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Election of 1848
Civil War Encyclopedia >> Politics
Election of 1848
The Liberty Party, which has some success over the last two presidential elections, lost its major candidate, abolitionist James Birney to an accident in 1845. Organizer Salmon P. Chase continued to further the cause, asking men including anti-slavery Supreme Court Justice John McLane, New York Governor William Seward, New Hampshire's John P. Hale and Gerrit Smith if they wanted to lead the Liberty Party in the 1848 elections. In October, 1847, the party chose Hale.
In the Election of 1844 Martin Van Buren had been the favorite until Lewis Cass began to gain votes after the first ballot. On the 8th ballot, "dark horse" James Polk gained 44 votes and swept the convention when Martin Van Buren told his supporters to vote for Polk. When it came time for New York's political patronage jobs to be filled, Van Buren's supporters were almost completely ignored. Furthermore, Polk's legislative agenda and his attacks on the Wilmot Proviso further alienated Van Buren's wing, now being called the Barnburners, as oppose to mainstream New York Democrats known as Hunkers.
Going into the Democratic Convention of 1848 there were four contenders, although James Buchanan had little support. John C. Calhoun led the pro-slavery southerners, Martin Van Buren led the Barnburners and Lewis Cass led a middle-of-the-road coalition who supported "squatter sovereignty." It appeared there was little that could be done to keep the Barnburners in the party, mostly because their strong anti-slavery views could not be pigeon-holed into Lewis Cass's beliefs. When the Barnburners bolted the convention, Liberty Party organizers including Salmon P. Chase asked Van Buren if he would be interested in leading a new party, combining the national draw of the anti-slavery Liberty Party with the regional popularity of the Barnburners. Van Buren said yes.
In June, 1848, the Liberty Party reconvened on the state level and essentially dissolved the party, then reconvened with the Barnburners in August to create the Freesoil Party. Van Buren was nominated on the first ballot and former Liberty Party candidate John Hale completely supported the move. (It was a good idea because Hale would become the Freesoil nominee in 1852).
Whigs were beginning to feel the divisions of slavery in their own party as well. Although the Wilmot Proviso was a Democratic move, the anti-slavery Proviso had the northern and southern Whigs distrusting each other. Luckily, General Zachary Taylor, a Tennessee Whig with slaves, would be able to unite the party and put slavery issue aside.
Much of the early campaigning revolved around the disposition of the land acquired by Polk from Mexico in the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, the Tariff of 1846 and opposition to taking veto power from the President. It was felt that Van Buren might be able to win New York or Massachusetts, states where anti-slavery feelings were strongest, but they managed only second place in those two states. Whig candidate Zachary Taylor won, but once again with less that 50% of the vote (47.3%).
Election of 1852
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Election of 1848 was last changed on - November 29, 2007
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