Engaging A Debate On Elements Of Our History And National Society


A Letter

By Dr. D. Elwood Dunn


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
December 20, 2005


Dear Mr. Editor:

:Please consider carrying the following response to Dr. William E. Allen's reply to my earlier NOTES on Liberian Presidential Succession:

I thank Dr. William E. Allen for challenging me to produce historical evidence in support of my recent presidential ranking notes. And notes they were, for certainly there was no attempt to exclude any of the honorable people who found themselves called to national service during crisis moments in our country. Rather, as I indicated, my purpose was to engage a debate on elements of our history and national society in the interest of addressing widespread distortions. Judging from Dr. Allen's response as well as the many e-mail messages that came to me, I see I am achieving my purpose.

Let me address two main points he raised, comment on a third point, and then offer a line to end my public engagement on this issue.

Point I: The Roye succession evidence. That Roye was constitutionally succeeded by his Vice President James Skirving Smith can be ascertained by the following historical references: Dennis to Coppinger, Dec. 1871, African Repository and Colonial Journal (ACS), 15/2. 4881; Cabinet Minutes, Nov. 2 & 4, 1871, in Edward Smith Affidavit, June 17, 1874, R.L, App. No. 29, enc. D., 175-176; H.R.W. Johnson to J.M. Moore, Nov. 2, 1871 & H.R.W. Johnson to J.S. Smith, Nov. 2, 1871, Liberian Government Archives (National Documentation and Record Service), Corr. 1868-72, f. 426. See also pages 53 through 55 and 56 through 60 in A. Doris Banks Henries, PRESIDENTS OF THE FIRST AFRICAN REPUBLIC, 1963. Banks-Henries may have visited the archives. As well the diplomatic dispatches of American Minister to Liberia during Roye's presidency, Turner, shed considerable light on the Roye to Smith succession. Roye sought, without success, asylum in the American Legation in Monrovia once he sensed danger. This is not an exhaustive listing of sources. I found it unnecessary to list in my earlier notes because of the nature of your news organ) The evidence is clear that the Reginald Sherman Committee turned over the reins of power to President Smith upon his arrival in Monrovia from his home County of Grand Bassa.

Point II: The Moses Z. Blah to Charles Gyude Bryant succession. I make here a simple argument based on a practice, as far as I know, that was initiated in post-Cold War Africa -- resort to Sovereign National Conferences to move African states toward democratic governance. Benin initiated the practice when the sitting President was pressured to submit his constitutional authority to one such national conference. It was similar to the call of a constitutional convention to revisit the national political order. The idea was first mooted in Liberia shortly after Charles Taylor began his insurgency in 1990. The Bangul gathering of August 1990 was one such attempt but it failed because both the sitting

President Doe, and the significant insurgent leader Taylor refused to participate. Many other calls followed in the 1990s none approximating what Benin achieved. I contend that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2003, flawed though it was, embodied sufficient political legitimacy to fit the national conference billing for, crucially, the Taylor government was pressured to lend constitutionality to the exercise by duly empowering it representatives to negotiate away presidential authority. The CPA itself begins: "We, The Government of the Republic of Liberia, The LURD , The MODEL and The Political Parties, etc. It is alone for this reason that I contend that in the succession saga that followed Taylor's resignation --Taylor to Blah to Bryant -- Bryant became the constitutional successor. It matters little in my mind that he is called "Chairman", "Head of State", or even "President". None of the other interim leaders assumed power in this manner, not the Sawyer IGNU and its many successors, nor the Reginald Sherman Committee of the 19th century.

Point III: Comment on issue of why the second comings of Presidents Roberts and Payne are not counted in the presidential succession. I grant that I could be in error for supporting a view attributed to Dr. Joseph S. Guannu. The view, as I recall it, is that only one Roberts and one Payne served as President of Liberia and that they ought not be listed twice. Given what Dr. Allen has indicated I think reconsideration may be in

Now that I have said my piece on this issue I hope other Liberians and scholars of Liberia will engage the debate. Above all I would challenge the appropriate instance of the Liberian State to take note of the debate and seek definitively to settle the succession issue.



D. Elwood Dunn
Professor of Political Science
University of the South, Sewanee TN 37383
Phone: 931/598-1547
Fax: 931/598-1145
E-mail: edunn@sewanee.edu