Weird History

The Weirdest Third-Party Candidates in US History

Wacky presidential candidates are a dime a dozen these days, with every megalomaniac with a YouTube account proclaiming to the masses that they have the key to unlock America's potential. Ever since the dawn of media, hoax and joke campaigns have kept Americans entertained during tense election years and poked satirical holes in the flawed system. (Candidates like "Nobody," Deez Nuts, and Limberbutt McCubbins come to mind.) 

Yet some third-party candidates throughout history have taken their campaigns for the highest office in the land very seriously. Whether their fringe political beliefs seemed intriguing or insane and their policies compelling or crazy, they fought tooth and nail for the minuscule number of votes not guaranteed to one of the two major parties. From ultra conservatives to ultra liberals, from Nazi supporters to drag queens, from Pentecostal pastors to Transcendental Meditation practitioners, the group of people who have tossed their hats into the presidential ring is as diverse as the American populace itself. 

  • In an election year that has made an issue out of the health of two of the oldest candidates ever to run for the presidency, maybe Leonard Jones was onto something when he promised potential voters that he could live forever. Born in 1797, Leonard Jones bounced from religion to religion in his early adulthood, searching for a cure for a broken heart brought about by a broken engagement. His life changed when he met a man named McDaniel, who preached that "a man by faith could live forever." Jones was McDaniel's first convert, and the men traveled together in search of others who wanted to spread the "live-forever" doctrine.

    After McDaniel died (an awkward thing for Jones to explain) and Jones survived a spell of cholera, he turned his eye from church to state and decided to try politics. He created his own political party, the High Moral party, and became its only member. He ran in multiple campaigns over the course of many years in the mid-19th century, including multiple attempts at the presidency. Residents of Kentucky generally thought him harmless and even entertaining, attending his rallies and even throwing a vote or two his way. After a bout of pneumonia that went untreated because of his insistence that the disease was moral and not physical, Jones died in 1868. 

  • In an ironic twist of fate, the frontman of punk band the Dead Kennedys ended up in the same boat as Kennedy himself when the New York chapter of the Green Party nominated him for President in 2000. Jello Biafra actually had previous experience running for public office - he ran against Dianne Feinstein for Mayor of San Francisco in 1979, coming in 4th place out of 10.

    For his presidential running mate, Biafra chose Mumia Abdul Jamal, the journalist on death row for murdering a police officer, in an effort to bring awareness to Jamal's situation. As a presidential candidate, Biafra's policy proposals ranged from intriguing (ending the War on Drugs, an election system for police officers to increase accountability) to unlikely (instituting a maximum wage, lowering the voting age to 5 years old).

  • John Maxwell, American Vegetarian Party

    In one of the ultimate hipster moves of the 20th century, John Maxwell was a vegetarian before it was cool. As the first candidate of the newly-formed American Vegetarian Party, the 84-year-old Maxwell threw his name into the ring for the 1948 election, claiming he hadn't eaten meat for 45 years. The party, made up mostly of naturopathic doctors, also didn't believe in consuming alcohol, tobacco, or medicine. It wasn't Maxwell's taste in food that ultimately got him disqualified from the race - it was the fact that he was born in England. 

  • When constituents expect their politicians to maintain strong relationships with other world leaders, Hitler probably isn't the person they had in mind. Nevertheless, American Nazi sympathizer William Dudley Pelley thought it would be a good idea to run for president in 1936 to spread the good word about the Nazis.

    Inspired by Hitler's rise to power in 1933, Pelley created an organization called the Silver Legion of America, known colloquially as the Silver Shirts in homage to Hitler's Brown Shirts. Pelley traveled the United States, making speeches and hosting rallies in support of his favorite fascist. The adoration wasn't one-sided - records aren't completely clear, but it appears that the Nazi party may have given Pelley money to build a Nazi stronghold on a piece of land in Los Angeles once owned by Will Rogers.