Stephen Allen Benson

Stephen Allen Benson (May 21, 1816 – January 24, 1865) served as the 2nd President of Liberia from 1856 to 1864. Prior to that, he served as the 3rd Vice President of Liberia from 1854 to 1856 under President Joseph Jenkins Roberts. Although born in the United States, Benson was the first president to have lived in Liberia since childhood, he and his family arriving with the first groups of settlers in 1822.

Stephen Allen Benson
Stephen Allen Benson (cropped).jpg
2nd President of Liberia
In office
January 7, 1856 – January 4, 1864
Vice PresidentBeverly Page Yates
Daniel Bashiel Warner
Preceded byJoseph Jenkins Roberts
Succeeded byDaniel Bashiel Warner
3rd Vice President of Liberia
In office
January 2, 1854 – January 7, 1856
PresidentJoseph Jenkins Roberts
Preceded byAnthony D. Williams
Succeeded byBeverly Page Yates
Personal details
Born(1816-05-21)May 21, 1816
Cambridge, Maryland, United States
DiedJanuary 24, 1865(1865-01-24) (aged 48)
Grand Bassa County, Liberia
Political partyRepublican

Early lifeEdit

Benson was born in Cambridge, Maryland, United States, to free-born African-American parents.[1] [2] In 1822, his family emigrated to the newly established country of Liberia, sailing aboard the Brig Strong.[3] Shortly after his arrival in August 1822, the colony was taken over by African natives[who?], holding Benson and his relatives captive for four months.

For four years, he was a military shopkeeper. He was also a private secretary to Thomas Buchanan, the last of Liberia's white governors. Benson later became a successful businessman. Benson joined the militia in 1835, and in 1842 became a delegate to the Colonial Council. After Liberia's independence in 1847 he became a judge. He was also a Methodist preacher.

Presidency (1856–64)Edit

In 1853 Benson became the vice president to Joseph Jenkins Roberts, and after Roberts left office in 1856, Benson succeeded Roberts as President of Liberia.

Foreign relationsEdit

Benson obtained diplomatic recognition for Liberia from Belgium in 1858, Denmark in 1860, the United States and Italy in 1862, Norway and Sweden in 1863,[4] and Haiti in 1864.

Expansion and relations with indigenous peopleEdit

In 1857, Benson organised the annexation of the Republic of Maryland. Benson, who knew many indigenous languages, sought collaboration with the native tribes, in contrast to previous Liberian policy, which emphasised American-Liberian superiority and Western customs. Regrettably, this new policy remained largely unimplemented. By 1860, through treaties and purchases with local African leaders, Liberia had extended its boundaries to include a 600-mile (1000 km) coastline.


Whereas government revenue decreased as a result of the restrictive law, increased military spending to suppress the numerous revolts and wars added to the public deficit. This deteriorated an already precarious financial situation. Consequently, the Liberian Government faced financial bankruptcy on more than one occasion. The overall Liberian economy was also contracting during these years, as palm kernel oil exports to the United States declined. This was due to competition from the whale oil industry and the new mineral oil industry, still in its infancy. Whereas palm kernel oil was once a prized source for lantern light oil, market tastes had changed. This would also prove true of certain coffee exports, as Coffee Arabica would replace blends grown and traded locally as the world markets flavour of choice after this period.


After the end of his presidency Benson retired to his coffee plantation in Grand Bassa County where he died in 1865.


Benson is commemorated in the scientific name of a species of lizard, Trachylepis bensonii, which is endemic to Liberia.[5]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ American Colonization Society, "The African Repository: The Death Of Ex-President Benson"
  2. ^ Message from the President of the States, communicating (In compliance with a resolution of the Senate) information relative to the operations of the United States squadron on the west coast of Africa, the condition of the American colonies there, and the commerce of the United States therewith. February 28, 1845., "List of Emigrants: Strong"
  3. ^ Roll Of Emigrants That Have Been Sent To The Colony Of Liberia Archived 2008-07-05 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Elwood D. Dunn, Amos J. Beyan, Carl Patrick Burrowes. Historical Dictionary of Liberia. p. 38
  5. ^ Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. ("Benson", p. 23).

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit

Political offices
Preceded by
Anthony D. Williams
Vice President of Liberia
Succeeded by
Beverley Yates
Preceded by
Joseph Jenkins Roberts
President of Liberia
Succeeded by
Daniel Bashiel Warner