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Liberia during the
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President Tubman

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William V.S. Tubman Pper Collection









































Song President Tubman by Ali Ganda with the Sierra Leone Crackers
Courtesy of The Analyst






























President William V.S. Tubman (1944-1971)

William Vacanarat Shadrach Tubman was born in Harper, Maryland County, Liberia, on November 29, 1895. He was President of Liberia from 1944 until his death in a London clinic on July 23, 1971. With 27 years in office he ruled the country longer than any other president before him – and after him. 

President Tubman’s reign over Liberia certainly was controversial. Famous is the 1955 attempt to kill him by a gunman hired by his political opponents. But the country underwent more changes during the quarter of a century that he ruled the country than in the century before. 

Tubman is most known by his political ‘National Unification Policy’ and economic ‘Open Door Policy’. In reality, however, none of these policies were new. With respect to Americo-Liberian – tribal relations, as early as 1904 one of his predecessors, President Arthur Barclay (1904 – 1912) had already pleaded for better relations between the colonists and the tribal population. Similarly, Tubman’s immediate predecessor, Edwin Barclay (1930 – 1944) – cousin of Arthur Barclay – had on more than one occasion repeated his invitation to foreign investors and traders. Moreover, just before he handed over power to William Tubman, President Edwin Barclay made the U.S. dollar sole legal tender in Liberia. The opening of the country to foreign capital was a controversial issue among the settler population nearly as old as the Republic itself. It was partly responsible for the country’s first coup d’état and the death of the deposed President, Edward Roye, whose death followed the obtaining of a British loan to develop the country.

In 1943, William Tubman was elected President of Liberia. He too firmly believed that, unaided, Liberia, would not develop. The historic phrase “Liberia has never had the advantages of colonialism” is often attributed to Tubman and although it is very likely that not he but another prominent Liberian coined this phrase, the idea expressed by it was certainly shared by Tubman. 

During his long reign of more than 27 years, President Tubman had already become a controversial personality: admired and hated, sincere and oppressive, lauded as a patriot and accused of selling the country to foreigners, a chauvinistic defender of Americo-Liberian interests and an ardent supporter of the noble cause national unification. Some authors, such as Robert A. Smith, A. Doris Banks Henries and Lawrence A. Marinelli, devoted eulogies to him, while others such as Albert Porte, Tuan Wreh, Robert W. Clower and Gus J. Liebenow did not attempt to hide their criticism and, in some cases, their disgust at his policies and practices. 

Whatever may be the case, Tubman strongly influenced Liberia’s political and economic performance during the second half of the 20th century. Economically, the country could boast of a number of impressive achievements. During the investment boom of the 1950s Liberia even had the fastest growing economy in the world, after Japan. When Tubman died, Liberia had the largest mercantile fleet in the world, it hosted the world’s largest rubber plantation and latex factory, it had become Africa’s main exporter of iron ore and it ranked number 3 on the world list of iron ore exporters. It had attracted more than US $ 1 billion of foreign investments including the largest Swedish investment abroad after 1945 as well as the largest German investment in Africa - at that time.

Simultaneously, however, economic development and education of more and more people also increasingly unlashed political forces that had been suppressed during more than one century. Tubman had acknowledged these dangers on more than one occasion. Events in the 1980s, the oppressive reign of Liberia’s first tribal president, Samual K. Doe, and the 1990s, the brutal civil war that raged the country followed by the terror of President Charles Taylor’s regime, tragically confirmed his predictions. Unfortunately, these political developments also destroyed the economic achievements. 

© fpm van der kraaij

Source: Fred van der Kraaij, ‘The Open Door Policy of Liberia – An Economic History of Modern Liberia’ (Bremen, 1983).


  • Banks, A. Doris – Henries, ‘A Biography of President William V.S. Tubman’ (London, 1967).
  • Banks, A. Doris – Henries, ‘Liberia’s Fulfillment: Achievement of the Republic of Liberia During the Administration of President William V.S.Tubman 1944 – 1969’ (Monrovia, 1969).
  • Banks, A. Doris – Henries, ‘Presidents of the First African Republic’ (London, 1963).
  • Clower, Robert W., Dalton, George, Mitchell, Harwitch, Walters, A.A., ‘Growth without Development - An Economic Survey of Liberia’ (Evanston, 1966).
  • Holsoe, Svend E., ‘The Ancestry of the President of Liberia, William V.S.Tubman’, in: The Liberian Studies Journal, Vol. II, number 1, 1969, pp. 9-15 (Greencastle, 1969).
  • Liebenow, Gus J., ‘Liberia’, in: African One-Party States, pp.325-95 by Gwendolen M.Carter, ed. (Ithaca, New York, 1962).
  • Liebenow, Gus J., ‘Liberia – The Evolution of Privilege’ (Ithaca, London, 1979).
  • Liebenow, Gus J., ‘Liberia – The Quest for Democracy’ (Bloomington, Indianapolis, 1987).
  • Marinelli, Lawrence A., ‘The New Liberia – A Historical and Political Survey’ (New York, London, 1964).
  • Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism, Annual Report 1968, ’25 Years in Retrospect, 1944 to 1969’, submitted by E. Reginald Townsend, Secretary, Department of Information and Cultural Affairs (Monrovia, 1969).
  • Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism, ‘Liberia… Open Door to Travel and Investment, Profile of William V.S.Tubman, 18th President of Liberia’ (Monrovia, n.y.).
  • Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism, ‘Liberia Remembers – President Tubman’s Diamond Jubilee 1895 – 1970’ (Monrovia, 1979).
  • Porte, Albert, ‘Thoughts on Change’, mimeographed (n.p., 1977) 
  • Smith, Robert A., ‘The Contemporary Economic History of Liberia: Foreign Investment and Development in Liberia’, Liberian Writers Series no 10 (Monrovia, 1971).
  • Smith, Robert A., ‘The Emancipation of the Hinterland’Monrovia, 1964).
  • Smith, Robert A., ‘Meet the President’ (Monrovia, 1968).
  • Smith, Robert A., ‘We Are Obligated – An Interpretive Analysis of Twenty-Five Years of Progressive Leadership’ (Hamburg, 1969).
  • Wreh, Tuan, ‘The Love of Liberty …. The Rule of President William V.S.Tubman in Liberia 1944-1971’ (London, 1976)