1849 Platform of the Liberty Party

Adopted in Convention, 3 July 1849, Cazenovia, N. Y.

  1. Resolved, That we recognize the broadest principles of democracy and the right, irrespective of sex, or color, or character, to participate in the selection of civil rulers.
  2. Resolved, That when we admit that our hope of the establishment of righteous civil governments on earth is in the prevalence of Christianity, we, of course, do not mean that spurious, or that mistaken Christianity, which upholds unrighteous civil governments, and which votes civil offices into the hands of anti-abolitionists, and land-monopolists, and other enemies of human rights.
  3. Resolved, That by our love of righteous civil government, of God and of man, we are bound to frown upon the public missionary associations of the world;—nearly all of their political voting members voting on the side of the diabolical conspiracies which have, in all nations, usurped the place and name of civil government—and such conspiracies being the preëminent hindrance to the establishment of righteous civil government, and to the spread of human salvation and blessedness.
  4. Resolved, That the government which will not, or cannot, protect the lives and property of its subjects from the traffic in intoxicating drinks, is utterly unworthy of the name of civil government.
  5. Resolved, That it may be better to resort to revolution, than to submit to a government which compels its subjects to pay the debts of their ancestors.
  6. Resolved, That while we allow government to draw on posterity for the expense of wars, it is idle to hope that there will not be wars.
  7. Resolved, That no just nation need lay its account with being ever involved in war; and, hence, that no just nation can have any excuse or plea, whatever, for wasting the earnings of its subjects upon fortifications and standing armies and navies.
  8. Resolved, That the Federal Constitution clearly requires the abolition of every part of American slavery; and that the Phillipses, and Quinceys, and Garrisons, and Douglasses, who throw away this staff of anti-slavery accomplishment, and chime in with the popular cry, that the constitution is pro-slavery, do, thereby, notwithstanding their anti-slavery hearts, make themselves practically and effectively pro-slavery.
  9. Resolved, That law is for the protection, not for the destruction of rights; and that slavery, therefore, inasmuch as it is the preëminent destroyer of right, is (constitutions, statutes, and judicial decisions to the contrary notwithstanding) utterly incapable of legalization.
  10. Resolved, That whether men cry “no political union with slaveholders,” or “no political union with gamblers,” or “no political union with drunkards,” they do, in each case, proceed upon the absurd supposition, that, instead of being necessarily identified with the whole body politic in which their lot is cast, they are at liberty to choose their partners in it, and to dissolve their national or state tie with the slaveholder in Massachusetts, or that gambler in Pennsylvania, or that drunkard in Virginia.
  11. Resolved, That land-monopoly is to be warred against, not only because it is the most wide-spread of all oppressions, but because it is preëminently fruitful of other forms of oppression.
  12. Resolved, That the governments which deny to their subjects the liberty to buy and sell freely in all the markets of the world, are guilty of invading a natural and a precious right.
  13. Resolved, That the government will never be administered honestly and economically, until its expenses are defrayed by direct taxes; and said taxes, to be justly assessed, must be assessed according to the ability of the payers, rather than according to their property.
  14. Resolved, That not only is it true, that the members of a pro-slavery church is untrusty on the subject of slavery, but that, (considering how, with rare exceptions, sectarians yield to their strong temptations to sacrifice truth and humanity on the alter of sect) it is also true that the members of a sectarian church is not to be fully relied on for unswerving fidelity to the cause of righteousness.
  15. Resolved, That the genius both of Republicanism and Christianity forbids concealment, and that secret societies, therefore, do not only not promote either, but do hinder and endanger both.
  16. Resolved, That our only hope of the Whig and Democratic parties—parties so long wedded to slavery and other stupendous wrongs—is in their breaking up and ruin.
  17. Resolved, That, whilst we rejoice in the faithful testimonies and efficient labors of the Free Soil Party, against the extension of slavery, it must, nevertheless, be a poor, unnatural, absurd, inhuman, anti-republican, unchristian party, until it arrays itself against the existence as well as against the extension of slavery.
  18. Resolved, That the Liberty Party, though reduced in numbers, is not reduced in principles or usefulness—nor in the confidence, that its honest and earnest endeavors for a righteous civil government, will yet be crowned with triumph.
  19. Resolved, That, whilst we respect the motives of those who propose to supply the slaves with the Bible, we, nevertheless, can have no sympathy with an undertaking which, inasmuch as it implies the pernicious falsehood that the slave enjoys the right of property and the right to read, goes to relieve slavery, in the public mind, of more than half its horrors and more than half its odium.
  20. Resolved, That, instead of sending Bibles among the slaves, we had infinitely better adopt the suggestion in the memorable Liberty-Party Address to the slaves, and supply them with pocket-compasses, and, moreover, if individual or private-defence be ever justifiable, and on their part ever expedient, with pocket-pistols also—to the end, that, by such helps, they may reach a land where they can both own the Bible and learn to read it.
  21. Resolved, That we welcome the appearance of the book, entitled “The Democracy of Christianity;” and that we should rejoice to see every member of the Liberty Party supplying himself with a copy of it.

