On January 3, 1848, when Joseph J. Roberts delivered his inaugural address before the Legislature as president of the newly independent African nation of Liberia, his audience were most certainly bubbling with euphoria, and rightly so, for only some 20 years before, many of them were wallowing under the bondage of slavery and other forms of racial oppression in the United States of America.
That they would be witnessing the inauguration of a leader, chosen by the free exercise of their suffrage to lead a nation where they would enjoy their inalienable rights and dignity as human beings without any forms of constrictions placed along their paths because of their color, must have stirred a rapture in the deepest recesses of their souls. But, even though President Roberts too may have shared such elation, his speech was tapered by the “peculiar solemnity” and “weight and magnitude” of the task to lead this new nation on the western shores of Africa.
“We have just entered upon a new and important career. To give effect to all the measures and powers of the government, we have found it necessary to remodel our Constitution and to erect ourselves into an independent State; which, in its infancy, is exposed to numberless hazards and perils, and which can never attain to maturity, or ripen into firmness, unless it is managed with affectionate assiduity, and guarded by great abilities…” President Roberts said, as he implored his listeners to do their utmost “to hand down unimpaired to future generations, the freedom and independence we this day enjoy.” (Source of President Roberts’ speech: ‘Calumny Refuted, by Facts from Liberia‘ by Wilson Armistead)
Today, 168 years later, it still feels like the Liberian nation hasn’t “ripen into firmness” because Africa’s first republic still teeters on the precipice of failed states, as it wallows at the top of the list of the world’s poorest nations. And, it is not hard to see that it is because the nation has not been “managed with affectionate assiduity” or “guarded by great abilities” as President Roberts admonished.
So, on this singular day in the annals of Africa when her first republic was birth out of the love of liberty, President Roberts words resonate with even greater cogency and urgency for Liberia to be “managed with affectionate assiduity” and “guarded by great abilities” that it may indeed “ripen into firmness!”