The Republic of Liberia, formerly a colony of the American Colonization Society, declares its independence. Under pressure from Britain, the United States hesitantly accepted Liberian sovereignty, making the West African nation the first democratic republic in African history. A constitution modeled after the U.S. Constitution was approved, and in 1848 Joseph Jenkins Roberts was elected Liberia’s first president.
The American Colonization Society was founded in 1816 by American Robert Finley to return freed African American slaves to Africa. In 1820, the first former U.S. slaves arrived at the British colony of Sierra Leone from the United States, and in 1821 the American Colonization Society founded the colony of Liberia south of Sierra Leone as a homeland for former slaves outside British jurisdiction.
The American Colonization Society came under attack from U.S. abolitionists, who charged that the removal of freed slaves from the United States strengthened the institution of slavery. In addition, most Americans of African descent were not enthusiastic to abandon their native lands in the United States for the harsh West African coast. Nevertheless, between 1822 and the American Civil War, some 15,000 African Americans settled in Liberia. Independence was granted by the United States in 1847, and Liberia aided Britain in its efforts to end the illegal West African slave trade. Official U.S. diplomatic recognition came in 1862.
With the backing of the United States, Liberia kept its independence though the turmoil of the 20th century. A costly civil war began in 1989 and lasted until 1997, when Charles Taylor was elected Liberian president in free elections. His administration has been criticized for supporting the rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone. Some three million people live in Liberia today.