The New International Encyclopædia/Liberty Party

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LIBERTY PARTY. A political party which existed in the Northern States of the American Union from 1839 to 1848, and was the first regular organization that attempted to oppose slavery by political means. The abolitionist followers of William Lloyd Garrison (q.v.) had adopted the doctrine of non-participation and non-resistance. With this policy the practical anti-slavery men were not satisfied, and after seeing the futility of their attempt to make their influence felt by interrogating candidates for office as to their position on the slavery question, they concluded that a party organization was the only rational means of accomplishing anything of value. This view, particularly strong in western New York, Ohio, and Michigan, found perhaps its ablest advocate in Myron Holley, who at a meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society in vain introduced and advocated a resolution declaring that “it was time to form a new political party,” and proposed the nomination of candidates for the Presidency and Vice-Presidency. Within a month (November 13, 1839), at a local convention at Warsaw, N. Y., Holley was instrumental in securing the nomination of James G. Birney (q.v.) and Francis J. Lemoyne as candidates for President and Vice-President respectively. A ‘national’ convention composed mostly of New York delegates, and held at Albany, April 1, 1840, confirmed Birney's nomination, nominated Thomas Earle for Vice-President, and adopted the name of Liberal Party. But the enthusiasm of the ‘Tippecanoe and Tyler too’ campaign retained in the Whig ranks most of those whose anti-slavery views might otherwise have led them to support the new party's ticket; and despite the fact that an active campaign was carried on, the ticket polled a total of only 7059 votes, 2798 of which were cast in New York. Disappointing as was the result, the Liberty Party leaders did not lose heart, but at once set about preparing for the campaign of 1844. On May 12, 1841, the first really national convention of the party was held in New York, in which all the New England States, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, and Indiana were represented. Birney and Thomas Morris were nominated as the party's candidates for 1844, and a complete national organization was planned. The party at this time was made up of the more moderate abolitionists, who held that the Constitution gave the general Government no power to abolish slavery in the States, and proposed only its abolitiim in the District of Columbia and the Territories, through Federal action, leaving the several States to act as they could be persuaded. The next convention was held in Buffalo on August 3, 1844. A slight movement within the party favorable to Clay, who had pronounced against Texan annexation on the ground that it would involve the United States in a war with Mexico, was checked by the publication of a letter written by Clay in which he had said that he would ‘be glad to see’ Texas annexed some day. This turned the scale, and the nominations of Birney and Morris were confirmed. At the ensuing election the Liberty Party polled 62,300 votes, 15,812 of them in New York, almost all of them drawn from the Whig Party. The loss of these votes assured the election of Polk and Clay's defeat. The first actual effects of the Liberty Party's action, therefore, were the election of Polk, the annexation of Texas, and the addition of a considerable area of new slave territory to the Union. Their last great effort made in the elections of 1846 was attended with no success. Their last National Convention, held in Buffalo, October 20, 1847, nominated John P. Hale and Leicester King for President and Vice-President, but the movement toward amalgamation with the new Free-Soil Party (q.v.) had already begun. The nominees withdrew after Van Buren's nomination, and except for the continued activity of a small number who had adopted the view that slavery could be abolished under the Constitution by a simple act of Congress, the Liberty Party ceased to exist. The best account of the Liberty Party is contained in T. C. Smith's Liberty and Free Soil Parties in the Northwest (New York, 1897), “Harvard Historical Studies,” vol. vi. Consult, also, William Birney, James G. Birney and His Times (New York, 1890); Morris, Life of Thomas Morris (Cincinnati, 1856); Hart, Salmon P. Chase (Boston, 1899), in the “American Statesmen Series;” and Hammond, History of Political Parties in the State of New York (Cooperstown, 1846).