The Republic of Liberia is a is a country on the West African coast which was founded, established, colonized, and controlled by citizens of the United States and ex-Caribbean slaves as a colony for former African American slaves and their free black descendants. The African American settlers carried their culture with them to Liberia. The Liberian constitution and flag were modeled after those of the U.S. On January 3, 1848, Joseph Jenkins Roberts, a wealthy, free-born African American from Virginia who settled in Liberia, was elected as Liberia’s first president after the people proclaimed independence from the American Colonization Society (ACS). The country is bordered by Sierra Leone to its west, Guinea to its north and Ivory Coast to its east. It covers an area of 43,000 square miles (111,369 square kilometers) and has a population of 4,503,000 people. English is the official language and over 20 indigenous languages are spoken, representing the numerous tribes who make up more than 95% of the population. The country’s capital and largest city is Monrovia.
Liberia is the only African republic to have self-proclaimed independence without gaining independence through revolt from any other nation, being Africa’s first and oldest modern republic. Liberia maintained and kept its independence during the European colonial era. During World War II, Liberia supported the United States war efforts against Germany and in turn the U.S. invested in considerable infrastructure in Liberia to help its war effort, which also aided the country in modernizing and improving its major air transportation facilities. In addition, President William Tubman encouraged economic changes. Internationally, Liberia was a founding member of the League of Nations, United Nations and the Organisation of African Unity.
The Pepper Coast, also known as the Grain Coast, has been inhabited by indigenous peoples of Africa at least as far back as the twelftth century. Mende-speaking people expanded westward from the Sudan, forcing many smaller ethnic groups southward toward the Atlantic Ocean. The Dei, Bassa, Kru, Gola and Kissi were some of the earliest documented peoples in the area.
This influx was compounded by the decline of the Western Sudanic Mali Empire in 1375 and the Songhai Empire in 1591. Additionally, as inland regions underwent desertification, inhabitants moved to the wetter coast. These new inhabitants brought skills such as cotton spinning, cloth weaving, iron smelting, rice and sorghum cultivation, and social and political institutions from the Mali and Songhai empires. Shortly after the Mane conquered the region, the Vai people of the former Mali Empire immigrated into the Grand Cape Mount County region. The ethnic Kru opposed the influx of Vai, forming an alliance with the Mane to stop further influx of Vai.
People along the coast built canoes and traded with other West Africans from Cap-Vert to the Gold Coast. Arab traders entered the region from the north, and a long-established slave trade took captives to north and east Africa.
Between 1461 and the late seventeenth century, Portuguese, Dutch and British traders had contacts and trading posts in the region. The Portuguese named the area Costa da Pimenta (“Pepper Coast”) but it later came to be known as the Grain Coast, due to the abundance of melegueta pepper grains. European traders would barter commodities and goods with local people.
As early as the period of the American Revolution, many white members of American society thought that African Americans could not succeed in living in their society as free people. Some considered blacks physically and mentally inferior to whites, and others believed that the racism and societal polarization resulting from slavery were insurmountable obstacles for integration of the races. Thomas Jefferson was among those who proposed colonization in Africa: relocating free blacks outside the new nation.
After 1783, the ranks of free blacks expanded markedly. Northern states abolished slavery, some on a schedule of gradual abolition that kept adults enslaved until the 1840s in New York and New Jersey. In addition, some slaveholders were inspired by the ideals of the Revolutionary War and freed their slaves, often by will at the owner’s death. The number of free blacks increased markedly in the South, especially in the Upper South where changing agriculture reduced the need for slave labor. In addition, Quaker, Methodist and Baptist preachers were active in those years encouraging slaveholders to free their slaves. The Northeast states abolished slavery following the war, generally on a graduated basis where it was still economically viable, as in the mid-Atlantic states.
In 1800 and 1802, slave rebellions occurred in Virginia, and were brutally suppressed by slaveholders. Some planters feared that free blacks would encourage slaves to run away or revolt. From 1782–1810, the percentage of free blacks in the Upper South increased from less than one percent to 13.5%. In the nation as a whole, the number of free people of color also increased. In 1790, there were 59,467 free blacks, out of a total U.S. population of almost four million and a total black U.S. population of 800,000. By 1800, there were 108,378 free blacks in a population of 7.2 million. These factors significantly influenced the popularity of the concept of colonization as a solution to the “problem ” of free blacks.
In 1787, Britain had started to resettle the Black Poor of London in the colony of Freetown in modern-day Sierra Leone. Many were Black Loyalists, former American slaves who had been freed in exchange for their services during the American Revolution. The Crown also offered resettlement to former slaves whom they had first resettled in Nova Scotia. The Black Loyalists there found both the discrimination and climate hard to bear. Wealthy African-American shipowner Paul Cuffee thought that colonization was worth supporting. Aided by support from certain members of Congress and British officials, he conveyed 38 American Blacks to Freetown in 1816 at his own expense. He died in 1817, but his private initiative helped arouse public interest in the idea of colonization.
