Hartford Convention was a series of meetings from December 15,
1814 – January 5, 1815, in Hartford, Connecticut, United States, in
Federalist Party met to discuss their grievances
concerning the ongoing
War of 1812
War of 1812 and the political problems arising
from the federal government's increasing power.
The convention discussed removing the three-fifths compromise which
gave slave states more power in Congress and requiring a two-thirds
vote in Congress for the admission of new states, declarations of war,
and creating laws restricting trade. The Federalists also discussed
their grievances with the
Louisiana Purchase and the
Embargo of 1807.
However, weeks after the convention's end, news of Major General
Andrew Jackson's overwhelming victory in New Orleans swept over the
Northeast, discrediting and disgracing the Federalists, resulting in
their elimination as a major national political force.
1.1 American relations with Great Britain and France
1.2 Opposition to the War of 1812
2 Call for the Convention
3 Secret meetings
4 Convention report
5 Negative reception
8 External links
American relations with Great Britain and France
Under the administrations of
George Washington and John Adams, a
vigorous trade with France was maintained while both administrations
engaged in an undeclared war with France. With the resumption of the
Napoleonic Wars at the same time that
Thomas Jefferson assumed office,
relations with both France and Great Britain declined. Jefferson's
goal was an expansion of free trade created by Great Britain lifting
trade restrictions placed against the United States. However, to force
Britain into compliance, he adopted anti-foreign trade policies such
Embargo Act of 1807
Embargo Act of 1807 and the Non-Intercourse Act of 1809. These
policies were very unpopular among Northeastern merchants and
shippers. Jefferson's successor, President James Madison, and what is
now called the Democratic-Republican Party, continued his policies.
Federalist Party regained strength especially in New
England, and in New York where it collaborated with Lieutenant
DeWitt Clinton of New York City and supported him for
president in 1812.
Opposition to the War of 1812
When Madison was re-elected in 1812 the discontent in New England
intensified. In late 1813 Madison signed a more restrictive embargo
act than any of those approved by Jefferson, this time prohibiting all
trade between American ports (the coastal trade) and fishing outside
harbors. By the summer of 1814, the war had turned against the
Americans. After ending their war with Napoleonic France, Great
Britain was able to marshal more resources to North America and had
effectively blockaded the entire eastern coastline. Territory in the
Maine district of
Massachusetts was occupied in July, in August the
White House and Capitol were burned, and by September the British were
advancing further in Maine and the
Lake Champlain area of New York. A
naval assault on
Boston was expected in the near future. Free trade
with the rest of the world had virtually ceased, thousands were thrown
out of work, and by August banks were suspending specie payment. The
federal government was approaching bankruptcy.
New England governors followed a policy of giving minimal support to
the Federal government in waging the war. With the exception of
John Taylor Gilman
John Taylor Gilman of New Hampshire, most requisitions for
state militia were denied. New Englanders were reluctant to have their
militia, needed to defend their coasts from British attacks, assigned
elsewhere or placed under the command of the regular army. General
Winfield Scott, after the war, blamed Madison's policy of ignoring
Federalists, who in
New England constituted the best educated class,
when granting regular army commissions in New England.
The anti-war sentiment in
Massachusetts was so strong that even Samuel
Dexter, the Democratic-Republican candidate for governor, opposed the
national party's commerce policies. Federalists still dominated the
1814 elections, returning
Caleb Strong as governor and electing
360 Federalists against only 156 Democratic-Republicans to
the lower house of the
Massachusetts Legislature. In September
Governor Strong refused a request to provide and support
5,000 troops to retake territory in Maine.
Connecticut had refused to subject their
militia to the orders of the War Department, Madison declined to pay
their expenses. Consequently, critics said that Madison had abandoned
New England to the common enemy. The
appropriated $1 million to support a state army of 10,000 men.
Harrison Gray Otis, who inspired these measures, suggested that the
Eastern States meet at a convention in Hartford, Connecticut. As early
as 1804 some
New England Federalists had discussed secession from the
Union if the national government became too oppressive.
In September 1814 Madison asked Congress for a conscription bill.
Even though this had not been one of the original grievances that led
to the call for the convention, Federalists presented this as further
proof that the Democratic-Republicans intended to bring military
despotism into the nation. Thomas Grosvenor of New York saw this as
the result of the administration leading the country "defenseless and
naked, into that lake of blood she is yet swimming".
Secession was again mentioned in 1814–1815; all but one leading
Federalist newspaper in
New England supported a plan to expel the
western states from the Union. Otis, the key leader of the Convention,
blocked radical proposals such as a seizure of the Federal customs
house, impounding federal funds, or declaring neutrality. Otis thought
the Madison administration was near collapse and that unless
conservatives like himself and the other delegates took charge, the
radical secessionists might take power. Indeed, Otis was unaware that
Massachusetts Governor Strong had already sent a secret mission to
discuss terms with the British for a separate peace.
