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Free Soil Party

FREE SOIL PARTY

The Free Soil Party evolved in the 1840s in response to the growing split between pro- and anti-slavery movements in the United States. National politics was controlled primarily by two parties, Democratic and Whig. Within both parties there were supporters and opponents of slavery, and the issue became more heated as the U.S. added territory. Proponents of slavery wanted to extend it into the newly acquired territories, while opponents wanted the territories to remain free. The issue grew especially heated among members of the state democratic party in New York. Two groups emerged: the "Barnburners," who opposed slavery, and the "Hunkers," who supported slavery or were neutral on the question.

In 1844, the Barnburners pushed for the nomination of former president and fellow New Yorker martin van buren. Southern Democrats supported james k. polk, who was more sympathetic to their views, and although the New York Democrats were well organized they could not defeat a strong Southern bloc. Polk won the Democratic nomination and beat the Whig candidate, henry clay, in the general election.

The Mexican War, which began in 1846, further exacerbated the slavery question. david wilmot, a Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania, introduced what became known as the wilmot proviso. It called for a prohibition of slavery in any territory acquired by the United States in the war with Mexico. The Wilmot Proviso came up for a vote several times; it was routinely passed by the House and defeated by the Senate.

Democrats and Whigs wanted to avoid party division in the election of 1848, so they virtually ignored the slavery question. The Democrats nominated Lewis Cass, who was sympathetic to Southern slaveholders. In defiance, anti-slavery

Democrats joined with the Barnburners in New York to create the Free Soil party. The party held its convention in Buffalo, New York, in August 1848 and adopted the slogan, "Free soil, free speech, free labor, and free men." The Free Soilers nominated Van Buren for president and Charles Francis Adams of Massachusetts for vice president.

The Free Soilers had a mixed reception. Many people saw them as a cynical group of Van Buren loyalists who had no real desire to abolish slavery but merely to take votes away from the major parties. Senator daniel webster, the statesman from Massachusetts (and himself a Whig), derisively called the party the "Free Spoilers." Yet the party drew a surprising amount of support from abolitionists, including frederick douglass.

Hostilities even among different state Free Soil organizations kept the party from building enough strength to win the presidency, although the Free Soilers did make their presence known. Van Buren received 291,616 votes, not enough to regain the White House—but enough to take votes away from Cass and ultimately ensure a Whig victory for zachary taylor. The Free Soil party did respectably in Congress, electing 13 representatives and two senators.

The slavery question continued to divide the country, although the compromise of 1850 attempted to provide a framework that everyone could accept by legislating which states and territories would be free and which would be slave. To those who had strong feelings about slavery, the Compromise of 1850 solved no problems, and the Free Soilers nominated John Parker Hale, an abolitionist from New Hampshire, as their candidate for president in 1852. By then, however, interest in the Free Soil party had dwindled. Hale received only about five percent of the popular vote.

By 1854 the Free Soil party had disappeared, but many of its supporters and former members still held sway in national politics. Well-known figures formerly tied to the Free Soilers included politicians such as Schuyler Colfax, charles sumner, and salmon p. chase, as well as newspaper editor Horace Greeley. These influential men became key figures in the creation of the republican party, whose 1860 candidate for president was abraham lincoln.

further readings

Blue, Frederick J. 1973. The Free Soilers: Third Party Politics 1848-54. Urbana, Ill.: Univ. of Illinois Press.

Foner, Eric. 1970. Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

cross-references

Independent Parties; Republican Party; Slavery.

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Free Soil Party

FREE SOIL PARTY

FREE SOIL PARTY. This third party took shape in the aftermath of the August 1846 through March 1847 congressional debate over the Wilmot Proviso. When the House member David Wilmot of Pennsylvania and other dissident northern Democrats attempted to amend an appropriation bill by introducing language forever banning slavery in any territory acquired from Mexico as a result of the Mexican War, they reintroduced the slavery issue into national party politics. While President James K. Polk fumed and the South Carolina senator John C. Calhoun demanded southern rights in the future territories, Whigs and Democrats struggled to hold the northern and southern wings of their parties together. In 1848, after both major parties refused to endorse the Wilmot Proviso, the antiextensionists, led by opportunistic Barn-burner Democrats in New York and Ohio Liberty Party men, called for a national convention to unite proponents of the proviso: Northern Democrats, unhappy with Polk's patronage assignments and his opposition to internal improvements; Liberty Party members willing to forsake abolitionism; New York Democrats loyal to Martin Van Buren, who sought revenge for his defeat at the 1844 Democratic National Convention; and Conscience Whigs, who feared the consequences of acquiring new territory from Mexico, formed an unlikely coalition.

When representatives of these groups convened on 9 and 10 August 1848 at Buffalo, New York, the New York Barnburners secured the nomination of Van Buren for president but permitted others, notably Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, to write a platform that both demanded "No more Slave States and no more Slave Territory" and announced the new party's slogan, "Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor, and Free Men." Although the Free Soil Party failed to carry a single state in the presidential election of 1848, it did garner 291,263 votes nationally and elected several congressmen. By 1851 Chase, John P. Hale of New Hampshire, and Charles Sumner of Massachusetts all spoke for the new party in the U.S. Senate. The party's fortunes declined precipitously, however. The New York Barnburners quickly rejoined their state Democratic Party, and Free Soilers in several other northern states soon found themselves coopted by the regular Democrats or Whigs. In 1852 the Free Soilers nominated Hale for president, but their lack of strong state and local organizations, together with a national sense that the Compromise of 1850 had settled the slavery issue, contributed to the party's lackluster performance in that year's elections.

Assailed as fanatics on the subject of slavery by some critics, Free Soilers were not embraced by northern blacks or by Liberty men suspicious of their reluctance to endorse the abolition of slavery. Few Free Soilers favored racial equality. Indeed their vision for free territories generally encompassed only white males, not free blacks. By 1853, however, party rhetoric emphasizing the need to contain slavery and to check the dangerous slave power had exerted a powerful influence on the northern electorate. When in January 1854 the Democratic senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois introduced his bill to organize the Kansas and Nebraska Territories on the principle of popular sovereignty, protests began almost immediately in northern legislatures. After Douglas's bill passed in May 1854, the antiextension position long championed by the Free Soil Party became the cornerstone of the emerging Republican Party. Former Free Soil leaders such as Chase and Sumner became Republicans. The Republican Party platforms of 1856 and 1860 closely reflected Free Soil positions not only on slavery but also regarding support for internal improvements and for homesteads for white settlers.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Foner, Eric. Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970.

Sewell, Richard H. Ballots for Freedom: Antislavery Politics in the United States, 1837–1860. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Smith, Theodore Clarke. The Liberty and Free Soil Parties in the Northwest. 1897. Reprint Arno Press, 1969.

Julienne L.Wood

See alsoAntislavery ; Republican Party .

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"Free Soil Party." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Free Soil Party." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved October 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/free-soil-party