Hartford Convention

Hartford Convention, Dec. 15, 1814–Jan. 4, 1815, meeting to consider the problems of New England in the War of 1812; held at Hartford, Conn. Prior to the war, New England Federalists (see Federalist party) had opposed the Embargo Act of 1807 and other government measures; many of them continued to oppose the government after fighting had begun. Although manufacturing (fostered by isolation) and contraband trade brought wealth to the section, “Mr. Madison's War” (as the Federalists called the War of 1812) and its expenses became steadily more repugnant to the New Englanders. The Federalist leaders encouraged disaffection. The New England states refused to surrender their militia to national service (see Griswold, Roger), especially when New England was threatened with invasion in 1814. The federal loan of 1814 got almost no support in New England, despite prosperity there. Federalist extremists, such as John Lowell and Timothy Pickering, contemplated a separate peace between New England and Great Britain. Finally, in Oct., 1814, the Massachusetts legislature issued a call to the other New England states for a conference. Representatives were sent by the state legislatures of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island; other delegates from New Hampshire and Vermont were popularly chosen by the Federalists. The meetings were held in secret. George Cabot, the head of the Massachusetts delegation and a moderate Federalist, presided. Other important delegates were Harrison Gray Otis (1765–1848), also a moderate, and Theodore Dwight, who served as secretary of the convention. The moderates prevailed in the convention. The proposal to secede from the Union was discussed and rejected, the grievances of New England were reviewed, and such matters as the use of the militia were thrashed out. The final report (Jan. 5, 1815) arraigned Madison's administration and the war and proposed several constitutional amendments that would redress what the New Englanders considered the unfair advantage given the South under the Constitution. The news of the Treaty of Ghent ending the war and of Andrew Jackson's victory at New Orleans made any recommendation of the convention a dead letter. Its importance, however, was twofold: It continued the view of states' rights as the refuge of sectional groups, and it sealed the destruction of the Federalist party, which never regained its lost prestige.

See J. T. Adams, New England in the Republic (1926, repr. 1960); J. M. Banner, To the Hartford Convention (1970).

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