Barnburners, radical element of the Democratic party in New York state from 1842 to 1848, opposed to the conservative Hunkers. The name derives from the fabled Dutchman who burned his barn to rid it of rats; by implication, the Barnburners would destroy corporations and public works to do away with the abuses they foster. Among their leaders were C. C. Cambreleng, Silas Wright, Azariah C. Flagg, and Samuel J. Tilden. Opposed to the extension of slavery, the Barnburners seceded from the Democratic state organization when the Hunkers captured the state convention at Syracuse in 1847. Refused recognition at the Democratic national convention of 1848, they nominated Martin Van Buren for President and endorsed the Free-Soil party candidate, Charles Francis Adams (1807–86), for Vice President. Largely because of this Democratic split, the Whig candidate, Zachary Taylor, defeated the regular Democrat, Lewis Cass. After 1848 some Barnburners joined the Free-Soilers, who merged with the new Republican party; others returned to the Democratic party.
See H. D. A. Donovan, The Barnburners (1925).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.