Anti-slavery "Free Soil Party" showed strength during hard times


Martin Van Buren
Date: 
Sat, 1848-10-21

This date celebrates The Free-Soil Party, a minor but influential political party in the pre-Civil War period of American history.

The party, founded in 1848, was opposed to the extension of slavery into the western territories. Representative David Wilmot of Pennsylvania in 1846 introduced into Congress his famous Wilmot Proviso, calling for the prohibition of slavery in the vast southwestern lands that had been newly acquired from Mexico.

The Wilmot concept, which failed in Congress, was a direct ideological forerunner to the Free-Soil Party. Disappointed by the hesitant position of the Whig Party toward slavery, "Conscience" Whigs held a convention in August 1848 at Buffalo, N.Y. There they were joined by delegates from 17 states drawn from the Liberty Party and the antislavery faction of the New York Democrats, known as "Barnburners." The Free-Soilers' historic slogan calling for "free soil, free speech, free labor, and free men" attracted small farmers, debtors, village merchants, and household and mill workers, who resented the prospect of black-labor competition whether slave or free in the territories.

In 1848, the Free-Soil Party nominated the former U S. President Martin Van Buren to head its ticket. Though the party polled little of the popular vote in the presidential election that year, it weakened the regular Democratic candidate in New York and contributed to the election of the Whig candidate General Zachary Taylor as president. The Free-Soil vote was reduced to 5 percent in 1852, when John P. Hale was the presidential nominee.

Nevertheless, a dozen Free-Soil congressmen later held the balance of power in the House of Representatives, thus wielding considerable influence. In addition, the party was well represented in several state legislatures. In 1854, the disorganized remnants of the party were integrated into the newly formed Republican Party, which carried the Free-Soil idea of opposing the expansion of slavery.

Reference:
The Encyclopedia Britannica, Fifteenth Edition.
Copyright 1996 Encyclopedia Britannica Inc.
ISBN 0-85229-633-0

The World Book Encyclopedia.
Copyright 1996, World Book, Inc.
ISBN 0-7166-0096-X