The Free Soil Party was a short-lived political party in the United States active in the 1848 and 1852 presidential elections as well as in some state elections. A single-issue party, its main purpose was to oppose the expansion of slavery into the Western territories, arguing that free men on free soil constituted a morally and economically superior system to slavery. It also sometimes worked to remove existing laws that discriminated against freed African Americans in states such as Ohio.
The party originated in New York after the state Democratic convention refused to endorse the Wilmot Proviso, a proposed law that would have banned slavery in any territory acquired from Mexico in the Mexican–American War. A faction of New York Democrats known as the Barnburners objected to slavery in the territories and opposed the 1848 Democratic nominee Lewis Cass. The Barnburners and other anti-slavery Democrats joined with some anti-slavery Whigs and the Liberty Party to form the Free Soil Party. Salmon P. Chase, John P. Hale and other party leaders organized the 1848 Free Soil Convention, which nominated a ticket consisting of former President Martin Van Buren and Charles Francis Adams Sr. In the 1848 presidential election, Van Buren won 10.1% of the popular vote and Whig nominee Zachary Taylor defeated Cass.
The Compromise of 1850 reduced tensions regarding slavery, but some remained in the party. In the 1852 presidential election, Hale won 4.9% of the popular vote as the party's nominee. Passage of the Kansas–Nebraska Act in 1854 revitalized the anti-slavery movement and the party membership (including leaders such as Hale and Chase) was largely absorbed by the Republican Party between 1854 and 1856 by way of the Anti-Nebraska movement.
Free Soil Party
|Leader||Martin Van Buren|
Salmon P. Chase
John P. Hale
|Merger of||Barnburner Democrats|
|Merged into||Republican Party|
|Slogan||"Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor, Free Men"|
In 1848, the New York State Democratic convention did not endorse the Wilmot Proviso, an act that would have banned slavery in any territory conquered by the United States in the Mexican War. Almost half the members, known as "Barnburners", walked out after denouncing the national platform. Lewis Cass, the Democratic Party's 1848 presidential nominee, supported popular sovereignty (local control) for determining the status of slavery in the United States territories. This stance repulsed the New York State Democrats and encouraged them to join with anti-slavery Conscience Whigs and the majority of the Liberty Party to form the Free Soil Party, which was formalized in the summer of 1848 at conventions in Utica and Buffalo. The Free Soilers nominated former Democratic President Martin Van Buren for President, along with Charles Francis Adams for Vice President, at Lafayette Square in Buffalo, then known as Court House Park. The main party leaders were Salmon P. Chase of Ohio and John P. Hale of New Hampshire. The Free Soil candidates won 10% of the popular vote in 1848, but no electoral votes, in part because the nomination of Van Buren discouraged many anti-slavery Whigs from supporting them.
The party distanced itself from abolitionism and avoided the moral problems implicit in slavery. Members emphasized instead the threat slavery would pose to free white labor and Northern businessmen in the new Western territories. Although abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison derided the party philosophy as "white manism", the approach appealed to many moderate opponents of slavery. The 1848 platform pledged to promote limited internal improvements, work for a homestead law, work towards paying off the public debt and introduce a moderate tariff for revenue only.
The Compromise of 1850 temporarily neutralized the issue of slavery and undercut the party's no-compromise position. Most Barnburners returned to the Democratic Party while most of the Conscience Whigs returned to the Whig Party. This resulted in the Free Soil Party becoming dominated by ardent anti-slavery leaders.
The party ran John P. Hale in the 1852 presidential election, but its share of the popular vote shrank to less than 5%. However, two years later—after enormous outrage over the Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854—the remains of the Free Soil Party helped form the Republican Party.
The Free Soil Party sent two Senators and fourteen Representatives to the thirty-first Congress, which convened from March 4, 1849, to March 3, 1851. Since there were party members on the floor of Congress, they could carry far more weight in the government and in the debates that took place. The Free Soil Party presidential nominee in 1848, Martin Van Buren, received 291,616 votes against Zachary Taylor of the Whigs and Lewis Cass of the Democrats, but Van Buren received no electoral votes. The party's "spoiler effect" in 1848 may have helped Taylor into office in a narrowly contested election.
