Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is the 24th President


A Joint Statement by Dr. D. Elwood Dunn and Dr. William E. Allen on the Numerical Ranking of Liberian Presidents


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
December 23, 2005


Two issues have contributed to the present confusion surrounding the appropriate numerical rank of president-elect, Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Having examined the available historical sources, we have reached the conclusion that Mrs. Sirleaf will be the 24th president of the Republic of Liberia.

First Issue: Did Vice President James S. Smith serve as the constitutional successor following the overthrow of President E. J. Roye in 1871? In the past, some scholars have not counted Smith because they were unsure whether he actually succeeded President Roye. This explains, in part, why Mr. William V. S. Tubman is ranked as the18th president of Liberia. We now have what we believe is irrefutable historical proof by eyewitnesses that Vice President Smith succeeded President Roye. For example, one eyewitness account is the Fifty-Fifth Annual Report of the American Colonization Society. It recorded on January 16, 1872: "On October 26, 1871, Vice President Smith arrived at Monrovia from his home at Bassa, and became the acting president." (ACS, 55th Annual Report, Jan. 16, 1872; vol. 54-63; 1871-1880, pp. 20-21.) The sources confirm that the committee-of-three, established right after the October 22, 1871 coup d' état, did hand over power to the vice president upon his arrival at the capital. We are willing to submit additional references that will further corroborate our position that Vice President Smith did serve as president. Accordingly, James Smith is the sixth president of Liberia, having succeeded Roye as stipulated by the Liberian constitution.

Second Issue: Should the second non-consecutive administrations of Presidents Joseph J. Roberts (1872-1876) and James S. Payne (1876-1878) be counted, along with their first administrations? Scholars have generally enumerated both the first and second tenures of Roberts and Payne. The rationale is that both men were presidents at two different periods in Liberian history, with each period constituting a distinct administration. Therefore, the first and second administrations are separate and should be counted. This is common practice in other places. The Americans count the two non-consecutive administrations of President Grover Cleveland (1885-1889) and (1893-1897). This is why the current US president, George W. Bush, is the 43rd. Thus, President Roberts is the 1st and 7th and President Payne, the 4th and 8th.

Below is the revised list and ranks of Liberian presidents, ending with Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the 24th president of Liberia.

1. Joseph Jenkins Roberts (1848?1856)
2. Stephen Allen Benson (1856?1864)
3. Daniel Bashiel Warner (1864?1868)
4. James Spriggs Payne (1868?1870)
5. Edward James Roye (1870?1871)
6. James Skirving Smith (1871?1872)
7. Joseph Jenkins Roberts (1872?1876)
8. James Spriggs Payne (1876?1878)
9. Anthony William Gardner (1878?1883)
10. Alfred Francis Russell (1883?1884)
11. Hilary Richard Wright Johnson (1884?1892)
12. Joseph James Cheeseman (1892?1896)
13. William David Coleman (1896?1900)
14. Garretson Wilmot Gibson (1900?1904)
15. Arthur Barclay (1904?1912)
16. Daniel Edward Howard (1912?1920)
17. Charles Dunbar Burgess King (1920?1930)
18. Edwin James Barclay (1930?1944)
19. William V.S. Tubman (1944?1971)
20. William R. Tolbert, Jr. (1971?1980)
21. Samuel Kanyon Doe (1986?1990)
22. Charles M.G.Taylor (1997?2003)
23. Moses Zeh Blah (2003)
24. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (2006? )

Note that the military regime of 1980 and the various interim governments are excluded from the presidential list. Each is an interregnum, a departure from the process of succession as provided by the constitution. Thus, the following are not included in the ranking of the presidents:

Master Sergeant/General Samuel Doe (1980?1986)
Dr. Amos Sawyer, Mr. David Kpormakpor, Mr. Wilton Sankawulo, and Ms. Ruth Perry (1990?1997)
Mr. Charles Gyude Bryant (2003?2006)

D. Elwood Dunn, Ph.D. (International Studies)
Sewanee: The University of the South, TN

William E. Allen, Ph.D. (History)
Georgia Perimeter College, Atlanta, GA