Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 17 >> Lemurs to Lied Von Der Glocke >> Liberia


society, president, united, coast, liberian, miles, france, natives, republic and ing

LIBERIA, a republic on the west coast of Africa; the only part of the continent remain ing in Negro hands and under Negro control. Situated in what was formerly known as Up per Guinea, it extends for some 350 miles along the coast, from Mario River on the west to the Cavalla River on the east. It is between long. 7° 33' and 32' W. and lat. 4° 22' and 8° 50' N. Its area is approximately 43,000 square miles, a little more than that of the State of Ohio. It is bounded on the west by the Brit ish colony of Sierra Leone and on the north and east by French possessions. The coast is low, through most of its length a narrow sandy beach, interrupted at only three points by ele vations. Five-sixths of the area of Liberia is covered with dense tropical forest; there are mountains in the interior of the east half ; the Mandingo Plateau in the northwest is grass land. There are no good harbors. There are more than 30 rivers, most of which have no navigation value; the Saint Panl with the Me surado is navigable to White Plains, a distance of 20 miles, and the Cavalla is practicable for boats of some size for about 80 miles. The cli mate of Liberia is tropical with a short dry season from December to February, inclusive, and a cooler wet season; on the Mandingo Plateau the dry season extends from November to May. Liberia was acquired by the American Colonization Society, founded in 1817, for the purpose of colonizing free blacks from the Uni ted States. The first company of colonists was sent out in February 1820 on the Elizabeth. During the next 25 years 4,500 more colo nists were sent over by the society and auxili ary organizations. The government of the Uni ted States was favorable to the enterprise and at times gave active assistance. While the colo nists suffered severely from the climate and at times had difficulty with the natives, they made a number of settlements on the coast and on the lower reaches of some of the rivers. The name Liberia was officially adopted in 1824 and at the same time the name of the chief settle ment was changed to Monrovia. The names were suggested by Colonel Harper of Mary land who was prominent in the work of the so ciety. Liberia referred to the free status of the colonists, Monrovia honored the then Presi dent of the United States, James Monroe. At first under an agent, later under a governor ap pointed by the society, the settlers developed a practical governmental organization and, in 1838, adopted the official title of Liberia." To secure the funds for adminis tration, duties and port-dues were instituted. These led to trouble with the British govern Ment which could not recognize sovereign pow ers in "a mere commercial experiment of a philanthropic society.' Consequently it was de cided best that the relation between the colony and the society should cease. A declaration of independence and a constitution were adopted on 26 July 1847 and the republic of Liberia came into existence. The first President was Joseph J. Roberts, himself a colonist, who was the last governor under the society. The new nation was promptly recognized by Great Bri tain (1848) and France (1852) ; other nations made recognition during the next few years; the United States did so in 1862. Abraham Lin

coln being President. At first the term of Li beria's President was two years, but it has been extended to four. President and Vice-President are elected; there are two legislative bodies: House of Representatives and Senate; the Su preme Court consists of three justices; the Cab inet includes seven members, heads of depart ments of State, Treasury, Justice, War and Navy, Interior, Post Office and Public Instruc tion. The franchise is confined to males, of at least 21 years of age, owners of real property. Only persons of negro blood may be citizens. The population of Liberia is uncertain: it is made up of three quite distinct classes— Amer ico-Liberians in the settlements, coast natives who come into contact with the Liberian gov ernment and with traders and other Europeans, and the natives of the interior; there are per haps 20,000, 60,000 and 1,500,000 respectively. These figures are, however, crude estimates to which little weight can be attached. Up to the present, the Liberian settlements have been al most exclusively occupied in trade; agriculture has been little developed and there is practi cally no manufacturing. The country is ride in natural resources. Palm oil, palm nuts, pias sava fibre and rubber are the leading exports. Liberian coffee once had a good market, but has lost its importance. Fine woods and gums will be in course of time a source of wealth. Plantations of rubber and coffee and mines of gold are under development, chiefly by British and German enterprise. Liberia has had boundary troubles with both of her neighbors and has already lost territory to both Great Britain and France. Difficulties came to a head about 1908. when she sent a commission to the United States appealing for aid. A commission of investigation was appointed by our govern ment which visited Liberia and made certain specific recommendations. As a result, the United States has aided Liberia in straighten ing out her financial affairs and in strengthen ing her internal condition. In connection with these adjustments, the customs service of the republic is temporarily administered by an in ternational commission with an American at its head. With firm backing from the United States, Liberia might not only prosper, she might become the leader of Africa. During the emhroglio of the World War (1914-18) Liberia severed diplomatic relations with Germany on 8 May 1917 and formally declared war on 4 August. On 10 April 1918 a German submarine bombarded Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, destroyed the wireless telegraph station and sank the Liberian armed vessel President Grant. Ten persons were killed. The submarine was later sunk by a British cruiser. Liberia's con tribution to the war consisted mainly in send ing some hundreds of laborers to France. In November 1918 it was announced that the ne gro republic desired a voice in the peace con ference and that the principle of self-determi nation should be applied to the natives of Afri can colonies, not only those taken from Ger many, but also former parts of Liberia which had been absorbed by France and Great Bri tain.