The Republic of Liberia, formerly a colony of the American Colonization Society, declares its independence. Under pressure from Britain, the United States hesitantly accepted Liberian autonomy, making the West African nation the first independent democratic republic in African history. A constitution modeled after the U.S. Constitution was approved, and in 1848 Joseph Jenkins Roberts was elected Liberia’s first president. Liberia was founded by former African-American slaves in 1821, and by the end of the American Civil War in 1865, some 15,000 had settled there. With the backing of the United States, Liberia kept its independence though the turmoil of the 20th century. A costly civil war began in 1989 and lasted until 1997, when Charles Taylor was elected Liberian president in free elections. His administration has been criticized for supporting the rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone.