The Rise and Fall of Americo-Liberian rule in Liberia

American troops secure Freeport of Monrovia, 2003 Official USMC photo by Corporal Marcus L. Miller.

Liberia is a nation in West Africa that was founded by free people of color from the United States. The migration of African Americans, both free and recently emancipated, was organized and funded by the American Colonization Society (ACS).

Let’s look at the complete History of Liberia and the Rise and Fall of Americo-Liberian rule

Archaeologists believe that many of the natives of Liberia migrated there from the east and North between the 12th and 16th centuries CE. Portuguese colonists established contacts with locals of the land later known as “Liberia” as early as 1462 CE. They named the region Pepper Coast(Costa da Pimenta), or Grain Coast, because of the presence of melegueta pepper, which became fancied in European cooking.

In 1602 CE, the Dutch built a trading post at Grand Cape Mount but slaughtered it a year later. In 1663 CE, the English built a few trading posts on the Pepper Coast. No further known towns by Europeans happened until the arrival in 1821 CE of free blacks from the U.S.

Colonization (1821–1847)

From around 1800 CE, in the United States, people opposed to slavery were devising ways to gain freedom of more slaves and, eventually, to abolish the institution. Simultaneously, slaveholders in the South resisted having free blacks in their states, as they thought the free people endangered the stability of their slave societies. While locals gradually freed them in the North, the former slaves and other free blacks suffered considerable legal and social discrimination. Like Southern states, some Northern states and regions (Illinois was one) severely prohibited or restricted entry by free people of color altogether.

Map of Liberia circa 1830

Some abolitionists, including prominent blacks such as shipbuilder Paul Cuffee, thought that blacks should go back to “the African homeland,” as if it were one country and ethnicity, despite many living in the U.S. for generations.

The first American Colonization Society ship, the Elizabeth, left New York on February 6, 1820 CE, for West Africa, carrying around 86 settlers. Between 1821 CE and 1838 CE, the American Colonization Society (ACS) produced the first settlement, which would be known as Liberia. On July 26, 1847 CE, Liberia declared itself a sovereign country.

Americo-Liberian rule (1847 CE–1980 CE)

Between 1847 cE and 1980 CE, Liberia was governed by a small minority of African-American settlers and their descendants, known as Americo-Liberians. The Americo-Liberian minority, most of whom were mixed-race African Americans, treated the indigenous majority as White Americans had treated them: they were seen as “racially” inferior and were refused the right to vote. To duck “racial” contamination, the Americo-Liberians married within themselves. They, but not the indigenes, secured financial support from backers in the United States. They built businesses and plantations and were richer than the native tribes of Liberia, exercising powerful political power.

World War I

Liberia stayed relatively neutral for most of World War I. It entered the war on the Allied side on August 4, 1917 CE. After its declaration of war, the local German merchants were removed from Liberia. As they constituted the nation’s largest trading partners and investors, Liberia suffered economically.

American troops in Liberia during World War II.

World War II

In 1942 CE, Liberia signed a direct Defense Pact with the U.S. Rubber was an important commodity, and Liberia guaranteed the U.S. and its allies that an ample supply of natural rubber would be given. Furthermore, Liberia allowed the United States to use its territory as a bridgehead for transports of war supplies and soldiers, in addition to the construction of airports, military bases, roads to the interior, the Freeport of Monrovia, etc.

End of Americo-Liberian rule

President Tolbert and U.S. President Jimmy Carter (in car, left) in Monrovia, 1978

President William R. Tolbert, Jr. persevered on a policy of crushing opposition. Displeasure over national plans to raise the price of rice in 1979 CE led to protest marches in the Monrovia streets. Tolbert ordered his army to fire on the demonstrators, and above seventy people were murdered. Rioting followed throughout Liberia, finally leading to an army coup d’état in April 1980 CE. Tolbert died during the coup, and many of his ministers were executed soon afterward, marking the ultimate end of Americo-Liberian control of the country.

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