James Spriggs Payne

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James Spriggs Payne
James Payne2.jpg
4th President of Liberia
In office
January 6, 1868 – January 3, 1870
Vice PresidentJoseph Gibson
Preceded byDaniel Bashiel Warner
Succeeded byEdward James Roye
8th President of Liberia
In office
January 3, 1876 – January 7, 1878
Vice PresidentCharles Harmon
Preceded byJoseph Jenkins Roberts
Succeeded byAnthony W. Gardiner
Personal details
Born(1819-12-19)December 19, 1819
Richmond, Virginia, United States
DiedJanuary 31, 1882(1882-01-31) (aged 62)
Monrovia, Liberia
Political partyRepublican

James Spriggs Payne (December 19, 1819 – January 31, 1882) served as the fourth and eighth President of Liberia, from 1868 to 1870 and from 1876 to 1878.[1] He was the last president to belong to the Republican Party.

Early life[edit]

Payne was born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1819 to free mixed-race parents. Payne grew up in a deeply religious Methodist family and was a devout Christian.[2] His father, David M. Payne, was a Methodist minister and was ordained a deacon by the Virginia Conference in 1824.[3] Payne was noted for having a rather light complexion, with some estimates claiming that he was indeed an octoroon—having seven-eights European ancestry and one-eighth African ancestry. When Payne was ten years old, his family emigrated to Liberia on the ship The Harriet, the same ship as Joseph Jenkins Roberts, Liberia's future first president, under the auspices of the American Colonization Society.[4]

Aside from religion, the young Payne showed interest in politics and economics. He later became a successful writer in these areas.[2] As an adult, he was appointed by the Liberian government to work to complete the severance of Liberia's ties to the American Colonization Society.[2]

Political career[edit]

Payne was elected as the fourth president of Liberia in 1868 and served a single two-year term. During his presidency, he worked to end the slave trade that still took place along Liberia's coast.[2]

Payne improved government relations with the indigenous communities and peoples, whom he believed the newer settlers and politicians had for the most part ignored.[2]

He worked to extend Liberia's trading and political ties with Europe.[5]

Payne was elected a second time in 1876, again serving a single two-year term. Escalating economic difficulties began to weaken the state's dominance over the coastal indigenous population. When the financially burdened ACS withdrew its support from the colony in the years after the American Civil War, conditions worsened as Liberia struggled to modernize its largely agricultural economy. The cost of imported goods was far greater than the income generated by the nation's exports of coffee, rice, palm oil, sugarcane, and timber. As a result, Payne made efforts to increase the country's foreign trade.

Later life and family[edit]

On leaving political office in 1878, Payne continued his lifelong involvement in church work. In 1880, he was the Liberian delegate at the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Cincinnati, Ohio.[2] The next year, he was elected president of the Methodist Annual Conference of Liberia.[2] James Spriggs Payne died in Monrovia in 1882.

Legacy and honors[edit]

  • In January 1882, he was awarded an honorary doctor of divinity degree by Liberia College (now University of Liberia) for his life achievements.[2]
  • Spriggs Payne Airport in the Monrovia area is named after him.
  • Besides Payne's descendants in Liberia, the Krio branch of the Blyden family are descended from Payne through his granddaughter Anna Erskine, who was the partner of Edward Wilmot Blyden.



  • Melton, J. Gordon, A Will to Choose: The origins of African American Methodism, Rowman & Littlefield, 2007, ISBN 0-7425-5265-9
Political offices
Preceded by
Daniel Bashiel Warner
President of Liberia
Succeeded by
Edward James Roye
Preceded by
Joseph Jenkins Roberts
President of Liberia
Succeeded by
Anthony W. Gardiner