Birney, James Gillespie

Life Span
to
Full name
James Gillespie Birney
Place of Birth
Burial Place
Birth Date Certainty
Exact
Death Date Certainty
Exact
Gender
Male
Race
White
Origins
Slave State
No. of Siblings
2
No. of Children
12
Family
James Birney (father), Martha Reed (mother), Agatha McDowell (wife, 1816), Elizabeth Fitzhugh (second wife, 1840)
Education
Princeton (College of New Jersey)
Transylvania
Occupation
Politician
Attorney or Judge
Farmer or Planter
Writer or Artist
Relation to Slavery
Slaveholder who freed slaves
Church or Religious Denomination
Presbyterian
Political Parties
Liberty
Other Affiliations
Abolitionists (Anti-Slavery Society)
Colonizationists
Masons
Government
State legislature

James Gillespie Birney (American National Biography)

Scholarship
In 1842 Birney ran on an antislavery ticket for the governorship of Michigan. Just prior to the 1844 presidential election, in which he was again the Liberty party candidate, he was on a speaking tour in the East when a letter purporting to be written by him was published, which "proved" him to be a secret Democrat. This "Garland Forgery," named for Jerome B. Garland of Michigan, the purported author of the letter, was later attributed to the Whigs, and may or may not have cost him votes. His vote total, though considerably higher than in 1840, was still only 2 percent of the national popular vote. His political career was ended and his antislavery activities were severely curtailed the following year when a horse-riding accident left him partially paralyzed. Nevertheless, he continued writing on political and constitutional issues regarding slavery….

As a former slaveholder Birney spoke with the voice of authority on race and slavery; as a lawyer he spoke as a moderate on constitutional issues. For him politics was a means to an end, never an end in itself. He died realizing that moderation on the race issue would not prevail but that civil war would tear the nation apart before emancipation could be proclaimed.
Betty Fladeland, "Birney, James Gillespie," American National Biography Online, February 2000, http://www.anb.org/articles/15/15-00061.html.
Chicago Style Entry Link
Birney, James G. Sinfulness of Slaveholding in All Circumstances: Test by Reason and Scripture. Detroit: Charles Willcox, 1846. view record
Fladeland, Betty. James Gillespie Birney: Slaveholder to Abolitionist. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1955. view record
Franklin, Cathy Rogers. “James Gillespie Birney, the Revival Spirit, and 'The Philanthropist'.” American Journalism 17, no. 2 (2000): 31-51. view record
How to Cite This Page: "Birney, James Gillespie," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, https://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/5106.