Payne, James Spriggs
1819 to 1882
Liberian clergyman and statesman James Spriggs Payne was born to freed slaves of African descent on 19 December, 1819 in Richmond, Virginia, U.S.A. His father was an ordained minister in the Methodist Church and in this deeply religious environment he grew up to be a devout Christian. When he was nine years old his family decided to return to Africa under the auspices of the American Colonization Society to start a new life.
He was educated in Liberian schools and return to America 1840 to be ordained a Methodist minister. For the next nine years he was deeply involved in his church and missionary work and in 1848 was appointed a presiding elder by his church, a position he held until 1858 when his failing voice caused him to give up this duty.
Apart from his religious activities he was also very interested in politics and economics, and became a successful writer in both fields. This interest resulted in the government selecting him as one of the commissioners charged with organizing the details of the separation of the Liberian Commonwealth from the American Colonization Society.
In the May 1867 elections, he stood as one of the presidential candidates. He received the majority of votes and although his party only gained a minority of seats in the Legislature, the House of Representatives voted to allow him to become the next president of Liberia.
He was concerned about the continuation of slave trading activities along Liberian coast and shortly after his inauguration in January 1868 his government brought a gun boat and converted it into a schooner for coastal patrols to help prevent this practice. He also increased and improved foreign trade by creating a system whereby Liberian products were sent direct to foreign markets, rather than through the old barter system used by merchants on the coast.
Payne was anxious to improve and strengthen relations between the central government and the ethnic group of the interior. He felt that these indigenous people had an important role to play in the development of the country and as such ought to be allowed to identify with and become involved in the government. With this in mind he set up a department of the interior to be responsible for the hinterland, and to ensure that adequate educational and other facilities were available to all Liberians, whatever their origins. The government however was suffering at the time from a shortage of manpower and finance, and this greatly hindered the implementation of Payne's policies. His first two-year term as president was also marred by the continuation of problems caused by European,--particularly British,--traders operating in the northwest of the country near the Sierra Leonean border in virtually complete disregard of the Liberia government, and often in violation of its laws. In September 1869 a British schooner found illegally trading, was confiscated by the Liberian government. In response, the British governor of Sierra Leone travelled to Monrovia accompanied by two British gunboats and demanded the return of the schooner along with compensation of 3,370 pounds, 9s, and 11d for the ship's cargo. The government demurred but had to accept the demands following an ultimatum stating that if the matter were not resolved, the gunboats would take the necessary action, a situation that Liberia had no means to deal with.
Payne's first term came to an end in December 1870 when he lost the presidential elections; but he was re-elected president of the republic in May 1875. Immediately after his inauguration in January 1876 he turned his attention to the war that had broken out in Cape Palmas, Maryland County, the previous September. The situation in this area was particularly serious as Britain was supplying ammunition to the contesting parties. Payne appealed to the U.S.A for assistance and was taken to Cape Palmas to negotiate in an American man-of-war. These negotiations were successful and a peace treaty was signed on 1 March 1876. Payne returned to Monrovia but his financial scope for policies was greatly reduced during his term due to the war, estimated at around 60,000 pounds.
On leaving office in 1878, Payne continued his life-long interest and involvement in church work. In 1880 he travelled to Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.A. as the Liberian delegate at the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and on 19 January 1881 he was elected president of the Methodist Annual Conference of Liberia. He was highly respected in Liberia. In January 1882 he was awarded an honorary doctor of divinity degree by Liberia College for his service and achievements. He died on 31 January 1882 at the age of 62.
Elijah Olu Akinwumi
Sources Consulted Include:
* Africa Year Book and Who's Who (London: Africa Journal, 1977).
* Africa Today, first edition, (Denver, CO : Africa Today Associates, 1981).
* Africa Who's Who, first edition, 1981.
* Africa Who's Who, second edition, 1991 (published by Africa Books Ltd., U.K).
* Ralph Ewechue (ed.), Makers of Modern Africa, 2nd edition (London: Africa Books, 1991).
* Daily Times of Nigeria (Lagos).
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* S. Decalo, Historical Dictionary of Togo, 3rd ed., (London : Scarecrow Press, 1996).
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(Lagos, Nigeria: Africa Book Ltd.).
* J. C. Choate, The Voice of Truth International, 1991,
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Khalil Mahmud, 2nd ed., (London : Cass, 1968).
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volume on Sierra Leone & Zaire, (New York : Reference Publications, 1977-).
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* Pan-Vegio Patriot Macdonald- H. Edward Wilmot
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* Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria (Ibadan : Ibadan University Press): Vol. V Nos. 2 & 3, 1970, (Adeleye, R. A.).
* Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria (Ibadan : Ibadan University Press): Vol. VI Nos. 204, 1969, (Ekejiuba, F.).
* Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria, "A Biographical Sketch," (Omu Okwei), (Ibadan : Ibadan University Press): Vol. III No 4, 1967.
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Periodicals and Newspapers Consulted
Africa (Tunis : Ministère des Affaires Culturelles et de l'Information, 1971 ff). Africa Diary (Delhi : Africa Publications (India), 1961 ff). Africa Research Bulletin (Africa Research Ltd), (Oxford : Blackwell, 1964 ff). Ambassador International (Vol 211; 1985). Commonwealth Currents (1978). Guardian (London, s.n.). Independent (London, s.n.). The Times (London). West Africa (London : West Africa Publishing, 1917).
This article, received in 2002, was researched and written by Reverend Dr. Elijah Olu Akinwumi, president of Missions Network Ministries International in Lagos, Nigeria, and 2003-2004 Project Luke fellow.