However, the strength of the party was its representation in Congress as the sixteen elected officials had influence far beyond their numerical strength. The party's most important legacy was as a route for anti-slavery Democrats to join the new Republican coalition.
In August 1854, an alliance was brokered at Ottawa, Illinois, between the Free Soil Party and the Whigs (in part based on the efforts of local newspaper publisher Jonathan F. Linton) that gave rise to the new Republican Party which had been founded in March of that year.
In 2014, the party's name was used for the American Free Soil Party with a focus on justice for immigrants, as well as combating discrimination. On February 15, 2019, the American Free Soil Party won ballot access for its first candidate to run under its banner in a partisan race when Dr. James W. Clifton filed to run for Town Council in Millersburg, IN.  The following day, the Party held its National Convention and nominated its 2020 Presidential ticket, former Southwick Commissioner Adam Seaman of Massachusetts and Dr. Enrique Ramos of Puerto Rico for President and Vice- President, respectively.
Free Soil candidates ran on a platform that declared: "[W]e inscribe on our banner, 'Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor, and Free Men,' and under it we will fight on, and fight forever, until a triumphant victory shall reward our exertions". The party also called for a tariff for revenue only (i.e. import taxes sufficient to meet federal government expenses without creating protectionist trade barriers) and for a homestead act. The Free Soil Party's main support came from areas of Ohio, upstate New York and western Massachusetts, although other northern states also had representatives. The party contended that slavery undermined the dignity of labor and inhibited social mobility and was therefore fundamentally undemocratic. Viewing slavery as an economically inefficient, obsolete institution, Free Soilers believed that slavery should be contained and that if contained it would ultimately disappear.
|Election||Candidate||Running mate||Votes||Vote %||Electoral votes||+/-||Outcome of election|
|1848||Martin Van Buren||Charles F. Adams||291,501||10.1||
0 / 290
|1852||John P. Hale||George W. Julian||155,210||4.9||
0 / 296
The 1848 United States elections elected the members of the 31st United States Congress. The election took place during the Second Party System, nine months after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican–American War. With the issue of slavery (and its extension into western territories) dividing the nation, the Free Soil Party established itself as the third most powerful party in Congress. California joined the union before the next election, and elected its first Congressional delegation to the 31st Congress. Whigs won the Presidency, but Democrats won a plurality in the House and retained control of the Senate.
In the Presidential election, Whig General Zachary Taylor defeated Democratic former Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan and the Free Soil candidate, former President Martin Van Buren. Taylor won most of the Northeast and several Southern states, giving him a fairly comfortable majority in both the electoral and popular vote. One-term incumbent Democratic President James K. Polk chose to retire rather than seek re-election (becoming the first elected president to do so), and Cass defeated Supreme Court Justice Levi Woodbury and Secretary of State James Buchanan on the fourth ballot at the 1848 Democratic National Convention. Van Buren, the former Democratic President, ran against Cass for political reasons (Cass was a prominent supporter of slavery) and possibly for personal reasons (Cass helped defeat Van Buren's 1844 bid for the Democratic nomination). Taylor was recruited by the Whigs to replicate the success of the Whig's only previous successful candidate, General William Henry Harrison, and he easily triumphed over other Whig candidates. Taylor's win made him the last President to win election as neither a Democrat nor a Republican.
In the House, Democrats picked up a small number of seats, taking the plurality. The Whigs lost a small number of seats but remained the second largest party, while the Free Soil Party picked up a handful of seats. The House elected Democrat Howell Cobb as Speaker after sixty-three ballots.In the Senate, the Whigs won minor gains, cutting into the Democratic majority.1848 United States presidential election
The United States presidential election of 1848 was the 16th quadrennial presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 7, 1848. In the aftermath of the Mexican–American War, General Zachary Taylor of the Whig Party defeated Senator Lewis Cass of the Democratic Party. The contest was the first presidential election that took place on the same day in every state, and it was the first time that Election Day was statutorily a Tuesday.Despite Taylor's unclear political affiliations and beliefs, and the Whig opposition to the Mexican–American War, the 1848 Whig National Convention nominated the popular general over party stalwarts such as Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. For vice president, the Whigs nominated Millard Fillmore, a New York Whig known for his moderate views on slavery. Incumbent President James K. Polk, a Democrat, honored his promise not to seek re-election, leaving his party's nomination open. The 1848 Democratic National Convention rejected former President Martin Van Buren's bid for a second term, instead nominating Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan. Van Buren broke from his party to lead the ticket of the Free Soil Party, which opposed the extension of slavery into the territories.
