|19th President of Liberia|
3 January 1944 – 23 July 1971
|Vice President||Clarence Simpson (1944-1952)
William R. Tolbert, Jr. (1952-1971)
|Preceded by||Edwin Barclay|
|Succeeded by||William R. Tolbert, Jr.|
|Born||William Vacanarat Shadrach Tubman
29 November 1895
|Died||23 July 1971
|Political party||True Whig|
He is regarded as the "father of modern Liberia"; his presidency was marked by the influx of foreign investment in his country and its modernization. During his tenure, Liberia experienced a period of prosperity. He also led a policy of national unity in order to reduce the social and political differences between his fellow Americo-Liberians and the indigenous Liberians. However, further into his years in power, his way of governing became increasingly authoritarian.
Youth and early political career
William Tubman was born November 29, 1895, in Harper, Liberia. Tubman's father, the Reverend Alexander Tubman, was a stonemason, general in the Liberian army and a former Speaker of the Liberian House of Representatives, as well as a Methodist preacher. A strict disciplinarian, He required his five children to attend daily family prayer services and sleep on the floor because, he thought, beds were too soft and therefore "degrading to character development." Tubman's mother, Elizabeth Rebecca Barnes Tubman, was from Atlanta, Georgia. Alexander Tubman's parents, Sylvia and William Shadrach Tubman, were part of a group of 69 slaves freed and sent to Liberia by Emily Tubman, a philanthropic widow living in Augusta, Georgia, in 1844. Emily Tubman had been instrumental in the manumission and repatriation of African slaves. Initially, she was met with great difficulty freeing her slaves in ante-bellum Georgia. Despite appeals to the Georgia State Legislature and financial donations to the University of Georgia, her efforts at manumission remained blocked. Mrs. Tubman sought the help of her friend and mentor, Henry Clay, who was president of the American Colonization Society, which sought to find suitable places for ex-slaves. Clay was able to assure her that sending her slaves to Liberia would be a safe option. They took the name Tubman after arriving in the country, naming their community Tubman Hill.
Tubman, the second son, went to primary school in Harper, then the Methodist Cape Palmas Seminary, and finally Harper County High School. He participated in several military operations from 1910 and 1917, rising from a private to become an officer. Tubman first planned to be a preacher and was named, at age 19, a Methodist lay pastor. After studying law under various private tutors, he passed the bar examination and became a lawyer in 1917. Subsequently, he served as a recorder in the Maryland County Monthly and Probate Court a tax collector, teacher, and even a colonel in a militia. He also attended Freemason lodges of the Prince Hall Freemasonry
Having joined the True Whig Party (TWP), the dominating party of Liberia since 1878, Tubman began his career in politics. In 1923, aged 28, he was elected to the Senate of Liberia from Maryland County, holding the record as the youngest senator in the history of Liberia. Labeling himself the "Convivial Cannibal from the Downcoast Hinterlands," he fought for constitutional rights for the indigenous tribal groups that were the majority of Liberians.
Re-elected to his post in 1929, Tubman became, while a Senator, the legal adviser to then-vice president Allen Yancy. He resigned from the Senate in 1931 to defend Liberia before the League of Nations amid allegations that his country was using slave labor. However, Tubman was reelected to the national legislature in 1934, though he resigned in 1937 when President Edwin Barclay appointed him associate justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, a post he held until 1943. An official biography speculates that Tubman's elevation to the Liberian Supreme Court was created to prevent him from actively seeking the presidency.
The new president of Liberia
In December 1942, Liberia was faced with the question of the succession of President Edwin Barclay. Six candidates then applied, including two favorites: Tubman and Foreign Minister Clarence L. Simpson. Without much opposition from Simpson, Tubman was elected president on May 4, 1943, at the age of 48, and was inaugurated January 3, 1944.
While Liberia's ally, the United States, had already used Liberia as a military base, it was not until January 27, 1944, that Liberia renounced its neutrality and declared war on Germany and Japan. In April 1944, Liberia signed the Declaration by United Nations.
Severing diplomatic relations with Germany and expelling all German citizens from Liberia was a difficult decision for Liberia to make for several reasons: (1) German merchants in Liberia ran the Liberian economy; (2) Germany was Liberia's major trading partner; and (3), most of the doctors in Liberia were Germans. Despite these consideration, the Liberian government agreed to expel all German residents and declare the full might of the Liberian economy against Nazi Germany and the Axis powers.
In foreign policy, Tubman aligned himself with the US (in June 1944, he and Edwin Barclay traveled to the White House to be guests of President Franklin D. Roosevelt — the first African heads of state to have this happen.) He also strengthened ties among fellow Africans by participating in the Asian-African Conference of 1955 and the First Conference of Independent African States in Accra, organized by Kwame Nkrumah in 1958. In 1959, Tubman organized the Second Conference of African States.
In 1961, following a Pan-African conference held in Monrovia, Tubman helped in the founding of the group of Monrovia. This association of "moderate" African leaders worked for gradual unification of Africa, unlike the "revolutionary" group of Casablanca.
The "father of modern Liberia"
The modernizer of Liberia
Upon Tubman's succession to the Supreme Court, infrastructure in Liberia was virtually non-existent. Tubman explained this situation by the fact that Liberia never received "benefits of colonization". To remedy this problem, he decided to set up an economic policy, called the "porte ouverte" ("open door") policy. Working to facilitate and encourage foreign businesses to locate in Liberia, this policy was very successful, and between 1944 and 1970, the value of foreign investments, mainly American, increased two hundredfold. From 1950-1960, Liberia experienced an average annual growth of 11.5%.
This economic success for Liberia allowed Tubman to begin its modernization: the streets of Monrovia were paved, a public sanitation system was created, hospitals were built, and a literacy program was launched in 1948. Tubman built several thousand kilometers of roads and established a railway line to connect the iron mines to the coast. During this period, he transformed the Port of Monrovia into a free port.
Regarded as a pro-Western, stabilizing influence in West Africa, Tubman was courted by many Western politicians, notably U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson. Meanwhile, Tubman courted Amy Ashwood Garvey, and had a long-term relationship with her.
A gunman attempted to assassinate Tubman in 1955 at the behest of his political opponents, after which he cracked down brutally on any known opposition politicians.
Tubman's term is best known for the policies of National Unification and the economic Open Door. He tried to reconcile the interests of the native tribes with those of the Americo-Liberian elite, and increased foreign investment in Liberia to stimulate economic growth. These policies led to the crowning achievement of the Liberian economy during the 1950s, when it had the second largest rate of economic growth in the world. At his death in 1971 in a London clinic, Liberia had the largest mercantile fleet in the world, the world's largest rubber industry, the third largest exporter of iron ore in the world and had attracted more than US$1 billion in foreign investment. He was succeeded as President by his long-time vice president William Tolbert. The economic prosperity of Liberia at this time would unleash political dissent with the autocratic rule of Tubman and the True Whig Party, leading to the overthrow of the True Whig oligarchy in 1980 by Samuel Doe. This would also destroy the economic prosperity of Liberia's golden age.
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