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.

This American Life: Or Give Me DeathOnce 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 2002

Walter E. Williams

Professor of Economics, George Mason University

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

The Chronicle (2004)

This half-hour show aired on February 26, 2004 on channel 5 WCVB (ABC), which was seen throughout most of New England. Also see Part Two.

In other news: Revolt of the Porcupines was published in Reason in December 2004.

PorcFest 2005

“Invasion of the Porcupines” was shot at the Porcupine Freedom Festival 2005.

Outlaw Manicurist (2006)

Michael Fisher, an early Free State Project participant, intentionally performed a manicure without a license to demonstrate that licence laws are unjust. He was arrested.

Current TV (2007)

This TV special featured early movers helping one another settle in and find housing. After working on it, Christina Keller decided to make Libertopia.

John Stossel (2007)

John Stossel interviews the President and the Founder of the Free State Project (FSP) at Liberty Forum 2007. They discuss the FSP’s plan to reduce the size and scope of government by focusing effort on one state.

Early Movers (2007)

Russell Kanning talks with early movers at a Merrimack Valley Porcupines meeting and a Concord Porcupines meeting. Also see Part Two.

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.”

Libertopia (2010)

Libertopia is a documentary that examines ordinary citizens attempting to reclaim a voice against big government, which they believe shares neither their priorities nor their interests. These people have begun a modern-day pilgrimage to the Granite State.

The Early History of the FSP

Do you know how the slogan “Liberty in Our Lifetime” came about. The Statement of Intent? The voting method? This talk was given in 2015 at the Porcupine Freedom Festival by Jason Sorens and Varrin Swearingen.

Fifteen Years Later

Randy Clemens interviews Jason Sorens about reaching 20,000 signers. They look back, then discuss life in New Hampshire and what lies ahead.