The Presidents


23 Presidents, 6 Interim Presidents

Some statistics - confirming Liberia's unique character

Presidents of Liberia – in chronological order






















23 Presidents, 6 Interim Presidents

On January 16, 2006 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was sworn in as Liberia´s 23rd Presdient. She had been elected in the November 2005 elections when she defeated presidential candidate and former soccer star George Weah. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has thus become the first elected female African President.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf succeeded to Gyude Bryant who had been the head of Liberia´s transitional government since October 14, 2003.

The term of office
In 1847 the President's term of office was two years. During the Administration of President Arthur Barclay the term of office was changed to four years, in 1907/08. His cousin President Edwin Barclay had it changed to eight years, in 1935/36. It was restored to four years under President Tubman - who was elected a record number of six times. During the Tolbert Administration, in 1975/76, it was again changed to eight years. At present the presidential term of office is six years whereas the president can only succeed to himself once.

back to The Presidents





















Some statistics - confirming Liberia's unique character (look out, double counting!)

  • Liberia has had 23 Presidents and 
    6 Interim-Presidents
  • Liberia is the first African country with an elected female President
  • 12 Presidents were born in the USA
  • 11 Presidents were born in Liberia
  • Only two Presidents were of full tribal descent
  • At least two, possibly three Presidents were assassinated
  • Two more Presidents died in office
  • Four Presidents resigned
  • Two Presidents were deposed in a coup d’état
    one of them in a military coup
  • One President was removed during a civil war
  • One President served over 27 years
  • One president only served two months.

back to The Presidents












Presidents of Liberia – in chronological order:

Joseph Jenkins Roberts 1848-1856

  • Born in Virginia, USA
  • First President of Liberia
  • Was elected six times

Stephen Allen Benson 1856-1864

  • Born in Maryland, USA
  • Second President of Liberia
  • Was elected four times

Daniel Bashiel Warner 1864-1868

  • Born in Maryland, USA
  • Third President of Liberia
  • Was elected twice

James Spriggs Payne 1868-1870

  • Born in Virginia, USA 
  • Fourth President of Liberia
  • Was elected twice (2nd term: 1876-1878)

Edward James Roye 1870-1871 

  • Born in Ohio, USA
  • Fifth President of Liberia
  • Was elected once 
  • First President who was deposed in a coup d’état
  • Possibly the First President who was assassinated

James S. Smith (VP)
may have completed Roye’s term 1871-1872

  • Born in South Carolina, USA
  • 6th (?) President of Liberia (disputed)

Joseph Jenkins Roberts 1872-1876

  • Born in Virginia, USA, see above
  • 7th (or 6th?) President of Liberia

James Spriggs Payne 1876-1878

  • Born in Virginia, USA, see above 
  • 2nd term 1976-1978
  • 7th (?) President of Liberia 

Anthony William Gardiner 1878-1883 

  • Born in Virginia, USA 
  • 8th President of Liberia
  • Was elected three times
  • First President who resigned

Alfred Francis Russell (VP) 
completed Gardiner’s term 1883-1884

  • Born in Kentucky, USA
  • 9th President of Liberia

Hilary Richard Wright Johnson 1884-1892

  • First Liberian President born in Africa (of American parents)
  • 10th President of Liberia
  • Was elected four times

Joseph James Cheeseman 1892-1896

  • Born in Edina, Grand Bassa County, Liberia
  • 11th President of Liberia
  • Was elected three times
  • First President who died in office

William David Coleman (VP) 
completed Cheeseman’s term 1896-1900 

  • Born in Kentucky, USA
  • 12th President of Liberia
  • Was elected twice
  • Second President who resigned.

