The New International Encyclopædia/Free-Soil Party, The

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FREE-SOIL PARTY, The. The name of a political party in the United States, which was formed in 1848, and became merged in the Republican Party in 1856. The activity of the Abolitionists (q.v.) throughout the decade of the thirties, the energetic though indirect championing of the equal rights of all men by conservative leaders, such as John Quincy Adams, and the controversy over the extension of slavery in connection with the admission of Texas, brought the question of the further extension or the restriction of slavery once more into the foreground in 1844, although both of the existing parties, Democrats and Whigs, virtually refused to recognize the existence of any such question. Within the Northern wing of each party there arose, therefore, groups of workers, such as that led by S. P. Chase in Ohio, who aimed to commit their party to the principle of opposition to the further extension of slavery in the national Territories. The issue was forced by the introduction, in the House of Representatives, of the so-called ‘Wilmot Proviso’ (q.v.) in 1846 by David Wilmot, a Democratic member from Pennsylvania, as an amendment to a bill in Congress making an appropriation to negotiate peace with Mexico. The proviso passed the House, but failed in the Senate. Particularly in Massachusetts was a vigorous effort made to make the Whig Party a free-soil party, and the bitter contest between the ‘Conscience’ Whigs and the ‘Cotton’ Whigs enforced upon the former the fact that for them there was no place within their old party, and that in order to establish their principle, they must found a party whose dominant purpose should be opposition to slavery extension. The necessity for this was still further emphasized by the refusal of both national conventions of 1848 to indorse the principle of the Wilmot Proviso; and so in August of 1848 there met at Buffalo the first national convention which stood for this principle, and which comprised in its membership the ‘Barnburner’ Democrats of New York, who had bolted their national convention, members of the former Liberty Party (q.v.) under the leadership of Chase, and the ‘Conscience’ Whigs of Massachusetts, led by Charles Francis Adams and Charles Sumner. By this convention Van Buren and Adams were named as the national ticket, and resolutions were adopted which concluded: “That we inscribe on our banner ‘Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor, and Free Men,’ and under it will fight on and fight ever, until a triumphant victory shall reward our exertions.” Although the ticket received no electoral vote, and only 291,263 popular votes (sufficient to turn the scale in favor of Zachary Taylor as against Lewis Cass), the party secured such local advantages that it was able to send Chase to the Senate in 1849, and Sumner in 1851. On the other hand, the alliance with the ‘Barnburners’ was only temporary, and in the election of 1852 the Free-Soil candidate, John P. Hale of New Hampshire, received only 157,685 votes. In that year many Northerners were reconciled to their original parties by the ‘finality’ planks, and by the hope of thus preventing any further discussion of slavery extension. When this hope was proved to be ill-founded, by the Kansas-Nebraska struggle, old party lines were broken, and the principles of the Free-Soil Party were in large part adopted by the newly formed Republican Party. See Liberty Party; Republican Party.