The American Colonization Society was founded in 1816 in Washington, D.C. by Virginia politician Charles F. Mercer and Presbyterian minister Robert Finley of New Jersey who led a group of prominent politicians and slaveholders. Its membership grew to include mostly people who supported abolition of slavery. The goal of the ACS was to settle free blacks outside of the United States by helping them relocate to Africa. Slaveholders wanted to get free people of color out of the South, where they were thought to threaten the stability of the slave societies. Some abolitionists collaborated on relocation of free African Americans, as they were discouraged by racial discrimination against them in the North and believed they would never be accepted in the larger society. Most African-Americans, who were native-born by this time, wanted to work toward justice in the United States rather than emigrate. Leading activists in the North strongly opposed the ACS, but some free African Americans were ready to try a different environment.
The first ship, Mayflower of Liberia (formerly Elizabeth), departed New York on February 6, 1820, for West Africa carrying 88 free black emigrants and three white ACS agents. The agents were to find an appropriate area for a settlement. Additional ACS representatives arrived in the second ACS ship Nautilus. In December 1821, they acquired Cape Mesurado, a 36-mile long strip of land near present-day Monrovia, from the indigenous ruler King Peter perhaps with some threat of force. Between 1821 and 1838, the American Colonization Society developed the first settlement which would become known as Liberia.
From the beginning, the colonists were attacked by indigenous peoples whose territory this was, such as the Malinké tribes. In addition, they suffered from disease, the harsh climate, lack of food and medicine, and poor housing conditions.
Up until 1835, five more colonies were started by American state colonization societies, and one by the U.S. government, all in the area of the ACS settlement. The first colony on Cape Mesurado was extended, along the coast as well as inland, sometimes by use of force against the native tribes. In 1838, these colonies came together to create the Commonwealth of Liberia. Monrovia would be named the capital. In 1841, the Commonwealth’s first black Governor, J.J. Roberts, was appointed.
By the 1840s, the ACS was effectively bankrupt; Liberia had become a financial burden for it. By 1842, four of the other American state colonies were incorporated into Liberia, and one was destroyed by indigenous people. The colonists of African-American descent became known as Americo-Liberians. Many were of mixed-race including European ancestry. They were distinct as African Americans in their education, religion and culture and they did not identify with the indigenous, non-Christian peoples.
In 1846, the ACS directed the Americo-Liberians to proclaim their independence. On July 26, 1847, the settlers issued a Declaration of Independence and promulgated a constitution. Based on the political principles denoted in the United States Constitution, it established the independent Republic of Liberia. It then counted some 3000 settlers. The leadership of the new nation consisted largely of the Americo-Liberians, who initially established political and economic dominance in the coastal areas that had been purchased by the ACS; they maintained relations with United States contacts in developing these areas and the resulting trade. Their passage of the 1865 Ports of Entry Act prohibited foreign commerce with the inland tribes, ostensibly to “encourage the growth of civilized values” before such trade was allowed.
Like many Americans and Europeans of the period, the Americo-Liberian held beliefs in the religious superiority of Protestant Christianity and the cultural power of European civilization over indigenous animism and culture. The Americo-Liberians created communities and social infrastructure closely based on what they knew — American society. They spoke English, and built churches and houses in styles resembling those they were familiar with in the southern United States. Although they never constituted more than five percent of the population of Liberia, they controlled key resources that allowed them to dominate the local native peoples: access to the ocean, modern technical skills, literacy and higher levels of education, and valuable relationships with many United States institutions, including the American government.
Reflecting the system of racial segregation in the United States, the Americo-Liberians created a cultural and racial caste system with themselves at the top and indigenous Liberians at the bottom. They believed in a form of “racial equality” which meant that all residents of Liberia had the potential to become “civilized” through western-style education and conversion to Christianity.
Prior to independence, the transmission of letters had solely been carried out by private couriers. In fact, a syllable-based system for writing down messages and sending them between villages had been in use by the native population since the second half of the eighteenth century. After the declaration of independence, and due to the many changes in the political, social and economical life that came along with it, the young government soon felt the need to assume control over the mail service, banning any kind of private transport of inland mail.
On January 20, 1850, Liberia signed a postal convention with Great Britain, and the first commercial mail contract for carriage via UK. packet and Liverpool was signed in 1852. Two years later, and armed with a total budget of £500, the first post offices were opened at Monrovia, Buchanan (Grand Bassa) and Greenville (Sinoe), eventually followed by Harper (Cape Palmas).
