10. Silver Party
The party is aligned with another faction on this list (the Populists), which also supported three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan in 1896. Bryan’s viewpoint on U.S. monetary policy, advocating silver coins as the answer to the post- Civil War Greenback currency problem, endeared Silver Party members to the politician, and distinguished the party from Populists, thanks to its focus on the issue. The movement was most active in Nevada from 1892 to 1911, emerging as vast silver veins opened in the state. While the party got two of its candidates elected as governor, eventually most pro-silver factions would be absorbed by Nevada’s Democrats.
9. Free Soil Party
While short-lived, dissolving within six years of its debut in 1848, the Free Soil Party was uncharacteristically influential for early third-party and single-issue movements, and it boasted honorable social objectives. The party sprung from a meeting in Buffalo, New York, of Whig and Liberty Party members who opposed slavery. The resulting party took its name from what became its primary slogan: “Free soil, free speech, free labour, and free men.” They fought the westward expansion of slavery, opposed discriminatory practices against freed former slaves in Ohio and were surprisingly successful as a third-party with such a singular platform; in 1849, it sent 16 elected officials to Congress. Its presence also gave rise to the (first incarnation) of the Republican Party, when the Free Soil Party and Whigs joined forces, courtesy of a strategic political alliance in 1854.
8. Readjuster Party
While the Readjuster Party garnered biracial support by promoting public education and a repeal of the poll tax (which effectively kept blacks and poor whites from voting), its main thrust was on “readjusting” the enormous debt the state of Virginia racked up before the Civil War. Infrastructure improvements were valued at $48 million in 1860 (a whopping $167 billion in 2011 dollars). Problem was, many of these bridges, canals, railroads and the like were destroyed or damaged during the War by Union forces. Supporters like its leader, former Confederate general and railroad man William Mahone, rationalized that Virginia’s share of the pre-war debt should be adjusted downward and shared with West Virginia, which was home to many of the surviving infrastructure improvements — as that portion of the state separated from Virginia during the Civil War and had seen fewer battles than its counterpart; the U.S. Supreme Court would finally intervene in 1915, ruling that West Virginia owed Virginia some $12.3 million. While Mahone never lived to see the ruling, he and the party gained control of the state legislature, vowing to also adjust the debt in other ways, stepping up funding for schools and other public facilities. Their loss of majority control over the state legislature in 1883 would spell the beginning of the end of the party and the rise of the Democrats, and when Mahone died in 1895, it seems he took the party with him.
7. American Vegetarian Party
Started in 1948 by the owner of a (naturally) vegetarian restaurant in Chicago, 85-year-old John Maxwell, and American Vegetarian editor, Symon Gould, the party’s main focus was obvious — opposition to eating once-living creatures. According to a July 1988 article in the Vegetarian Times, the party’s other positions included federal ownership of all natural resources and government pensions of $100 a month for anyone aged 65 and over. Maxwell and Gould never had much political influence and received little media attention at the time, with the party dissolving soon after Maxwell’s death in 1960. Even so, there have been relatively recent efforts (mid-2000s) to give birth to a new Vegetarian Party that has adopted an anti-war focus.
6. People’s Party (or “Populists”)
The discontent among drought-ravaged wheat farmers in the Great Plains and cotton farmers in the South gave rise to the People’s Party in 1891. And while the party’s concern over the rising gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots” is credited with prompting sweeping social reform at the dawn of the 20th century, the movement would be disbanded within 17 years of its formation. The party’s pinnacle came in the 1896 presidential election, when it supported Nebraska Congressman William Jennings Bryan, a three-time presidential nominee endorsed by both the Populists and the much-older Democratic Party that year. Worried about the growing power of railroaders and banks, the party rallied around the abolition of national banks, graduated income tax, and civil service and labor reforms (such as the eight-hour day). Political figures, like its first U.S. Senator, Kansan William Peffer, were often looked upon as a quaint joke by “elite” East Coast politicians and press.
