Six principles of the Liberian constitution

Popular Rule: “We the People…” Our current constitution (1986) begins with the idea of popular rule. This important principle means that power, begins with the people. This principle is best reflected in the Preamble, Article I and Article 5a. Popular rule is the thought that the average citizen can be trusted to make important decisions that affect his or her life and the lives of other Liberians.

The July 26, 1847 Constitution was suspended after the April 12, 1980 coup d’état. It was meant to right the wrong path by motivating and encouraging more and more citizens to participate in the democratic process.

The idea means political power in Liberia starts from the ground up; that a group of people have the right and permitted to exercise that power and change their society for the better. This exciting idea is a beauty of human history. The idea is that when many small and weak things are joining together, they can become a large and powerful force.

Republicanism: Because of our bad past experiences, the framers of the new constitution thought the idea that citizens should be able to elect their leaders. In a republic, the citizens vote for what or whom they think will be best for the general public good.

Republicanism means, take the first 3 letters of the word, R-E-P and use it to remind yourself of the word representative. Voters choose representatives to exercise the power that they give to them. Republicanism is best found in Article 3 of the constitution.

This idea means the voters are temporarily handing their power to those they elect. For this reason, those elected must be trusted to make decisions for the general good of the people who elected them.

They must do what they people desired. This is not about themselves. This is not about the president. This is not about the business community, but wholly and solely about the people in line with Article 1 of the Constitution.

Separation of Powers: This principle of the Liberian Constitution just like the United States divides powers into three separate groups or branches of government. The reason is to ensure that no one person or group of people had too much power. Their idea originated from the way the English government had developed into three separate groups: the monarchy, the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

Instead the Liberian and the U.S. constitutions divide power into the executive branch, the legislative branch and the judicial branch. Each branch has its own unique responsibilities and powers, including powers over the other branches. These branches are described in Chapter IV, V, and VII of the Liberian Constitution. Three different parts, each with its own unique characteristics, yet still a part of the whole.

Checks and Balances: This principle of the constitution is closely connected with separation of powers. This idea is meant to make sure that the three different branches of government, the legislative, executive and judicial, would be able to limit each other’s powers.

In this way they control certain powers as well as share other powers with them.

For example, the president can appoint ambassadors or federal judges, but only with the approval of the senate, the upper house of Congress. You will find the principle of checks & balances throughout in Chapter IV, V, and VII.

This is a very important way to protect the citizens’ liberties and ensure that no one group of people becomes too powerful. Each branch always has the other two branches looking over their shoulder. This means if three persons are placed in the room to keep a watch one must prevent the other falling asleep at the switch.

Limited Government: The idea of limited government can be traced in English history back to the Magna Carta, when the nobles first restricted the power of the king in 1215. So, when the founding fathers wrote the U.S. Constitution, they recognized the need to express that the government’s powers were limited.

The Liberian constitution is modeled after the U.S constitution. This is meant to prevent government leaders from abusing their powers and to also point out they are not above the law. This is an important idea in ensuring that the citizens’ liberties are protected.

This means anyone including the president can be restricted. Those in political positions are not more special than everybody else.

Individual rights: Article 1 of the Liberian Constitution says all power is inherent in the people. All free governments are instituted by their authority and for their benefit and they have the right to alter and reform the same when their safety and happiness so require.

In order to ensure democratic government which responds to the wishes of the governed, the people shall have the right at such period, and in such manner as provided for under this Constitution, to cause their public servants to leave office and to fill vacancies by regular elections and appointments.


Jarwinken Wiah, the writer of the article, is executive director of the US-based Emancipation Movement of Liberia