Whereas, Lysander Spooner, of Massachusetts, that man of honest heart and acute and profound intellect, has published a perfectly conclusive legal argument against the constitutionality of slavery:

  1. Resolved, therefore, that we warmly recommend to the friends of freedom, in this and other States, to supply, within the coming six months, each lawyer in their respective counties with a copy of said argument.
  2. Resolved, That we recommend that a National Liberty Party Convention be held in the city of Syracuse, on the 3d and 4th days of July, 1850, for the purpose of nominating candidates for President and Vice President, and of adopting other measures in behalf of the cause of righteous civil government.
  3. Resolved, That a State Liberty Party Convention be held in the village of Cortland, on the first Wednesday of next September, for nominating State officers, and for other business.
  4. Resolved, That, not only with our Irish brother and our Italian brother, under their heavy and galling loads of civil and ecclesiastical despotism, do we sympathize, but, also, with our fellow-men everywhere—for, everywhere, in our priest, and demagogue, and despot ridden world, are our fellow-men suffering under civil or ecclesiastical despotism, or both; and nowhere in it is enjoyed the priceless and two-fold blessing of Christian democracy in the State and Democratic Christianity in the Church.
  5. Resolved, That unwillingness to use the products of slave labor is a beautiful and effective testimony against slavery.

Whereas, we rejoice to see the first number of the “Liberty Party Paper”—a paper which, we doubt not, will faithfully represent, and ably inculcate the principles of the Liberty Party:

  1. Resolved, therefore, that we call on all the members of the Liberty Party to regard it as their first duty to that party, to subscribe for, and endeavor to induce others to subscribe for, this paper.
  2. Resolved, That we hear with profound sorrow, of the very severe, if not indeed entirely hopeless, sickness of our honored and beloved James G. Birney—a man who, for his wisdom, integrity, high and heroic bearing, deserves a distinguished place in the regards of his fellow-men.
  3. Resolved, That we honor the memory of Alvan Stewart, who, for so many years employed his remarkably original and vigorous powers in promoting the cause of liberty and the cause of temperance.

Notes by Alexander S. Peak, 2010

In light of the fact that there is a lot going on in this document that may seem confusing to the modern reader, I think it prudent to add a new notes to explain the above.

It must be noted, for sake of clarity, that not everyone who opposed slavery was what we would call an abolitionist.  Abolitionists were people who believed that slavery should be done away with immediately.  There were other voices in the antislavery movement who called for and supported a slow transition toward the elimination of slavery, a position repugnant to abolitionists.  This doesn’t mean that the abolitionists were unrealistic.  They understood that, despite their best efforts, things were unlikely to change over night.  But, they also recognised that simply because things weren’t going to change over night, was no reason to not support immediate abolition as the moral position, nor was it a reason to actively seek a slow transition.  Thus, as Murray N. Rothbard notes in his For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto (p. 18):

Moreover, principle and strategy merged in the decay of eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century liberal devotion to “abolitionism”—to the view that, whether the institution be slavery or any other aspect of statism, it should be abolished as quickly as possible, since the immediate abolition of statism, while unlikely in practice, was to be sought after as the only possible moral position.  For to prefer a gradual whittling away to immediate abolition of an evil and coercive institution is to ratify and sanction such evil, and therefore to violate libertarian principles.  As the great abolitionist of slavery and libertarian William Lloyd Garrison explained:  “Urge immediate abolition as earnestly as we may, it will, alas! be gradual abolition in the end.  We have never said that slavery would be overthrown by a single blow; that it ought to be, we shall always contend.”

