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Hartford Convention

HARTFORD CONVENTION

HARTFORD CONVENTION. From 15 December 1814 to 5 January 1815, a convention of delegates from throughout New England met at Hartford, Connecticut, to plan regional opposition to the Republican Party's federal policies. Its members hoped to bring an end to a string of defeats for the Federalist Party in general and for New England Federalists in particular. In addition, they sought to gain increased governmental support for a New England destabilized by the ongoing War of 1812.

The convention numbered twenty-six delegates. They were sent by the legislatures of Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, and by county caucuses in Vermont and New Hampshire. Some radical Massachusetts Federalists had lobbied for such an event since at least 1808, but more moderate men controlled the convention. British military successes in northern New England had prevented a fuller deputation from the newer New England states.

The agrarian, expansionist, anti-British cast of the Republican Virginia Dynasty's policies inured to the detriment of the New England states. Those states' economies relied heavily on foreign trade and an expanding manufacturing sector, and their self-conception was strongly shaped by the Puritan experiments at Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay. Unlike Virginia, New England stood in federal politics for hostility to the French Revolution, for foreign trade, and for a stand-pat position on westward expansion.

Following President Thomas Jefferson's 1803 Louisiana Purchase, New Englanders began to fear that a huge new swath of territory would be settled by southerners and fall under permanent Republican control. What might have been a Republican interregnum now appeared to be only the onset of New England's permanent reduction to minority status in the Union. The Jeffersonian embargo on foreign trade in 1807, keystone of Jefferson's second presidential term, did great damage to New England's economy. What made it worse was that the Republicans in Congress, who less than a decade before had complained of the Alien and Sedition Acts' arbitrariness, gave the president extremely broad enforcement powers.

New England opposed the War of 1812, and this opposition went so deep that Massachusetts Governor Caleb Strong refused to deploy his state's militia to defend the District of Maine against invasion. Part of the Hartford Convention's purpose, however, was to urge the federal administration to defend New England more vigorously, and in response to Strong's actions, Madison deployed volunteers to counter potential insurrection in Massachusetts. Nonetheless, one Hartford Convention delegate, former Secretary of State Timothy Pickering, expected Union forces to be defeated by the British in Louisiana regardless of what the convention might decide.

The convention met in secret, which aroused great hopes and anxieties, depending on the observer. In the end, it merely called for a second convention in June in case the war had not ended and proposed a set of amendments to the federal Constitution. It also lent its prestige to the notion of interposition, formerly associated primarily with the Republican Party.

On Christmas Eve 1814, in the midst of the convention, the Treaty of Ghent was concluded, and on 8 January 1815, Andrew Jackson's forces won their famous victory at New Orleans. Amidst the paroxysms of patriotism, the Hartford Convention's participants found themselves branded "traitors" and suspected of wanting to break apart the Union, something none of its members had considered in 1814. The Federalist Party, which had played a pivotal role in founding the Republic, was permanently wrecked by the Hartford Convention. By decade's end, it virtually had ceased to exist.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Banner, James M., Jr. To the Hartford Convention: The Federalists and the Origins of Party Politics in Massachusetts, 1789–1815. New York: Knopf, 1970.

Ben-Atar, Doron, and Barbara B. Oberg, eds. Federalists Reconsidered. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998.

Dwight, Theodore. History of the Hartford Convention: With a Review of the Policy of the United States Government, Which Led to the War of 1812. New York: N. and J. White; Boston: Russell, Odiorne, 1833.

Ketcham, Ralph. James Madison: A Biography. New York: Macmillan, 1971.

Rutland, Robert A. The Presidency of James Madison. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1990.

K. R. ConstantineGutzman

See alsoFederalist Party ; Republicans, Jeffersonian ; War of 1812 .

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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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Hartford Convention

Hartford Convention (1814–15) Secret meeting of leaders from five New England states opposed to the War of 1812 because it disrupted trade. Convention resolutions sought to strengthen states' rights over conscription and taxation; some delegates favoured withdrawal from the Union.

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