1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Free Soil Party

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FREE SOIL PARTY, a political party in the United States, which was organized in 1847-1848 to oppose the extension of slavery into the Territories. It was a combination of the political abolitionists many of whom had formerly been identified with the more radical Liberty party the anti-slavery Whigs, and the faction of the Democratic party in the state of New York, called “Barnburners,” who favoured the prohibition of slavery, in accordance with the “Wilmot Proviso” (see Wilmot, David), in the territory acquired from Mexico. The party was prominent in the presidential campaigns of 1848 and 1852. At the national convention held in Buffalo, N.Y., on the 9th and 10th of August 1848, they secured the nomination to the presidency of ex-President Martin Van Buren, who had failed to secure nomination by the Democrats in 1844 because of his opposition to the annexation of Texas, and of Charles Francis Adams, of Massachusetts, for the vice-presidency, taking as their “platform” a Declaration that Congress, having “no more power to make a slave than to make a king,” was bound to restrict slavery to the slave states, and concluding, “we inscribe on our banner 'Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor and Free Man,' and under it we will fight on and fight ever, until a triumphant victory shall reward our exertions.” The Liberty party had previously, in November 1847, nominated John P. Hale and Leicester King as president and vice-president respectively, but in the spring of 1848 it withdrew its candidates and joined the “free soil” movement. Representatives of eighteen states, including Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, attended the Buffalo convention. In the ensuing presidential election Van Buren and Adams received a popular vote of 291,263, of which 120,510 were cast in New York. They received no electoral votes, all these being divided between the Whig candidate, Zachary Taylor, who was elected, and the Democratic candidate, Lewis Cass. The “free soilers,” however, succeeded in sending to the thirty-first Congress two senators and fourteen representatives, who by their ability exercised an influence out of proportion to their number.

Between 1848 and 1852 the “Barnburners” and the “Hunkers,” their opponents, became partially reunited, the former returning to the Democratic ranks, and thus greatly weakening the Free Soilers. The party held its national convention at Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, on the 11th of August 1852, delegates being present from all the free states, and from Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and Kentucky; and John P. Hale, of New Hampshire, and George W. Julian of Indiana, were dominated for the presidency and the vice-presidency respectively, on a platform which declared slavery “a sin against God and a crime against man,” denounced the Compromise Measures of 1850, the fugitive slave law in particular, and again opposed the extension of slavery in the Territories. These candidates, however, received no electoral votes and a popular vote of only 156,149, of which but 25,329 were polled in New York. By 1856 they abandoned their separate organization and joined the movement which resulted in the formation of the powerful Republican party (q.v.), of which the Free Soil party was the legitimate precursor.