Garretson Wilmot Gibson 
completed Coleman’s term 1900-1904

  • Born in Maryland, USA
  • 13th President of Liberia
  • Was elected once

Arthur Barclay 1904-1912 

  • Born in Bridgetown, Barbados, British West Indies
  • 14th President of Liberia
  • Was elected three times
  • First President who served a four-year term

Daniel Edward Howard 1912-1920

  • Born in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, Liberia
  • 15th President of Liberia
  • Was elected twice

Charles Dunbar Burgess King 1920-1930

  • Born in Liberia of Sierra Leonian parents
  • 16th President of Liberia
  • Was elected three times
  • Third President who resigned

Edwin James Barclay 
completed King’s term 1930-1944

  • Born in Brewerville, Montserrado County, Liberia 
  • 17th President of Liberia
  • Was elected twice
  • First President who served an eight-year term

William Vacanarat Shadrach Tubman 1944-1971

  • Born in Harper, Maryland County, Liberia
  • 18th President of Liberia
  • Was elected six times
  • Longest serving President in Liberian history
  • Second President who died in office

William Richard Tolbert, Jr. 1971-1980

  • Born in Bensonville, Montserrado County, Liberia
  • 19th President of Liberia
  • Was elected once
  • Second President who was deposed in a coup
  • First, possibly second President, who was assassinated.

Samuel Kanyon Doe 1980-1990

  • Born in Tuzon, Grand Gedeh County, Liberia
  • 20th President of Liberia
  • First President of tribal descent (Krahn)
  • First military leader/President
  • Second, possibly third President who was assassinated
  • Third President who was deposed in a coup
  • Was elected once

6 Interim Presidents during the civil war (1990s):

  • Amos Sawyer (November 1990 – August 1993)
  • Bismarck Kuyon (August 1993 – November 1993)
  • Philip Banks (November 1993 – February 1994)
  • David Kpormakor (February 1994 – September 1995)
  • Wilton Sankawulo (September 1995 – September 1996)
  • Ruth Perry (September 1996 – August 1997)
    • First female Head of State
Charles Ghankay Taylor 1997-2003
  • Born in Liberia (A.L. father, Golah mother)
  • 21st President of Liberia
  • Was elected once following the end of a civil war he had started
  • Fourth President who resigned
Moses Blah completed Taylor’s term 
August-October 2003 
  • Born in Toweh Town, Nimba County, Liberia.
  • 22nd President of Liberia
  • Second President of tribal descent (Gio)

Charles Gyude Bryant
October 14, 2003 - January 16, 2006

  • Born in Maryland County, Liberia 
  • Was 'elected' by Liberians/representatives of fighting parties, political parties and civil society during peace talks in in Ghana

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
January 16, 2006 -

  • Born in Monrovia, Liberia
  • Was elected in 2005 when she defeated
    George Weah
  • 23rd President of Liberia
  • Liberia's second female Head of State

back to The Presidents
















J.J. Roberts
President of Liberia 1848-55; 1872-74

Joseph Jenkins Roberts (1809-1876) was born in Virginia, U.S.A. His parents were poor. He came to Liberia in 1829. Roberts soon became a prosperous trader and also engaged in politics. After the creation of the Commonwealth of Liberia, in 1838, he became Vice-Governor. In 1841 Governor Thomas Buchanan, a cousin of the President of the USA, James Buchanan, died and was succeeded by J.J. Roberts. It was the first time that the colony was not governed by a white agent of the American Colonization Society - its legal owner  - but by a colonist. Although Roberts was a colonist, "he was not really black; he was an octoroon and could have easily passed for a white man", as Aboyomi Karnga, one of Liberia’s best-known historians reported. 
When in 1847 the Independent Republic of Liberia was created, 
J.J. Roberts became its First President. He served several terms from 1848 till 1855. After the deposition of the country’s first ‘black’ president, E.J.Roye (in 1871) he was again elected and served another term. It is very likely that the ‘colour conflict’ which separated the leading mulattoes from the large majority of colonists of darker complexion had much to do with the animosity between Roberts and Roye.

