President Arthur Barclay
The ‘father’ of Liberia’s Open Door Policy


We need external help to develop Liberia – Arthur Barclay



The life of Liberia’s last President who was born outside Liberia /Africa started in the Caribbean 1). Arthur Barclay was born in Bridgetown, Barbados, the British West Indies on July 31, 1854 and he was the tenth of twelve children of his parents, Anthony and Sarah Barclay. The Barclay family came to Liberia when Arthur was eleven years old, in 1865. They settled in Monrovia where young Arthur engaged in petty-trading in the streets of the capital city. Monrovia may have had some 5,000 inhabitants in those years.

He was educated at Liberia College, studied law and became a counsellor-at-law. He was called to the Bar of Montserrado County in 1877. Three years later he joined the Supreme Court. He also gained reputation as a scholar. He taught at his Alma Mater, Liberia College, and even served some time as Acting President of Liberia’s highest institution of higher learning. Arthur Barclay also engaged in politics and in 1874, at the age of twenty (!), he became President J. J. Roberts’ Private Secretary. Eventually, he became General Treasurer of the True Whig Party.

1) In the mid 1860s the total number of freed slaves and persons of color who had left the USA to settle in Liberia amounted to nearly 19,000. After the Civil War (1862-1865), the emigration of black people from the USA to Liberia virtually came to a standstill.
In 1865, 346 emigrants from Barbados sailed to Liberia, among them, Anthony and Sarah Barclay with their children. A couple of thousand more would follow their example in the following years.

In 1892 he was appointed Postmaster-General in the Cabinet formed by President Cheeseman (1892-1896) who promoted him to the position of Secretary of State in the same year. Four years later, in 1896, he became Secretary of Treasury, a position he held until his election as President. Consequently, he was a Cabinet member during twelve years and serving three presidents: first President Cheeseman (who died in office, in 1896), then President Coleman (who resigned, in 1900, also under his – Arthur Barclay’s – pressure) and, finally, President Gibson.

Arthur Barclay was for the first time elected in 1903. He was elected President on the slogan ‘Internal Development’. He had very outspoken ideas about the country’s economic history and future, the contribution of the colonists as well as the – discarded – role of the Liberian tribes.

He was inaugurated as Liberia’s fifteenth President on January 4, 1904 and was twice re-elected. Daniel Howard succeeded him in 1912.

After his 8-year presidency, Arthur Barclay at various occasions participated in Government (secretary of state, treasury, war and interior). In 1929 he represented Liberia in the three-member Committee of the League of Nations, which investigated the forced labor scandal in the republic, the allegations of slavery, and the involvement of highly placed government officials. The Committee’s report eventually led to the resignation of President King and his Vice President Allen Yancy.

















2) President King was succeeded by Edwin Barclay, nephew of Arthur Barclay.

On July 10, 1938 Arthur Barclay, one of Liberia’s most important presidents - who successfully led the country through one of its most crucial stages - died at his home in Monrovia, almost 84 years old.

Why was the Administration of President Arthur Barclay so important?

Source: Fred P.M. van der Kraaij, ‘The Open Door Policy of Liberia – An Economic History of Modern Liberia’ (Bremen, 1983; pp. 12 -46). 

© fpm van der kraaij