There are a number of reasons why historians doubt that the New
England Federalists were seriously considering secession. All the
Connecticut with its claims to western lands, stood
to lose more than they would gain. Efforts were made in the delegation
selection process to exclude firebrands like John Lowell, Jr.,
Timothy Pickering, and Josiah Quincy who might have pushed for
secession, and the final report of the convention did not propose
Despite this, the Madison administration had reasons to be concerned
about the consequences of the Hartford Convention. Federalists were
already blocking administration efforts to finance the war and bring
it to a successful conclusion with an invasion of Canada. There were
New England would negotiate a separate peace with Great
Britain, an action in many ways just as harmful to the nation as
actual secession. In preparing for a worst-case scenario, Madison
moved troops from the New York–Canada border to Albany where they
could quickly be sent to
Connecticut if needed to
preserve federal authority. Several
New England regiments that had
participated in the
Niagara campaign were returned home where it was
hoped that they could serve as a focal point for New Englanders
opposed to disunion.
Call for the Convention
In response to the war crisis, Governor Strong called the newly
elected General Court to a special session on
October 5, 1814. Strong's message to the legislature was
referred to a joint committee headed by Harrison Gray Otis. Otis was
considered a moderate. His report delivered three days later called
for resistance of any British invasion, criticized the leadership that
had brought the nation close to disaster, and called for a convention
New England states to deal with both their common grievances and
common defense. Otis' report was passed by the state senate on October
12 by a 22 to 12 vote and the house on October 16 by 260 to 20.
A letter of invitation was sent to the other
New England governors to
send delegates to a convention in Hartford, Connecticut. The stated
purpose of the convention was to propose constitutional amendments to
protect their section's interests and to make arrangements with the
Federal government for their own military defense.
Twelve delegates were appointed by the
Massachusetts legislature, of
George Cabot and Harrison G. Otis were chief (see list below).
In Connecticut, the legislature denounced Madison's "odious and
disastrous war", voiced concern about plans to implement a national
draft, and selected seven delegates led by
Chauncey Goodrich and James
Hillhouse. Rhode Island's legislature selected four delegates to
discuss "the best means of cooperating for our mutual defense against
the common enemy, and upon the measures which it may be in the power
of said states, consistently with their obligations to adopt, to
restore and secure to the people thereof, their rights and privileges
under the Constitution of the United States". New Hampshire's
legislature was not in session and its Federalist governor, John
Gilman, refused to call it back into session. Vermont's legislature
voted unanimously not to send delegates. Two
New Hampshire counties
and one Vermont county each sent a delegate, bringing the total to
26. On December 15, 1814 the delegates met in the
Connecticut Senate's chamber at the Old State House in Hartford.
The following lists the states that attended and the names of the
Harrison Gray Otis
William Prescott, Jr.
Samuel Sumner Wilde
Joseph S. Lyman
Stephen Longfellow, Jr.
Roger Minott Sherman
Samuel Ward, Jr.
William Hall, Jr.
In all, twenty-six delegates attended the secret meetings. No records
of the proceedings were kept, and meetings continued through
January 5, 1815. After choosing
George Cabot as president,
and Theodore Dwight as secretary, the present convention remained in
closed session for three continuous weeks. Cabot's journal of its
proceedings, when it was eventually opened, was a meager sketch of
formal proceedings; he made no record of yeas and nays, stated none of
the amendments offered to the various reports, and neglected to attach
the name of authors to propositions. It is impossible to ascertain the
speeches or votes of individual delegates.
Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Report and Resolutions of the Hartford Convention
The convention ended with a report and resolutions, signed by the
delegates present, and adopted on the day before final adjournment.
The report said that
New England had a "duty" to assert its authority
over unconstitutional infringements on its sovereignty—a doctrine
that echoed the policy of Jefferson and Madison in 1798 (in the
Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions), and which would later reappear in
a different context as "nullification".
The Hartford Convention's final report proposed several amendments to
the U.S. Constitution. These attempted to combat the policies of
the ruling Democratic-Republicans by:
Prohibiting any trade embargo lasting over 60 days;
Requiring a two-thirds Congressional majority for declaration of
offensive war, admission of a new state, or interdiction of foreign
Removing the three-fifths representation advantage of the South;
Limiting future Presidents to one term;
Requiring each President to be from a different state than his
predecessor. (This provision was aimed directly at the dominance of
Virginia in the presidency since 1800.)
Hartford Convention or LEAP NO LEAP, by William Charles.
The Democratic-Republican Congress would never have recommended any of
New England's proposals for ratification. Hartford delegates intended
for them to embarrass the President and the Democratic-Republicans in
Congress—and also to serve as a basis for negotiations between New
England and the rest of the country.
