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James Skivring Smith (February 26, 1825 – c. 1892) served as the 6th President of Liberia from 1871 to 1872. Prior to this, he served as the 8th Vice President of Liberia from 1870 to 1871 under President Edward James Roye and as Secretary of State from 1856 to 1860 in the cabinet of President Stephen Allen Benson.

Smith was born in Charleston, South Carolina on February 26, 1825, the fourth of seven children of free blacks Carlos and Catharine Smith. He and his family arrived in Liberia in 1833, and his parents died of malaria within one year of their arrival. After working with a white doctor of the American Colonization Society, Smith returned to the United States to study medicine at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. He transferred to the Berkshire Medical College in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, from which he received his medical degree in 1848. Smith was the first African American to receive a medical degree from an American college. He then returned to the newly independent Liberia, working for the ACS as a doctor.

Interesting Biographical Snippets
  • Smith served as Secretary of State from 1856 to 1860 and was later elected as a senator from Grand Bassa County from 1868 to 1870.
  • Smith’s tenure as president remains the shortest in Liberia’s history.
  • Smith’s son James Skivring Smith, Jr. later became a successful politician in Liberia, also serving as Superintendent of Grand Bassa County and as vice president from 1930 to 1944.
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