Liberia’s first postage stamps, lithographed by Dando, Todhunter and Smith, London, were issued in 1860. The set consisted of three stamps, one each of 6 cents, 12 cents and 24 cents in red, blue and green, respectively, and all with the same allegorical design of Liberty: a white woman with shield and lance sitting on a rock, safeguarding a ship with freed slaves approaching the coast. This issue was reprinted several times by T.F. Todhunter, but it remained unchanged until, in 1880, new colors were introduced, also adding two new values to meet a change of postal rates suggested after Liberia had joined the Universal Postal Union on April 1, 1879. Given that these first three stamps were the only available for two decades, they are remarkably scarce on cover.
By 1877, the Americo-Liberian True Whig Party was the most powerful political power in the country. It was made up primarily of people from the Americo-Liberian ethnic group, who maintained social, economic and political dominance well into the twentieth century, repeating patterns of European colonists in other nations in Africa. Competition for office was usually contained within the party; a party nomination virtually ensured election.
Pressure from the United Kingdom, which controlled Sierra Leone to the west, and France with its interests in the north and east led to a loss of Liberia’s claims to extensive territories. Both Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast annexed some territories. Liberia struggled to attract investment in order to develop infrastructure and a larger, industrial economy.
The economy of Liberia was always based on the production of agricultural produce for export. In particular, Liberia’s important coffee industry was destroyed in the 1870s by the emergence of production in Brazil. There was a decline in production of Liberian goods in the late nineteenth century, and the government struggled financially, resulting in indebtedness on a series of international loans. American and other international interests emphasized resource extraction, with rubber production a major industry in the early twentieth century.
New technology available in Europe increasingly drove Liberian shipping companies out of business. Although Roye’s government attempted to procure funding for a railway in 1871, the plan never materialized. The first railway was not built until 1945. From the late nineteenth century, European powers such as the United Kingdom and Germany invested in infrastructure in their African colonies, making them more competitive in terms of getting products to market, and improving communications.
Since the day it was established the Post Office Department had never been properly organized. For most of the time it had, in fact, been under the control of the Treasury Department, with the Collector of Customs in Monrovia acting as Postmaster General. Heavily underfunded and suffering from a lack of interest by the person in charge, the situation did not change by much until, in 1892, Arthur Barclay was appointed to the position of Postmaster General. He soon started reorganizing the department, issuing work instructions for the employees and opening new post offices, the most important being the one in Robertsport (Cape Mount).
Henry L. Hayman, Acting Minister Resident in Great Britain since 1891, had already established good contacts with the Liberian administration, when T.F. Todhunter decided to give up his printing firm in 1892. Hayman, having started collecting stamps at the age of eleven, took the opportunity to step in and obtain a contract with the Liberian government making him responsible for design and production of future stamps. His first stamp issue clearly bore the trademark of a philatelist at work: a beautifully designed long pictorial set with values from 1 cent to $5, and produced by one of Britain’s foremost printers, Waterlow and Sons Ltd. The dollar values were issued in small sheets of ten stamps, probably to make them more attractive to collectors.
The national currency, the Liberian dollar, collapsed in 1907. The country was later forced to adopt the United States Dollar. The Liberian government was constantly dependent on foreign loans at high rates of exchange, which endangered the country’s independence.
Starting in 1909, the U.S. became heavily involved in the country. By 1909, Liberia faced serious external threats to its sovereignty from the British over unpaid foreign loans and annexation of its borderlands. In 1912 the U.S. arranged a 40-year international loan of $1.7 million, against which Liberia had to agree to four Western powers (United States, Britain, France and Germany) controlling Liberian Government revenues until 1926.
American administration of the border police stabilized the frontier with Sierra Leone (part of the British Empire) and checked French ambitions to annex more Liberian territory. The American navy established a coaling station in Liberia.
Liberia remained neutral for most of World War I, before joining the war on the Allied side in April 1918. After its declaration of war, Liberia expelled its resident German merchants. As they constituted the country’s largest investors and trading partners, Liberia suffered economically as a result.
In 1926, the Liberian government gave a concession to the American rubber company Firestone to start the world’s largest rubber plantation at Harbel, Liberia. At the same time, Firestone arranged a $5 million private loan to Liberia. This industry created 25,000 jobs, and rubber quickly became the backbone of the Liberian economy; in the 1950s, rubber accounted for 40 percent of the national budget.
During the 1930s Liberia signed concession agreements with Dutch, Danish, German and Polish investors in what has been described as an “open door” economic policy. By the end of the decade, Liberia was again virtually bankrupt. After some United States pressure, it agreed to an assistance plan from the League of Nations. As part of this plan, two key officials of the League were placed in positions to “advise” the Liberian government.
