James Gillespie Birney was born on February 4, 1792, in Danville, Kentucky, into a slaveholding family. Following the loss of his mother, Birney was raised by his father and aunt, both of whom had distinct views on slavery. His father advocated the humane treatment of slaves while his aunt was a staunch abolitionist. These perspectives helped shape Birney’s anti-slavery views.
His education included two years at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, as well as few years at a Presbyterian school in Danville. In 1808, Birney entered the College of New Jersey, which later came to be known as Princeton University. He eventually became a successful lawyer and returned to Kentucky. He served in the Kentucky House of Representatives from 1816 to 1818. In 1835, Birney moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he began the weekly publication of The Philanthropist, a controversial abolitionist paper. James Gillespie Birney died on November 25, 1857.