An important footnote in American political history, the Free Soil Party was the first major party to declare abolitionism on their platform, and their message eventually became the driving force behind the Lincoln Republicans.


The party was formed as a reaction to the increasing disinterest towards the future of slavery in America shown by Congress and the Presidency. In 1844, as talk of annexing Texas became a central point in the United States, abolitionists feared that the territory might enter the Union divided up into as many as six states, with presumably all of them allowing slavery. To combat this, the small Liberty Party was created, and through their support the "popular sovereignty" Presidential campaign of Henry Clay was defeated by James K. Polk.

By early 1848, the rising slavery/anti-slavery debate had reached a major boiling point. In the Presidential election, the Whigs nominated war hero Zachary Taylor, a slaveowner with no particular view on the debate, while the Democrats nominated Lewis Cass, the governor of Michigan and a stated supporter of the popular sovereignty doctrine. These nominations led several members within the party to rescind their affiliation and attempt to form a new party, out of conscience, stubbornness, and ambition. These so-called "Conscience Whigs" and "Barnburners" (so named because their opponents in New York felt they were like a farmer burning the barn to get rid of the rats) decided the time for peaceful abolitionist societies and media was over: they needed to get organized.


From August 7 to August 9, Salmon P. Chase, John Hale, Horace Greeley, and other free-soilers convened in Buffalo, New York and drew up the platform for their new party. The party's goal was to unite the free-soil movements across the States into a national effort. The major tenet of the platform was the idea that slavery would not be expanded to the new territories, thereby creating a permanent area of "free soil." This platform was eloquently expressed in the Wilmot proviso, written by disenfranchised Democrat Charles Wilmot. (Note that this platform was based on economic policy, rather than any particular morality. Most free soilers felt that slave labor was destroying competition for growth.) This platform was unanimously approved by members of the convention, including former Democrat president Martin Van Buren, who was named the party's nominee for President, with van Buren's rival John Quincy Adams' grandson Charles Francis Adams being named Vice Presidential candidate.

The party ran on a catchy slogan encompassing their major point: "Free soil, free speech, free labor, free men." Newspapers and established government officials decried and derided the group, calling them hypocrites for joining a single-issue party when they did not agree on many of the other issues. Nevertheless, in November, van Buren received some 300,000 votes - 10% of the election totals! This third party interference also watered down Cass' vote in New York enough to give Taylor the electoral victory, and the Presidency. The party also managed to get 16 Congressmen elected, primarily in New York and Connecticut.

Decline and Fall

The Compromise of 1850 brought about radical opposition from the Free Soil Party. Its provisions concerning fugitive slaves and its foregone conclusion about expanding slavery westward was met with harsh resistance. A few members of the Free Soil Party turned to criminal action, most notably John Brown and his Kansas raids. The Party tried to convert this activism into political sway - their 1852 platform was the first to include total abolitionism - but that year's elections showed a party in decline as the subtler governmental methods of dealing with slavery and abolitionism were growing less viable by the day.

In 1854, the party officially disbanded, with most of its members defecting to the newly reformed Republican Party, who had added total abolitionism to its platform. It would be six years before the Party would enter the White House, and it would be Abraham Lincoln's election that led to the secession of most of the Southern states and eventually the Civil War.

Amazingly, there is a Free Soil Party still in existence today! Luckily for them, they have shifted their idealism from the defunct practice of slavery to the still debatable tenets of environmentalism, sustainable development, and socially screened capitalism. Their website can be found at and appears to be a cross between liberal ideals of equality and civil rights and libertarian economic policy.