William D. Coleman (politician)

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William D. Coleman
William Coleman2.jpg
13th President of Liberia
In office
November 12, 1896 – December 11, 1900
Vice PresidentJoseph J. Ross
Preceded byJoseph James Cheeseman
Succeeded byGarretson W. Gibson
13th Vice President of Liberia
In office
January 4, 1892 – November 12, 1896
PresidentJoseph James Cheeseman
Preceded byJames Thompson
Succeeded byJoseph J. Ross
Personal details
BornJuly 18, 1842
Fayette County, Kentucky, United States
DiedJuly 12, 1908 (aged 65)
Clay-Ashland, Liberia
Political partyTrue Whig

William David Coleman (July 18, 1842 – July 12, 1908) was an American-born Liberian politician. A True Whig Party member, he was the 13th President of Liberia, serving from 1896 to 1900. Immigrating to Liberia in 1853, he worked his way up to election to the House of Representatives and served as Speaker of the House. Later he served in the Senate and then as Vice President before assuming the Presidency when Joseph James Cheeseman died in office.

Early life[edit]

Coleman was born a slave of mixed-race in Fayette County, Kentucky, and he emigrated to Liberia with his family when he was 11 years old. Arriving in 1853, the family consisted of William, his now widowed mother, Ellen, and three others, all settling in Clay-Ashland near Monrovia. Coleman was trained as a carpenter and had other manual labor jobs before becoming a successful trader. Studying at night, he picked up the education he had abandoned as a child when poverty had prevented further schooling.[1]

Political career[edit]

In 1877, he was elected to the House of Representatives to represent Montserrado County, and became the Speaker of the House. Two years later Coleman was elected as a Senator for the same county. He remained in the Senate until he was elected Vice President under Joseph James Cheeseman on the True Whig ticket in 1892. They were re-elected twice to the two-year presidential term, and Coleman became president when President Cheeseman died in office in 1896.[1]

Presidency (1896–1900)[edit]

Cheeseman was the first President of Liberia to die in office, with his death late in 1896. Coleman finished Cheeseman's term and then won a full term in the office as well as re-election. William Coleman centered his policies on three cornerstones: education, finances, and interior policy. As part of this policy he worked with his friend, Dr. Edward Wilmot Blyden, to re-open Liberia College in Monrovia. Other decisions included increasing the national government's power over the interior sections of the country, reorganizing the customs service, and attempts to further advance resource extraction. Coleman was successful in establishing control over the interior region north and west of the Saint Paul River.[1]

Opposition, resignation[edit]

As his term progressed, he faced gradually increasing opposition from the citizenry for his execution of policies concerning the interior and the native tribes. After a falling out with political allies and his own cabinet over his policies placed more pressure on his administration, he resigned from office in December 1900.[1] Coleman's successor was his Secretary of State, Garretson W. Gibson, since the Vice President had already died in office. Under existing succession laws Robert H. Marshall was set to become the President as Speaker of the House, but others felt he was unsuited for the position. The National Legislature then repealed the 1873 succession law and placed Gibson in the office of President.[2]

Later years[edit]

After resigning from the Presidency, Coleman continued to be an active player in Liberian politics. He ran for president three more times (1901, 1903 and 1905) as a member of the People's Party, losing each election. William David Coleman died in 1908 in Clay-Ashland at the age of 65.[1] His son, Samuel Coleman, had a son, Samuel David Coleman, who was also involved in politics and was killed by government forces on June 27, 1955, after accusations of a failed coup.[2]


  • The William D. Coleman High School in Clay-Ashland, Liberia was built in his memory.
  • William D. Coleman is survived by numerous descendants in Liberia and the Liberian diaspora (the Richards & Coleman Family). Notable members of the family include his descendants, NBA player Noah Vonleh and NFL player Tevin Coleman.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "William David Coleman". Daily Observer. September 16, 2005. Archived from the original on September 4, 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-27.
  2. ^ a b "William David Coleman". Liberia: Past and Present of Africa's Oldest Republic. June 16, 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-27.
Political offices
Preceded by
James Thompson
Vice President of Liberia
1892 – 1896
Succeeded by
Joseph J. Ross
Preceded by
Joseph James Cheeseman
President of Liberia
1896 – 1900
Succeeded by
Garretson W. Gibson