The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Barnburners

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Edition of 1920. See also Barnburners and Hunkers on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

BARNBURNERS, a nickname for the progressive section of the New York State Democracy from about 1844 to 1852, which retaliated by calling the other party “Hunkers.” They were essentially the same party which from 1835 onward had favored extension of the canal system, while their opponents were the same who wished it restricted to immediately profitable canals; but under these names the division was on the slavery question (see Free-Soil Party), in which the Barnburners were the Van Buren or Free-Soil wing. They also stood for the local control by the “Albany Regency,” as against the Polk “machine” which the new administration was trying to build up in New York, and which favored the extension of slavery into the Territories. About 1852 the nicknames changed into “Softs” and “Hards,” corresponding with new issues to the later “Half-breeds” and “Stalwarts.” The origin of the name is usually derived from the familiar campaign story of the man who burned his barn to free it from rats.