Liberia was founded as a home for freed slaves in 1822 by the American Colonization Society, after several earlier attempts met with failure. The first settlement was established near the present site of Monrovia. In 1847 the Republic of Liberia was created under a constitution similar to that of the United States.

Despite Liberia's early ties with the United States, by the 1870's most of the country's trade was with European countries, mainly Great Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands. During the latter part of the 19th century, adjacent French and British colonies seized large areas of Liberian territory.

European influence waned after 1926 when Firestone, a United States rubber company, began to establish huge rubber plantations in the country. Firestone became Liberia's principal employer and made rubber the leading export for several decades.

In 1944 William V. S. Tubman became president. Tubman, like his predecessors in office, was a member of the dominant Americo-Liberian elite. He increased foreign investment in Liberia and worked to end discrimination against the indigenous peoples and to bring them into the mainstream of Liberian life. Tubman was a popular but an authoritarian ruler who used his office to enrich himself and other Americo-Liberians.

Tubman died in 1971 and his successor, William R. Tolbert, Jr., also an Americo-Liberian, maintained the same corrupt practices and autocratic rule. In 1980 his government was overthrown by a group of army enlisted men led by Master Sergeant Samuel Doe. Tolbert and leading government officials were executed. Liberia came under the rule of the indigenous people for the first time. In 1985 Doe was elected president.

In 1989 dissidents led by Charles Taylor began a rebellion against Doe, and the following year Doe was killed. The country was left divided by warring factions, and neighboring countries sent in a peacekeeping force. It brought an end to hostilities in 1993, but periods of renewed conflict followed. In 1997 Taylor was elected president. In 2003, with opposition against him growing, Taylor resigned. One week later government leaders, rebels, and other factions signed a new comprehensive peace agreement.