The Robinson Library

The Robinson Library >> Liberia
William V. S. Tubman

longest-serving President in Liberian history

William V.S. Tubman

William Vacanarat Shadrach Tubman was born on November 29, 1895, in Harper, Maryland County, Liberia, of Americo-Liberian parents. He attended primary school in Harper, the Methodist Cape Palmas Seminary, and Harper County High School. From 1910 to 1917, he took part in several punitive military expeditions, rising from private to officer status. After his military tour he studied law under private tutors.

Early Political Career

Tubman began his political career as a recorder in the Maryland County Monthly and Probate Court. He subsequently served as a collector of internal revenue, and in 1917 was appointed Maryland County Attorney. In 1923 he was elected to represent Maryland County in the Liberian Senate, where he served until 1937. During his tenure he became a champion of the indigenous tribes of the Liberian interior. He left the Senate when President Edwin Barclay named him to the Liberian Supreme Court, where he served until becoming President.

President of Liberia

By 1943 Tubman had become such a well-known and popular figure that President Barclay personally nominated Tubman to succeed him. Elected President in 1943, Tubman was subsequently re-elected in 1951, 1955, 1959, 1963, 1967, and 1971. Although he had opposition in every election, none of his opponents ever captured much more than a very small percentage of the vote.

One of President Tubman's first acts was to declare war against Nazi Germany and Japan. Liberia became an important part of the Allied supply line when the U.S. constructed the Free Port of Monrovia and built a temporary landing strip on the beaches of Robertsport.

Economic Rejuvenation

After the war, Tubman turned his attention to improving his country's economic condition. He opened Liberia to foreign investment, which in turn allowed him to encourage and develop the nation's fledgling iron ore and rubber industries. Liberia also joined the growing list of nations which allowed ocean-going vessels to be registered under their respective flags. By 1951, Liberia was financially solvent for the first time in its history, thanks in most part to these ventures. And, during the 1950's Liberia had the fastest growing economy in the world, after Japan.

New Capital

Revenue from Liberia's iron ore and rubber industries financed the development of Monrovia, the capital city. Construction of a new Capitol was begun in 1949, a hydroelectric plant was built on the St. Paul River, water and sewage systems were completed, and roads and highways were developed. Within a few short years Monrovia had become one of the most modern cities in all of Africa.

Educational Improvements

Tubman also worked to improve the state of Liberia's educational system. Under his guidance the Liberia College was expanded and became the University of Liberia; teacher training schools were established to insure that those teaching Liberia's children were themselves well educated; a domestic arts school and a commercial school were established; and agricultural stations were placed throughout the country to help farmers learn about new seeds and farming techniques.

Equality for Indigenous Peoples

As President, Tubman did much to improve the standard of living of Americo-Liberians, those people descended from the original colonists. But he didn't forget that there was a substantial population of indigenous peoples within Liberia's borders. A champion of these people in the Senate, he continued to be a champion of them during his presidency. Indigenous peoples were given legal rights equal to those enjoyed by Americo-Liberians. In order to encourage tribesmen to participate in the governmental process he saw to it that all inland counties (most of which had indigenous majorities) became fully represented in the Congress, and then encouraged tribal peoples to participate. To make their participation easier he saw to it that roads and other infrastructure in the interior regions were upgraded, and that the interior regions enjoyed the same educational opportunities as those provided in the metropolitan areas. In addition, women were given the right to vote during Tubman's presidency.

Inter-African Cooperation

Throughout his presidency Tubman was a champion of cooperation among the nations of Africa. He was also an outspoken opponent of white rule in Africa.

President Tubman died in a London clinic on July 23, 1971.

Tubman was the longest-serving President in Liberian history. At the time of his death, Liberia had the largest mercantile fleet in the world, hosted the world's largest rubber plantation and latex factory, was Africa's main exporter of iron ore and ranked number 3 in the world, and had attracted more than $1 billion of foreign investments, including the largest Swedish investment abroad and the largest German investment in Africa

Questions or comments about this page?

The Robinson Library >> Liberia

This page was last updated on 09/14/2018.