Free Soil Party

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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.

References in periodicals archive ?
Yet, it is possible to read his own evidence in such a way as to suggest that the electoral outcome of 1848 signifies not so much the relative weakness of the sectional impulse on slavery vis-a-vis party, as the fact that the Free Soil Party may not have been the most effective channel for the political realization of that impulse.
In politics he turned away from his youthful Federalism and became a liberal Democrat, supporting free trade, freedom of speech and religion, movements toward collective bargaining, and, in a crucial issue that divided the Democratic party, free soil and freedom for slaves.
Successful applicants will be offered a free soil sampling and analysis service, via the following components of the scheme:
FARMERS on the Llyn peninsula are being encouraged to sign up for a free soil sampling scheme.
And Environment Agency Wales staff will be on the stand throughout the day to promote their free soil testing scheme and to discuss other pertinent issues.
These gave participants the chance to discuss two free soil samples from their farms with an approved grassland adviser.
These nominations and platforms elided a few pro-Proviso dissidents from both parties, who combined with the remnants of the old Liberty Party to form the new Free Soil Party.
today, Leaburg Training Center, 42870 Highway 126; learn how to leverage more than $143,000 in grant and matching funds aimed at keeping agriculture operations in the watershed economically viable while protecting critical water resources; hosted by Eugene Water & Electric Board and other community partners; project opportunities include free agricultural chemical disposal, free soil sampling, free technical assistance for nutrient management, composting, water conservation strategies, partially subsidized energy efficiency measures and renewable projects, conservation and agricultural easements, and subsidized assistance for accessing local food markets.
Under its scheme of corporate social responsibility, the NSC conducted free soil health testing, organized animal health check up camps, imparted training to seed growers and farmers, distributed seed storage bins and created water harvesting structures in seed villages.
It thus looks at the failures of the Liberty Party and the Free Soil Party/Free Democrats to achieve successes as third parties due to the nature of the American political system, party strategies, and political exigencies and the contrasting success of the more internally coherent Republicans to become a replacement second party for the Whigs, partly due to an atmosphere where Northerners felt more threatened by the Slave Power than in prior times and partly because they had a broader range of issues with which to attract supporters.
As David Roediger writes in the "Foreword" to this reissue of the original 1990 edition, The Rise and Fall of the White Republic has been one of the finest "critical white studies," comparable to such great works as Henry Nash Smith's Virgin Land, Richard Slotkin's Regeneration Through Violence, and Eric Foner's Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men.
His first (1970) was Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men, while his most recent is The Story of American Freedom.

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