The "Conscience" Whigs were a faction of the Whig Party in the state of Massachusetts noted for their moral opposition to slavery. They were noted as opponents of the more conservative "Cotton" Whigs who dominated the state party, led by such figures as Edward Everet, Robert C. Winthrop, and Abbot Lawrence, whose close association with the New England textile industry led them to de-emphasize the slavery issue. Leaders of the "Conscience Whigs" included Charles Sumner, Henry Wilson, and Charles Francis Adams. The group split from the Whig party in 1848, when the national party nominated the slave-owning General Zachary Taylor for President, and played a role in the creation of the new Free Soil Party, which nominated Adams for Vice President on a ticket with anti-slavery former Democratic President Martin Van Buren.
Following the failure of the Free Soil Party in the election that year, most Conscience Whigs would return to the Whig fold. More followed after the Compromise of 1850 temporarily neutralized the issue of slavery. During the mid 1850s, several Conscience leaders played an important role later in the foundation of the Republican Party.
The term "Conscience Whig" is sometimes used more broadly to refer to Whigs in other states noted for their opposition to slavery.
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