The Hartford Convention, 1814

Hartford Convention Manuscript

Manuscript of the Hartford Convention

The Hartford Convention or Leap No Leap

The Hartford Convention or Leap No Leap, drawn by William Charles. Visit the Public Opinion Through Art section of this exhibit for more information on the illustration

What did the future hold for the Federalist Party?

Part of the reason the Federalists held the Hartford Convention was to determine the future of their party; specifically, how they would proceed and which candidate they would pick to run for the presidency. Below is an excerpt from John Adams to William Stephens Smith sent on November 20, 1814, roughly three weeks prior to the Hartford Convention.

"Yesterday I received your packet of the 7th. you ask “What is to be the result of the Convention at Hartford?” What a question! Had you asked my opinion of the measure I would have said, it is neither wise, honorable, or virtuous; and I would have requested you to give my compliments to every Virginian you meet, high or low, and tell him, that Massachusetts deserves to be made to repent of it in dust and ashes, as much and no more than Virginia did to repent of her Insolence, in the last years of the last Century.

As to the “result” Otis will make a harangue, more eloquent than ever was uttered by Fox, Pitt, or Burke, an incessant stream of blazing fire and flame; so that great writer the learned and ingenious, Mr Puff DD and LLD, will publish in the newspapers. Cabot will make no speech in public, but instead of giving any attention to Otis, he will spend his time in whispering to the individual members in Session, and in eternal talking to them out of Session at their Social breakfasts, dinners, and Suppers. The great object, is the next Election of P, and VP. The great difficulty will be to fix upon a Candidate. Such has been the atrocious Apostacy of New York that De Witt will not do. King is both a N. Yorker and Massachusetts Man; and yet he is neither. Not cordial with either. Cabot is the secret wish, Gore would do. But neither has a name. Neither is known by the Nation. Who can it be? Strong? For what I know they would prefer Gerry to any Virginian."

Source: “From John Adams to William Stephens Smith, 20 November 1814,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/99-03-02-2673. [This is an Early Access document from The Adams PapersIt is not an authoritative final version.]

"...The great object, is the next Election of P, and VP. The great difficulty will be to fix upon a Candidate..."

- John Adams 

Talks of Secession

The Federalists in 1814 were distraught with their ongoing defeats for the presidency. Fearing that the, Virginia Dynasty," of the South was growing too powerful, they adopted a set of resolutions they would bring up as Constitutional Amendments. This link shows the report from the Hartford Convention and the various policy changes they sought to make in the next session of Congress.

Link: http://sageamericanhistory.net/jeffersonian/documents/HartfordConv.htm

James Madison

James Madison

War of 1812 

In June of 1812, President James Madison declared war against Great Britain. This decision came amongst tension stemming from United States trade policies. Britain was at war with France at the time, and neither side liked that America was trading with the other. A major fact to consider is that Democratic-Republicans, such as President Madison, held Pro-French views, while Federalists were decidedly Pro-British. Madison's decision to go to war with Britain created anger amongst The Federalists and the public. Fast forward two years to 1814, and American defeat seemed highly likely. This served as a major contributing factor to the call for the Hartford Convention by Federalists. When America ultimately defeated Britain in the war, it struck their movement down, and led to a myriad of consequences for the Federalist Party. 

In a letter to Congress dated June 1, 1812, Madison wrote of Britain's actions:

"...We behold, in fine, on the side of Great Britain a state of war against the United States; and on the side of the United States, a state of peace towards Great Britain.

Whether the United States shall continue passive under these progressive usurpations, and these accumulating wrongs; or, opposing force to force in defence of their national rights, shall commit a just cause into the hands of the Almighty disposer of events; avoiding all connections which might entangle it in the contests or views of other powers, and preserving a constant readiness to concur in an honorable re-establishment of peace and friendship, is a solemn question, which the Constituation wisely confides to the Legislative Department of the Government. In recommending it to their early deliberations, I am happy in the assurance, that the decision will be worthy the enlightened and patriotic Councils, of a virtuous, a free, and a powerful Nation..."

In the same letter, Madison also addressed French actions: 

"...Having presented this view of the relations of the United States with Great Britain, and of the solemn alternative growing out of them, I proceed to remark, that the communications last made to Congress, on the subject of our relations with France, will have shown, that since the revocation of her Decrees, as they violated the neutral rights, of the United States, her Government has authorized illegal captures, by its privateers and public ships: and that other outrages have been practiced, on our vessels and our Citizens. It will have been seen also, that no indemnity had been provided or satisfactorily pledged, for the extensive spoliations committed under the violent and retrospective orders of the French Government, against the property of our Citizens seized within the jurisdiction of France. I abstain, at this time, from recommending to the consideration of Congress, definitive measures with respect to that nation, in the expectation, that the result of unclosed discussions between our Minister Plenipotentiary at Paris and the French Government, will speedily enable Congress to decide, with greater advantage, on the course due to the rights, the interests, and the honor of our Country."

One can quickly note the Pro-French stance in his address; though he does not outright support France as an ally to America, he chooses to abstain from declaring war against them, ultimately creating outrage amongst the Federalists. 

Source: “From James Madison to Congress, 1 June 1812,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/03-04-02-0460. [Original source: The Papers of James Madison, Presidential Series, vol. 4, 5 November 1811–9 July 1812 and Supplement 5 March 1809 – 19 October 1811, ed. J. C. A. Stagg, Jeanne Kerr Cross, Jewel L. Spangler, Ellen J. Barber, Martha J. King, Anne Mandeville Colony, and Susan Holbrook Perdue. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999, pp. 432–439.]

"...We behold, in fine, on the side of Great Britain a state of war against the United States; and on the side of the United States, a state of peace towards Great Britain..."

- James Madison

John Adams

John Adams

Legacy of the Hartford Convention

John Adams wrote to William Plumer on December 4, 1814 on the Hartford Convention stating: 

"...The Convention at Hartford is to resemble the Congress at Vienna; at least as much as an Ignis fatuus resembles a Vulcano. Already We are informed that Mr Randolph and Mr Harper are at New York on their Way to the grand Caucus. The Delegates from your Chester will meet Philosophers Divines Lawyers Physicians Merchants Farmers, fine Ladies, Pedlars and Beggors, from various parts of the World not excepting Vermont, or Canada, as well as the legislative Sages from Massachusetts Connecticutt and Rhode Island. You See, I cannot write Soberly upon this subject. It is ineffably ridiculous. As an Electioneering, a cavassing, or more expressively, a Parliamenteering Intrigue it is a cunning device, but even in this View it is the Cunning of the Ostritch.

Do they mean to declare New England Neutral? New England Neutrality has been the Cause of the War. New England Canvass, New England Seamen, have excited British Jealousy and allarmed British Fears. Britain had rather Spain, France Holland or Russia should be neutral, than New England. Britain dreads a Neutral more than a belligerent. Canvass and Seamen are the Ennemies that Britain fears more than all the Armies of Europe.

Do they mean to erect New England into an independent Power?"

Adams, essentially, is speaking about the possibility of secession, which was the biggest factor leading to the Hartford Convention's negative effect on the Federalists. The Hartford Convention marked the end for the Federalists, despite efforts to regain traction for the next decade. Note Adams words, "Do they mean to erect New England into an independent Power?" This attitude was very prominent amongst all Federalists and led to their ultimate demise. 

Source:  “From John Adams to William Plumer, 4 December 1814,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified June 29, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/99-02-02-6361. [This is an Early Access document from The Adams PapersIt is not an authoritative final version.]