The Whig choice of Zachary Taylor was made almost out of desperation; he was not clearly committed to Whig principles, but he was popular for leading the war effort. The Democrats had a record of prosperity and had acquired the Mexican cession and parts of Oregon country. It appeared almost certain that they would win unless the Whigs picked Taylor. Taylor won a plurality of the popular vote and a majority of the electoral vote, while Van Buren won 10.1% of the popular vote, a strong showing for a third party candidate.
Taylor's victory made him the second of two Whigs to win a presidential election, following William Henry Harrison's victory in the 1840 presidential election. Like Harrison, Taylor died during his term, and he was succeeded by Fillmore. Discounting Republican Abraham Lincoln's 1864 re-election on the National Union ticket, Taylor is the most recent individual who was not a member of the Democratic or Republican parties to win a presidential election.1850 United States elections
The 1850 United States elections occurred part way through Whig President Millard Fillmore's term, during the Second Party System. Fillmore had become president on July 9, 1850 upon the death of his predecessor, Zachary Taylor. Members of the 32nd United States Congress were chosen in this election. Democrats kept control of both houses of Congress.
In the House, Democrats won several seats from the Whigs, building on their control of the chamber. Several supporters of the Georgia Platform also won election as Unionists.In the Senate, Whigs lost a small number of seats to Democrats and the Free Soil Party. Democrats retained a strong majority.1852 United States elections
The 1852 United States elections elected the members of the 33rd United States Congress. The election marked the end of the Second Party System, as the Whig Party ceased to function as a national party following this election. Democrats won the presidency and retained control of both houses of Congress.
In the presidential election, Democratic former senator Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire defeated Whig General Winfield Scott. Pierce won the popular vote by a margin of seven percent, and dominated the electoral college. John P. Hale of the Free Soil Party also took about five percent of the popular vote. Pierce won on the 49th ballot of the 1852 Democratic National Convention, defeating 1848 nominee Lewis Cass, former Secretary of State James Buchanan, former Secretary of War William L. Marcy, and Senator Stephen A. Douglas frp, Illinois. Incumbent Whig president Millard Fillmore ran for a full term, but the 1852 Whig National Convention chose Scott, another popular general similar to former Whig presidents William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor. Fillmore became the first incumbent president to lose his party's presidential nomination. Scott was the last Whig presidential candidate, as the party collapsed during the 1850s. However, this election was also the last time a Democratic candidate would win a majority of the popular and electoral vote until Franklin D. Roosevelt did so in 1932.
In the House, Democrats won several seats, boosting their majority.In the Senate, Democrats won minor gains, maintaining their commanding majority.1852 United States presidential election
The United States presidential election of 1852 was the seventeenth quadrennial presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 2, 1852. Democrat Franklin Pierce, a former Senator from New Hampshire, defeated General Winfield Scott, the Whig nominee. This was the last election in which the Whigs served as the principal opposition to the Democrats.
Incumbent Whig President Millard Fillmore had acceded to the presidency after the death of President Zachary Taylor in 1850. Due to Fillmore's support of the Compromise of 1850 and his enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law, he was popular in the South but opposed by many Northern Whigs. On the 53rd ballot of the 1852 Whig National Convention, Scott defeated Fillmore to clinch the party's nomination. The Democrats were divided among four major candidates, who traded leads through the first 48 ballots of the 1852 Democratic National Convention. On the 49th ballot, dark horse candidate Franklin Pierce won his party's nomination. The Free Soil Party, a third party opposed to the extension of slavery into the territories, nominated Senator John P. Hale of New Hampshire.
With no major policy differences between the two major candidates, the election became a contest of personalities. Though Scott had been the top U.S. general in the Mexican–American War and had had a long and distinguished military career, Pierce had also served in the Mexican–American War. The Whigs were badly divided between their Northern and Southern wings, and Scott's anti-slavery reputation further damaged his campaign in the South. A group of Southern Whigs and a separate group of Southern Democrats each nominated their own tickets, but both efforts failed to attract support.