During World War II, the United States made major infrastructure improvements to support its military efforts in Africa and Europe. It built the Freeport of Monrovia and Roberts International Airport under the Lend-Lease program before its entry into the world war. During the war. thousands of indigenous Liberians migrated from the nation’s rural interior to the coastal regions in search of jobs. The Liberian Government had long opposed this kind of migration, but was no longer able to restrain it. In the decades after 1945, the Liberian government received hundreds of millions of dollars of unrestricted foreign investment, which destabilized the Liberian economy. Government revenue rose enormously, but was being grossly embezzled by government officials. Growing economic disparities caused increased hostility between indigenous groups and Americo-Liberians.
After the war, President William Tubman encouraged foreign investment in the country. Liberia had the second-highest rate of economic growth in the world during the 1950s.
Liberia also began to take a more active role in international affairs. It was a founding member of the United Nations in 1945 and became a vocal critic of the South African apartheid regime. Liberia also served as a proponent both of African independence from the European colonial powers and of Pan-Africanism, and helped to fund the Organisation of African Unity.
Between 1946 and 1960, exports of natural resources such as iron, timber and rubber rose strongly. In 1971, Liberia had the world’s largest rubber industry, and was the third largest exporter of iron ore. Since 1948, ship registrations have been another important source of state revenue.
From 1962 until 1980, the U.S. donated $280 million in aid to Liberia, in exchange for which Liberia offered its land free of rent for U.S. government facilities. Throughout the 1970s, the price of rubber in the world commodities market was depressed, putting pressure on Liberian state finances.
On April 12, 1980, a military coup led by Master Sergeant Samuel Doe of the Krahn ethnic group overthrew and killed President William R. Tolbert, Jr.. Doe and the other plotters later executed a majority of Tolbert’s cabinet and other Americo-Liberian government officials and True Whig Party members. The coup leaders formed the People’s Redemption Council (PRC) to govern the country. A strategic Cold War ally of the West, Doe received significant financial backing from the United States while critics condemned the PRC for corruption and political repression.
After Liberia adopted a new constitution in 1985, Doe was elected president in subsequent elections, which were internationally condemned as fraudulent. On November 12, 1985, a failed counter-coup was launched by Thomas Quiwonkpa, whose soldiers briefly occupied the national radio station. Government repression intensified in response, as Doe’s troops retaliated by executing members of the Gio and Mano ethnic groups in Nimba County.
The National Patriotic Front of Liberia, a rebel group led by Charles Taylor, launched an insurrection in December 1989 against Doe’s government with the backing of neighboring countries such as Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast. This triggered the First Liberian Civil War. By September 1990, Doe’s forces controlled only a small area just outside the capital, and Doe was captured and executed in that month by rebel forces.
The rebels soon split into various factions fighting one another. The Economic Community Monitoring Group under the Economic Community of West African States organized a military task force to intervene in the crisis. From 1989 to 1996 one of Africa’s bloodiest civil wars broke out, claiming the lives of more than 200,000 Liberians and displacing a million others into refugee camps in neighboring countries. A peace deal between warring parties was reached in 1995, leading to Taylor’s election as president in 1997.
Under Taylor’s leadership, Liberia became internationally known as a pariah state due to its use of blood diamonds and illegal timber exports to fund the Revolutionary United Front in the Sierra Leone Civil War. The Second Liberian Civil War began in 1999 when Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, a rebel group based in the northwest of the country, launched an armed insurrection against Taylor.
In March 2003, a second rebel group, Movement for Democracy in Liberia, began launching attacks against Taylor from the southeast. Peace talks between the factions began in Accra in June of that year, and Taylor was indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for crimes against humanity the same month. By July 2003, the rebels had launched an assault on Monrovia. Under heavy pressure from the international community and the domestic Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace movement.
Taylor resigned in August 2003 and went into exile in Nigeria. A peace deal was signed later that month. The United Nations Mission in Liberia began arriving in September 2003 to provide security and monitor the peace accord, and an interim government took power the following October. The subsequent 2005 elections were internationally regarded as the most free and fair in Liberian history. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Harvard-trained economist and former Minister of Finance, was elected as the first female president in Africa. Upon her inauguration, Sirleaf requested the extradition of Taylor from Nigeria and transferred him to the SCSL for trial in The Hague.
In 2006, the government established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address the causes and crimes of the civil war.
Scott #CB4 — an airpost semi-postal stamp — was released by Liberia on June 21, 1954, denominated 10 cents with a 5-cent surtax meant for the Liberian Government Hospital in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County. The carmine and black stamp is lithographed and engraved. This variety is perforated 12 but also exists imperforate. Nurses are pictured taking an oath. The full set for this series includes Scott #B19 and #CB4-6.