A True Whig Party member, he was the 13th President of Liberia, serving from 1896 to 1900. Immigrating to Liberia in 1853, he worked his way up to election to the House of Representatives and served as Speaker of the House. Later he served in the Senate and then as Vice President before assuming the Presidency when Joseph James Cheeseman died in office.
Arriving in 1853, the family consisted of William, his now widowed mother, and three others, all settling in Clay-Ashland near Monrovia.
Coleman was trained as a carpenter and had other manual labor jobs before becoming a successful trader. Studying at night, he picked up the education he had abandoned as a child when poverty had prevented further schooling.
In 1877, he was elected to the House of Representatives to represent Montserrado County, and became the Speaker of the House. Two years later Coleman was elected as a Senator for the same county.
He remained in the Liberian Senate until he was elected Vice President under Joseph James Cheeseman on the True Whig ticket in 1892.
They were re-elected twice to the two-year presidential term, and Coleman became president when President Cheeseman died in office in 1896. Cheeseman was the first President of Liberia to die in office, with his death late in 1896. William Coleman centered his policies on three cornerstones: education, finances, and interior policy.
As part of this policy he worked with Doctor Edward Wilmot Blyden to re-open Liberia College in Monrovia.
Other decisions included increasing the national government"s power over the interior sections of the country, reorganizing the customs service, and attempts to further advance resource extraction. Coleman was successful in establishing control over the interior region north and west of the Saint Paul River.
Increasingly, fellow Americo-Liberian citizens opposed his execution of polices concerning the interior lands and people. After a falling out with political allies and his own cabinet over his policies placed more pressure on his administration, he resigned from office in December 1900.
Coleman"s successor was his Secretary of State, Garreston West. Gibson, since the Vice President had already died in office.
Under existing succession laws Robert H. Marshall was set to become the President as Speaker of the House, but others felt he was unsuited for the position. The National Legislature then repealed the 1873 succession law and placed Gibson in the office of President. After resigning from the Presidency, Coleman continued to be an active player in Liberian politics.
William David Coleman died in 1908 in Clay-Ashland at the age of 65.
He ran for president three more times (1901, 1903 and 1905) as a member of the People"s Party, losing each election.