Report of the 1814 Hartford Convention
Source: The Report of the hartford Convention
As Britain and France battled each other in the early 1800's, enterprising
Americans wanted to take advantage of the war by transporting goods for both
sides, across each nation's blockade lines. The violation of the lines angered
both governments, but Britain most of all. In a move widely hated in America,
Britain started to seize U.S. ships and "impress" the sailors on the ships,
claiming that they were actually British citizens and subject to British law.
But President Thomas Jefferson was not looking for war, and worked hard with
Congress to pass laws to exert economic, rather than military, force.
When James Madison took office as President, he was influenced by France
into imposing more economic sanctions towards Britain. At the same time,
Western Americans were involved in battle with the British over expansion
rights and support for Indians, and Southern Americans wanted to expel
Spain, a then-ally of Britain, from Florida. Though attempts to thwart war
were tried, they were unsuccessful, and on June 18, 1812, Britain and the
United States were at war.
By 1814, the prospects for an end to the conflict were gloomy. Though the
U.S. had had success in naval battles, it was woefully unprepared for land war.
New England, never a fervent supporter of the war, was worried. At its western
edge, British naval forces tried to probe into the nation, though they were
defeated on Lake Champlain. In August, land forces took Washington, D.C., and
burned the capitol buildings and the White House. New England feared invasion
and despised the costs of the war (both in terms of expenditures and of the
decrease in trade). New England states also refused to place militia troops
under federal control.
In October 1814, Massachusetts Federalists, opposing President Madison and
the war, called for a convention to be held in Hartford, Connecticut. Twenty-six
Representatives from the New England states attended: 12 from Massachusetts,
seven from Connecticut, four from Rhode Island, two from New Hampshire, and one
from Vermont. Many contemplated secession and a separate peace with
The meeting opened on December 15, 1814, and was held in secret. Though
secession was debated, the action was rejected as premature. The convention
did, however, issue a declaration, calling on the federal government to protect
New England, and offering several amendments to the Constitution for review by
Congress. The final report was issued on January 5, 1815. The amendments
were read into the journals of both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate, but
no action was taken - for good reason.
Unfortunately for the Federalists, peace had prevailed while the convention
had met, negating its complaints and amendments. On December 24, 1814, the
Treaty of Ghent was signed, ending the hostilities. The Federalists were seen
as reactionary, and the very contemplation of secession seen as too extreme and
disloyal. The party was devastated, and it never recovered. In the election of
1816, the Federalist candidate garnered only 34 electoral votes. By the
election of 1820, there were to be no more Federalist candidates.