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William Vacanarat Shadrach Tubman (November 29, 1895 – July 23, 1971) was a Liberianmarker politician. He was President of Liberia from 1944 until his death in 1971.

He is regarded as the "father of modern Liberia"; his presidency was marked by the influx of foreign investment in his country and its modernization. During his tenure, Liberia experienced a period of prosperity. He also led a policy of national unity in order to reduce the social and political differences between his fellow Americo-Liberians and the indigenous Liberians. However, further into his years in power, his way of governing became increasingly dictatorial.

Youth and early political career

Tubman was born November 29, 1895 in Harper, Liberiamarker. William Tubman's father, the Reverend Alexander Tubman, was a stonemason, general in the Liberian army and a former Speaker of the Liberian House of Representatives, as well as a Methodist preacher. Alexander Tubman's parents, Sylvia and William Shadrach Tubman, were part of a group of 69 slaves freed and sent to Liberia by Emily Tubman of Frankfortmarker, Kentuckymarker in 1844. They took the name Tubman after arriving in the country, naming their community Tubman Hill. His mother, Elizabeth Rebecca Barnes Tubman, came from Atlantamarker, Georgiamarker. His father required him and his other four children to attend daily family prayer services and sleep on the floor because, he thought, beds were too soft and therefore "degrading to character development."

Tubman, the second son, went to primary school in Harper, then the Methodist Cape Palmasmarker Seminary, and finally Harper County High School. He participated in several military operations from 1910 and 1917, rising from a private to become an officer. Tubman first planned to be a preacher and was named, at age 19, a Methodist lay pastor. After studying law under various private tutors, he passed the bar examination and became a lawyer in 1917. Subsequently, he served as a recorder in the Maryland County Monthly and Probate Court a tax collector, teacher, and even a colonel in a militia. He also attended Freemason lodges of the Prince Hall Freemasonry sect.

Having joined the True Whig Party (TWP), the dominating party of Liberia since 1878, Tubman began his career in politics. In 1923, aged 28, he was elected to the Senate of Liberia from Maryland Countymarker, holding the record as the youngest senator in the history of Liberia. Labeling himself the "Convivial Cannibal from the Downcoast Hinterlands," he fought for constitutional rights for the Liberian majority, its tribespeople.

Re-elected to his post in 1929, Tubman became, while a Senator, the legal adviser to then-vice president Allen Yancy. He resigned from the Senate in 1931 to defend Liberia before the League of Nations amid allegations that his country was using slave labor. However, Tubman was reelected to the national legislature in 1934, though he resigned in 1937 when President Edwin Barclay appointed him associate justice of the Supreme Court of Liberiamarker, a post he held until 1943. An official biography speculates that Tubman's elevation to the Liberian Supreme Court was created to remove him from actively seeking the presidency.

The new president of Liberia

In December of 1942, Liberia was faced with the question of the succession of President Edwin Barclay. Six candidates then applied, including two favorites: Tubman and Foreign Minister Clarence L. Simpson. Without much opposition from Simpson, Tubman was elected president on May 4, 1943 at the age of 48, and was inaugurated January 3, 1944.

While Liberia's ally the United Statesmarker had already used Liberia as a military base, the new president officially entered World War II on January 27, 1944. In foreign policy, Tubman aligned himself with the US (in June, 1944 he and Edwin Barclay traveled to the White Housemarker to be guests of President Franklin D. Roosevelt — the first African heads of state to have this happen) while strengthening ties among fellow Africans by participating in the Asian-African Conference of 1955 and the First Conference of Independent African States in Accramarker, organized by Kwame Nkrumah in 1958. In 1959, Tubman organized the Second Conference of African States.

In 1961, following a Pan-African conference held in Monroviamarker, Tubman helped in the founding of the group of Monrovia. This association of "moderate" African leaders worked for gradual unification of Africa, unlike the "revolutionary" group of Casablancamarker.

The "father of modern Liberia"

The modernizer of Liberia

Upon Tubman's succession to the Supreme Court, infrastructure in Liberia is virtually non-existent. Tubman explains this situation by the fact that Liberia never received "benefits of colonization". To remedy this problem, he decided to set up an economic policy, called the "porte ouverte" ("open door") policy. Working to facilitate and encourage foreign businesses to locate in Liberia, this policy was very successful, and between 1944 and 1970, the value of foreign investments, mainly American, increased two hundredfold. From 1950-1960, Liberia experienced an average annual growth of 11.5%.

This economic success for Liberia allowed Tubman to begin its modernization: the streets of Monroviamarker were paved, a sanitation system was created, hospitals were built, and a literacy program was launched in 1948. Tubman built several thousand kilometers of roads and established a railway line to connect the iron mines to the coast. During this period, he transformed the Port of Monrovia into a free port.

Economic prosperity

In early 1960, Liberia began to experience its first real era of prosperity, thanks in part to Tubman's modernization of infrastructure.

Regarded as a pro-Western, stabilizing influence in West Africa, Tubman was courted by many Western politicians, notably U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson. Meanwhile, Tubman courted Amy Ashwood Garvey, and had a long-term relationship with her.

A gunman attempted to assassinate Tubman in 1955 at the behest of his political opponents, after which he cracked down brutally on any known opposition politicians.


Tubman's term is best known for the policies of National Unification and the economic Open Door. He tried to reconcile the interests of the native tribes with those of the Americo-Liberian elite, and increased foreign investment in Liberia to stimulate economic growth. These policies led to the crowning achievement of the Liberian economy during the 1950s, when it had the second largest rate of economic growth in the world. At his death in 1971 in a London clinic, Liberia had the largest mercantile fleet in the world, the world's largest rubber industry, the third largest exporter of iron ore in the world and had attracted more than US$1 billion in foreign investment. He was succeeded as President by his long-time vice president William Tolbert. The economic prosperity of Liberia at this time would unleash political dissent with the autocratic rule of Tubman and the True Whig Party, leading to the overthrow of the True Whig oligarchy in 1980 by Samuel Doe. This would also destroy the economic prosperity of Liberia's golden age.

See also


  1. William V. S. Tubman. (2008). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved June 03, 2008, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online:
  2. William Vacanarat Shadrach Tubman UXL Newsmakers (2005)
  3. Biography of Emily Tubman
  4. William V.S. Tubman's ancestry
  5. Quentin, Dominique. W.V.S. Tubman. In Encyclopédie Universalis. Edition 1999.
  6. L’étrange influence des francs-maçons en Afrique francophone, Infos Plus Gabon, 4 February 2006
  7. Otayek, René. Libéria. In Encyclopédie Universalis. Edition 1999.
  8. La situation des droits de l’homme au Libéria : un rêve de liberté p.6
  9. William Vacanarat Shadrach Tubman In Microsoft Encarta
  10. Le plan stratégique de la commission de l’Union Africaine. Volume 1 : Vision d’avenir et missions de l’Union Africaine p.55
  11. Sommet de l’Union africaine – Durban 2002 (4) : Ce que fut l'OUA… (article de RFI)
  12. Person, Yves. Libéria In Encyclopédie Universalis. Edition 1973. p.9.
  13. Uncle Shad's Jubilee Time Magazine
  14. Rapport de l’Unesco sur l’alphabétisation (1965-1967) p.28
  15. Garvey, Amy Ashwood, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

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