2: What were the sources of Liberty Party support in the 1844
When William Lloyd Garrison began publishing The Liberator in 1831, he inaugurated a radical movement for the immediate and uncompensated end to slavery. The new push to abolish slavery adopted fierce rhetoric previously unheard in American public life. "I will be as harsh as truth, and uncompromising as justice,” Garrison stormed in print. “I am in earnest, I will not equivocate, I will not excuse, I will not retreat a single inch, and I will be heard." The radical abolition movement began and ended as a marginal movement, its advocates a scorned and despised minority. Yet, somehow, abolitionism slowly infiltrated the center of American politics. Whereas in 1831 few could have imagined that slavery would become a national political issue, in 1861 few would have denied that it was slavery, somehow, that had sundered the union.The presidential election of 1844 marked a turning point when national politics began to reform around the issue of slavery. In that year, a third political party arose to challenge the dominance of the two major parties: the Democrats and the Whigs. The new Liberty Party was built solidly on antislavery foundations. Its leaders, culled from abolitionist ranks, modified their antislavery message, watering it down enough to attract considerable popular support throughout the North.
The election itself offered
Americans a titanic struggle
between Henry Clay, one of the founders of the Whig Party and a
in antebellum politics, and James K. Polk, a dark horse Democrat and
of national expansion. Polk won, but
narrowly. A critical factor in the
outcome was the electoral vote of
The Liberty Party’s success demonstrated the significance of third parties in American politics. It also paved the way for the realignment of national politics in the 1850s --- a reconfiguration of national parties that birthed the Republican Party and ultimately led to the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860.
This exercise will help us understand the sources of support for the Liberty Party. Using historical voting and census data, we will explore a range of social factors and their relationship to Liberty Party votes.
|James K. Polk||Henry Clay||James G. Birney|
|1844 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION RESULTS
(26 States in the Union)
|Presidential Candidate||Party||Home State||Popular Vote||Electoral Vote|
|James K. Polk||Democratic||Tennessee||1,337,243||49.6%||170|
|James G. Birney||Liberty||New York||62,300||2.3%||0|
|Needed to win||138|
1 Let’s start with an establishing map.
2 Let’s place the Liberty Party vote in comparison with the votes of the two major parties.
3 Now let’s
begin to explore the social underpinnings of
Liberty Party voting. We’ll concentrate
on those counties we’ve identified as particularly strong supporters of
party. And we’ll use data from the 1850
federal census --- the closest to 1844 to include a wide range of
Examine the following maps with these questions in mind:
4 The final
category we will examine is religion, as evident
in the prevalence of churches in antebellum
5 The total number of churches may not reveal much about the sources of support for political abolitionism. Of course, antebellum Americans embraced many forms of Protestant Christianity, as well as Catholicism and Judaism. Perhaps religious support for abolitionism tended to emerge from certain sects and not from others. Below we have mapped the presence of different church sects in relation to Liberty Party strongholds. What do these maps suggest about the religious bases of Liberty Party support?
The Methodists and
Baptists were the most popular churches
What overarching arguments can you formulate regarding the social bases of Liberty Party support? Can you identify particular social characteristics associated with Liberty Party support? Can you identify possible regional variations in the bases of support for the Liberty Party?Finally, formulate a plan for further investigation of Liberty Party support in a particular region or regions within the nation. What kinds of additional census and map data would you like to have? What sorts of other historical sources would you try to obtain?