back to Chronological Order 











Jane Roberts 
Wife of President 
J.J. Roberts











E.J. Roye
President 1870-71

Edward James Roye (1815-1872) was born in Ohio, U.S.A. After the death of his father he was left a considerable inheritance. Roye was a pure descendant of the Ibo tribe,  an American College graduate, and migrated to Liberia in 1846, one year before the colony’s independence. When he was elected President of Liberia, May 1869, he was one of the wealthiest men in the country. E.J. Roye and J.J. Roberts, the First President of Liberia, were political adversaries. They disagreed on the issue of closing off the country for foreign traders' activities ('Closed Door Policy') or opening up the colony and the hinterland for foreign traders and investors ('Open Door Policy'). Also at the personal level they were not on speaking terms. It's likely that the 'colour issue' played an important role (see under Joseph Jenkins Roberts). President Roye was deposed in October 26, 1871, following a controversial international loan (from Great Britain). He died a mysterious death in February 1872. After new elections had been held, the presidential power was handed over to former President Roberts in January 1872.  

back to Chronologicol Order Presidents 













James S. Smith
1870 - 1872
may have served Pres. Roye's unexpired term

Alfred F. Russell 
President 1883-84

Alfred Francis Russell (? – 1884) originated from Kentucky, U.S.A., before coming to Liberia in 1833. He was Vice-President of Liberia when President Anthony William Gardiner’s handling of a boundary dispute with the British was disapproved by a number of senators. Vice-President Russell shared the criticism and soon headed the opposition against Gardiner’s willingness to give up a large part of Liberian territory. President Gardiner resigned over the boundary question on January 20, 1883. Russell served his unexpired term from January 20, 1883 to January 7, 1884 when he was succeeded by Hilary Richard Wright Johnson who had won the elections held in May 1883. Alfred Francis Russell died on April 4, 1884. The following year the disputed territory was officially ceded to Great Britain (‘the Galinas territory’).

back to Chronological Order Presidents 














Charles D. B. King 
President 1920-1930

Charles Dunbar Burgess King was born in Monrovia on March 12, 1871 of Sierra Leonian parents. He studied law and started his career at the Supreme Court, later turned to the State Department. After the turn of the century he became Attorney-General with the rank of cabinet minister under President Arthur Barclay (1904 -12), and Secretary of State under President Daniel E. Howard (1912 - 20). 

Illustrative for Liberia’s international profile in the early 1900s is King’s participation in the Peace Conference following the end of World War I. He also was among those who signed the Treaty of Versailles.

While attending the Peace Conference he was elected president (May, 1919). On January 1, 1920 he was inaugurated. King’s 10-year Administration is marked by some of the most historic events Liberia ever experienced. They greatly influenced the course of Africa’s First Republic:
  • In 1926 the US rubber company Firestone was granted a historic one million acres concession for the production of rubber on Liberian soil which according to some critics made Liberia a ‘Firestone Colony’ for the next quarter of a century.
  • The following year Charles King won the presidential elections with a landslide victory that gained him a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the most fraudulent elections ever reported in history. 
  • In 1930 President King resigned in order to avoid impeachment following publication of the Christy-report on the existence of forced labour practices in the country and the involvement of high ranking government officials. Since also his Vice-President Allen Yancy resigned, King was succeeded by his Secretary of State Edwin Barclay, a cousin of aforementioned President Arthur Barclay.

What happened with President King after he resigned?

After his resignation ex-President King retired to private life and exploited his private rubber plantation. By the time William V.S. Tubman came into the highest office, in 1944, he was publicly respected as an elder statesman and occupied various public positions. In 1947 he became the first Liberian Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the USA, in Washington DC. Later, he also became Liberia’s first Permanent Representative to the United Nations. In 1952 he retired permanently from public service. He was active in the Protestant Episcopal Church and as a Mason until 1961 when he died at the age of 90 years.

back to Chronological Order Presidents 


© fpm van der kraaij


Pictures: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division
and website ex-Peace-Corps Volunteer Philip A. Waite
Washington D.C., U.S.A.