Birney, James Gillespie (bûrˈnē) [key], 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 party, nominated him for the presidency in 1840 and 1844. An injury sustained in 1845 took him out of public life.
See his letters (ed. by D. L. Dumond, 1938); biographies by W. Birney (1969) and B. Fladeland (1955, repr. 1969).
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