President of Liberia
|President of the
Republic of Liberia
|Term length||Six years, renewable once|
|Inaugural holder||Joseph Jenkins Roberts
January 3, 1848
|Formation||Constitution of Liberia
July 26, 1847
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
The President of the Republic of Liberia is the head of state and government of Liberia. The president serves as the leader of the executive branch and as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia.
Prior to the independence of Liberia in 1847, executive power in the Commonwealth of Liberia was held by the Governor of Liberia, who was appointed by the American Colonization Society. The 1847 Constitution transferred the executive powers of the governorship to the presidency, which was largely modeled on the presidency of the United States.
Between 1847 and 1980, the presidency was exclusively held by Americo-Liberians, the original American settlers of Liberia and their descendants. The original two-party system, with the Republican Party and the True Whig Party, ended in 1878, when the election of Anthony W. Gardiner marked the beginning of 102 years of single-party rule by the True Whigs. Following a coup d'état by disgruntled army officers led by Samuel Doe in 1980, the presidency was vacated until the election of Doe in the 1985 general election. After the overthrow of Doe in 1990, the presidency was again vacated for seven years during the First Liberian Civil War and again for two years following the conclusion of the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003.
Under the 1986 Constitution, the president is directly elected by eligible voters to a six-year term, which may be renewed once. Overall, 22 individuals have served as president. On January 16, 2006, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was sworn in as the twenty-fourth and current president, making her the first elected female president in Africa.
Following the establishment of the Commonwealth of Liberia in 1838, executive power was vested in the Governor of Liberia, who was appointed and served at the pleasure of the American Colonization Society. The first governor, Thomas Buchanan, served from 1838 until his death in 1841. He was succeeded by Joseph Jenkins Roberts, the first black governor of Liberia.
Upon independence in 1847, Roberts was elected as the first president of Liberia. The 1847 Constitution denied suffrage to the indigenous population by requiring voters to own real estate. As a result, the presidency was exclusively held by Americo-Liberians until 1980, when a military coup led by Samuel Doe, an ethnic Krahn, overthrew and assassinated President William Tolbert.
The presidency was vacant from 1980 to 1986, with executive power held by Doe as the head of the People's Redemption Council. Doe was later elected president in the 1985 general election, making him the first president outside of the Americo-Liberian elite. Doe was later overthrown and executed in 1990 following the commencement of the First Liberian Civil War, during which the presidency remained vacant.
Following the 1997 general election, Charles Taylor held the presidency until his resignation on August 11, 2003 as part of a peace deal to end the Second Liberian Civil War. His successor, Moses Blah, ceded executive power on October 13 of that year to Gyude Bryant, the Chairman of the National Transitional Government of Liberia. The presidency was resumed on January 16, 2006 following the 2005 election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as the first female president.
Powers and Duties
The presidency of Liberia is largely modeled on the presidency of the United States.
The 1986 Constitution gives the president the power to appoint all cabinet ministers, judges, ambassadors, sheriffs, county officials and military officers with the advice and consent of the Senate. Additionally, the president has the power to dismiss all appointees from office at his or her discretion. The president may also grant pardons or revoke sentences and fines. The president conducts all matters of foreign policy, though any treaties or international agreements must be ratified by both houses of the Legislature. Furthermore, the president serves as the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia.
The Constitution also grants the president the power to declare a state of emergency during times of war or civil unrest and suspend civil liberties during the emergency as necessary, with the exception of habeas corpus. Within seven days of the declaration, the president must state to the Legislature the reasons for the declaration, which both houses must then approve by a two-thirds majority. Otherwise, the president must repeal the state of emergency.
The president must sign all legislation passed by the House of Representatives and Senate. The president may choose to veto any legislation, which may be overturned by a two-thirds majority in both houses. Additionally, the president may exercise a pocket veto by refusing to sign legislation when the end of the twenty-day deadline for signing the bill falls during a recess of the legislature. The president may extend a legislative session past its adjournment date or call a special extraordinary session when he or she deems it necessary in the national interest. The president must also give an annual report to the Legislature on the state of the country.
To be eligible for office under the current Constitution, a presidential candidate must:
- be a natural born citizen of Liberia;
- be at least thirty-five years old;
- own real property valued at least $25,000;
- have resided in Liberia for at least ten years.
Term and election
Under the original 1847 Constitution, the president was elected to a two-year term, which was increased to four years on May 7, 1907. Under this amendment, a new president would serve for eight years and could be re-elected to unlimited four-year terms. During the presidency of William R. Tolbert, Jr., the Constitution was amended to restrict the president to a single eight-year term; by 1976, voices in the Legislature were being raised in favor of returning to the previous system, but Tolbert proclaimed his support for the existing system and vowed to veto any constitutional amendments to remove term limits.
Currently, the president is elected by popular vote to a six-year term and is limited to two terms. Under the 1986 Constitution, presidential elections utilize a two-round system, wherein a second round of voting is held between the two candidates with the highest number of votes if no single candidate obtains a majority in the first round. Each term begins and ends on the first January 16 after presidential elections are held. At the time of their inauguration, each president is required under the Constitution to take a presidential oath promising to preserve and defend the Constitution and faithfully execute the law. The oath is administered by the Chief Justice of Liberia in front of a joint session of the Legislature.
