The Ambassador in Liberia (Dudley) to the Department of State 1

No. 380

Subject: Political Parties and the General Election of 1951

The election of May 1, 1951, continues the control of the Liberian government by the True Whig Party. The party was organized in 1869, won its first election in 1877. It has not lost an election since that time. Heretofore the perpetual domination of the political scene [Page 1296] by the True Whig Party has been accounted for by several factors, the most significant of which are:

The organization of a close-knit group of literate Americo-Liberians who have controlled the illiterate 95 per cent aboriginal element.
Election laws and methods of administration have effectively precluded full participation of all citizens in government.
Low level of economic development of the Republic over a period of years; thus the traditional dependence of the literate group on government jobs as a source of employment which has prevented the organization of effective opposition drawn from the ranks of the literate elements. This factor has forestalled the social and educational progress of the aboriginal population and has generally accounted for their passive disposition toward government.

Though some of these factors have been mitigated by the Tubman administration, the elections on May 1, 1951, marked a new phenomenon in Liberian politics; namely the lack of participation of a contesting candidate in a presidential election. From 1923 to 1943 three minority parties appeared. Between them they contested each of the presidential elections held during that epoch. In 1923 Thomas J. R. Faulkner sought nomination with the True Whig Party as Vice Presidential candidate but was ruled out by traditional methods. Mr. Faulkner then organized the Peoples Party and opposed C. D. B. King, the True Whig presidential candidate, in the presidential elections of 1923 and 1927. Mr. King resigned in 1930 as a result of a trade-Jabor scandal. Edwin Barclay became Acting President following King’s resignation and in 1931 was elected President of the Republic for a four year term over Thomas J. R. Faulkner. C. D. B. King organized the Unit Whig Party and in 1935 attempted to stage a comeback but was defeated at the polls by Barclay, the True Whig candidate. Barclay secured an amendment to the constitution extending the life of his office from four to eight years and in 1943 “virtually selected Tubman to succeed him.”* Mr. Tubman was opposed by James F. Cooper of the Democratic Party.

At least four significant factors emerge from even a cursory perusal of the history of political parties and elections in Liberia. In the first instance all organized opposition to the True Whig Party has been instituted by men who were financially independent of the government. Yet their financial resources have been inadequate to compete with the True Whig Party which employs such devices as enforced contributions which simply means that at least once a year all government employees endorse their monthly checks payable to the True Whig Party. (Excludes foreign personnel employed by the Government). Secondly, only one basic split has occurred within the [Page 1297] ranks of the True Whig Party since 1923. Thirdly, there has been no effective organization of the aboriginal population into effective political opposition parties. Finally, previous election returns have shown evidence of corruption and unfairness.

In recent years opposition parties have appeared which have been effectively controlled. In the spring of 1949 Richard Nathaniel Holder, former Secretary of the Interior under the Barclay administration, organized the Reformation Party and became its eccentric Presidential candidate. At that time Mr. Holder had the support of several high government officials who remained behind the scene. It is also evident that Holder and his better qualified supporters were depending on and worked through the Porro society which has a considerable number of members in Liberia’s Hinterland. Through public doles, Tubman succeeded to a degree in reconciling the differences which existed among the malcontents of the True Whig Party or former True Whig partisans. This left Holder and the smaller fry to carry the “war ax” and at infrequent intervals Holder published articles attacking the Tubman administration.

Early in February of 1951 Holder announced that the Reformation Party would hold its national convention on February 27. On February 24, 1951, Holder met President Tubman at Marshall and informed him that he had “grounded arms” which meant that he would not oppose him at the presidential election. Holder’s withdrawal from the political campaign was no doubt due to a merger between the United Peoples Party and the Reformation Party which was later to occur.

The second source of opposition to the True Whig Party is of some significance since its organization was based on aboriginal support and found expression through Did wo Twe who organized the United People’s Party. The party submitted its application for certification as a political party in July of 1950 to the Elections Commission, which was not accepted on the grounds that Twe did not have the required number of members to register the party. Twe was arrested by police authorities in August of 1950 for alleged seditious activities. He was subsequently released from the force of Ne Exeat proceedings by the Government for the purpose of going to the United States for a prostatectomy. He departed on October 22, 1950, had a successful operation and, as stated by True Whig partisans, disseminated critical propaganda concerning the Liberian Government in the United States. Twe returned to Liberia about April 7, 1951, and was instrumental in effecting a merger between the United Peoples Party and the Reformation Party under the name of the latter. This party held its national convention on April 10, 1951, and nominated Twe as its presidential candidate to oppose William V. S. Tubman of the True Whig Party. Twe was estopped from participation in the presidential elections of [Page 1298] May 1, 1951, on the legal ground that the Reformation Party did not register Twe as presidential candidate more than 60 days prior to the election. Thus the True Whig Party carried the name of William V. S. Tubman to the polls on May 1, 1951, unchallenged.

