Most Americans know now that there is a Libertarian Party and associate it with marijuana legalization, yearly tax protests on April 15th, and no longer quite young men who live in their mother's basements, sleeping on Star Wars sheets. While it is politically incorrect to engage in stereotypes it is also true that stereotypes exist because they contain a grain of truth.
But the above ignores the real significance of the Libertarian Party and the movement that preceded it Third parties have driven the evolution of political thinking since the calcification of the two party system which effectively reformatted American politics in the aftermath of the Civil War.
So third parties, while they do not elect do direct the political dialog and so exercise far more power than is normally ascribed to them. This was how the Socialist Agenda became adopted by the Democratic Party in the first half of the 20th Century. But the impact of the Libertarian Party and Movement has far more directly impacted politics as we see it today. How that happened shows just how connected those in power really are.
You will see parallels here that will remind you of those who now control the Republican Party. That is not a coincidence. The Libertarian Party, as are all organizations, is a tool people use to carry out action working together. This is equally true for a political party and the Girl Scouts. However, with organizations that fail to agree on their goals or how to achieve those goals more than cookies can be sold. This was the case with the Libertarian Party and, for that matter, with all political parties.
The Libertarian Party, referred to as the LP by much of its membership, started in a living room in Denver, Colorado on December 11th, 1971. While the LP remains small in numbers that Movement has taken over the Republican Party, displacing the previous ideas with their own through a process of slow but steady adoption.
The tail is wagging the dog and the dog was asking for it. This has been true of the relationship between the Green Party and the Democratic Party, also.
Nixon and his politics must be credited with the surge of popularity that swelled the ranks of the Libertarian Party for the last two years of the Nixon Administration beginning with that auspicious moment in the living room of David Nolan then the LP was founded.
David Nolan, a graduate from M. I. T., had been a member of Young Americans for Freedom and Students for Goldwater and a leader or active in similar groups since the heady days of the Goldwater Campaign. The bubbly bottles of 'Goldwater' were not alcoholic but the ideas were intoxicating, firing their proponents with zeal.
In early 1971 David Nolan was a candidate for Vice Chairman of the National Young Republicans and missed winning that office by one slim vote at their national convention. Emil Franzi, who Nolan would later know well in the Libertarian Party, had suggested that the California Chapter 'Unit Vote' , meaning that the delegation be polled and vote as for a single candidate. If this had happened Nolan would have received at least 10 additional votes and been elected Vice Chairman of the Young Republicans.
So do the accidents of time determine more than we know. Soon, Nolan was working on the article for the Individualist, a libertarian oriented magazine.
Individuals across the country had been debating and making attempts to establish a base of operations since election day, 1964. Their hero, Senator Barry Goldwater, lost but they did not give up.
In August of 1971 the Nolan article appeared in one of then three publications that knit the nascent movement together. "The Case for a Libertarian Political Party," appeared in the Individualist; it had been in process for several months prior. Within a few days of Richard Nixon's television appearance on the 15th of that month to announce his Wage and Price Controls Republicans all over the country had dropped out, disgusted. Young, intelligent, and activist oriented Republicans signed off on the party of Nixon.
In New York an attorney named Ed Clark called his wife, Alicia Cabo Clark, to vent his rage. Alicia, the daughter of a former Mexican Senator and the CEO of a multinational Corporation, sympathized. One of the things that had brought them together was their shared belief in the ideas of freedom. The Clarks also left the Republican Party. Clark would become the third Libertarian candidate for President and Alicia would eventually serve as National Chairman.
The article written by Nolan had called for the creation of a political party not primarily to elect candidates but to become a voice for the unadulterated ideas of individual freedom. It was aimed at a group of people who shared many of the same ideas about how the world should be, ideas that started with Ayn Rand, Robert Heinlein, and Ludwig von Mises for their generation but which resonated with the ideas of Thomas Jefferson.
Wage and Price Controls would prove to be an absolute failure. The controls did not stem inflation and yet, with the logic of other government programs, continued to be used as a tool until 1980.
Similar scenes played out all over America as young people who had worked feverishly for Goldwater and burned their draft cards as members of the Libertarian Caucus of Young Americans for Freedom, began to coalesce into a group.
As Nixon settled into a grumpy retirement in Yorba Linda, California on August 8, 1974,
the newly fledged Libertarian Party was experiencing a surge of growth and excitement along with internecine warfare.
The LP began as an organization that looked to individuals to take action themselves because the moral structure for individual rights viewed these as existing before any government people might adopt. This was the mission statement of the Declaration of Independence; it was not the structural reality of American politics. As the structure of the organization congealed a conflict of visions began, pitting the top down style of traditional American political parties with the spontaneous, local organizing that had characterized its first several years.
The Libertarian weapons of choice in their war for the soul of America would be ideas; these activists believed in the concept of individual rights; they assumed the battle would be won in their lifetimes but did not account for the need to translate the ideas and words into behavior that sent the same massage. The fact that words mask behavior as well and as often as they match action was a slow lesson to sink in. Thirty years later the lesson would remain yet to be learned.
Even in those early years all was not sweetness and light and unanimity. Libertarians come in several varieties and these fell, roughly, into two categories, limited state or minarchist, (which has nothing to do with Rhode Island but with the eventual size of the government envisioned as necessary to the smooth functioning of American society) and anarchist; anarchists are those who think you can realistically return control to individuals using only cooperation and consent. Note that used in this way 'anarchy' does not mean the lack of order but spontaneous order or dynamic, quantum, ordering for human action.
Disagreement on this issue nearly destroyed the LP at its third convention. A convention had taken place the year before in Strongsville, OH from June 8-10.
At the 1974 Libertarian National Convention, held in Texas, the issue of planks to be added to the platform erupted into vitriolic debate on whether the platform would reflect the minarchist or Anarchist viewpoint.
From this threat to the very existence of the LP the Dallas Accord was born. This mutually useful and gentlemanly agreement mandated that planks would all allow for how a state would function if it existed and not assume the existence of a state. Thus peace was restored in Libertarian Land.
It was at the 1974 Convention that a young guy not long out of college was elected National Chairman. That was Edward H. Crane, III. The man who managed Crane's floor campaign would also manage all the significant floor campaigns for the first decade of LP history. That man was John Hix of Fresno. Hix's involvement with the LP was fortuitous for Ed Crane.
Over the next several years more young people left the Republican Party, propelled by the ideas on individual freedom and economics expressed by Libertarianism. Ideas have always been the building blocks of human society and Libertarians believed they were building a new world forged from the unrealized vision of the American Revolution. Those ideas included personal accountability, control of their own lives, and free markets. Libertarians viewed these ideas as their distinct heritage. The existence of the Libertarian Party provided the medium for popularizing those ideas and served as a meeting place for like-minded individuals.