William Vacanarat Shadrach Tubman

William Vacanarat Shadrach Tubman (1895-1971) was the nineteenth president of Liberia. His efficient management during six terms began the transformation of his country into a modern state.

William V. S. Tubman was born on Nov. 29, 1895, in Harper, Maryland County, Liberia. His father, the Reverend Alexander Tubman, was a general in the Liberian army, former Speaker of the Liberian House of Representatives, former senator, and a Methodist minister. His mother, Elizabeth Rebecca Barnes Tubman, came from Atlanta, Ga. Tubman attended primary school in Harper, then the Methodist Cape Palmas Seminary, and finally Harper County High School. Between 1910 and 1917 he took part in several punitive military expeditions, rising in the ranks from private to officer status. He studied law under private tutors, served as a recorder in the Maryland County Monthly and Probate Court and as a collector of internal revenue, and in 1917 was appointed county attorney.

Tubman entered the national political scene in 1923, when, at the age of 28, he was elected senator from Maryland County to the national legislature. He served in this capacity until 1937, when President Edwin Barclay appointed him to the post of associate justice of the Liberian Supreme Court. An official biography contends that Tubman's elevation to the Supreme Court was designed to remove him from active contention for the presidency.

However, Tubman remained active in Liberia's dominant political party, the True Whig party, and by 1943 had risen to such political standing that President Barclay personally nominated Tubman to succeed him. Tubman was elected president in 1943 and reelected in 1951, 1955, 1959, 1963, 1967, and 1971, for seven consecutive terms, which gave him the longest tenure of any modern president anywhere. For reasons intrinsic to Liberia's political system, Tubman's presidential opponents never garnered more than a minuscule portion of the votes cast.

As president, Tubman's most significant contribution to Liberian politics was his "unification policy, " by which the hinterland counties, previously economically and politically neglected, were gradually brought into the national framework. The inland counties became fully represented in the Congress, roads and amenities were brought to the interior, and, most significantly, hinterland leaders began to play an important role in all areas of government. The open-door policy of Tubman, another major political line of his administration, permitted extensive foreign investment in Liberia's economy, particularly with respect to the development of the rich iron ore areas of Mt. Nimba and in the Bong and Wologosi ranges.

Tubman was a devout Methodist, a past grand master of the Masons, and a patron or officer in most of Liberia's important civic and voluntary organizations. He died on July 23, 1971, in London after surgery. He left a widow, Antoinette Padmore Tubman, and six children, one of whom, William V. S. Tubman, Jr., was president of the Congress of Industrial Organization, Liberia's principal trade union federation. Tubman was succeeded in the presidency by his vice president, William R. Tolbert.

Further Reading on William Vacanarat Shadrach Tubman

There is no scholarly biography of Tubman. A. Doris Bank Henries, A Biography of President William V. S. Tubman (1968), is an uncritical study. Thomas Patrick Melady, Profiles of African Leaders (1961), has a sympathetic chapter on Tubman. Less sympathetic are the profiles of Tubman in Rolf Italiaander, The New Leaders of Africa (trans. 1961), and John Gunther, Procession (1965).

Additional Biography Sources

Wreh, Tuan, The love of liberty: the rule of President William V. S. Tubman in Liberia, 1944-1971, London: C. Hurst; New York: distributed by Universe Books, 1976.