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president, Millard Fillmore of New York was nominated on the second ballot. The Ohio delegation then made an effort to obtain a vote in favor of the Wilmot Proviso; but a resolution to that effect was tabled on motion of a Pennsylvania delegate, by a large majority, and the convention adjourned without making any declaration of principles whatsoever.1
Taylor was a man of high character and strong personality, with extensive experience in war, but practically none in politics. He was probably the strongest candidate that the Whigs could have put forward, but scarcely the fittest. To have nominated a man with a consistent Whig record, and especially a strenuous opposer of the war, would have been to court defeat. Taylor's reputation as the real hero of the struggle was the decisive influence in the convention and at the polls. His slave-holding antecedents, while they had no serious effect in alienating the voters of the North, strengthened him greatly in the South. The saving elements in his personality were his courage, his conscientiousness, and his common-sense. These helped him through difficulties where the training and the instincts of the mere politician were of small avail. Though his inexperience threw him on the advice of others, his good judgment and unbending resolution kept him steady amid the confusion of opposing counsels, and pointed out the best and wisest course.
1 Wilson, Slave Power, II., 135.
The convention was followed by a movement to consolidate the different elements of opposition to both Cass and Taylor. Most important of these was the New York Barnburners, who had various scores, both old and new, to settle with Cass and his friends; they held a convention at Utica on June 22, and nominated Van Buren for president, and Henry Dodge of Wisconsin for vice-president. Then there were the supporters of the Wilmot Proviso, both Whigs and Democrats, who were displeased by what they regarded as the evasive policy of their own parties, and were ready to assist in forming another. Of these the Democrats objected to Cass because he opposed the proviso, and the Whigs opposed Taylor for reasons already stated. Henry Wilson says that after the nomination of Taylor at Philadelphia a meeting of fifteen of the more irreconcilable Whig delegates was held in the building in which the convention had met,1 six of them from Ohio, and steps were taken towards calling a national convention of those opposed to the extension of slavery. It was agreed that the call should come, if it could be so arranged, from a convention already appointed to meet at Columbus, Ohio, June 22. The arrangement was made, and a national Free Soil convention was called to meet at Buffalo on August 9.
It was not difficult for those two elements, though varying widely in their motives, to unite with each 1 Wilson, Slave Power, II., 142–144.
other, and with the already politically separate Liberty men, or abolitionists, on the common ground of the Wilmot Proviso. The convention met at the appointed time, with four hundred and sixty-five delegates from eighteen states, including the three slave states Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. The first ballot to nominate a candidate for the presidency stood 244 for Van Buren to 181 for John P. Hale of New Hampshire.1 These candidates represented fitly the two elements participating in the convention: Hale had abandoned the Democratic party for conscience' sake, staking his political prospects on the issue; Van Buren was wrecking the party for the sake of revenge on Cass. The vote, however, cannot be taken as a test of strength; for there were many supporters of the Wilmot Proviso who still repelled the charge of abolitionism.2
The original nominee of the Barnburners for vicepresident, Dodge, had declined, and it now became necessary to put another in his place; the right man was found in Charles Francis Adams of Massachusetts, son of John Quincy Adams, who was nominated by acclamation. The convention then adopted a platform of resolutions in favor of cheap postage, retrenchment, election by the people of all
1 Lalor, Cyclopædia, II., 288; Wilson, Slave Power, II., 156. 'Schouler, United States, V., 104; cf. McLaughlin, Cass, 257'Text in Niles' Register, LXXIV., 110; Stanwood, Hist. of the Presidency, 239–241.
civil officers so far as practicable, internal improvements, free grants of public land to actual settlers, and a tariff sufficient to provide revenue adequate for the government; but it enlarged on the slavery issue, disclaiming any intention to interfere with that institution in the slave states, but declaring that the proper policy was to "limit, localize, and discourage" it. It concluded by proclaiming as the motto of the party, "Free soil, free speech, free labor, and free men." The organization thus formed, known as the Free Soil party, lasted under various names nearly eight years, but was never able to get more than a handful of members into Congress, and it was finally swallowed up by the Republican party.1
The campaign of 1848 was marked by no such enthusiasm as those of 1840 and 1844. The popular vote, exclusive of the four new states, showed a very slight increase over that of 1844. Taylor had a majority over Cass of nearly one hundred and fifty thousand at the polls and of thirty-six in the electoral college, so that if either New York or Pennsylvania had voted for Cass he would have won. In Pennsylvania the dominant influences were not yet reconciled to the Walker tariff; in New York the Hunkers and the national Democratic party were duly punished, for the vote of that state was, in round numbers, 218,000 for Taylor, 120,000 for Van Buren, and 114,000 for Cass-that is, Taylor took the electoral vote only by the division of the Demo
1 Smith, Liberty and Free Soil Parties, chap. xi.
crats. The result for the whole country was a serious illustration of the political inertia of the period, against which the tremendous economic and social forces working for sectionalization exerted themselves for the moment in vain. Eight free and seven slave states were for Cass, while for Taylor these figures were exactly reversed. Disunion was still a question for the future.
The result of the congressional elections was, on the whole, in favor of the Democrats, who elected 112 congressmen, against 105 Whigs. The FreeSoilers held the balance of power with thirteen members. In the New York delegation the defection of the Barnburners was notably apparent; among its thirty-four members there were one Free-Soiler and one Democrat, and the rest were Whigs. The Federal Senate, however, remained Democratic by a majority of ten.
It would hardly be speaking too strongly to characterize the election of 1848 as a contest without an issue. Neither of the two great parties which alone might expect to win sought to rally the people to the defence of any important principle. Practically the only thing it decided was that a Whig general should be made president because he had done effective work in carrying on a Democratic war. It was only an eddy in the historical current in which force and direction seemed to have been lost.
1 Cong. Globe, 31 Cong., 1 Sess., 1.