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Constitutional Union Party

Timeframe: 1860 - 1860

The Free soil party, a political party organized in 1848 on a platform opposing the extension of slavery, was rooted in the growing conflict between proslavery and antislavery forces in the United States. The conflict was intensified by the acquisition of new territories from Mexico and the ensuing argument whether or not slavery would be permitted into those territories. The party evolved from antislavery and otherwise discontented elements in the Democratic and Whig parties. It was eclipsed in the early 1850's by the new Republican Party, which incorporated free soil goals.

The Constitutional Union Party was a short lived political party formed chiefly of the remnants of the American Party and the old-line southern wing of the Whig Party, organized for the election of 1860. Persuaded that the agitation over the slavery question could lead only to the disruption of the Union, its founders presented no platform other than a vague appeal for adherence to the Constitution, the Union, and the laws of the United States.

Meeting in Baltimore in May 1860, the party had its founding convention, and nominated John Bell of Tennessee for president and Edward Everett of Massachusetts for vice president. The formation of the party was prompted by the desire to muster popular sentiment in favor of the Union and against southern secession. The platform adopted by the party advocated support for "the Constitution of the country, the union of the States, and the enforcement of the laws," but took no stand on the slavery issue.

At the convention, where it was called "National Union" in the invitations, John Bell was selected over Sam Houston of Texas, who was the favorite of the American contingent, and Edward Everett was selected for the vice presidential nomination, which he did not want

In the North the Bell movement attracted remnants of the "Americans" and old Whigs. The failure of Fillmore in 1856 and the new-found conservatism of the Republicans caused many former Whigs such as Thomas Ewing of Ohio to support "Lincoln, the Whig" and the Whig policies in the Republican platform.

In the November election the Constitutional Union party found its greatest strength among conservatives in the border states, where the effects of civil conflict were especially feared, although the ticket was supported throughout the nation. The party carried Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

Bell trailed the Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln, and the two Democratic nominees, Stephen A. Douglas and John C. Breckinridge, receiving 591,658 popular votes (only 12.6% of the total). He carried the states of Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee with 39 electoral votes. Leaders of the party, in the ensuing months, called for reconciliation of the sections through a compromise of the slavery issue, but without success.

With the coming of the Civil War the Constitutional Union Party disappeared from the political scene, as the party was dissolved.

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