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The Liberian Constitutions

Declaration 1983 Draft

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Constitution of 1839

CONSTITUTION OF 1839

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.  However, the laws enacted by the council were revocable by the ACS.  Executive powers were vested in a governor appointed by the society, and he held office at the society's pleasure, while judicial powers were in a Supreme Court and such inferior courts as the governor and the council might establish.  (Dunn, D. Elwood , Amos J. Beyan, Carl Patrick Burrowes. Historical Dictionary of Liberia: 2nd Edition. Scarecrow Press, 2001. p.84 Used by permission )


CONSTITUTION,

OF THE COMMONWEALTH

OF LIBERIA .

The American Colonization Society, hereby grants to the colonies settlements, on the Western Coast of Africa , under its care, the following

CONSTITUTION.

 

Article 1. The Colonies or Settlements of Monrovia, New Georgia Caldwell, Millsburg, Marshall , Bexley, Bassa Cove, and Edina , and such other colonies hereafter established by this Society or by Colon ization Societies adopting the Constitution of the American Colonization Society, on the western coast of Africa , are hereby united into one government, under the same name and style of the Commonwealth of Liberia

Art. 2. All legislative power herein granted, shall be vested in a Governor and Council of Liberia, but all laws by them enacted, shall be subject to the revocation of the American Colonization Society.

Art. 3. The Council shall consist of representatives, to be elected by the people of the several colonies or settlements, and shall be appointed among them, according to a just ratio of representation. Until other wise provided, Monrovia , New Georgia, Caldwell , Millsburg, shall be entitled to six representatives: and Marshall , Bexley, Bassa Cove, and Edina , to four representatives, to be appointed among them by the Governor.

Art. 4. The representatives shall in all cases, except treason, felony, and breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest, during their attendance at the session of the Council, and in going to, or returning from the same; and for any speech or debate therein they shall not questioned in any other place.

 

Art. 5. Until otherwise provided by law, the Governor shall appoint, and publish the times, places, and manner of holding elections and making returns thereof, and the time for the meeting of the Council.

Art. 6. The Governor shall preside at the deliberations of the Council, and shall have a veto on all their Acts; provided nevertheless that if two thirds of all the members elected to serve in the Council 1 all concur in passing a bill or resolution, notwithstanding the veto of the Governor the same when so passed shall become a law and have effect as such.

Art. 7. A Colonial Secretary shall be appointed by the Governor; and it shall be the duty of such colonial secretary to record in a book or books, all the official acts and proceedings of the Governor, of the Council and of the Governor and Council to secure and preserve the same carefully, and to transmit a copy of each of such acts or proceed ings to the American Colonization Society, from time to time, provided, however, that such acts and proceedings be so transmitted at least once a year.

Art. 8. A Great Seal shall be provided for the Commonwealth of Liberia , whereby the official and public Acts of the Governor, shall be authenticated; and the custody of the said seal shall be committed to the colonial secretary.

Art. 9. The Governor and Council shall have power to provide a uniform system of military tactics and discipline; to provide for organization, arming and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the Commonwealth:

To declare war in self-defence:

To make rules concerning captures on land and water:

To make treaties with the several African tribes, and to prescribe rules for regulating the commerce between the Commonwealth of Li­beria , and such tribes; except that all treaties for the acquisition of lands shall be subject to the approval of the American Colonization Society.

To prescribe uniform rules of naturalization for all persons of color, and all persons now citizens of any part of the Commonwealth of Liberia, shall continue to be so, and all colored persons, emigrating from the United States of America, or any district or territory thereof, with the approbation, or under the sanction of the American Coloniza tion Society; or any society auxiliary to the same, or of any state Colonization Society in the United States, which shall have adopted the constitution of the American Colonization Society, shall be entitled to all the privileges of citizens of Liberia; except the same shall have been lost or forfeited by conviction of some crime.

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EXECUTIVE POWER.

 

Art. 10. The Executive Power shall be vested in a Governor of Liberia, to be appointed by, and to hold his office during the pleasure of the American Colonization Society.

