A third-party candidate hasn’t occupied the U.S. presidency since 1850, when President Zachary Taylor died, propelling into the office Vice President Millard Fillmore of the anti-Catholic, anti-masonic American Party — also known as the Know-Nothings, because when a member was asked about its activities, he was supposed to reply, "I know nothing."
Today, there are many such alternate parties in the United States. Some are well-known, such as the Libertarian, Green, and Constitution parties. And of course there was Ross Perot’s Reform Party USA that managed to get Jesse Ventura elected governor of Minnesota in 1998.
But the political parties shown below may surprise you in that they are less conventional or in any case more obscure than many of the best-known third parties. Some were serious, and some were meant as a joke but resonated with the public and took on a life of their own.
Here are some of history’s more unusual alternate political parties.
1. The Objectivist Party
Educator, attorney, and political activist Dr. Tom Stevens founded the Objectivist Party on Feb. 2, 2008, the 1905 birthday of famed Russian-American novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand (photo above). Author of "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead," Rand's philosophy of Objectivism (or “rational selfishness”) is at the heart of the Objectivist party.
Their statement of principles includes the following: “Individuals have a right to life, a right to their own thoughts, a right to their own property, and a right to protect themselves.” The party advocates free market capitalism and a flat-rate income tax. They oppose other forms of taxation including a sales tax, property tax, capital gains tax, inheritance tax, VAT tax, etc. They advocate the dissolution of the public school system and the legalization of gambling, prostitution, marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco use for all individuals aged 18 years or older.
In 2008 and 2012, Objectivist Party founder Tom Stevens was the Objectivism Party presidential candidate.
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2. The United States Marijuana Party
As its name implies, the United States Marijuana Party (USMJP) calls for the legalization of cannabis. It was founded in 2002 by a longtime critic of the War on Drugs, Loretta Nall, the 2006 write-in Libertarian Party candidate for governor of Alabama. (She’s seen in the above 2005 photo in front of the State Capitol in Montgomery, Ala.) Nall supports tax credits for homeschoolers, withdrawal of American forces from the Iraq War, and the elimination of the No Child Left Behind, USA PATRIOT, and REAL ID acts.
In 2007, after learning that Alabama Attorney General Troy King might push for tougher anti-obscenity laws because of a court ruling that existing law was too vague with regard to an adult toy shop called Love Stuff, Nall amusingly led a sex toy drive, urging thousands of people to buy and send sex toys to King.
3. The United States Pirate Party
No, neither Captain Kidd nor Somalis holding Tom Hanks prisoner are associated with the U.S. Pirate Party. Rather, the U.S. party is affiliated with Pirate Parties International (PPI), which unites Pirate parties in more than 20 nations around the world to support civil rights, direct democracy, and especially online privacy, which includes allowing people to freely share files across the Internet and preventing online censorship.
Founded in Sweden in 2006 by Rickard Falkvinge, Pirate parties in have garnered votes and won some Parliamentary seats in Sweden, Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Iceland. The United States Pirate Party, founded by Brent Allison and Alex English, exists in eight states, but its “captains and first mates” who lead statewide organizations are working to expand the pro-Internet freedom agenda.
In the middle photo, members of Greece's Pirate Party hold a banner reading “Stop ACTA” during a demonstration against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) in Athens, Greece, on Feb. 11, 2012. ACTA was meant to stop the proliferation of counterfeit and pirated goods, as well as of services that share infringing materials on the Internet. It was signed by more than 30 countries but surveillance and censorship concerns caused the European Parliament to reject it on July 4, 2012, 478 votes to 39, with 165 abstentions.
In the lower photo, a Pirate Party delegate attends the PPI Conference in Prague, Czech Republic, April 14, 2012, where Pirate parties from 20 countries met for two days.
4. The American Vegetarian Party
Founded on July 28, 1947, the American Vegetarian Party (AVP) was principally the brainchild of Symon Gould, the assistant editor of The American Vegetarian magazine and head of New York’s Vegetarian Society. Gould rallied for the party’s creation during the sessions of the American Naturopathic Association, a group of “naturopathic doctors” who put their faith in nutrition and fasting instead of conventional medicine.
An 84-year-old vegetarian restaurateur named John Maxwell — who claimed he had not tasted meat in 45 years — was selected as the party’s first presidential candidate (despite the fact that he was born in England, precluding his becoming a U.S. president), with Gould as VP on the herbivore ticket. Gould organized and promoted the first American Vegetarian Convention, held in Milwaukee in 1949.
Aside from an expected anti-meat platform, the party also wanted to outlaw tobacco, alcohol, and even medicine, but supported U.S. military action around the globe.
The party, expecting 5 million write-in herbivore votes, received just four. The party continued until it dissolved following Gould’s death in 1963. In 2004, peace activist and Green Party member Bob Auerbach attempted to revive the concept by trying to organize a “Vegetarian Party” at “Vegetarian Summerfest 2004,” the 30th annual conference of the North American Vegetarian Society.
5. The Surprise Party
What started out as a joke to promote the Burns and Allen radio show by running zany comedienne Gracie Allen for the U.S. presidency in 1940 under the slogan “Down with common sense. Vote for Gracie,” mushroomed into a disconcertingly huge, whirlwind political campaign that stole write-in votes from legitimate politicians Franklin D. Roosevelt and Wendell Wilkie.
Gracie declared herself a prospective candidate of the new Surprise Party — so named because her mother was a Democrat, her father a Republican and she was “a surprise.” (The party’s official symbol was a live kangaroo named Laura.) Gracie soon found herself as guest of honor at the National Woman’s Press Club’s annual convention in Washington, D.C. There she pledged to change D.C. to A.C. upon her election to president, so electric clocks would work correctly.