5. Anti-Nebraska Party
Largely a party revolving around one year (1854), one territory (Nebraska) and one issue (slavery), this party was inspired by the political architect behind the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, Democratic senator from Illinois, Stephen A. Douglas. To placate Southern lawmakers, Douglas moved to effectively overturn the ban on slavery in Kansas and Nebraska, leaving the issue of slavery up to the new territories. Salmon P. Chase and other abolitionists organized the party wholly to fight slavery; interestingly, Chase also coined the slogan for another anti-slavery party on this list, the Free Soil Party. It turned out to be a bloody exercise in futility, as the Kansas-Nebraska legislation passed, followed by a series of violent skirmishes between anti-slavery “Free Staters” and pro-slavery “Border Ruffians” in Kansas Territory and neighboring communities in Missouri. Chase eventually realized he would get nowhere on the abolitionist issue with the Democratic Party, so he opted to oppose the expansion of slavery by forming a new party — the Republican Party.
4. Home Rule Party of Hawaii
While the 15-year-old Aloha Aina Party (derived from “love of land”) is considered the “reestablishment” of the Home Rule Party, the original got its start at the beginning of the 20th century. The party formed in direct response to the United States annexing and establishing the Hawaiian Islands as a U.S. territory. Native Hawaiians, worried that the existing parties wouldn’t represent their interests, formed their own party to advance the rights of the native population under the “Hawaiian Independent” name, and later the Independent Home Rule Party. Robert Wilcox, son of a Rhode Island-born sea captain and a descendant of Maui royalty, organized native Hawaiian political clubs under the party umbrella and led the rallying cry: “Equal rights for the people.” Eventually, he would become the territory’s first delegate to Congress, where he quickly found himself segregated from other colleagues because of his race, his populist rhetoric and his speech (English was his second language). Rival factions would eventually split the party — so much so that half of the delegates at its 1902 convention would walk out and join other parties, including the Republicans. The party folded a decade later, before being resurrected 85 years later under a different name with a conservationist and nationalistic vision.
3. Natural Law Party
The only party on this list to transcend national borders, at one time it’s believed the international NLP was active in more than six dozen nations. It was based upon the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the late founder and guru of the Transcendental Meditation movement characterized by the technique of the same name. While founded stateside in 1992 by particle physicist John Samuel Hagelin and a dozen educators, scientists and entrepreneurs, it had largely disbanded 12 years later in the U.S. and most other parts of the world (with the exception of some states and India). The party’s key tenets include deploying a special team of 1,000 followers to reduce collective stress that would supposedly result in reduced crime, illness and accidents, and improved economic conditions and quality of life. They also proposed introducing Transcendental Meditation to all school-age children, and banning genetically engineered foods. The party appears to have had its heyday in the U.S. from the early 1990s to the millennium when Hagelin ran for president three times. According to its official website, Hagelin and other former NLP candidates are now associated with the U.S. Peace Government, which appears to champion many of the same ideals as NLP … only with a different name.
2. Anti-Masonic Party
Emerging in upstate New York in 1828, the Anti-Masonic party is considered the first American “third party.” While the young country’s citizens had little tolerance for so-called “secret societies,” for many it seemed Freemasonry was getting a “free pass” — probably because so many prominent citizens were Masons, including Martin Van Buren (who was elected eighth president in 1836). While the party did bring some members to local and statewide prominence, it never achieved the national success it had hoped for — with its nominee for president in 1831, William Wirt, falling miserably to the popular Andrew Jackson. In a strange twist, Wirt himself was a Mason; while some contend he regretted his membership, others suggest he remained a member, and claim that he delivered a speech at the Anti-Masonic convention defending the group. Perhaps it was such compromised principles that led to the party dissolving a decade after its formation.
1. Youth International Party
With a flair for the dramatic and embodying the anti-establishment mindset of many 1960s youths, the Youth International Party sprung onto the national stage in 1967. Americans quickly learned about this counterculture party and its members, better known as “Yippies,” that mocked the political system. The group famously ran a pig known as Pigasus the Immortal for president in 1968. Yippies attacked the capitalist system — highlighted when they threw Monopoly money on traders at the New York Stock Exchange. The party also touted a “Yippie” flag featuring a marijuana leaf, and regularly led anti-war demonstrations. The most famous of its five founding members, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, later gained notoriety for their role as part of the Chicago Seven, a group of defendants charged with conspiracy, inciting a riot and other alleged crimes resulting from the protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Poor Pigasus became embroiled in the clash between protestors and police after officers seized the pig, infuriating the Yippies. Small Yippie movements can still be found, at least on the Internet, but its most famous leaders actually met tragic ends; Hoffman committed suicide in 1989 while Rubin (who ironically became a stockbroker) was killed five years later by a car while jaywalking.