All this to say that in the United States, a third party who succeeds is not necessarily the one who wins the national office. Instead, a successful third party is one that integrates or integrates its program into one of the two main parties, either by forcing key issues on the agenda or by revealing the existence of a powerful new electorate.
Take the Free Soil Party.
In the 1848 presidential election, after the annexation of Texas, the Mexican-American War, and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, a coalition of anti-slavery politicians from the Democratic, Liberty, and Whig parties formed the Free Soil Party to s to oppose the expansion of slavery in the new western territories. At their national convention in Buffalo, the Free Soilers summed up their platform with the slogan “Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor, Free Men!”
The Free Soil Party, notes historian Frederick J. Blue in “The Free Soilers: Third Party Politics, 1848-1854,” “endorsed the Wilmot reservation by declaring that Congress had no power to extend the slavery and was in effect to prohibit its extension, thus reverting to the principle of the North-West Ordinance of 1787. existence of slavery wherever that government possesses the constitutional power to legislate upon it and is therefore responsible for its existence”.
It was controversial, to put it mildly. The entire two-party system (the first being the roughly 30-year competition between Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans) had been built to avoid conflict over the expansion of slavery. The Free Soil Party – which, ironically, nominated Martin Van Buren, the architect of that system, for president in the 1848 election – fought to place this conflict at the center of American politics.
It succeeded. In many ways, the emergence of the Free Soil Party marks the beginning of a mass anti-slavery policy in the United States. He elected several members to Congress, helped split the Whig party along cut lines, and pushed the anti-slavery “free” Democrats out of their party. The Free Soilers never elected a president, but in just a few years they transformed American party politics. And when the Whig Party finally collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions, after the defeat of General Winfield Scott in the presidential election of 1852, the Free Soil Party would become, in 1854, the nucleus of the new Republican Party, which would unite an even larger coalition. former Whigs and former Democrats as well as Free Soil radicals under the umbrella of a sectional anti-slavery party.
There are a few other third-party success stories. The populist party failed to secure high office after endorsing Democratic nominee William Jennings Bryan for president in 1896, but continued to shape the next two decades of American political life. “In the wake of the defeat of the People’s Party, a wave of reforms quickly swept the country,” writes historian Charles Postel in “The Populist Vision”: “Populism gave impetus to this process of modernization, with many of their demands -opted and reshaped by Democrats and progressive Republicans.