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The Independent Republic

In October 1846 a plebiscite was held that showed a slight majority of the settlers in favor of independence. Three months later a constitutional convention was convened in Monrovia, and a draft constitution prepared by Simon Greenleaf of Harvard College was submitted to it for consideration. On July 26, 1847, delegates to the convention representing the three counties issued the Liberian Declaration of Independence, patterned in style as well as in some particulars after that of the United States. The document cataloged a long list of injustices suffered by blacks in the United States?even by those who were free?explaining finally that "all hope of a favorable change in our country [the United States] was thus wholly extinguished in our bosoms, and we looked with anxiety for? some asylum from the deep degradation:"The western coast of Africa was the place selected by American benevolence and philanthropy for our future home," the declaration continued, pointing out, however, that the ACS had intended to transfer full control of the country to the settlers in due course. Citing the questions that had arisen about Liberia's title to sovereignty, the declaration concluded with an appeal "to the nations of Christendom . . . to extend to us that comity. which marks the friendly intercourse of civilized and independent communities." Britain was the first country to recognize the new state. Most European powers followed suit, but United States recognition was withheld?as it was explained, to avoid having to accredit a black diplomat in Washington?until 1862, when that country was embroiled in a civil war over the question of slavery.

For its part the ACS was not at all unwilling to give up its residual responsibilities for administering Liberia. The directors had already begun to feel that the expense of maintaining its presence outweighed any benefit to be derived by the society, and they offered generous assistance to the settlers in setting up an independent state. The society did insist on retaining title to the land purchased with its funds, but the proposal was voted down by the settlers in a referendum (which also approved the new con stitution) by an overwhelming majority. The only opposition, in fact, came from some settlers in Sinoe County who stayed away from the polls as an expression of sympathy for the society's posi tion.

The constitution of the Republic of Liberia was formally adopted on September 27, 1847. The form of government that it prescribed was modeled on that of the United States. The presi dent and vice president were elected on the same ticket, .but to a two?year term of office. The bicameral legislature consisted of the Senate, seating two members from each county, and the House of Representatives, in which seats were allocated on the basis of population. The constitution also provided for an independent judiciary. All candidates for office were required to meet a prop erty qualification that varied according to the position. As under the commonwealth, suffrage was extended to male citizens over 21 years of age, but it was subject to a stiff property requirement that limited the number of eligible voters, The first elections under the new constitution were held in October 1847, and Roberts was chosen as the first president of the republic (see table A).

The Maryland colony remained outside the republic. A series of governors had been appointed by the Maryland Coloni zation Society to administer the territory it had purchased under authority that was understood to have been delegated by the settlers. Commercial development and trade were monopolies of the Chesapeake and Liberia Trading Company, which was af filiated with the society. In 1854, with the approval of the found ing society, settlers proclaimed the colony a free and independent state, formally called Maryland?in?Africa, claiming sovereignty over the coastal region between the Grand Cess River in the west and the San Pedro River in the east.

Like the other colonies, Maryland had sought to bring an end to slaving operations on its sector of the coast and had also attemp ted to regulate the legitimate trade with the tribes in the interior. The Kru and the Grebo had responded by making war on the Maryland settlers and blockading the settlement. In 1856 the settlers appealed to Monrovia for assistance against the Grebo, who had captured several pieces of artillery and turned them on Harper. Sailing down the coast in a vessel owned by the ACS, Roberts personally led a well?equipped force of 115 handpicked men to the relief of the beleaguered settlement. After a bloody engagement, the Grebo retired and sued for peace, which Roberts agreed to only after the Africans had paid a heavy indemnity in rice to replenish the settlement's supplies. The next year Maryland applied to join the republic and was admitted as Maryland County.

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