The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Free-Soil Party

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FREE-SOIL PARTY (1848-55). This was the old Liberty party (q.v.) of direct abolition (Birney, Chase, etc.), plus the “Conscience Whigs” of Massachusetts (Sumner, C. F. Adams, etc.), who supported the Wilmot Proviso (q.v.), and the “Barnburners,” or Van Buren section of the New York Democrats. The latter as a body adopted their principle of restricting the extension of slavery into the Territories, to punish the Polk administration, ultra-southern, for attempting to build up its own “machine” in New York at the expense of the Albany Regency (q.v.) ; but a small element of it was really in sympathy with their less extreme purposes. Van Buren had lost the nomination in 1844 by refusing to approve the annexation of Texas; and his co-operation was more than a mere party move. The Liberty party in 1847 nominated John P. Hale of New Hampshire and Leicester King of Ohio for President and Vice-President; but seeing a chance of larger success through the promising split in the Democracy, dropped them and waited. The Barnburners offered only an even share of the State vote with their rivals the Hunkers in the Baltimore Democratic convention of 1848, withdrew, and after nominating Van Buren at a bolting convention to keep the party together, agreed to join in a fusion “Free-Soil” party. A convention of this at Buffalo in August nominated Van Buren and Adams. The platform declared for “Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor and Free Men”; and that slavery in the States was beyond the control of Congress, but that as Congress could not make slaves it was bound to refuse it admission to the Territories. (See Wilmot Proviso). The party cast 291,263 votes, turned Maine and six western States over to the Democrats (Cass), and would have defeated the Whigs (Taylor) but that the New York defection (120,510) was mainly from the Democrats and gave that State to the Whigs. The New York Democratic delegation to Congress was annihilated all but one; and the two factions at once struck a bargain which left Van Buren permanently out of public life. The Free-Soilers in the 31st Congress (1849-51) had 2 United States senators (Chase and Hale), and 14 representatives, including J. R. Giddings, George W. Julian and Horace Mann. Sumner in the Senate and 3 more representatives reinforced them in 1851, and in the 33d Congress (1853-55) they had 5 senators and 17 representatives. Having been abandoned by their casual allies, in 1852 they nominated Hale and Julian; with a platform denouncing the Compromise of 1850 (q.v.), both the great parties for accepting it, and slavery as “a sin against God and a crime against man,” and demanding the repeal of the fugitive-slave law. They polled 156,149 votes, of which 25,329 were in New York. They maintained their organization in Congress till the Kansas-Nebraska Bill (q.v.) had created the Republican party, which adopted its policy, and into which they were at once fused. It had served as a school of experience for some of the most distinguished Republican leaders, and played a part out of all proportion to its voting strength. Consult Wilson, H., ‘Fall of the Slave Power’ (New York 1874); and Smith, T. C, ‘Liberty and Free-soil Parties in the Northwest’ (New York 1897).