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Report of the 1814 Hartford Convention

Source: The Report of the hartford Convention


Introduction

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 Britain.

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.


The Report


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