Abolitionists formed the Liberty Party during the 1830s. In the early 1800s, the American Anti-slavery Society was a major abolitionist organization in the United States. In 1839, the Society split. William Lloyd Garrison and his supporters called for the creation of a new government that disallowed slavery from the very beginning. He said that the United States Constitution was an illegal document because it denied African Americans their freedom. If the South would not agree to form a new nation that outlawed slavery, Garrison argued that the North should secede from the United States and create its own country.
Other members of the American Anti-Slavery Society contended that Garrison's views were too radical. They agreed that slavery was wrong but they also thought that the United States Constitution had created a legitimate government under which the people had the right to end oppression. Rather than threatening to break apart the United States, these abolitionists hoped to elect people of their beliefs to political offices so that they could make laws outlawing slavery. To achieve this end, these abolitionists formed a political party, the Liberty Party.
The Liberty Party ran a candidate for President of the United States in both 1840 and 1844. James Birney was an abolitionist who spent a portion of his life in Ohio. He was the only man to run for the presidency under this party's banner. Birney received just over seven thousand votes in the election of 1840. Over two million voters participated in this election. In 1844, Birney received approximately 62,000 votes out of more than 2.5 million votes cast. The small vote total for the Liberty Party's candidate showed how small the abolitionist movement was in the North during this period. Birney's candidacy, however, may have won the election for James K. Polk, the Democratic Party's nominee, and lost the election for Henry Clay, the Whig Party's candidate. Abolitionists tended to favor the Whigs. If the Liberty Party had not run a candidate, some of the 62,000 people who voted for Birney may have voted for Clay. Clay lost the election by fewer than 38,000 votes.
Due to the Liberty Party's poor showing in both the elections of 1840 and 1844, the organization came to an end. Many former party members joined the Free-Soil Party, which ran its first candidate for the presidency in 1848.