Liberia is a country in West Africa which was founded by free people of color from the United States. The emigration of free people of color, and later former slaves, was funded and organized by the American Colonization Society (ACS). The mortality rate of these settlers was the highest in accurately recorded human history. Of the 4,571 emigrants who arrived in Liberia between 1820 and 1843, only 1,819 survived.
In 1847, the ACS encouraged Liberia to declare independence, as the organization could no longer support the colony against territorial incursions by the neighboring British and French. The ACS as well as several northern state governments and local colonization chapters continued to provide money and emigrants as late as the 1870s. The United States declined to act on requests from the ACS to make Liberia an American colony or to establish a formal protectorate over Liberia, but it did exercise a "moral protectorate" over Liberia, intervening when European powers threatened its territory or sovereignty. As a result, eleven signatories established the Republic of Liberia on July 26, 1847, eventually electing the Virginia-born Joseph Jenkins Roberts as the nation's first president.
Liberia retained its independence throughout the Scramble for Africa by European colonial powers during the late 19th century, while remaining in the American sphere of influence. President William Howard Taft made American support a priority. From the 1920s, the economy focused on exploitation of natural resources. The rubber industry, specifically the Firestone Company, dominated the economy. Until 1980, Liberia was controlled politically by descendants of the original African-American settlers, known collectively as Americo-Liberians, who were a small minority of the population. From 1980 to 2006, the violent overthrow of the Americo-Liberian regime would lead to years of civil war that devastated the country and its economy.
Early History (pre - 1821)
Historians believe that many of the indigenous peoples of Liberia migrated there from the north and east between the 12th and 16th centuries AD. Portuguese explorers established contacts with people of the land later known as "Liberia" as early as 1462. They named the area Costa da Pimenta (Pepper Coast), or Grain Coast, because of the abundance of melegueta pepper, which became desired in European cooking.
In 1602 the Dutch established a trading post at Grand Cape Mount but destroyed it a year later. In 1663, the British installed trading posts on the Pepper Coast. No further known settlements by non-African colonists occurred until the arrival in 1821 of free blacks from the United States.
Colonization (1821 - 1847)
From around 1800, in the United States, people opposed to slavery were planning ways to achieve freedom of more slaves and, ultimately, to abolish the institution. At the same time, slaveholders in the South opposed having free blacks in their states, as they believed the free people threatened the stability of their slave societies. While they were gradually freed in the North, the former slaves and other free blacks suffered considerable social and legal discrimination. Some Northern states and territories prohibited or severely restricted entry by free people of color.
Some abolitionists, including distinguished blacks such as ship builder Paul Cuffe or Cuffee, believed that blacks should return to "the African homeland", despite many having been in the United States for generations. Cuffe's dream was that free African Americans and freed slaves "could establish a prosperous colony in Africa," one based on emigration and trade. In 1811, Cuffe founded the Friendly Society of Sierra Leone, a cooperative black group intended to encourage “the Black Settlers of Sierra Leone, and the Natives of Africa generally, in the Cultivation of their Soil, by the Sale of their Produce.” As historian Donald R. Wright put it, "Cuffee hoped to send at least one vessel each year to Sierra Leone, transporting African-American settlers and goods to the colony and returning with marketable African products."
The first ship, the Elizabeth, departed New York on February 6, 1820, for West Africa carrying 86 settlers. Between 1821 and 1838, the American Colonization Society developed the first settlement, which would be known as Liberia. On July 26, 1847, Liberia declared itself a (free) sovereign nation.
Americo-Liberian rule (1847–1980)
Between 1847 and 1980, the state of Liberia was dominated by the small minority of black colonists and their descendants, known collectively as Americo-Liberians. The Americo-Liberian minority, many of whom were mixed race African Americans, tended to marry within their group. They had established plantations and businesses, and were generally richer than the indigenous people of Liberia and exercised overwhelming political power.
End of Americo-Liberian rule
President William R. Tolbert, Jr. pursued a policy of suppressing opposition. Dissatisfaction over governmental plans to raise the price of rice in 1979 led to protest demonstrations in the streets of Monrovia. Tolbert ordered his troops to fire on the demonstrators, and seventy people were killed. Rioting ensued throughout Liberia, finally leading to a military coup d'état in April 1980. Tolbert was killed during the coup, and several of his ministers were executed soon afterwards, marking the end of Americo-Liberian domination of the country.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf elected president (2005)
The transitional government prepared for fair and peaceful democratic elections on October 11, 2005, with UNMIL troops safeguarding the peace. Twenty three candidates stood for the presidential election, with George Weah, international footballer, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and member of the Kru ethnic group, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a former World Bank economist and finance minister, Harvard-trained economist and of mixed Americo-Liberian and indigenous descent. In the first round, no candidate took the required majority, Weah won this round with 28% of the vote. A run-off between the top two vote getters, Weah and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was necessary.
The second round of elections took place on November 8, 2005. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won this runoff decisively. Both the general election and runoff were marked by peace and order, with thousands of Liberians waiting patiently in the Liberian heat to cast their ballots. Sirleaf claimed victory of this round, winning 59 per cent of the vote. However, Weah alleged electoral fraud, despite international observers declaring the election to be free and fair. Although Weah was still threatening to take his claims to the Supreme Court if no evidence of fraud was found, Johnson-Sirleaf was declared winner on November 23, 2005, and took office on January 16, 2006; becoming the first African woman to do so.