William V.S. Tubman Papers, 1904-1992
Shadrach Tubman (1895-1971), nineteenth
president of Liberia, was born November 29, 1895 in Harper City,
County, Liberia to
Alexander Tubman and Elizabeth Rebecca Barnes
Tubman. His paternal grandparents, manumitted slaves, were repatriates who
in 1837 had immigrated from Georgia (USA) to the Maryland Colony in Africa. Tubman received his education at
Government Elementary School in Harper City and the Cape Palmas Methodist Seminary. He
began his political career in 1912 as an assistant in Probate
Court, going on to serve in Harper City as a Councilman and teacher from 1914-1917. During this period Tubman also read law under the
tutelage of Senator Monroe Cummings. He was admitted into the
bar in 1917 and appointed County Attorney. He became
Inspector of Internal Revenue in 1919. He was elected to the
Liberian Senate from Maryland
County in 1923, serving until 1937 at which time President
Edwin J. Barclay appointed him to be Associate Justice of the
Supreme Court of Liberia. Tubman left the Supreme Court in 1943 to run for the presidency. His campaign was successful and
he succeeded Edwin J. Barclay as president in January 1944. Clarence L. Simpson, Sr. served as his first vice president.
As Liberia’s longest serving
president, Tubman’s presidency was marked by great changes in the economy, politics
and social environment of Liberia
and the African continent. Scholars divide the Tubman presidency into three
periods. During the first period (1944-1955), he made
successful efforts to bring loyal personal and political supporters into the government.
As a Monrovia outsider he
created a new political base of indigenous Liberians and disaffected members of the
political elite. He also began to implement the policies that would characterize his
presidency: the pursuit of national unification through accelerated assimilation of
indigenous Liberians into the mainstream of an essentially repatriate-created society;
advocacy of his Open Door Policy for foreign economic involvement in development; and
diplomatically aligning with the Western countries in their East/West power
During the second period (1955-1968), Tubman attempted
to modernize the country’s economic and social institutions. The right to vote had been
extended earlier to indigenous citizens, although a restrictive property clause was
maintained. By 1964 a series of administrative reforms
included the transformation of the former hinterland provinces to county status,
dividing Liberia into nine
counties—the original five coastal counties, plus four new interior counties: Lofa, Bong, Nimba and Grand Gedeh. The coastal and interior
regions had been separated by lack of roads, disparities in education, means of
communication and even by different laws. This reorganization was designed to remove
distinctions between the coast and interior and to advance the goal of greater national
integration of the indigenous peoples.
Although the legacy of the past still reflected differences in education, lifestyle and
worldview between inhabitants of the coast and the interior, educational and political
opportunities began to make inroads into the interior during the 1960s. These major
internal political reforms brought representational parity between approximately 30,000
repatriates and one million indigenes, but the historic economic ascendancy of the
repatriates and the absolute political power by the presidency still remained.
Through his Open Door policy Tubman continued to facilitate
and encourage foreign businesses to locate and invest in Liberia, including major companies such as the
Liberian Mining Company (LMC), the Liberian American Swedish Mineral Company (LAMCO),
Bong Mining Company
and the Firestone
Tire and Rubber Company (already established in the late 1920s).
Concession agreements were signed with over sixty companies, including agricultural and
forestry concerns. Within a period of 25 years, Liberia attracted foreign investments exceeding one billion U.S. dollars.
Although Liberia seemed to benefit
from its phenomenal economic growth during the 1950s and 1960s, this prosperity was not
accompanied with commensurate human development and equity. The Liberian economy
depended on foreign investors who usually exported their unprocessed extracted products
to processing industries in more economically developed countries, depriving Liberia of jobs and revenues that could
have supported a better educational, medical and economic infrastructure. Instead,
national economy developed into a dual system in which the concession sector had little
connection with the rest of the economy.
During the decolonization era President Tubman enjoyed great
international stature as one of Africa’s leading statesmen and. His presidency coincided with Africa’s dramatic
transition from a continent of colonies to a continent of independent states. In 1944 as Tubman began his first term as
President, only four independent states existed in Africa: Egypt, Ethiopia,
South Africa and Liberia. By the time of his death in 1971, there were forty independent African states.
When the British colony of Gold Coast
became the independent country of Ghana in 1957, it set in motion African
attempts to establish the political direction for a re-emerging Africa. Tubman believed in a future
determined through consultations among Africa’s leaders and he favored an organization that featured African
political cooperation and consultation among its leaders, rather than the continental
government model favored by Ghana’s
Kwame Nkrumah. A
series of conferences, including the 1959 Sanniquellie
Conference in Liberia, the
Casablanca Conference in 1961 and a number of smaller
meetings and behind-the-scenes talks ensued. On May 25,
1963, thirty-three independent African countries signed the Charter for the
African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Liberian President
and his Secretary of State, J.
Rudolph Grimes, played key roles in drafting and negotiating the final
foreign policy usually aligned Liberia with the Western countries in Cold War politics, opposing
countries and movements perceived to be leaning towards socialism or communism.
would sometimes, however, associate Liberia’s foreign policy with the non-aligned states, notably on issues
During the third period of the Tubman era, the final years of
his presidency (1968-1971), the country struggled with
economic recession and fiscal stringency. The Tubman administration faced
growing opposition resulting in the intensification of political paternalism.
died on July 23, 1971 in a London clinic following a prostate operation. He
was succeeded by his Vice President, William R. Tolbert, Jr. Tubman was
survived by his wife, Antoinette Louise Padmore Tubman and his
children, including Wilhelmina Tubman-Tucker, William V.
S. Tubman, Jr., William Eli Tubman (deceased) and
John Hilary Tubman.