[Marxism] "Free Soil" and antislavery politics [was "Lincoln"]

Mark Lause MLause at cinci.rr.com
Tue Apr 11 09:04:16 MDT 2006


It is unclear to me what a "free soil ideology" is.  I'm sure that some
people saw the exclusion of slavery in the west as a means to strangle
slavery, but--notwithstanding their rhetoric--its unclear how the
secessionists leaders actually saw it.  THE BOTTOM LINE was that the
kind of control the slaveholding oligarchy had over national government
since the 1820s had come to an end...which threatened to change
everything from foreign policy to Indian relations, to labor law...and
this broader loss of power was why the secessionist leadership tried to
dissolve the Union.

As to the evolution of antislavery political action leading to that 1860
victory...

The first national antislavery political party was the Liberty Party,
formed in the late 1830s over the objections of William Lloyd Garrison
and a number of other "non-resistants" who opposed political action of
any sort.  The more radical among them sought to transform this
electoral coalition into a Liberty League, led most prominently by
Gerrit Smith.

The term "free soil" was first used by in the joint Liberty-National
Reform tickets of the middle 1840s; these represented a serious
convergence of abolitionist and workingclass land reform.  They wanted
the exclusion of slavery from the territories, an end to expansionist
policies like the War with Mexico, the free distribution of land to the
landless, and the abolition of slavery everywhere, in preference for
"free labor."  (That is, btw, how most Leftish historians discuss this
ideology today--"free labor"--since it is descriptive of values, etc.
rather than merely policies, like "free soil.") 

When the Northern Democrats broke from the party in 1848, they basically
assimilated/stole the expression for their Free Soil Party, which
centered pretty exclusively around the idea of keeping slavery out of
the territories and ran former U.S. President Martin Van Buren.  The
Liberty League and National Reform coalitions and their politics were
not represented, per se, and actually voted to abstain from the Free
Soil Party, though the overwhelming majority of their ranks
participated. After the election of 1848, the politicians generally
skulked back to their respective parties, and the Free Soil Party mostly
collapsed.  

The remnants of the third party movement (often smudged into the Free
Soil Party) renamed themselves "Free Democrats" and were pretty much in
radical hands, pretty much.  In 1852, their candidate was a New
Hampshire senator who had won reelection as an abolitionist after being
abandoned by the Democratic Party--so it was much more militant.  In
state elections, candidates included socialists like Warren B. Chase,
running for governor of Wisconsin.  

The Kansas crisis after 1854 shook up everything again.  Some of the
local and state Republican parties were very radical.  (The "birthplace"
of the Republican Party that year was the former socialist community of
Ceresco, the Wisconsin Phalanx--now Ripon.)  Others, like the New York
Party were formed though merging with the Whigs, who had never been that
interested in taking up slavery at all.  So it was unclear for some time
whether the Republicans would take as strong a position as they did on
slavery in the territories.

When the Republicans settled on that position, some of the old Free
Democrats, Liberty Leaguers, etc. launched the Radical Abolitionist
Party aimed at the complete abolition of slavery by the Federal
government.  Unlike Garrison, they believed the US Constitution to be
ultimately an antislavery document that would legitimate abolitionism.
This tiny group, led by Gerrit Smith was racially mixed and an
orientation to winning antislavery people in the South (who, they said,
would get nothing from Republican electoral success).  People like
Frederick Douglass and John Brown were involved.  

In the end, though, almost all of these folks (including Smith)
supported the Lincoln campaign in 1860--as did all abolitionists,
excepting those like Garrison who did not vote on principle.

Solidarity!
Mark L.









More information about the Marxism mailing list