The Liberty Party was created in 1839 to be a party unequivocably devoted to the abolition of slavery.  Yet, it did not, it seems, create an actual platform to annunciate its views until 1843.

In the fourth clause of the 1843 platform, the party indeed says it is not a single-issue party.  After that, the platform nevertheless focuses nearly entirely on but a single issue, i.e., slavery.  There is one exception to this, however, for in clause sixteen, the party does say that it supports “freedom of speech and of the press, and the right of petition, and the right of trial by jury.”

Because the 1843 platform does not endorse any policies that we would deem unlibertarian, I have no problem calling it a libertarian platform, and calling the party in 1843 one of the first libertarian parties in the united states of America.  (Another early libertarian party that jumps to mind is the Equal Rights Party, formed by locofoco democrats in New York.)

Unfortunately, I cannot extend to the platforms of ’48 and ’49 the same honour that I extend to the platform of ’43.  While the 1849 platform is clearly just as abolitionist as that of 1843, it nevertheless makes concessions to tyranny that we cannot condone.  I shall detail them below, in the course of analysing the various planks of this platform.

The first plank advocate the classical liberal ideal of universal suffrage.  Back in 1849, Americans who were not of the “right” skin-colour or “right” gender found it often difficult, if not impossible, to vote.

A number of clauses—including the second, the third, fourteenth, fifteenth, seventeenth, nineteenth, twentieth, twenty-first, and twenty-fifth planks—discuss religion; yet, I cannot ascertain from this document what the party’s position was regarding the separation of church and state.  I do believe, although I could be mistaken, that despite the copious amounts of religious rhetoric found in this document, the members of the party nevertheless supported a separation of church and state.

Unfortunately, the fourth plank advocates the disgusting, illiberal policy of alcohol prohibition.  The movement in opposition to alcohol was known as the temperance movement, and it was a surprisingly big thing in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Opinions within the movement ranged from the relatively-liberal position that alcohol should not be banned, but rather simply rejected; to the obviously-authoritarian position that alcohol should be banned outright.  With the passage of the eighteenth amendment in 1920, America witnessed first hand the horrors of alcohol prohibition.  Since the twenty-first amendment repealing prohibition in 1933, alcohol prohibitionism hasn’t been taken seriously again in the united states (save for the insane craze to ban Four Loko).  But back before the failure of the prohibitionist experiment, it was taken seriously, and many genuinely thought that an alcohol-free society would promote brotherhood or Godliness or whatever.  Whatever the reasons given, the fact remains that alcohol prohibition is clearly antilibertarian and right-wing.  Moreover, it is quite peculiar that a party ostensibly devoted to the abolition of slavery would fail to recognise that its own policy with regards to alcohol is one that usurps from the individual the authority to nonviolently control her or his own body—effectively, the same evil promoted by the advocates of slavery.  If slavery be inherently criminal, inherently piratical, as the party consistently claimed, then so too is any policy that would allow a government to dictate what substances a free and sovereign individual may or may not place into her or his own body.  Thus, the prohibition of drugs or alcohol is just as piratical and lawless as the statist policy of protecting the institution of slaveholding.

With the fifth clause, the party returns to advocating the liberal or Jeffersonian position.  Thomas Jefferson had maintained that a national debt should only be able to exist for so many years because it was, in his opinion, an act of theft to force future generations to pay for the debts of earlier generations.  Thus, many modern libertarians actively promote the view that the federal state should default on its debt, rather than to steal from the youth to pay for the extravagances of the previous generations.

Regarding individual debts, the issue is only slightly more complicated.  If person A dies with a debt, then all of A’s debt should be paid off to her creditor(s) from A’s estate before any of that estate can be inherited by those to whom A left her belongings in her will.  But, if A dies without a penny to her name, then no one, not even the children of A, owes anything to A’s creditor(s).  So, what if A has an estate, but it is not large enough to pay off A’s creditor(s)?  Then A’s creditor(s) should receive the entire estate, but not a penny more; again, A’s children do not owe anything to A’s creditor(s).

