Liberia, Relations with

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LIBERIA, RELATIONS WITH. Liberia lies on the western coast of Africa and is the continent's oldest republic. The area is approximately 43,000 square miles, mostly dense tropical rain forest. Nearly the entire population is indigenous, comprising about twenty ethnic groups. Two percent belong to the Americo-Liberian elite, descended from liberated slaves and black American freedmen repatriated to Africa in the nineteenth century through the efforts of the American Colonization Society.

Since the founding of Liberia in 1822, the United States has maintained a policy of relative detachment. The colony declared itself independent in 1847, but the United States, embroiled in controversy over slavery, withheld recognition until 1862. American naval vessels occasionally assisted Liberian colonists in police actions against recalcitrant indigenes. In 1909 and 1915 the U.S.S. Chester was sent to rescue American missionaries and Liberian officials during Kru rebellions.

Relatively prosperous during the mid-nineteenth century, Liberia became territorially overextended and declined disastrously when faced with European commercial and colonial competition. British and French traders and diplomats reduced Liberian territory by one-third before the United States quietly applied pressure around 1900 to preserve Liberian independence. Germany and even Poland cast covetous eyes on the struggling republic. By 1912 Liberia was badly in default to European creditors, and in return for a loan from the United States agreed to accept American customs officers and a military mission. Heavy investment by the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company in Liberian rubber plantations after 1926 partially alleviated financial strains. The United States suspended diplomatic relations from 1930 to 1935 over alleged forced labor abuses and cooperated with Liberian and League of Nations authorities in investigating the charges. United States influence peaked during World War II when the Liberian capital, Monrovia, became a major supply depot. Exports of high-grade iron ore began to revolutionize the country in the 1960s. European and Asian influence and capital now compete heavily with American.

The Liberian constitution replicates the U.S. form: a bicameral legislature with the lower house apportioned somewhat according to the population in nine counties and four territories. Legislative and judicial branches have atrophied and power has been concentrated in the executive, especially under President William V. S. Tubman (1944–1971). Tubman's National Unification Plan, supposed to close the gap between the oligarchy and indigenous peoples, was only a marginal success.


Chester, Edward W. Clash of Titans: Africa and U.S. Foreign Policy. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1974.

Duignan, Peter, and Lewis H. Gann. The United States and Africa: A History. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

Ronald W.Davis/a. g.

See alsoAfrica, Relations with ; African Americans ; Slavery .

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Liberia, Relations with

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