The Liberian Constitutions


 

Welcome to the Liberian Constitutions page.  Below you will find unabridged copies of the four constitutions enacted in Liberia's national history, plus the proposed draft constitution of 1983. Here you can also read Liberia's Declaration of Independence.

 

1984 Constitution

 

In the wake of the April 1980 coup d'etat and the suspension of the Constitution of 1847, the National Constitution Drafting Commission in 1983 submitted a new draft Constitution of the Republic of Liberia (see 1983 Draft Constitution).  Before the public's ratification of the draft, a 59-member Constitution Advisory Assembly was empowered by the military council to make any revision or write a new draft if it so deemed.  Among the major revisions made by the Assembly were the scrapping of such autonomous commissions as Judicial Service and Ombudsman; increase in the presidential term to two consecutive six-year terms; and the removal of the entrenchment provision as well as the removal of the provision banning military personnel from participating in partisan politics.

1847 Constitution
(as amended through May, 1955)

The first constitution under which Liberia, on July 26, 1847, was declared a "free, sovereign and independent state by the name and style of the Republic of Liberia."  The decision of the Liberian Commonwealth to regularize its status in accordance with modern international law was a direct result of what Governor Joseph Jenkins Roberts called the "embarrassment we labor under with respect to the encroachments of foreigners, and the objections urged by Great Britain in regard to our sovereignty."  Because Great Britain, operating from neighboring Sierra Leone, regarded the Commonwealth and its parent organization the American Colonization Society (ACS), as "private persons" not entitled to exercise sovereignty especially in the domain of levying and collecting customs duties, the need was urgently felt to proceed with formalizing independence.

1839 Constitution

Known otherwise as the "Constitution of the Commonwealth of Liberia" as adopted by the board of directors of the American Colonization Society (ACS) on January 5, 1839.  It represented an improvement over both the 1820 understanding and the 1824 plan of government, the latter reluctantly accepted by the ACS because of its curtailment of the powers of the society.  The Commonwealth consisted of the counties of Montserrado and Grand Bassa, which included the communities of Monrovia, New Georgia, Caldwell, Millsburg, Marshall, Bexley, Edina and Bassa Cove.  The new constitution provided that legislative powers would reside in a governor and council, the latter to be chosen by popular vote

1820 Constitution

Compact between adult repatriates and the American Colonization Society (ACS) on the eve of the sailing of the ship Elizabeth, as well as the subsequent codification of disparate rules and regulations based on the American legal system.  The compact stipulated that each repatriate agree that he would be governed by the rules of the ACS and the community would be administered by its agents.  "Common law, as in force in the United States, was to be applied when relevant, and there was to be no slavery in the colony."  This instrument of understanding was transformed into the 1824 Constitution.

Declaration of Independence

Liberia declared its independence on July 16, 1847.  Liberia's Declaration of Independence borrows much of its rhetoric from the United States's own Declaration, recognizing "[I]n all men certain inalienable rights; among these are life, liberty, and the right to acquire, possess, enjoy, and defend property."  Liberia's declaration also makes reference to the oppression African American expatriates suffered under in the United States and their inability to improve such conditions as justification for their need to establish a free and independent state on the  western coast of Africa.  The impetus behind Liberia's decision to formally sever itself from the American Colonization Society is discussed in the introduction to the Constitution of 1847.

1983 Draft Constitution

Following the coup d'etat of April 1980, the military leaders suspended the Liberian Constitution of 1847, which had been in force continuously for 133 years, subject to a number of amendments.  The ruling military council would issue a series of decrees by which the country was constitutionally guided until 1983.  In that year the 25-member National Constitution Drafting Commission submitted a new draft Constitution of the Republic of Liberia.  The draft retained the essential republican form with three separate, independent and coordinate branches-the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. It sought to exclude certain 19th century embellishments that were in the 1847 Constitution, to limit each president to two consecutive four-year terms; to create a Judicial Service Commission, for vetting candidates for judicial appointments; to create an Ombudsman Commission, with powers to investigate misfeasance and malfeasance in the public sector; and to ban military personnel from participation in partisan politics.

Constitution introductions based on:
Dunn, D. Elwood , Amos J. Beyan, Carl Patrick Burrowes. Historical Dictionary of Liberia: 2nd Edition. Scarecrow Press, 2001. (used by permission)

Credits

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Last Modified: Tuesday, March 16, 2004 21:37