December 15, 1814 - January 5, 1815
The legislatures of Massachusetts
, and Rhode Island
elected delegates to this convention. New Hampshire
chose delegates by Federalist Party
conventions. Hence, the delegates from the first three states were official representatives of the states, while those from New H ampshire and Vermont represented the Federalist Party only. This difference held no significance to the poeple of 1815, but it does make the resolutions of the Hartford Convention the official acts of Massachusettes, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
The Massachusetts legislature sent out the call for such a convention in October. George Cabot of MAssachusetts presided over the Convention. It was his leadership that curbed the more extreme Federalists and kept the resolutions cleary within legal bounds. The Hartford Convention was an assemply of angry men preparing a petition for redress of grievances accompanied by recommendations for relief therefrom. In view of the climate of opinion prevailin in the southern New England the Hartford Convention displayed self restraint and moderation.
The extreme Federalists openly expressed pleasure over the burning of Washington. Timothy Pickering, who had been Secretary of State in President Washington's second term and also under President John Adam's was propsing secession of New England from the Union. New England states refused to allow their militia to fight beyond the boundaries of their own states. An attack on Montreal was frustrated when nits of state militia refused to cross the border into Canada. New York State militia joined with New England in this attitude. Smuggling goods to the British army and navy from New England and New York was a lucrative and widespread practice. It was "Madison's war." This was the atmosphere in which the Hartford Convention met.
The issue of secession was debated. The Convention rejected secession as inexpediant, not as unconstitutional. The Convention judged it to be inexpedient because the troubles of New England at the moment were due to a war in which the United States should play no part; or, if it did, it should be on the side of England against France. We were in the wrong war on the wrong side. New England's troubles, so they felt, also sprang from a weak and inept President. Bad as they were, the Convention recognized these misfortunes as temporary. Secession was too drastic a cure for faults that time and a few adjustments to the Constitution could remedy.
The most significant resolutions adopted by the Convention were proposals for amendments to the Constitution. They were as follows:
1. No embargos shall last for more than 60 days.
2. A 2/3rds vote of each House of Congress shall be required to declare war(This would have prevented the War of 1812.), place restriction on foreign trade, admit new states into the Union
3. No naturalized citzen shall hold any federal office.
4. Direct taxes and representation in the House of Representatives shall be apportioned among the states according to the number of free inhabitants therein.(This would abolish the counting of 3/5ths of the slaves and thus reduce Congressional delegation from the South where the states were Republican.)
5. No President shall have more than one term. (The only President elected on the Federalist ticket, John Adams, served only one term. The other three Presidents have severed two terms.)
6. No two successive Presidents shall be from the same state. (Washington, Jefferson, and Madison were Virginians.) New England was fed up with the "Virginia Dynasty."
Every one of the proposed amendments refelcted partisan party politics. Under the circumstances of the moment they would benefit the Federalists. The comments in the parentheses are intended to make this clear. Where there is no parenthesis the explanation seems unecessary.
A committee of three, who called themselves "ambassadors," headed by Harrison Otis of Massachusetts, set out for Washington to "negotiate" with the federal government. News of Jackson's victory at New Orleans and of the Treaty of Ghent hit Washington at the same time Otis and his collegaues reached Baltimore on their way from Hartford. The "ambassadors" went home. Public ridicule and contempts were heaped upon the Federalists and their proposals. Many labeled them traitorous. While the Federalist Party continued as an organization in local elections, the Hartford Convention may well be considered its last act as a majory party. President Washington had warned of the danger of excessive factionism, of seeking party advantage regardless of national interests. No sooner was the advice given than the Federalists began to flout it. The Naturalization Act, the Alien Act, the Sedition Act, the "Midnight Judges," and the HArtford Convention were partisan tactics which disgregarded the rights of individuals and the welfare of the nation. After having served the new Republic superbly for most of its first decade, the Federalist Party fell in love with itself and deservedly died.