Degree Year

1981

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

History

Advisor(s)

Carol Lasser

Keywords

Ashtabula (OH), Free Soil, Slavery, Antislavery

Abstract

Ashtabula County's commitment to the politics of antislavery was built upon unqualified belief in the greatness of the American system of government as expressed in the Constitution and realized by a free and hardworking Northern society. It was also based on an equally vociferous rejection of slavery and Southern life as inhumanely degrading, elitist and antidemocratic, un-Christian, and antimodern. The unfettered opportunity of the individual to prosper was what America had fought the Revolution for and created the Constitution to protect. It was what Ashtabulans saw as the key to social progress, what had brought America to the threshold of greatness. Anything which would block such an achievement could not be allowed to continue. That the outstanding obstacle to this vision was an entirely domestic problem -slavery- made it even more intolerable, and its detractors more anxious to do away with it.

For most of the country, the Free Soil experiment of 1848-1853 was a fleeting political moment that failed because it spoke a vocabulary not yet understood by most Northerners. In Ashtabula, however, that was not the case. Instead, for the independent farmers of Austinburg, Colebrook, Cherry Valley and numerous other towns, Free Soil was the precise antidote to Southern political power and the moral outrage of slavery. Their enthusiastic adoption of Free Soil was a conscious rejection of the politics of the past which had proven not only incapable of solving the slavery dilemma but was mired in controversies made moot by a new political era, a free soil era. They were hardly out for political gain but committed strongly enough to the new party to swallow the humiliation of supporting their life-long nemesis, Martin Van Buren. They were the vanguard for the rest of the North.

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