The Free Soil Party was a short-lived political party in the United States organized in 1848 that petered out by about 1852. Their main purpose was opposing the extension of slavery into the territories, as well as advocating the abolition of slavery itself.
The party was formed around the Wilmot Proviso, failed legislation requiring all territory taken from Mexico in the Mexican-American war be free from slavery. When New Mexico and Utah were opened to the slavery based on the popular sovereignty clause in the Compromise of 1850, the Wilmot Proviso failed.
The party evolved from abolitionists in the Democratic and Whig parties. The party consisted of former members of the abolitionist Liberty Party, extreme anti-slavery Whigs, and the Barnburners, the pro-Van Buren faction of the New York Democratic Party which had been excluded from power by their Hunker opponents.
Free Soil candidates ran on the platform declaring "...we inscribe on our banner, 'Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor and Free Man,' and under it we will fight on and fight ever, until a triumphant victory shall reward our exertions."
They also called for a homestead law and a tariff for revenue only. The Free Soil Party attracted mainly abolitionists from the North and other free states. Their main support came from the state of New York, though other states also had representatives.
In 1848, their first party convention was in Buffalo, New York, where they nominated former President Martin Van Buren with Charles Francis Adams as Vice President. The main party leaders were Salmon P. Chase and John P. Hale. While winning no electoral votes, they received a minority of the popular vote.
Collapse of the Whig party and the Compromise of 1850
The Whig Party dissolved after the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and many northern Whigs combined with former Free-Soilers and northern Democrats to form the Republican Party, which advocated a free-soil platform while changing their name in order to avoid being associated with the failure of the Free Soil Party.
The Compromise of 1850 also helped the party to gain supporters who feared slavery was spreading and wanted to stop it. By 1854, most Free-Soilers joined the Republican Party because of its strength and anti-slavery sentiments. The Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Dred Scott case also strengthened the views of abolitionists, although they were Republicans.
The Free Soil Party was a notable third party. More successful than most, it had two Senators and fourteen Representatives sent to the thirty-first Congress. Their presidential nominee in 1848, Martin Van Buren, received 291,616 votes against Zachary Taylor of the Whigs and Lewis Cass of the Democrats, although he received no electoral votes. The Party's "spoiler" effect in 1848 may have put Zachary Taylor into office, in a narrowly-contested election.
The strength of the party, however, was its representation in Congress. The sixteen elected officials were able to have an influence despite being a small group. It was hard for the party to achieve much success because it competed with the Republicans, who also believed in abolition, and the two eventually merged with the title of Republican.
Martin Van Buren/Charles Francis Adams - 1848 (lost)
John Hale/George Julian - 1852 (lost)
External links and references
- Grolier Encyclopedia on the Free Soilers (http://gi.grolier.com/presidents/aae/side/freesoil.html)
- Columbia Encyclopedia on the Free Soilers (http://www.bartleby.com/65/ba/Barnburn.html)
- Reader's Companion to American History on the Free Soilers (http://college.hmco.com/history/readerscomp/rcah/html/ah_033800_freesoilpart.htm)