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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.

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