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History of Liberia

Portuguese explorers established contacts with the land later known as "Liberia" as early as 1461 and named the area the Grain Coast because of the abundance of grains of malegueta pepper. In 1663 the British installed trading posts on the Grain Coast, but the Dutch destroyed these posts a year later. No further known "European" settlements occurred along the Grain Coast until the arrival of freed American blacks after 1820.

Liberia, which means "Land of the Free", was founded by freed slaves from the United States under the supervision of the American Colonization Society (q.v.) in 1820. These Americo-Liberians established a settlement in Christopolis, soon renamed Monrovia, after U.S. ex-president James Monroe, president of the Society, on February 6, 1820. This group of 86 immigrants formed the nucleus of the settler population of what became known as the "Republic of Liberia".

The idea of resettling free slaves in Africa was nurtured by the American Colonization Society (ACS), an organization that governed the Commonwealth of Liberia until independence. Thousands of free blacks from America arrived during the following years leading to the formation of more settlements and culminating on July 26, 1847 in a declaration of independence of the Republic of Liberia. The style of government and constitution was said to be fashioned on that of the United States. The new Republic of Liberia adopted other American styles of life, including southern plantation-style houses with deep verandahs, and established thriving trade links with other West Africans. The Americo-Liberians distinguished themselves from the local people, characterized as 'natives,' by the universal appelation of "Mr." as any Liberian historical document demonstrates.

The formation of the Republic of Liberia did not occur altogether without difficulty. Almost from the beginning, the settlers periodically encountered stiff opposition from local tribesmen, usually resulting in bloody battles. On the other hand, colonial expansionists encroached on the newly-independent Liberia and took over much of the original territory of independent Liberia by force.

The first Americo-Liberian leader to emerge was Mr. Joseph Jenkins Roberts, who was born and raised in America. He became Liberia's first President and served several terms. The Americo-Liberians have never constituted above five percent of the population of Liberia; however, for over one hundred years, the Americo-Liberians reserved within the group all political and economic leadership. Under the name of the True Whig Party, the Americo-Liberians subdued indigenous tribes in Liberia and permitted no organized political opposition.

Liberia's history until 1980 was largely peaceful. For 133 years after independence, the Republic of Liberia was a one-party state ruled by the Americo-Liberian-dominated True Whig Party (TWP). In 1944, a charismatic politician, Mr. William Tubman became president of Liberia. He ruled for seven terms until he died in 1971, permitting no participation outside the Americo-Liberian True Whigs, but maintained a reputation for honesty. His deputy, Mr. William Tolbert (Junior) was appointed to succeed him. By 1979 irrepressible press reports (from outside Liberia) were circulating to the effect that the Tolbert family controlled a monopoly of rice imports, a situation that led to the rice riots of 1979, repressed by the government with a toll of fifty dead.

The beginning of the end came in 1978 when a young Liberian, Baachus Matthews announced the formation of an opposition political party in the country.

The True Whig Party dominated all sectors of Liberia from independence until April 12, 1980 when indigenous Liberian Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe, from the Krahn ethnic group, seized power in a coup d'état. Doe's forces executed President William R. Tolbert, Jr and several officials of his government, mostly of Americo-Liberian descent. As a result, 133 years of Americo-Liberian political domination ended with the formation of the People's Redemption Council (PRC).

Seven years of civil strife came to an end in 1996 with the holding of free and open presidential and legislative elections. As of 2003 President Charles Taylor holds strong executive power with no real political opposition. The years of fighting, coupled with the flight of most businesses, has disrupted formal economic activity. A still-unsettled domestic security situation has slowed the process of rebuilding the social and economic structure of this war-torn country.

In July 2003, a conflict between forces loyal to President Taylor and foreign backed rebel groups began. Despite international pressure to cease hostilities, the conflict has been escalating. The capital Monrovia has come under grenade fire, killing many civilians. Thousands of people have been displaced from their homes as a result of the conflict.

The United States of America has sent special forces troops to bolster security around their embassy in Monrovia, which has come under attack. The U.S. government is also considering sending a larger peacekeeping force to the region, but no commitment has been made.

See also : Liberia, American Colonization Society