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Liberty Party (United States, 1840)

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Title: Liberty Party (United States, 1840)  
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Subject: Leicester King, 67th New York State Legislature, United States presidential election, 1844, Maine gubernatorial election, 1848, Jonathan Blanchard (abolitionist)
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Liberty Party (United States, 1840)

Liberty Party
Founded 1840
Dissolved Unknown (became politically insignificant after 1848)
Succeeded by Free Soil Party
Ideology Abolitionism
International affiliation None
Politics of the United States
Political parties

The Liberty Party was a minor political party in the United States in the 1840s (with some offshoots surviving into the 1850s and 1860s). The party was an early advocate of the abolitionist cause. It broke away from the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS) to advocate the view that the Constitution was an anti-slavery document; William Lloyd Garrison, leader of the AASS, held the contrary view that the Constitution should be condemned as an evil pro-slavery document. The party included abolitionists who were willing to work within electoral politics to try to influence people to support their goals; the radical Garrison, by contrast, opposed voting and working within the system.

Party origin

The party was announced in November 1839, and first gathered in Warsaw, New York. Its first national convention took place in Arcade on April 1, 1840.

The Liberty Party nominated James G. Birney, a Kentuckian and former slaveholder, for President in 1840[1] and 1844.[2] The second nominating convention was held in August 1843 in Buffalo, New York. The Liberty Party platform of 1843 resolved "to regard and to treat" the fugitive slave clause of the U. S. constitution "as utterly null and void, and consequently forming no part of the Constitution of the United States", and also:

Resolved, That the Liberty Party...will demand the absolute and unqualified divorce of the general [i.e., federal] government from slavery, and also the restoration of equality of rights among men, in every State where the party exists, or may exist.

Support and influence

The party did not attract much support; in the 1840 election, Birney received only 6,797 votes, and in the 1844 election 62,103 votes (2.3% of the popular vote). However, it may have thrown victory from Henry Clay to James Polk in the 1844 election, with Birney having received 15,800 votes in New York and Polk winning New York by 5,100 votes.[3] If Clay had won New York, he would have had the majority of electoral votes, not Polk.

A third nominating convention was held in Syracuse, New York in October 1847, endorsing John P. Hale of New Hampshire with 103 votes (there Gerrit Smith received forty-four votes for the nomination, with another twelve scattered votes for others).[4] However, this nomination was later withdrawn due to the subsequent events of 1848.


Relationship to the Free Soil Party

In 1848, with the political sentiment stirred up by the rump National Liberty Party candidate for 1848, at a convention held on June 14 and 15 1848 in Buffalo.[5] Smith went on to win 2,545 votes, less than 1% of the Free Soil vote total.

The Free Soil Party later merged with the Republican Party in 1854, by which time many of the issues originally championed by the Liberty Party had become politically mainstream. A member of the Liberty Party who later rose to great political prominence as a Free-Soiler and Republican was Salmon P. Chase.

Chase had joined the Liberty Party in 1841, and had a significant influence on the Liberty Party platform of 1843/1844, as well as organizing the "Southern and Western Liberty Convention" in Cincinnati in 1845, where a number of delegates from the midwest and upper south met. In order to broaden the appeal of the party, Chase advocated supplementing the almost purely religious and moral Liberty Party rhetoric of the 1840 election with political and constitutional analysis, and wished the party to emphasize that its immediate goal was to withdraw all direct federal government support and recognition of slavery (or to "divorce" the federal government from slavery), as opposed to simply demanding the abolition of slavery everywhere in the United States (something which was beyond the legal power of the federal government to accomplish as the U. S. constitution then existed). In 1847–1848, Chase was a strong supporter of the fusion movement which resulted in the formation of the Free Soil Party.[6]

The Liberty Party continued to exist many years afterwards, despite most of its supporters having left to join less-religiously-motivated parties. In the absence of Chase, religious rhetoric in the party's official addresses and platforms increased. The 1848 platform strongly condemned the perceived attempts to moderate the party. That same year, the party began openly advocating various general moralistic policies, such as prohibitions on alcohol, gambling, and prostitution. Other than these religiously motivated restrictions on market activity, the party largely favored free trade, and opposed tariffs. One year later, the twenty-second plank of the 1849 platform praised Lysander Spooner's book The Unconstitutionality of Slavery.

In 1852, the party held its national convention on September 30, 1852, in Syracuse, N. Y. The presidential nominee that year was William Goodell of New York, and his running mate was S. M. Bell of Virginia. The platform that year only had four planks.


  1. ^ Willey 1886, p. 131.
  2. ^ Willey 1886, p. 175.
  3. ^ "Third Party Tickets: Bubbles That Have Floated for a While on the Political Sea".  
  4. ^ The National Era 1847, p. 3.
  5. ^ Smith 1848, p. 4.
  6. ^ Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War by Eric Foner, Oxford University Press (1970) ISBN 0-19-501352-2


  • "Correspondence of the Era - General Liberty Conference at Buffalo". The National Era (Washington, D.C.: Buell & Blanchard, Printers) 1 (43). 1847. 
  • Smith, Gerritt (1848). Proceedings of the National Liberty Convention, held at Buffalo, N.Y.. Portland, MN: Brown Thurston. 
  • Willey, Austin (1886). The history of the antislavery cause in state and nation. 
  • National Party Conventions 1831–1972, Rhodes Cook, Congressional Quarterly, 1976. ISBN 0-87187-093-2.

Further reading

  • Julian P. Bretz, "The Economic Background of the Liberty Party," American Historical Review, vol. 34, no. 2 (Jan. 1929), pp. 250-264. In JSTOR
  • Reinhard O. Johnson, The Liberty Party, 1840–1848: Antislavery Third-Party Politics in the United States. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2009.
  • R.L. Morrow, "The Liberty Party in Vermont," New England Quarterly, vol. 2, no. 2 (April 1929), pp. 234-248. In JSTOR
  • Edward Schriver, "Black Politics without Blacks: Maine 1841-1848," Phylon, vol. 31, no. 2 (1970 Q-II), pp. 194-201. In JSTOR
  • Richard H. Sewell, "John P. Hale and the Liberty Party, 1847-1848," New England Quarterly, vol. 37, no. 2 (June 1964), pp. 200-223. In JSTOR
  • Ray M. Shortridge, "Voting for Minor Parties in the Antebellum Midwest," Indiana Magazine of History, vol. 74, no. 2 (June 1978), pp. 117-134. In JSTOR
  • Charles H. Wesley, "The Participation of Negroes in Anti-Slavery Political Parties," Journal of Negro History, vol. 29, no. 1 (Jan. 1944), pp. 32-74. In JSTOR

External links

  • An archive of Liberty Party-related documents and platforms
  • The Liberator Files, Items concerning the Liberty Party from Horace Seldon's collection and summary of research of William Lloyd Garrison's The Liberator original copies at the Boston Public Library, Boston, Massachusetts.
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