Pierce and his running mate William R. King won by a comfortable majority in the popular vote and carried 27 of the 31 states, while Scott won 43.9% of the popular vote. Pierce won the highest share of the electoral vote since James Monroe's uncontested 1820 re-election. In the aftermath of this overwhelming defeat the Whig Party rapidly collapsed as a national political force as internal tensions regarding the issue of slavery caused mass abandonment of the party.1854 United States elections
The 1854 United States elections was the midterm election choosing members of the 32nd United States Congress during the middle of Democratic President Franklin Pierce's term. It was part of the transition from the Second Party System to the Third Party System, as the Whigs collapsed as a national party and were replaced by a coalition running on the Opposition Party ticket and the nascent Republican Party).
In the House, Democrats suffered a massive defeat, losing seats to the Opposition Party, and to the American Party; the latter (also known as the Know Nothings) won more seats in the House than any other third party in the history of the chamber. Nathaniel Banks, a member of the American Party and the Free Soil Party, won election as Speaker of the House after a protracted battle, defeating Democrat William Aiken. In the Senate, Democrats retained a strong majority, while the Opposition replaced the Whigs as the second largest party in the chamber.Alexander De Witt
Alexander De Witt (April 2, 1798 – January 13, 1879) was a 19th-century American politician from the state of Massachusetts.
Born in New Braintree, Massachusetts, De Witt worked in textile manufacturing in Oxford, Massachusetts. Active in politics as a Democrat, he was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1830, serving until 1836. He served in the Massachusetts State Senate in 1842, 1844, 1850, and 1851.An anti-slavery activist, De Witt later joined the Free Soil Party. As a Free Soiler he was elected to the United States Congress in 1853. In January 1854, he was one of six signatories of the "Appeal of the Independent Democrats", drafted to oppose the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
After the demise of the Free Soil Party, De Witt joined the American Party, then the only major party with an anti-slavery platform. He won a second term in 1854, and served in the 34th Congress.He was defeated in his 1856 bid for reelection and returned to his previous work as a textile manufacturer. De Witt later became a Republican, and supported the Union during the American Civil War by participating in efforts to recruit and equip soldiers for Massachusetts regiments.
De Witt died in Oxford on January 13, 1879. He is buried in Oxford's South Cemetery.Charles Allen (Massachusetts politician)
Charles Allen (August 9, 1797 – August 6, 1869) was a United States Representative from Massachusetts.
He was born in Worcester, Massachusetts on August 9, 1797, the son Joseph Allen and grandnephew of Samuel Adams). Allen attended Leicester Academy (1809–1811) and Yale College (1811–1812) and studied law. He was admitted to the bar in 1818 and commenced practice in New Braintree. He returned to Worcester in 1824 and continued the practice of law. In 1827 he was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society.Allen was a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives (1830, 1833, 1835, and 1840); he also served in the Massachusetts State Senate (1836–1837). In 1842, he was a member of the Maine-New Brunswick boundary commission created by the Webster–Ashburton Treaty that ended the Aroostook War. He was a judge of the Court of Common Pleas (1842–1845) and a delegate to the 1848 Whig National Convention in Philadelphia. He was twice elected to Congress as a Free-Soil Party candidate (March 4, 1849 – March 3, 1853), but did not seek renomination in 1852. In 1849 he edited the Boston Whig, later called the Republican.
After leaving Congress, he resumed the practice of law in Worcester. He was a member of the state's constitutional convention in 1853. He was Chief Justice of the Suffolk County Superior Court (1859–1867).
He was a delegate to the Peace Conference of 1861 held in Washington, D.C. to try to prevent the start of the Civil War.
Charles Allen died in Worcester on August 6, 1869. He was interred in the Rural Cemetery.
The home on which he began construction, the Charles Allen House, was completed by his descendants and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.Charles Durkee
Charles H. Durkee (December 10, 1805 – January 14, 1870) was an American politician, Congressman and Senator from Wisconsin.George Washington Julian
George Washington Julian (May 5, 1817 – July 7, 1899) was a politician, lawyer, and writer from Indiana who served in the United States House of Representatives during the 19th century. A leading opponent of slavery, Julian was the Free Soil Party's candidate for vice president in the 1852 election and was a prominent Radical Republican during the American Civil War and the Reconstruction Era.
