic and upon immigration, exonerate the republic from all participation in acts, which, if they have any real existence, are but the crimes of individuals.
—Besides, lawful commerce affords ample opportunity to the activity of the Liberians; it is carried on in Monrovia and in the factories along the coast, subject to moderate import and export duties. The exports aggregate nearly $600,000, composed principally of palm oil, logwood and ivory; but the variety of local products promises a more extended traffic in the future. Rice, coffee, sugar, pepper, indigo, peanuts, arrowroot, maize, etc., grow on its fertile soil. The cultivation of cotton is encouraged by the cotton spinners' association of Manchester. Iron is common, and gold is not rare; there are also indications of coal—By these varied sources of wealth which it is developing from day to day, and still more by the establishment of order with perfect liberty, the little republic of Liberia is a very interesting example of what negro communities may become. Fortunately exempt from the violent traditions which still weigh heavily upon Hayti, owing its foundation to the disinterested devotion of whites, composed of freedmen who were ordinarily the best of the slaves, admitted into fraternal relations of friendship with civilized nations, it will serve as a test of what the negro race can attain to when left to self-government. Its progress thus far warrants the hope that it will continue worthy to rank by the side of the Senegambian colonies which France and England possess and administer in the same region of western Africa.
—BIBLIOGRAPHY. Die Negerrepublic Liberia, in Unsere Zeit, vol. iii., Leipzig, 1858; Baldez, Six Years of a Traxeler's Life in Western Africa, London, 1861; Blyden, The Republic of Liberia, its Status and its Field, in Methodist Quarterly Review, New York, July, 1872; Hutchinson, Impressions of Western Africa, London, 1858; Ritter, Begrundung and gegenuärtige Zustände der Republic Liberia, in Zeitschrift fur allgemeine Erdkunde, vol. i., Leipzig, 1853; Oberländer, Westafrika, Leipzig, 1874; Stockwell, The Republic of Liberia, New York, 1868; Wilson, Western Africa, London, 1856.
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