Birney, James Gillespie

Birney, James Gillespie

(bûr`nē), 1792–1857, American abolitionist, b. Danville, Ky. He practiced law at Danville from 1814 to 1818, before he moved to Alabama, where he served one term in the state legislature. Briefly (1832–34) an agent of the American Colonization Society before becoming an abolitionist, he returned (1833) to Kentucky, freed (1834) his inherited slaves, and helped organize (1835) the Kentucky Anti-Slavery Society. In 1837 he became executive secretary of the American Anti-Slavery Society, and he was a vice president of the World's Anti-Slavery Convention at London in 1840. In contrast to William Lloyd Garrison, Birney constantly advocated political action. He became the acknowledged leader of like-minded abolitionists who, forming the Liberty partyLiberty party,
in U.S. history, an antislavery political organization founded in 1840. It was formed by those abolitionists, under the leadership of James G. Birney and Gerrit Smith, who repudiated William Lloyd Garrison's nonpolitical stand.
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, nominated him for the presidency in 1840 and 1844. An injury sustained in 1845 took him out of public life.

Bibliography

See his letters (ed. by D. L. Dumond, 1938); biographies by W. Birney (1969) and B. Fladeland (1955, repr. 1969).

Birney, James Gillespie

(1792–1857) abolitionist, lawyer, author; born in Danville, Ky. Son of rich slaveholders, he started out as a lawyer and state legislator in Kentucky and then Alabama. Opposition to slavery led him to sell his plantation and most of its slaves; by 1832 he was an agent in the American Colonization Society, but he soon moved from advocating resettlement of slaves to abolitionism. After freeing his last slaves he helped found the Kentucky Anti-Slavery Society (1835) and he attacked slavery as coeditor (with Gamaliel Bailey), of the Cincinnati Philanthropist (1836–37). Often harassed for his views, he was indicted for harboring a fugitive slave (1837) but was acquitted. He moved to New York City in 1837 to serve as executive secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society. Birney ran twice for president as a candidate of antislavery parties (1840, 1844). In 1842 he moved to Michigan, attracted by the cheap land; after being severely injured in a riding accident (1845), he settled in an abolitionists' compound in New Jersey.
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