The Republic of Liberia
In 1847, Liberia was founded as a free state - the first republic
in Africa. It was
formally recognized by Britain immediately after, but America did
not recognize her former colony until years later, at the start of
the Civil War. Joseph Jenkins Roberts, a freed slave from
Virginia, was the first president.
In a twist of irony, the former African-American slaves regarded
the native African populations with the same contempt and
disrespect as the society from which they had been expelled. The
Liberian Constitution, drawn up in 1848, disallowed the indigenous
peoples from having a voice in the elections. Many of the social
segregations that had so limited the American blacks were now
impressed on the native populace.
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President Roberts served until 1856, when he was succeeded by
Stephen Allen Benson. Under Benson, the country saw its first
expansion. A nearby colony, the Republic of Maryland, was
struggling with two of the larger native tribes and sought the aid
of the stronger Liberia. As a result, the tiny republic was
annexed as Maryland County, following a battle that the more
advanced Liberians easily won against the natives.
This display of military strength was not a precursor of what was
to come, however, as Liberia continually struggled against the
infinitely more powerful European powers of Britain, France, and
Germany. These persistently harassed the newborn country,
particularly in the areas of trade and land claims. Liberia
heavily depended on its mother country of America, both
financially and militarily. Though it had gained independence, it
would be a long road to true freedom, and a long time before the
country became firmly established. Steady growth was hindered by
the crippling economic strain placed upon it by the other nations,
particularly Britain. In addition, internal corruption of
government officials added to the pressure, more than once leading
to national bankruptcy.
The first century of Liberia as a republic was defined by
continual strife and corruption. Government officials embezzled
directly from the government, and freedom was limited. Various
ethnic groups were oppressed and mistreated, and political
opposition was disallowed. In 1989, the simmering tensions erupted
into a civil war that would leave the country in shambles.
Fourteen years and two wars later, Liberia finally saw a reprieve
in the conflict and received a chance to recover and rebuild.