Some delegates may have been in favor of New England's secession from
the United States, and forming an independent republic, though no such
resolution was adopted at the convention. Historian Samuel Eliot
Morison rejected the notion that Hartford was an attempt to take New
England out of the Union and give treasonous aid and comfort to
Britain. Morison wrote, "Democratic politicians, seeking a foil to
their own mismanagement of the war and to discredit the still
formidable Federalist party, caressed and fed this infant myth until
it became so tough and lusty as to defy both solemn denials and
After the convention
Massachusetts sent three commissioners to
Washington, D.C. to negotiate for the terms that had been agreed.
By the time they arrived in February 1815, news of Andrew
Jackson's overwhelming victory at the Battle of New Orleans, and the
signing of the Treaty of Ghent, preceded them and, consequently, their
presence in the capital seemed both ludicrous and subversive. They
quickly returned. Thereafter, both
Hartford Convention and Federalist
Party became synonymous with disunion, secession, and treason,
especially in the South. The party was ruined, and ceased to be a
significant force in national politics, although in a few places
(notably Massachusetts, where Federalists were elected governor
annually until 1823) it retained some power.
^ Banner (1988) pp. 24-25
^ Morison (1968) p. 43
^ Banner (1988) p. 24. Morison (1968) p. 45
^ Morison (1968) p. 40-41
^ Morison (1968) p. 44-45
^ Schouler, History of the United States vol 1
^ Buel (2005) pp. 224-225
^ Morison (1969) 362-370. Morison (1968) p. 48
^ Buel (2005) pp.219-220. Morison (1968) p. 53. Morison referred to "a
myth of a
New England secessionist plot" and said. "This myth,
although shown to be false by every serious historian of the United
States for the past 150 years, is so pleasing to people who
New England that many to this day continue to believe it."
^ Buel (2005) pp.219-221
^ Morison (1968) pp. 44-46
^ Morison (1968) pp. 46-47
^ Buel (2005) pp. 217-218
^ Williams (1918) p. 95. Lyman (1823) pp. 23, 31.
^ Morison (1969) p. 394
Lyman, Theodore, A short account of the Hartford Convention: taken
from official documents, and addressed to the fair minded and the well
disposed; To which is added an attested copy of the secret journal of
that body. Boston: O. Everett, 1823. Google Books accessed 1-29-2012
Adams, James Truslow.
New England in the Republic, 1776-1850 (1926)
Banner, James M., Jr. "A Shadow Of Secession? The Hartford Convention,
1814." History Today 1988 38(Sep): 24-30. ISSN 0018-2753 Fulltext
online at Ebsco; short summary
Banner, James M. Jr. To the Hartford Convention: The Federalists and
the Origins of Party Politics in Massachusetts, 1789-1815 (1970).
Buel, Richard Jr. America on the Brink: How the Political Struggle
War of 1812
War of 1812 Almost Destroyed the Young Republic. (2005)
Buckley, William Edward. The Hartford Convention. Yale University
Hickey, Donald R. The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict. (1995)
Lalor, John J. (ed.) Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political
Economy, and the Political History of the United States by the Best
American and European Writers (1899)
Mason, Matthew. "'Nothing is Better Calculated to Excite Divisions':
Federalist Agitation against Slave Representation during the War of
New England Quarterly, Vol. 75, No. 4 (Dec., 2002),
Meider, Stacey. The Convention of the Semi-Gods, Los Angeles:
Morison, Samuel Eliot.Harrison Gray Otis, 1765-1848: The Urbane
Federalist (1913); revised edition (1969)
Morison, Samuel Eliot. "Our Most Unpopular War," Proceedings of the
Massachusetts Historical Society 1968 80: 38-54. ISSN 0076-4981.
Morison calls the
War of 1812
War of 1812 undoubtedly the most unpopular the
nation has ever waged. Opposition to the war came from other sections
besides New England, although the hostility of the New England
Federalists was more apparent since they controlled the State
governments. He contends that the chief sponsors of the Hartford
Convention intended to avoid State secession at all costs, and he
scorns the myth that
New England secession was thwarted by the Treaty
of Ghent and Jackson's victory at New Orleans.
Morison, Samuel Eliot, Frederick Merk, and Frank Freidel, Dissent in
Three American Wars (1970), ch. 1
Schouler, James, History of the United States vol 1 (1891), provides
the text for portions of this article
The Report and Resolutions of the
Hartford Convention (Wikisource)
Wilentz, Sean. The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln.
(2005) ISBN 0-393-05820-4.
Williams, Edwin. The Book of the Constitution. (1918) Google Books
accessed 1-29-2012 at 
"Hartford Convention". New International Encyclopedia.