The Liberty Party was a political party in the United States that advanced an anti-slavery platform in the 1840s. The party was always a minor political party; the highest national percentage of votes it obtained was 2.3% during the election of 1844. The abolitionist movement, however, grew stronger in the years leading up to the American Civil War. Many members of the Liberty Party merged with other abolitionists to form the Free Soil Party, which obtained 10% of national votes in the 1848 presidential election. The Liberty Party was different from other abolitionist movements in that its leaders were willing to work within the framework of U.S. law to accomplish their goals.
The 1840s was a decade characterized by increasing friction over the issue of slavery in the U.S. The United Kingdom abolished slavery throughout most of its empire in 1833. Advocates of Manifest Destiny, or the westward expansion of the U.S., succeeded in establishing new territories on the American frontier. Northern American states had largely outlawed slavery, while most southern states still depended heavily on slave labor. Whether slavery would be legal in the new territories was an issue that increasingly divided Americans in the 1840s.
In 1833, American social reformer William Lloyd Garrison co-founded the American Anti-Slavery Society. The society called for the immediate emancipation of all slaves in the U.S. without reservation. Garrison authored a declaration that charged slave holders as being sinners and man-stealers. He also scorned the U.S. Constitution and ridiculed the political process as a means to further abolitionism. Differences over the rhetoric of the American Anti-Slavery Society, which drew significant opposition, was one of the reasons the Liberty Party was established.
The Liberty Party’s first national convention took place in Albany, New York on 1 April 1840. An initial focus was to pressure the U.S. federal government into divorcing itself from the practice of slavery. The fugitive slave clause of the Constitution called for escaped slaves to be returned to their former owners should they be captured by the authorities of any state. The Liberty Party declared the clause null and void.
Despite little success in presidential elections, the Liberty Party furthered the abolitionist cause within American politics. A majority of members left the party to help form the Free Soil Party in 1848. The Free Soil Party avoided inflammatory rhetoric and focused on immediate political goals. For example, it fought to eliminate discriminatory laws towards freed blacks in the state of Ohio. By 1854, the political platform of the Free Soil Party had become mainstream, and the party was largely absorbed by the Republican Party.