Free Soil Party

From Ohio History Central

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Salmon P. Chase, elected governor of Ohio in 1855. He lectured on abolition, assisted in the establishment of the Free-Soil Party and served as Lincoln's secretary of the treasury.

The Free Soil Party ran its first candidate for President of the United States in 1848. The party was formed after the Liberty Party came to an end following its poor showing in the election of 1844. Several members of the Whig Party who were opposed to slavery also joined the Free Soilers. The Free Soil Party's slogan was "free soil, free speech, free labor, and free men." The Free Soilers opposed slavery's expansion into any new territories or states. They generally believed that the government could not end slavery where it already existed but that it could restrict slavery in new areas. A principal reason for opposing slavery's expansion was a fear of competition with Southern slaveholders. Northerners who wanted to own land in the West feared that they would not be able to compete economically with slave labor. This led to the party's call for free labor. Some abolitionists joined the Free Soil Party, but the majority of the party's members were not abolitionists. Some Free Soilers believed that African Americans were inferior to white people. These Free Soilers had no desire to provide African Americans with equal political, economic, and social rights.

In the presidential election of 1848, the Free Soil Party's candidate was Martin Van Buren. Van Buren finished last, receiving just over ten percent of the total votes cast. Voters did elect sixteen Free Soilers to the United States Congress, including two senators and fourteen members of the House of Representatives. The party was even less successful in the election of 1852. The Free Soilers' presidential candidate, John Hale, received only five percent of the vote. As a result of this poor performance, the party ceased to exist by 1854. Its former members tended to join the newly established Republican Party.

The Free Soil Party played a major role in Ohio politics during the late 1840s and the early 1850s. The Whig Party nominated Zachary Taylor as its presidential candidate in 1848. Many Whigs in the North opposed this choice because Taylor was a slaveholder. Many Ohio Whigs defected to the Free Soil Party. Ohio voters elected a handful of Free Soilers to the Ohio legislature. The legislature was nearly evenly divided between Democrats and Whigs. The Free Soilers had much greater power than their numbers suggested as both the Democrats and the Whigs needed the Free Soilers to enact legislation. The Free Soilers used their influence to convince the Democrats in the legislature to overturn most of Ohio's black laws in 1849. They also succeeded in having a Free Soiler named Salmon P. Chase, elected to the United States Senate.

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