Although the settlers and their descendants, known as Americo-Liberians, defined the boundaries of the nation-state, made English the official language, and dominated the government and economy for almost one hundred fifty years, they have never constituted as much as 5 percent of the population. The name comes from the English word "liberty" and refers to the nation's origin as a colony of free blacks repatriated to Africa from the United States in the early nineteenth century.

The American Colonization Society (ACS), dedicated to the resettlement of free people of color outside the United States, was founded in 1816.

The ACS used private funds donated by wealthy white contributors to "purchase" land in west Africa and recruit African-American settlers, the first group of whom arrived in 1822.

All these groups were present in the territory when the American settlers arrived in 1822.

Although Liberia has been independent since 1847, making it the oldest republic in Africa, most of its citizens have never felt allegiance to the nation-state. About half the country is covered by primary tropical rain forest containing valuable hardwoods.

Most of the earliest immigrants had been born free; they were relatively well educated and belonged to an emerging class of free black professionals and businessmen.

Although white administrators appointed by the ACS governed the colony in the early years, in 1847 the settlers declared independence and became the first sovereign black republic in Africa. The first settlers were augmented by recently manumitted slaves from the United States and "recaptured Africans" or "Congos" taken from smugglers after the slave trade was abolished in 1808.

All the other groups number less than 10 percent of the total. The official language is English, which is used for instruction in all public and mission schools and in university education.

A significant portion of the population is bilingual and often competent in several indigenous languages as well as English.

In 1877, the True Whig Party (TWP), identified with the "blacks" and with agricultural rather than trading interests, came to power.