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 Sirleafâ€™s Executive Mansion website lists her as the countryâ€™s 24th president.
So, whoâ€™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 Sirleafâ€™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 â€œboth men were presidents at two different periods in Liberian history, with each period constituting a distinct administration.â€
Another area of contention that Dunn addressed was a part of Liberian history that is not well understood by most â€“ the events following the overthrow of Pres. Edward J. Roye in 1871. The historian noted that he had â€œirrefutable historical proofâ€ 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 Blahâ€™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.
Itâ€™s certainly clear, then, that George Weah is the 25th president of Liberia. Below is the numbering of Liberiaâ€™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-?)