Gamaliel Bailey and Antislavery Union

By Stanley Harrold | Go to book overview

chapter nine
Free Soil

One of the chief arguments Lewis Tappan had used to promote the establishment of the National Era was that the times were particularly auspicious for the undertaking. In all sections of the country people of diverse political orientations believed that the fate of the nation depended upon the settlement of the issue of slavery expansion into the territories gained from Mexico. In the North a large segment of the population regarded the prospect of the extension of slavery into the Southwest with fear and anger. Those who did not share Bailey's moral antipathy to slavery itself believed its extension would lead to the restriction of free white labor, the creation of new slave states, and the perpetuation of the rule of the Slave Power in Washington. This apprehension had by 1846 led some anti-extensionist northern Whigs and Democrats to advocate an antislavery policy similar to that of the Liberty party, weakening support for the third party and threatening disruption of the national parties as the 1848 national election approached. Bailey and many other Liberty men were well aware of the dangers and opportunities offered by this situation, and Bailey shared the assumption that the nation faced a crisis, the resolution of which would either lead to the extinction of slavery or further entrench the Slave Power. It appeared to him that extraordinary measures had to be adopted to meet the crisis, and he made the Era the principal journal in favor of harmony among the various antislavery political factions. More importantly, he indicated his willingness to compromise the high standard he had previously maintained as the basis for coalition with nonabolitionist groups within the major parties.1

In New York, Radical or Barnburner Democrats, who favored the Wilmot Proviso, were at odds with the Conservative or Hunker faction of

-109-

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