The President of Liberia resides and works out of the Executive Mansion in the capital of Monrovia. Located across the street from the Capitol Building in the Capitol Hill district, the current building was constructed during the presidency of William Tubman.
List of Presidents of Liberia
|Took office||Left office||Party||Term
|1||Joseph Jenkins Roberts
|January 3, 1848||January 7, 1856||Independent||1.
|Anthony D. Williams|
|Stephen Allen Benson|
|2||Stephen Allen Benson
|January 7, 1856||January 4, 1864||Independent||5.
|Beverly Page Yates|
|Daniel Bashiel Warner|
|3||Daniel Bashiel Warner
|January 4, 1864||January 6, 1868||Republican Party||9.
|James M. Priest|
|4||James Spriggs Payne
|January 6, 1868||January 3, 1870||Republican Party||11.
|5||Edward James Roye
|January 3, 1870||October 26, 1871||True Whig Party||12.
|James Skivring Smith|
|6||James Skivring Smith
|October 26, 1871||January 1, 1872||True Whig Party||Vacant
(October 26, 1871 - January 1, 1872)
|7||Joseph Jenkins Roberts
|January 1, 1872||January 3, 1876||Republican Party||13.
|Anthony W. Gardiner|
|8||James Spriggs Payne
|January 3, 1876||January 7, 1878||Republican Party||15.
|9||Anthony W. Gardiner
|January 7, 1878||January 20, 1883||True Whig Party||16.
|Alfred Francis Russell|
|10||Alfred Francis Russell
|January 20, 1883||January 7, 1884||True Whig Party||Vacant
(January 20, 1883 - January 7, 1884)
|11||Hilary R. W. Johnson
|January 7, 1884||January 4, 1892||True Whig Party||19.
|12||Joseph James Cheeseman
|January 4, 1892||November 12, 1896||True Whig Party||23.
|William D. Coleman|
|13||William D. Coleman
|November 12, 1896||December 11, 1900||True Whig Party||Vacant
(November 12, 1896 - January 3, 1898)
|Joseph J. Ross|
(1900 - January 3, 1902)
|14||Garretson W. Gibson
|December 11, 1900||January 4, 1904||True Whig Party|
|Joseph D. Summerville|
|January 4, 1904||January 1, 1912||True Whig Party||29.
(July 27, 1905 - January 1, 1906)
|J. J. Dossen|
|16||Daniel Edward Howard
|January 1, 1912||January 5, 1920||True Whig Party||32.
|Samuel George Harmon|
|17||Charles D. B. King
|January 5, 1920||December 3, 1930||True Whig Party||34.
|Samuel Alfred Ross|
|Henry Too Wesley|
|December 3, 1930||January 3, 1944||True Whig Party||James Skivring Smith, Jr.|
|January 3, 1944||July 23, 1971||True Whig Party||39.
|Clarence Lorenzo Simpson|
|William R. Tolbert, Jr.|
|20||William R. Tolbert, Jr.
|July 23, 1971||April 12, 1980||True Whig Party||Vacant
(July 23, 1971 - April 1972)
|James Edward Greene|
(July 22, 1977 - October 31, 1977)
|Bennie Dee Warner|
|Vacant||April 12, 1980||January 6, 1986|
|January 6, 1986||September 9, 1990||National Democratic Party||47.
|Vacant||September 9, 1990||August 2, 1997|
|August 2, 1997||August 11, 2003||National Patriotic Party||48.
(June 24, 2000 - July 24, 2000)
|August 11, 2003||October 14, 2003||National Patriotic Party||Vacant
(August 11, 2003 - October 14, 2003)
|Vacant||October 14, 2003||January 16, 2006|
|24||Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
|January 16, 2006||Incumbent||Unity Party||49.
- Left office early:
- [A] Assassinated in a coup d'etat.
- [D] Died in office of natural causes.
- [R] Resigned.
Interim and Non-Presidential Heads of State
|No.||Head of State
|Position||Took office||Left office||Party|
|Chairman of the People's Redemption Council||April 12, 1980||January 6, 1986||Military / National Democratic Party|
|—||Dr. Amos Sawyer
|President of the Interim Government of National Unity||November 22, 1990||March 7, 1994||Liberian People's Party|
|1||David D. Kpormakpor
|Chairman of the Council of State||March 7, 1994||September 1, 1995||Independent|
|2||Wilton G. S. Sankawulo
|Chairman of the Council of State||September 1, 1995||September 3, 1996||Independent|
|Chairwoman of the Council of State||September 3, 1996||August 2, 1997||Independent|
|Chairman of the National Transitional Government||October 14, 2003||January 16, 2006||Liberian Action Party|
- Starr, Frederick (1913). Liberia: Description, History, Problems. Chicago. p. 256.
- "Pres. Tolbert Says 'No' To Evil Tradition: Vows to Veto Any Amendment To Keep Him In Office". [Monrovia] Sunday Express 1976-03-21: 1/2.
- Johnston, Sir Harry Hamilton; Otto Stapf (1906). Liberia 1. Dodd, Mead & Company. p. 222.
- Massaquoi, Hans J. (October 1971). "Liberia: End of the Tubman Era". Ebony: 48.
- Enno Schulz, "Presidents of Liberia.