The Early Years of the Free State Project
by Jason Sorens
Founder of the Free State Project
The idea behind the Free State Project came out of libertarian self-reflection in the aftermath of the election of 2000, when the Libertarian Party’s paid membership hit its all-time high, yet Libertarian electoral results remained poor, and neither major party had any notable libertarian current. I was a political science graduate student at Yale, working on a dissertation on secessionist parties in western democracies. Having been embedded firmly within the libertarian movement for several years, I was familiar with previous “libertarian nation” and “free town” projects and the reasons they had failed. This, along with my research on secessionism and decentralization, made me think of the state level as a plausible locus for limited-government activism.
With thoughts like these bouncing around in my head, I wrote the essay that started the Free State Project in July 2001 for an online journal called The Libertarian Enterprise. After receiving feedback from over 220 readers I wrote a follow-up essay clarifying and revising parts of the original proposal. Most importantly, while the original proposal suggested using secession as leverage to promote state autonomy, the follow-up essay backed away from that idea, and it never played a role in the FSP’s philosophy from then on. In September 2001, we had our own website, logo, and “Statement of Intent,” and we started collecting signatures from people willing to participate in a coordinated migration to a single, small state.
Once we reached 5,000 signatures, in summer 2003 (right after PorcFest Zero), we held a vote among those who had signed up. Ten states were on the ballot, voters could rank all the states, and the winner was chosen by a Condorcet method (the state that defeated each other state by an absolute majority). We used an outside firm to count and certify the ballots. Voters had to mail in notarized ballots with photo identification, at their own expense. Despite the difficulty, over 2,500 people voted. New Hampshire, whose governor had welcomed us to the state, was the clear victor.
Are there any signs that those Americans who want to unconstitutionally control the lives of others are going to let up soon? I say no, but there’s a peaceful resolution proposed by Free State Project, whose motto is Liberty in Our Lifetime.” – August 2002Walter E. Williams
Shortly after New Hampshire’s victory was announced on October 1, 2003, some people started moving to the state, even though no one was obligated to move until we reached 20,000 signatures. The trickle was slow at first, and then became a flood. Today, over 2,000 people have made the move to New Hampshire, and dozens of them have been elected to state and local office, founded watchdog organizations, formed new media outlets, participated in dignified and educational civil disobedience, funded legal challenges to state abuses, or otherwise advanced the cause of liberty in noteworthy ways. It is gratifying to see how much has already been accomplished by a much smaller number of people than will ultimately move.
The State Announcement
Outlaw Manicurist (2006)
John Stossel (2007)
The FSP Turns Five (2008)
Five years after picking New Hampshire as the destination for liberty migration, Free Staters have a long list of accomplishments to be proud of. Also see the NBC article “For members of the Free State Project, less is more.”