A debate has arisen in Liberia about the numbering of presidents. This debate came to the forefront when President-elect George Weah labeled himself as the 24th president of the republic in his speech accepting his election win. Many Liberians were understandably confused, as President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Executive Mansion website lists her as the country’s 24th president.
So, who’s right? And why is this even up for debate?
The issue about numbering the presidents is nothing new. It arose around the time of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s election, prompting renowned Liberian historian, D. Elwood Dunn, to co-write a piece aimed at setting the record straight.
To be clear, as of January 22, Liberia will have had only 23 individuals as presidents (Weah included). This is a result of two presidents (Joseph Jenkins Roberts and James Spriggs Payne) serving non-consecutive terms. In their article, Dunn and his co-author said it makes sense to count both the first and second tenures of Roberts and Payne because it is a practice that scholars commonly use, even in the U.S., where the two non-consecutive administrations of Grover Cleveland are counted twice. Dunn also rationalized that this approach makes sense because “both men were presidents at two different periods in Liberian history, with each period constituting a distinct administration.”
Another area of contention that Dunn addressed was a part of Liberian history that is not well understood by most – the events following the overthrow of Pres. Edward J. Roye in 1871. The historian noted that he had “irrefutable historical proof” that Vice President James S. Smith constitutionally succeeded Roye before a subsequent election was held. Therefore, it made sense to count Smith.
More recently, Vice President Moses Blah’s place as a legitimate president has been disputed on social media platforms. However, because he constitutionally succeeded Pres. Charles Taylor after the former rebel leader resigned, Blah is considered a legitimate president within the scope of the constitution, unlike the many interim leaders Liberia had during the war.
It’s certainly clear, then, that George Weah is the 25th president of Liberia. Below is the numbering of Liberia’s presidents.
- Joseph Jenkins Roberts (1848-1856)
- Stephen Allen Benson (1856-1864)
- Daniel Bashiel Warner (1864-1868)
- James Spriggs Payne (1868-1870)
- Edward James Roye (1870-1871)
- James Skirving Smith (1871-1872)
- Joseph Jenkins Roberts (1872-1876)
- James Spriggs Payne (1876-1878)
- Anthony William Gardner (1878-1883)
- Alfred Francis Russell (1883-1884)
- Hilary Richard Wright Johnson (1884-1892)
- Joseph James Cheeseman (1892-1896)
- William David Coleman (1896-1900)
- Garretson Wilmot Gibson (1900-1904)
- Arthur Barclay (1904-1912)
- Daniel Edward Howard (1912-1920)
- Charles Dunbar Burgess King (1920-1930)
- Edwin James Barclay (1930-1944)
- William V.S. Tubman (1944-1971)
- William R. Tolbert, Jr. (1971-1980)
- Samuel Kanyon Doe (1986-1990)
- Charles M. G. Taylor (1997-2003)
- Moses Zeh Blah (2003)
- Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (2006-2017)
- George Manneh Weah (2017-?)