Born in Wayne County, Indiana, he established a legal practice in Centerville, Indiana. He won election to the Indiana House of Representatives as a member of the Whig Party. He helped found the anti-slavery Free Soil Party and won election to the United States House of Representatives, but was defeated in his attempt to secure a second term. During his time in Congress, he became a staunch supporter of land reform policies such as the Homestead Acts. After leaving Congress, Julian served as the Free Soil Party's vice presidential nominee in 1852, and the ticket won 4.9% of the popular vote.
After the passage of the Kansas–Nebraska Act, Julian became a leader of Indiana's nascent Republican Party, and he won election to the United States House of Representatives in 1860. He helped secure passage of the 1862 Homestead Act and called for the abolition of slavery. He criticized many of President Abraham Lincoln's wartime policies and favored the Wade–Davis Bill over Lincoln's more lenient Reconstruction proposals. He voted in favor of the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States.
After the war, he emerged as a prominent critic of President Andrew Johnson, calling for Johnson's impeachment. Julian introduced a women's suffrage constitutional amendment in 1868. Julian lost his bid for re-nomination in 1870, and eventually resumed his legal practice in Indianapolis. He opposed the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant and became a leader of the Liberal Republicans. After Grant defeated Liberal Republican nominee Horace Greeley in the 1872 presidential election, Julian became a member of the Democratic Party. In 1885, President Grover Cleveland appointed him surveyor general of the New Mexico territory. Julian was the son-in-law of Ohio politician Joshua Reed Giddings and the father of Grace Julian Clarke, a women's suffrage advocate.Gerrit Smith
Gerrit Smith (March 6, 1797 – December 28, 1874) was a leading United States social reformer, abolitionist, politician, and philanthropist. Spouse to Ann Carroll Fitzhugh, Smith was a candidate for President of the United States in 1848, 1856, and 1860, but only served 18 months in the federal government—in Congress as a Free Soil Party Representative, in 1853–4.Smith, a significant financial contributor to the Liberty Party and the Republican Party throughout his life, spent much time and money working towards social progress in the nineteenth-century United States. Besides making substantial donations of both land and money to create an African-American community in North Elba, New York, he was involved in the temperance movement and, later in life, the colonization movement. A staunch abolitionist, he was a member of the Secret Six who financially supported John Brown's raid at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Brown's farm, in North Elba, was on land he bought from Smith.Jacob Brinkerhoff
Jacob Brinkerhoff (August 31, 1810 – July 19, 1880) was an American jurist, Congressman, and author of the Wilmot Proviso.John P. Hale
John Parker Hale (March 31, 1806 – November 19, 1873) was an American politician and lawyer from New Hampshire. He served in the United States House of Representatives from 1843 to 1845 and in the United States Senate from 1847 to 1853 and again from 1855 to 1865. He began his Congressional career as a Democrat, but helped establish the anti-slavery Free Soil Party and eventually joined the Republican Party.
Born in Rochester, New Hampshire, Hale established a legal practice in Dover, New Hampshire after graduating from Bowdoin College. Hale won election to the New Hampshire House of Representatives in 1832 and served as the United States Attorney for New Hampshire under President Andrew Jackson and President Martin Van Buren. He won election to the United States House of Representatives in 1842 but was denied the party's nomination in 1844 due to his opposition to the annexation of Texas. After losing his seat, he continued to campaign against slavery and won election to the Senate in 1846 as an Independent Democrat. In the Senate, he strongly opposed the Mexican–American War and continued to speak against slavery.