Despite the tendency of the present administration to treat all opposition as inimical to the best interest of the Government, it became increasingly apparent during the recent political campaign that President Tubman and other significant True Whig partisans are desirous of a multi-party or bi-party system of politics. C. D. B. King, Liberian Ambassador to the United States, stated to partisans on April 25 that “loyal, sincere, constructive and patriotic opposition must be encouraged.” President Tubman has stated unofficially that he will have two political parties in Liberia before he relinquishes control of the Government.

True Whig Partisans, through implication and direct statements during the political campaign, indicated that the superior culture of the Americo-Liberian has gradually assimilated the tribal groups within the Republic. More important, they intimated in substance that the socio-political metamorphosis of the aboriginal population will occur simultaneously with economic development. Throughout the campaign there were expressions of ethnocentrism: Unity, loyalty, patriotism were emphasized. True Whig partisans contended that the type of political opposition which found expression through Twe was not constructive and with this view most foreigners in Liberia concur. It must be remembered that qualified men in Liberia are few and a change in presidency would only result in a reshuffle of present leaders. It is also significant that when aborigines become civilized through social contacts and interactions with the civilized elements, their political concepts are conditioned by that group of which they become a part. Thus, such aborigines have become loyal True Whig Partisans due to their dependence on the Government as a source of employment. The precise course this type of social and political cohesion will follow in the future will depend on the tempo of economic development and will be conditioned by the personality of the “Standard Bearer” of the True Whig Party. As mentioned previously President Tubman has expressed interest in a bi-party system of politics. As President of the Republic for the past eight years he has been distinctly more progressive than his predecessors. This is somewhat manifested in a review of the election laws of the Republic.

Prior to 1945 the organic law governing elections and qualification of voters provided that “all elections shall be by ballot, and every male citizen of twenty-one years of age possessing real estate shall have the right of suffrage.” This provision and similar provisions under revised statutes perpetuated the ruling oligarchy of True Whigs. It provided [Page 1299] a legal basis to exclude the aboriginal population from the exercise of the right of suffrage because of the existing system of land tenure.

Despite the limitations imposed on the aboriginal population prior to 1945 previous election returns have shown evidence of unfairness. Aggregate votes cast at the general elections on May 4, 1943, as evidenced by official returns was 248,471 of which 245, 364 were cast for William V. S. Tubman, the True Whig presidential candidate, and 3,107 for James F. Cooper, presidential candidate of the Democratic Party. The pertinent provisions of the election laws in effect at that time provided that every male citizen of the age of twenty-one years and upwards residing and owning land in the voting precinct in which he offers to register, shall be entitled to be registered as a voter. (Chapter LXVI, Section 1312 of Revised Statutes.) “Every aboriginal inhabitant, who shall receive a deed in fee simple as provided by law, shall be entitled to vote under the provisions of law relating to registration of voters and elections.” (Section 12 of Revised Statutes.) These provisions represent an improvement over the basic law, and appear to broaden the foundation of rule. Their effectiveness in extension of franchise is rather insignificant considered in relation to the communal possessions of land and the fact that few if any aborigines who had not integrated themselves with the Americo-Liberians held land in fee simple. Considering the Communal possession of land and the fact that Americo-Liberians were estimated at 20,000 and assimilated aborigines were even less, it appears highly improbable therefore that 248,471 votes were cast in the general election of 1943.

In President Tubman’s annual message of November 1, 1944, he recommended a constitutional amendment providing for tribesmen of the provinces to be represented in the legislature, which during the 1950–51 session of the legislature was extended to the counties and territories. In December of 1945, an act to regulate elections in the Republic was promulgated. The Liberian constitution and this enactment grant the right of suffrage to all citizens of 21 years of age and over who own real estate in fee simple or own a hut in case of hinterland or tribal areas. This enactment prescribes methods for registration of voters, maintenance of rolls, voting, nomination of candidates, and sets up other machinery which theoretically insure fair elections.

A significant aspect of the elections on May 1, 1951, was the fact that it marked the first time in the history of the Republic that women exercised their franchise in accordance with the new law. It was also the first time that aborigines participated in the election of a President.

The unofficial tabulations of the election returns indicated that 155,792 votes were cast in the general elections on May 1, 1951, for William V. S. Tubman and his running mate William Tolbert. On May 10, 1951, the True Whig party had its victory celebration. Approximately 4,000 representatives from all sections of the country participated [Page 1300] in a rather impressive parade through the streets of Monrovia displaying a pageantry of bright colors and banners upon which were recorded the election returns. These returns indicated that between 75 and 80 percent of the potential voters in the various political subdivisions actually voted for Tubman. It is significant in this connection that a number of persons voted who did not comply with the voting prerequisites with respect to age or property.

The lack of an opposing candidate precludes an accurate appraisal of the returns as compared with previous elections. The returns tend, however, to indicate one characteristic which was not common to previous elections; namely, they bore some reasonable relationship to estimated population in the political sub-divisions and were somewhat consistent with the probable qualified voters in the area concerned.

Edward R. Dudley
  1. This despatch was drafted by Vice Consul David B. Bolen.
  2. Buell, Raymond Leslie, Liberia a Century of Survival, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1944. [Footnote in the source text.]