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Hunkers, conservative faction of the Democratic party in New York state in the 1840s, so named because they were supposed to "hanker" or "hunker" after office. In opposition to them stood the radical Democrats, or Barnburners. The Hunkers favored internal improvements and liberal chartering of state banks; they opposed antislavery agitation. They generally controlled the party machinery and the patronage. In the 1846 gubernatorial nomination they turned against the Democratic candidate, Gov. Silas Wright, a Barnburner. The Barnburners retorted in kind by voting for and supporting the Free-Soil ticket in the 1848 presidential election, which thereby went to the Whig candidate, Zachary Taylor. Those Barnburners who did not persist in their antislavery views were welcomed back to the party fold in 1850. The Hunkers themselves, however, subsequently divided into the "Softs" led by William L. Marcy and Horatio Seymour, who supported President Pierce, and the "Hards" led by Daniel S. Dickinson, who did not give up their antislavery principles and who opposed Pierce.

See J. D. Hammond, History of Political Parties in New York State, Vol. III (1852).

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HUNKERS, the name applied to the conservative faction of New York's Democratic Party in the 1840s. The Hunkers favored spending state surpluses on canals, making internal improvements, and liberally chartering state banks. They supported James K. Polk for president, and they deprecated antislavery agitation. Patronage disputes promoted discord with the progressive element of the party, known as the Barnburners. The Barnburners withdrew from the state Democratic convention in 1847 and the national convention in 1848. A coalition formed in 1850 failed to elect Horatio Seymour governor. By 1853 the terms "Hards" and "Softs" were being used to replace the labels "Hunkers" and "Barnburners."


Benson, Lee. The Concept of Jacksonian Democracy: New York as a Test Case. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1961.

Donovan, Herbert D. A. The Barnburners: A Study of the Internal Movements in the Political History of New York State and of the Resulting Changes in Political Affiliation, 1830–1852. New York: New York University Press, 1925.

Philip G.Auchampaugh/a. g.

See alsoBarnburners .