Art. 11. The Governor shall be Commander in chief of the army, of the navy, and of the militia of the Commonwealth; he shall have power to call the militia, or any portion thereof, into actual service whenever the public emergency shall require; and he shall have the appointment of all military and naval officers, except the captains and subalterns of militia companies, who may be elected by their respective companies.

Art. 12. The land owned by the Society, and all other property be longing to the Society, and in the commonwealth, shall be under the exclusive control of the Governor and such agents as he may appoint under the direction of the Society.

Art. 13. The Governor, with the advice and consent of the Council shall appoint all officers whose appointment or election is not otherwise specially provided for in this constitution.

Art. 14. There shall be a Lieutenant Governor, who shall be elected by the people - he shall exercise the office of Governor, in case of a vacancy in that office, occasioned by the Governor's death or resignation, or in case the Governor shall delegate to him the temporary authority of Governor, during the Governor's absence or sickness.

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JUDICIAL POWER.

 

Art. 15. The judicial power of the Commonwealth of Liberia, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such interior Courts as the Governor and Council may from time to time, ordain and establish. The Governor shall be, Ex-officio, Chief Justice of Liberia, and as such shall preside in the supreme court, which shall have only appellate juris diction. The Judges, both of the supreme and interior courts except the chief Justice, shall hold their office during good behaviour.

Art. 16. A code, or uniform system of civil and criminal laws shall be provided by the American Colonization Society for the Common wealth of Liberia .

Art. 17. The present criminal laws in force in the several colonies, or settlements now forming the Commonwealth of Liberia, and such others as may from time to time be enacted, shall constitute the crim inal code of the commonwealth; Such parts of the common law, as set forth in Blackstone's Commentaries, as may be applicable to the situa tion of the people, except as changed by the laws now in force and such as may hereafter be enacted, shall be the civil code of law for the commonwealth.

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Miscellaneous.

 

Art. 18. Until otherwise provided by law, the Commonwealth of Liberia shall be divided into two counties as follows:

Monrovia , New Georgia, Caldwell , and Millsburg shall constitute one county, under the name of Montserrado; Bassa Cove, Edina , Bex ley and Marshall , shall constitute the other county, under the name of the county of Grand Bassa .

Art. 19. There shall be no slavery in the commonwealth.

Art. 20. There shall be no dealing in slaves by any citizen of the commonwealth, either within or beyond the limits of the same.

Art. 21. Emigration shall not be prohibited.

Art. 22. The right of trial by Jury, and the right of petition shall be inviolate.

Art. 23. No person shall be debared from prosecuting or defending any civil cause, for or against himself or herself before any tribunal in the commonwealth, by himself or herself or counsel.

Art. 24. Every male citizen of the age of 21 years, shall have the right of suffrage.

Art. 25. All elections shall be by ballot.

Art. 26. The military shall at all times, and in all cases, be in sub jection to the civil power.

Art. 27. Agriculture, the mechanic arts and manufactures, shall be encouraged within the commonwealth; and commerce shall be promoted by such methods as shall tend to develope the agricultural resources of the commonwealth, advance the moral, social and political interest of the people, increase their strength, accelerate, firmly establish and secu re their national independence.

Art. 28. The standards of weight, measure, and money, used and approved by the Government of the United States of America, are hereby adopted as the standards of weight, measure and money within the Commonwealth of Liberia. But the Governor and Council shall have the power to settle the value of the actual currency of the Commonwealth according to the metallic currency of the United States of America.

Office of the American Colonization Society, Washington, January, 14th, 1839 .

I hereby certify the above twenty eight articles to be a true copy of a Constitution of the Commonwealth of Liberia , adopted by the Board of Directors, of the American Colonization Society, on the fifth day of January in the year Eighteen Hundred and Thirty Nine.

PHILIP E. FENDALL,
Recording Secretary

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Huberich, Charles Henry. The Political and Legislative History of Liberia . New York : Central Book Co., 1947. 1:145.
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