Popular SovereigntyThe Wilmot Proviso hadstirred passions on both sides in Congress. The issueof slavery’s expansion had divided the country alongsectional lines, North against South. Many moderatesbegan searching for a solution that would spareCongress from having to wrestle with the issue ofslavery in the territories.Senator Lewis Cassof Michigan proposed onesolution. Cass suggested that the citizens of each newterritory should be allowed to decide for themselvesif they wanted to permit slavery or not. This ideacame to be called popular sovereignty.Popular sovereignty appealed strongly to manymembers of Congress because it removed the slav-ery issue from national politics. It also appearedPoster calling for antislavery meetingCHAPTER 10Sectional Conflict Intensifies321
democratic since the settlers themselves wouldmake the decision. Abolitionists argued that it stilldenied African Americans their right not to beenslaved, but many Northerners, especially in theMidwest, supported the idea because they believedNorthern settlers would occupy most of the new ter-ritory and would ban slavery from their states. The Free-Soil Party EmergesWith the 1848 elec-tion approaching, the Whigs chose Zachary Taylor,hero of the war with Mexico, to run for president.The Whig Party in the North was split. ManyNorthern Whigs, known as Conscience Whigs,opposed slavery. They also opposed Taylor becausethey believed he wanted to expand slavery west-ward. Other Northern Whigs supported Taylor andvoted with the Southern Whigs to nominate him.These Northern Whigs were known as Cotton Whigsbecause many of them were linked to Northern clothmanufacturers who needed Southern cotton.The decision to nominate Taylor convinced manyConscience Whigs to quit the party. They then joinedwith antislavery Democrats from New York whowere frustrated that their party had nominated LewisCass instead of Martin Van Buren. These two groupsjoined with members of the abolitionist Liberty Partyto form the Free-Soil Party,which opposed slavery inthe “free soil” of western territories. Although some Free Soilers condemned slavery asimmoral, most simply wanted to preserve the west-ern territories for white farmers. They felt that allow-ing slavery to expand would make it difficult for freemen to find work. The Free-Soil Party’s slogansummed up their views: “Free soil, free speech, freelabor, and free men.” The 1848 ElectionCandidates from three partiescampaigned for the presidency in 1848. DemocratLewis Cass of Michigan supported popular sover-eignty, although this support was not mentioned inthe South. His promise to veto the Wilmot Proviso,should Congress pass it, however, was oftenreported. Former president Martin Van Buren led theFree-Soil Party, which took a strong position againstslavery in the territories and backed the WilmotProviso. General Zachary Taylor, the Whig candi-date, avoided the whole issue.