Clauses six and seven deal with the horrors of war.  The Jeffersonian liberals and other antifederalists, in the early days of the republic, warned against the pernicious evil of standing armies.  And it is precisely this—standing armies—that the Liberty Party here warns against, and opposes, with these clauses.

The seventh plank is needlessly harsh.  A debate existed within the abolitionist movement of the nineteenth century over the value of constitutionalism within the framework of the abolitionist agenda.  William Lloyd Garrison regarded the Constitution to be a pro-slavery document, and thus went around ripping up copies of the document, calling it a pact with Hell.  And this was a popular view at the time.  There were also many abolitionists who advocated getting the Northern states to secede from the slavery-supporting U. S. A., for, as they saw it, if the U. S.  supported slavery, they wanted nothing to do with it.  The Liberty Party, by contrast, argued that the U. S. Constitution was actually, if understood correctly, an antislavery document.  Were the Garrisonians, &c., “practically and effectively pro-slavery,” as this platform alleges?  Of course not.  It was just a different approach to promoting the abolitionist cause, and should be respected as such.

Unfortunately, another illiberal policy rears its ugly head in the above platform.  In clause ten, an opposition to gambling is presented, without any justification for the position.  Of course, the liberal position on gambling is that one should be free to do with one’s own money what one pleases, including waste it on gambling if she so chooses.

The next plank speaks of land monopolies.  Land reform is actually a somewhat complicated issue for libertarians, for a libertarian will either support or oppose it given certain conditions.  For example, the libertarian fully supports land reform when it involves taking plantations away from slaveholders and transferring that land and all other properties thereupon to those slaves who were unjustly forced to labour thereupon.  Likewise, in the event that the Communist Party has taken over all of the land within a given region, the libertarian would not hesitate to demand that the land be delivered back to the peasants who, unlike the officials of the Communist Party, at least live on and work the land.  But the libertarian will not willy-nilly support just any land reform proposal.  If Smith finds an unowned plot of land, and decides to clear away the rocks and twigs, and toil the dirt to make it suitable for farming, then that land becomes his legitimate and private property.  He has homesteaded it in accord with the Lockean homesteading principle; and, thus, it is his.  His, too, are whatever crops he grows on this land.  So, would the libertarian support taking the land away from Smith and giving it to Robinson?  If Smith has not enslaved Robinson, nor has committed any other crime against Robinson or Robinson’s justly-acquired property, nor against anyone else, then the answer is simple:  No, the libertarian would not.  Nor would the libertarian say that Smith’s property should be stolen from him and given, somehow, to “all the people of the earth,” for no matter how noble that may sound, such an act would still constitute theft against Smith, and enslavement of his labour.  If someone takes Smith’s crops without consulting Smith, such a person is thereby forcing Smith to labour for the thief without the consent of Smith; taking the product of Smith’s labour without Smith’s consent is retroactive enslavement, pure and simple.  Thus, the libertarian must be very careful when addressing the matter of land reform, for such a policy could be either just or unjust depending upon the conditions of the land.

Clause twelve advocates the classically left-wing position in support of free trade, and against protectionism.  Unfortunately, the party is being hypocritical here.  Although the party claims, in this plank, to support free trade, we have already seen that it does not support free trade when it comes to alcohol or gambling.  Thus, we see the party carving out conservative niches in its otherwise left-libertarian agenda.

The Liberty Party also advocates, in clause thirteen, replacing all indirect taxes (e.g., tariffs) with a graduated income tax.  Of course, the liberal position is that the less taxation, the better; but, this plank fails to present any position regarding the degree of taxation, confining itself instead to stating a position on the form of taxation.  Thus, I am inclined to label this plank unlibertarian.

Planks nineteen and twenty concern themselves with the view that it is never illegitimate to help slaves escape, and that those who do help slaves to escape are heroes.  It also promotes gun rights and the second amendment.

In the twenty-second clause of this platform, the Liberty Party recommends the book The Unconstitutionality of Slavery, by the radical libertarian, Lysander Spooner.  Prior to reading this book, the libertarian Frederick Douglass had been in the Garrisonian camp with regards to the U. S. Constitution; after reading this book, it was his view that the Constitution truly was an anti-slavery document.

Finally, the twenty-sixth plank concerns itself with promoting a boycott of all goods produced with slave labour.