1. Anti-Masonic Party
Conspiracy theorists fueled the founding of this party in 1828, which was established to expose and dismantle the Freemason society across America. The party’s founders suspected the Masons of murdering William Morgan, a bricklayer who intended to publish a book revealing Masonic secrets. Considered by many the original American “third party,” the Anti-Masonic Party became the first political organization to publish a platform and to hold nominating conventions. It failed in its mission to eliminate freemasonry and disbanded in 1840.
2. Free Soil Party
Despite its environmental-sounding name, the Free Soil Party, founded in 1848, advocated for the prohibition of slavery in America’s southwestern territories. Prior to the Civil War, freed slaves were not guaranteed their freedom if they migrated into lawless territories, such as the newly acquired areas comprising modern-day California, New Mexico and Arizona. Though the Free Soil Party’s legislative efforts failed, it nominated former president Martin Van Buren for the presidency in 1848 and wound up tipping the vote in Zachary Taylor’s favor, ensuring his election as America’s 12th president. The party disbanded in 1854.
3. Readjuster Party
What can you do when your debt level threatens to bankrupt you? If you’re the state of Virginia, you simply cancel a large portion of the principal with the stroke of a legislative pen. At least, that’s what the Readjuster Party did to reduce Virginia’s post-Civil War debt and maintain its solvency. The party was formed in 1879 for this sole purpose. It successfully repudiated about one-third of the state’s allocated war debt and instituted tax reforms to collect the rest. By 1883, the winds of politics had changed and the party lost every seat statewide. It subsequently disbanded.
4. Silver Party
When miners struck silver at the massive Comstock Lode, silver fever hit Nevada. The mineral naturally became a cornerstone of economics in that state, and local politicians soon began trying to establish a national silver standard for money. Founded in 1892, the Silver Party opposed the current national monetary system, founded on gold and unbacked paper currency. Nevada elected Silver Party candidates to both the Senate and the House, but the party fizzled along with the decline of silver mining. By 1911, the party was a bust.
5. Home Rule Party of Hawaii
No sooner had Captain Cook said “aloha” to the Hawaiian islands in 1778 than multiple groups moved in to impose their own rule over the native islanders. Groups of Europeans, Chinese and French tried to govern the islands, along with various members of the clergy. A belief in “Hawaii for the Hawaiians” led Robert Wilcox to establish the Home Rule Party of Hawaii in 1901 to restore governance to the island’s native people. While the party won a majority of seats in the territorial senate, it proved ineffective at actual leadership. Ultimately, the party fractured and was disbanded in 1912.
6. Rhode Island Women’s Suffrage Party
As might be expected from its name, this political party worked to enfranchise women, especially in getting them the right to vote. Founded in 1913, the Rhode Island Women’s Suffrage Party evolved from earlier efforts by suffrage groups to educate the public about voting rights. The party specifically targeted the state’s legislature and lobbied not only for women’s right to vote but for laws governing child labor, women’s education and temperance. The group never fielded a candidate, and just two years later it merged with the College Equal Suffrage League to form the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association.
7. States Rights Democratic Party
Known colloquially as the “Dixiecrats” (a mash-up of “Dixie,” referring to the South, and “Democrats”), the States Rights Democratic Party was founded in 1948 with the specific aim of restoring segregation and the antebellum lifestyle to America’s deep south states. The party nominated Strom Thurmond—then-governor of South Carolina who would go on to become a long-time senator—for president, and he garnered 39 Electoral College votes. The party subsequently was squelched by the Democratic Party and never emerged again.
8. American Vegetarian Party
Founded in 1947 by Symon Gould, who co-edited “American Vegetarian” magazine, the American Vegetarian Party quite simply advocated for the meatless lifestyle. Although the party held four national conventions, it never enjoyed ballot access in any state, so no one could vote for its candidates. In addition to being the party’s presidential nominee in 1960, Gould ran for a U.S. Senate seat in 1962 against Jacob Javits in New York. After Gould’s death in 1963, the party disbanded, though efforts to resurrect it resurface from time to time.
9. Youth International Party
Founded by well-known countercultural activists Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin in 1968, the Youth International Party—or “yippies”—viewed politics as “theatre” and staged elaborate protests and subversive events with a view toward exposing the hypocrisy of American politics. The yippie adventure culminated with the arrest of Hoffman and Rubin, among others, at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, when protests turned violent. Though the party officially disbanded later in 1968, advocates keep the yippie fervor alive to this day.