Hale helped establish the anti-slavery Free Soil Party and was a candidate for the party's presidential nomination in 1848, but the 1848 Free Soil Convention instead nominated former President Van Buren. He won the party's presidential nomination in 1852, receiving 4.9% of the popular vote in the general election. After the passage of the Kansas–Nebraska Act, Hale joined the nascent Republican Party and returned to the Senate. He served until 1865, at which point he accepted an appointment from President Abraham Lincoln to serve as the Minister to Spain. He held that post until he was recalled in April 1869, at which point he retired from public office.John W. Howe (politician)
John W. Howe (1801 – December 1, 1873) was a Free Soil and Whig member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania.Lawrence Brainerd
Lawrence Brainerd (March 16, 1794 – May 9, 1870) was a businessman, abolitionist and United States Senator from Vermont. He was the father of Ann Eliza Brainerd Smith and the father-in-law of Vermont Governor J. Gregory Smith and Vermont Lieutenant Governor F. Stewart Stranahan.Liberty Party (United States, 1840)
The Liberty Party was a minor political party in the United States in the 1840s (with some offshoots surviving into the 1860s). The party was an early advocate of the abolitionist cause and it broke away from the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS) to advocate the view that the Constitution was an anti-slavery document. William Lloyd Garrison, leader of the AASS, held the contrary view that the Constitution should be condemned as an evil pro-slavery document. The party included abolitionists who were willing to work within electoral politics to try to influence people to support their goals. By contrast, the radical Garrison opposed voting and working within the system. Many Liberty Party members joined the anti-slavery (but not abolitionist) Free Soil Party in 1848 and eventually helped establish the Republican Party in the 1850s.Preston King (politician)
Preston King (October 14, 1806 – November 12, 1865) was a United States Representative and Senator from New York.Salmon P. Chase
Salmon Portland Chase (January 13, 1808 – May 7, 1873) was a U.S. politician and jurist who served as the sixth Chief Justice of the United States. He also served as the 23rd Governor of Ohio, represented Ohio in the United States Senate, and served as the 25th United States Secretary of the Treasury.
Born in Cornish, New Hampshire, Chase studied law under Attorney General William Wirt before establishing a legal practice in Cincinnati. He became an anti-slavery activist and frequently defended fugitive slaves in court. Chase left the Whig Party in 1841 to become the leader of Ohio's Liberty Party. In 1848, he helped establish the Free Soil Party and recruited former President Martin Van Buren to serve as the party's presidential nominee. Chase won election to the Senate the following year, and he opposed the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas–Nebraska Act. In the aftermath of the Kansas–Nebraska Act, Chase helped establish the Republican Party, which opposed the extension of slavery into the territories. After leaving the Senate, Chase served as the Governor of Ohio from 1856 to 1860.
Chase sought the Republican nomination for president in the 1860 presidential election, but the party chose Abraham Lincoln at its National Convention. After Lincoln won the election, he asked Chase to serve as Secretary of the Treasury. Chase served in that position from 1861 to 1864, working hard to ensure the Union was well-financed during the Civil War. Chase resigned from the Cabinet in June 1864, but retained support among the Radical Republicans. Partly to appease the Radical Republicans, Lincoln nominated Chase to fill the Supreme Court vacancy that arose following Chief Justice Roger Taney's death.
Chase served as Chief Justice from 1864 to his death in 1873. He presided over the Senate trial of President Andrew Johnson during the impeachment proceedings of 1868. Despite his service on the court, Chase continued to pursue the presidency. He unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1868 and the Liberal Republican nomination in 1872.William Sprague (Michigan)
William Sprague (February 23, 1809 – September 19, 1868) was a minister and politician in the U.S. state of Michigan.
Sprague was born in Providence, Rhode Island, a distant cousin of William Sprague, Governor of Rhode Island. He attended the public schools there, moved to Michigan, and settled in Kalamazoo, where he studied theology and was ordained as a minister. He was presiding elder of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Kalamazoo district, 1844–1848. Sprague served as United States Indian Agent in Michigan 1852–1853.
In the early 1830s, Sprague was a circuit minister for many communities in central and southwest Michigan. He delivered the first gospel sermon ever given in Van Buren County, Michigan, in the first log cabin which was built in spring 1829. He organized the first Methodist class in Niles in 1832 and was pastor there in 1862 when construction began on a historical Italianate style church building. In the fall of 1832, Sprague became circuit pastor for Coldwater.Sprague defeated incumbent Democrat Charles E. Stuart to be elected as a Whig, though he is sometimes also identified with the Free Soil Party, from Michigan's 2nd District to the Thirty-first Congress, serving March 4, 1849–March 3, 1851. He did not run for re-election. He retired to his farm in Oshtemo Township, Kalamazoo County. He died in Kalamazoo, and was interred in Mountain Home Cemetery.