Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Buffalo Free Soil Convention (1848)
Author:
Lueth, Elmar S.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Held on 9–10 August 1848, the national Free Soil convention in Buffalo, New York, brought together delegates from nineteen states and molded the diffuse elements of the free soil movement into a short-lived political party, whose main goal was to prevent the extension of slavery into the Western territories. Democrats, Whigs, Liberty Men, and abolitionists rallied around the slogan "Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor, and Free Men" (Blue 74), nominating Martin Van Buren for president and Charles Francis Adams for vice-president. While the adopted party platform renounced the extension of slavery, it did not question the existence of slavery in the South or demand full civil rights for blacks.

Walt Whitman attended the Buffalo convention as one of fourteen delegates from Brooklyn. As editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle between March 1846 and January 1848, Whitman had repeatedly spoken out in favor of the 1846 Wilmot Proviso, the legislative attempt to keep slavery out of any new territories acquired from Mexico. Whitman viewed the extension of slavery as detrimental to American democracy and as unfair competition for white workers eager to settle in the West. Like many other Free-Soilers, he was not immediately concerned about slavery as a moral dilemma. Upon return from Buffalo, Whitman was appointed a member of the Free Soil General Committee for Brooklyn and began editing the Brooklyn Weekly Freeman, a Free Soil paper established with the help of Judge Samuel V. Johnson. Whitman stayed with the Freeman from September 1848 until September 1849, when he resigned in reaction to a political compromise between New York Free-Soilers and Democrats. Although Whitman ceased being active on behalf of the Free Soil party after his resignation, his interest in free-soil principles continued. On 14 August 1852 Whitman wrote a letter to Senator John Parker Hale of New Hampshire, urging him to accept the presidential nomination of the Free-Soilers, who now campaigned under the name of Free Democrats.

Bibliography

Blue, Frederick J. The Free Soilers: Third Party Politics, 1848–54. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1973.

Dyer, Oliver. Phonographic Report of the Proceedings of the National Free Soil Convention at Buffalo, N.Y. Buffalo: Derby, 1848.

Erkkila, Betsy. Whitman the Political Poet. New York: Oxford UP, 1989.

Klammer, Martin. Whitman, Slavery, and the Emergence of "Leaves of Grass." University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1995.

Rubin, Joseph Jay. The Historic Whitman. University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1973.


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