Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States
FREE-SOIL PARTY, The (IN
—1. The political free-soilers were confined to the state of New York, and were mainly the voters of that state political organization, or "machine," of which ex-President Van Buren had long been the recognized head. (See
—2. The conscientious free-soilers were not confined to New York, but were found in every northern state, and in Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, and Kentucky, in the south. They were mainly the members of the "liberty party," (see
—The democratic convention at Baltimore in 1848 was attended by delegations from both the barnburner and hunker factions, each claiming to represent the state. May 23, by a vote of 133 to 118, the convention admitted both delegations, giving half the state vote to each. Both delegations rejected the decision, and withdrew from the convention. The hunkers, satisfied with having kept their opponents out, and secure of the support of the administration, did nothing further. The barnburners met in state convention at Utica, June 22, and nominated Martin Van Buren and Henry Dodge, of Wisconsin, as presidential candidates, apparently for the purpose of maintaining their state organization, of showing their ability to control the state electoral vote, and thus of forcing some compromise which would secure for them recognition as an essential part of the New York democracy. Gen. Dodge refused to accept the nomination.
—In the meantime a call had been issued for a general free-soil convention at Buffalo, Aug. 9. It was attended by 465 delegates from nearly all the free states, and from Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, eighteen states in all. For president, Martin Van Buren received 244 votes to 181 for John P. Hale, and was nominated; Charles Francis Adams was nominated for vice-president. The platform was very long, in three preambles and sixteen resolutions. The preambles declared the delegates' independence of the slave power, their secession from the democracy; their inability to join the whigs, who, in nominating Taylor, had "abandoned their distinctive principles for mere availability"; and their determination to secure "free soil to a free people." The resolutions declared in general that slavery in the states was valid by state laws, for which the federal government was not responsible; but that congress had "no more power to make a slave than to make a king," and hence was bound to restrict slavery to the slave states, and to refuse it admission to the territories. In the election of 1848 for president the new party cast 291,263 votes, a great but deceptive advance on the liberty party's vote in 1844. It was entirely a free state vote, except 9 in Virginia, 80 in Delaware, and 125 in Maryland. Outside of New York the free-soilers outnumbered the democrats in Massachusetts and Vermont, and gave the votes of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin to the democratic candidates by small pluralities, in New York they polled 120,510 votes to 114,318 votes for Cass and Butler, and gave the electoral votes of the state to the whig candidates. Both elements of the free-soil party were thus satisfied; the conscientious free-soilers, frequently called "abolitionists," had punished and demoralized the whig party, and the political free-soilers, commonly called "night soilers" by their hunker opponents, had punished and demoralized the democratic party. The principal result of the congressional elections of the same year was that the New York delegation was changed from 10 democrats and 24 whigs (in 1847-9) to 1 democrat, 1 free-soiler, and 32 whigs (in 1849-51).
—In congress the free-soil representatives at once took separate ground, apart from both whigs and democrats. In the 31st congress they numbered 2 in the senate, (Hale and S. P. Chase), and in the lower house 14, including Preston King, of New York, J. R. Giddings, Lewis D. Campbell and Joseph M. Root, of Ohio, Geo. W. Julian, of Indiana, David Wilmot, of Pennsylvania (see
—Negotiations between the political free-soilers and the other democratic faction in New York began again (if they had ever really ceased) in 1849. Both factions attended the state convention of that year, and united in the nomination of state candidates and in the adoption of a vague and indefinite resolution on the slavery question. In 1850 the state convention went further, and passed a resolution that it was "proud to avow its fraternity with and devotion to" the principles of the democratic national convention of 1848. Against this resolution the political free-soilers, headed by John Van Buren, could now muster but twenty votes. The result was the absorption of the Van Buren faction into the state democratic party, and the reduction of the free-soil vote of New York in 1852 to its real limits. The breach in the state democracy was thus closed, but never really healed.
—In 1852 the national convention of both the whig and the democratic parties accepted the compromise of 1850 (see
—After the election of 1852 the free-soilers shared in the general suspension of political animation which followed. In 1854 they opposed the Kansas-Nebraska bill, and in 185-6 were absorbed by the newly formed republican party. The 34th congress, when it met in December, 1855, contained democrats, whigs, anti-Nebraska men, free-soilers, and Americans or know-nothings; before February, 1856, there were only republicans, democrats and Americans, and the whig and free-soil parties had disappeared from congress.
—The principles of the free-soil party as to slavery restriction were identical with those of the great and successful republican party which followed it, and yet the former, from 1846 until 1854, probably never really gained 10,000 votes in the entire country. Its lack of success was due in part to its insistence upon strict construction in other matters than slavery, while the republican party was generally broad construction; but the principal reason was, that the country was not yet ready for it. Some such measure as the Kansas-Nebraska bill was an essential prerequisite to the formation of a successful anti-slavery party, and opposition to that particular measure required broad construction views of the powers of congress. (See
—See 16 Benton's Debates of Congress; 1 Greeley's American Conflict, 191, 223; 2 Wilson's Rise and Fall of the Slace Power, 129, 140, 150; International Review, August, 1881, (G. W. Julian's Reminiscences of the 31st Congress); Giddings' History of the Rebellion, 283, 357; 2 Benton's Thirty Years' View, 723; Schuckers' Life of S. P. Chase; Gardiner's Historical Sketch of the Free-Soil Question (to 1848); 27 Democratic Review, 531; Tribune Almanac, 1849-55; D. S. Dickinson's Speeches; authorities under articles referred to; the platforms of the party in full are in Greeley's Political Text Book of 1860, 17, 21.
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