Omaha, Neb., invited Gracie to hold her political convention during the city’s Golden Spike Days in mid-May 1940, and the Union Pacific railroad scheduled a campaign train for her that ran from Los Angeles to Omaha. The train made 34 campaign whistle-stops and drew nearly 300,000 people. Arriving at Omaha’s Union Station, a crowd of 15,000 supporters held an impromptu parade for her. Also in Omaha, on May 17, 1940, 8,000 Surprise Party “delegates” from all 50 U.S. states unanimously nominated her as their candidate. (There was no vice presidential candidate, as Gracie said there would be “no vice” in her administration.)
Harvard University students endorsed Gracie Allen, the town of Menominee elected her as mayor (she declined the office), and she garnered actual write-in votes in the November 1940 election — some historians say hundreds of votes, others say thousands.
6. The Anti-Bunk Party
In 1928, magazine editor and author Robert Sherwood suggested to humorist, actor, and author Will Rogers (photo above) that he run for president. Rogers said that "the offer to run struck him like a bolt out of the blue, leaving him dazed." But he realized that "being dazed, he would make a splendid candidate."
Rogers ran against Herbert Hoover and Al Smith on a platform opposing bunk. Thus, he called his group the Anti-Bunk Party, and the platform appeared in the August 1928 issue of Life magazine. Other articles in Life followed, in which Rogers railed against the exaggerations of political showmanship and bland similarity of political platforms, claiming that his opponents had nothing special to offer voters, and neither did he. (Though he did say, "Whatever the other fellow don't do, we will.") Henry Ford endorsed Rogers, along with entertainer Eddie Cantor, baseball player Babe Ruth, humorist Robert Benchley, and aviatrix Amelia Earhart.
His platform culminated with, “If elected I positively and absolutely agree to resign.”
7. The American Common Sense Party
The American Common Sense party decries the traditional Democratic-Republican split that “is tearing this country apart,” choosing instead to look at each challenge to America in a pragmatic and logical way. They tackle everything from Energy and Global Warming (development of Alaska in the Anwar region, along with nuclear plants supporting a hydrogen-based infrastructure) school uniforms and increased discipline in public schools, enforcement of existing immigration laws, a strong military, term limits, free market principles, a smaller federal government, and a balanced budget.
The party also champions a convention based on Article V of the Constitution, in which Congress can issue a call of state delegates to consider constitutional amendments, in response to two-thirds of state legislatures asking for one. That numeric requirement has been satisfied, with 50 states submitting over 500 requests. As the party says, “Such a convention operating under authority of the Constitution would be a fourth, impermanent branch of the federal system, not beholden to the three permanent branches.”
8. The Youth International Party
Better known as the "Yippies" and the “Groucho Marxists,” this countercultural, youth-oriented spinoff of the free speech and anti-war movements of the 1960s was founded on Dec. 31, 1967, in New York. Their theatrically over-the-top, anarchistic antics were more symbolic than an actual attempt to replace the status quo, earning them the enmity of many older liberals. In 1968, for example, they ran a 145-pound pig (“Pigasus the Immortal”) as a Democratic presidential candidate, and demanded that he receive Secret Service protection and White House foreign policy briefings.
Abbie Hoffman (who committed suicide in 1989) and Jerry Rubin (killed by a car in 1994 while jaywalking) were among the more famous members of this unstructured group, partly because of their involvement with the five-month Chicago Seven Conspiracy trial of 1969, in which they were charged with conspiracy, inciting to riot, and other charges related to protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
Remaining Yippies still hold an annual march in New York to legalize marijuana. Their headquarters at 9 Bleeker St. now houses the “Yippie Museum/Café and Gift Shop” chartered by the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York.
The upper photo displays the flag of the Youth International Party. The lower photo is of Abbie Hoffman, left, Rennie Davis, and Jeremy Rubin holding a news conference as they await the verdict in the “Chicago Seven” case on Feb. 14, 1970.
9. The Prohibition Party
Yes, it’s true: Prohibitionists, those enemies of all who swig alcoholic beverages, are still around. The Prohibition Party is America’s oldest operating third party; its members have been participating in American politics since it was founded by John Russell of Michigan in 1869. Since their glory days of the 1920s when the 18th Amendment was in effect (upper photo) and America was supposedly alcohol-free — until its repeal by the 21st Amendment in 1933 — the party has branched out to oppose recreational (and illegal) drugs, along with tobacco products, gambling, pornography, and commercialized vice.
A schism occurred in 2003 when Earl Dodge (in the lower photo from 2004), the party's longtime presidential candidate, founded the rival National Prohibition Party in Colorado. Dodge, however, only received 140 votes, then died in 2007. Even so, the Prohibition Party itself is not exactly a major force to be reckoned with; its 2012 presidential nominee, Lowell Jackson “Jack” Fellure, appeared on the ballot only in Louisiana and received 518 votes.
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10. The Modern Whig Party
Calling itself “a party for the rest of us,” the Modern Whig Party was founded in 2008 through a grassroots movement of U.S. military veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. It is a mainstream, pragmatic, centrist-oriented party of people dissatisfied with the stark ideological polarization in American politics and who believe in causes found in both Republican and Democratic realms.
The six tenets of the Modern Whig Party are fiscal responsibility, energy independence, education/scientific advancement, states’ rights, social progression (“Government should refrain from legislating morality”) and veterans’ affairs (“Vigilant advocacy relating to the medical, financial, and overall well-being of our military families and veterans”).
The party has some 25,000-30,000 members. Its logo is an owl, the symbol of the original 19th century American Whig Party, a coalition of varied political groups that banded together to oppose the centralized power of President Andrew Jackson.
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