• In this excerpt from a 1839 document, A Letter on the Political Obligations of Abolitionists, Liberty Party founder James Birney articulates his party’s opposition to the anti-political, anti-Constitution stance of William Lloyd Garrison’s American Anti-Slavery Society. The Liberty Party, by contrast, believed that the abolition of slavery should be achieved within the political system and that the Constitution supported this cause. Birney would become the Liberty Party’s presidential nominee in both 1840 and 1844. Courtesy of New York Public Library via HathiTrust.

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    A letter on the political obligations of abolitionists
    • Date
    • 1839
    • Creator
    • Birney, James Gillespie, 1792-1857.
    • Description
    • First published in the Emancipator.
    • Rights
    • Public domain. Learn more at http://www.hathitrust.org/access_use
    • Partner
    • HathiTrust
    • Contributing Institution
    • New York Public Library.

  • This 1844 political cartoon celebrates the victory of Democratic candidate James Polk over Whig candidate Henry Clay. During the campaign, Democrats attacked Clay as the “same old coon,” a nickname which Clay embraced in his own campaigning. The cartoon depicts Clay as a raccoon on his way to the grave as the decisive election returns come in. Courtesy of Boston Public Library via Digital Commonwealth.

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    Returns of the election
    • Date
    • 1844
    • Description
    • On item: This plate is intended to represent the returns of the presidential election as they will be received in Philadelphia; the different States are represented by balloons; the States of Virginia, N-York whilst the defunct coon is being carried ... more
      On item: This plate is intended to represent the returns of the presidential election as they will be received in Philadelphia; the different States are represented by balloons; the States of Virginia, N-York whilst the defunct coon is being carried to his grave, the U. S. Bank! The Democrats are about meeting to respond to the glorious news of the election of Polk & Dallas! Title from item. less
    • Rights
    • No known copyright restrictions. No known restrictions on use.
    • Partner
    • Digital Commonwealth
    • Contributing Institution
    • Boston Public Library

  • In this 1845 letter to Maria Weston Chapman, abolitionist activist Frances H. Drake makes plans for an anti-slavery fair and describes her recent work soliciting signatures for a petition by traveling from home to home “deliver[ing] antislavery speeches and battl[ing] stupid Whigs & wicked Democrats.” Drake was part of a group of women abolitionists who contributed invaluable labor to the anti-slavery cause. While Drake remained loyal to William Lloyd Garrison and his more radical American Anti-Slavery Society, many of her female colleagues would turn their energies to the political organizing of the Liberty Party in the 1840s. Courtesy of Boston Public Library via Internet Archive.

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    [Letter to] Dear Mrs. Chapman [manuscript]
    • Date
    • 1845
    • Creator
    • Drake, Frances H. Chapman, Maria Weston, 1806-1885, recipient.
    • Description
    • Holograph, signed. Mrs. Frances H. Drake is sending Maria Weston Chapman greenery for the anti-slavery fair. Her time has all been taken up recently "in the Texas warfare," circulating the petition, walking from house to house, battling "the stupid W... more
      Holograph, signed. Mrs. Frances H. Drake is sending Maria Weston Chapman greenery for the anti-slavery fair. Her time has all been taken up recently "in the Texas warfare," circulating the petition, walking from house to house, battling "the stupid Whigs, & the wicken Democrats." One old Federalist told Francis H. Drake that women could not know anything about politics but what the men told them. Francis H. Drake obtained over 300 names, mostly of women. If she had circulated the petition among men, she would have had twice the number of signatures. She requests that Maria W. Chapman find a home for Miss Maria Richardson for the first three days of the fair. On the verso, there is a postscript by Mrs. Frances H. Drake: "The Box is a donation from Gen. Eastabrooks, he has large quantities of it in his garden, so I ventured to ask him to make a donation to the fair. less
    • Rights
    • Access to the Internet Archive's Collections is granted for scholarship and research purposes only. Some of the content available through the Archive may be governed by local, national, and/or international laws and regulations, and your use of such ... more
      Access to the Internet Archive's Collections is granted for scholarship and research purposes only. Some of the content available through the Archive may be governed by local, national, and/or international laws and regulations, and your use of such content is solely at your own risk. less
    • Partner
    • Internet Archive
    • Contributing Institution
    • Boston Public Library

  • This map by John Lewis illustrates the free states, slave states, and territories of the United States in 1848. At this time, many former members of the Liberty Party joined forces with Barnburner Democrats, who were angered by the Democratic Party’s refusal to ban the expansion of slavery to territories acquired from Mexico in the Mexican War. Together they formed the Free Soil Party. This party was against the expansion of slavery, but not fully abolitionist. By 1854, it had merged with the Republican Party. Courtesy of Boston Public Library via Digital Commonwealth.

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    Lewis' free soil, slavery, and territorial map of the United States
    • Date
    • 1848
    • Creator
    • Lewis, John C., 1820-1883
    • Description
    • Relief shown by hachures. Includes text and decorative border with the seals of numerous states.
    • Rights
    • No known copyright restrictions. No known restrictions on use.
    • Partner
    • Digital Commonwealth
    • Contributing Institution
    • Boston Public Library

The Liberty Party was formed in 1839 in upstate New York in response to political fractures within the American abolitionist movement, particularly around the interpretation of the US Constitution. The American Anti-Slavery Society, run by abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, denounced the Constitution as a "covenant with death and an agreement with hell," and advocated that abolitionists divorce themselves from its authority and mainstream politics in general to achieve reform. In contrast, founders of the Liberty Party interpreted the Constitution as an anti-slavery document, and hoped to use traditional political avenues such as elected office to accomplish anti-slavery reform.

Liberty Party founder James Birney was a Kentucky-born lawyer, former slaveholder, and celebrated convert to the abolitionist cause. The Liberty Party nominated Birney as their presidential candidate in 1840, although he only received 6,797 votes. Birney was once again nominated as the party’s candidate for 1844. This time, due to concerns over the annexation of Texas and its implications for slavery and politics, the Liberty Party received more popular support from voters who found the Whig Party candidate Henry Clay too compromising on the issue.

In the election, Birney won 62,103 votes or 2.3% of the popular vote, with 15,800 votes coming from voters in New York. Many speculated that the Liberty Party’s success in New York ironically helped throw a presidential victory from Clay to James Polk, the pro-slavery Democratic candidate. With New York, Clay would have had the majority of electoral votes.