Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
(?-1899)
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Editor/Trans.
First Pub. Date
1881
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
Pub. Date
1899
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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CONVENTION

I.298.1

CONVENTION, The Hartford (IN U. S. HISTORY). The success of the commercial party in extorting the constitution from the agricultural party, the gradual consolidation of the latter party and its success in 1800, the union of the south and west against New England, and the division of the middle states, are matters elsewhere dwelt upon. The difference occasioned by the last named coalition had grown inveterate through time and the heat of conflict, until in 1812 the dominant democratic-republican party administered the government with as little reference as possible to the existence of the federal party, or of New England, where alone the federalists retained a party organization. The south and west, under Henry Clay and other leaders, whom the bitter Quincy described as "young politicians, fluttering and cackling on the floor of this house, half hatched, the shell still on their heads and their pin feathers not yet shed—politicians to whom reason, justice, pity, were nothing, revenge everything," had determined upon war and an invasion of Canada, as a means of compelling Great Britain to abandon the rights of impressment, search and paper blockade, and had coerced the peace-loving president, Madison, into participation with them by a threat to deprive him of his second term. A bill declaring war against Great Britain was passed in the house, June 4, 1812, by a vote of 79 (62 from Pennsylvania and the south, and 17 from the north) to 49 (32 from the north, and 17 from Pennsylvania and the south). A proposition to include France in the declaration received 10 votes. In the senate, June 17, the vote was 19 to 13, 4 northern and 2 southern democratic senators voting with the federalists against the war. June 18 the act became law, under the nominal auspices of an administration which had made no adequate preparations in men or money, by land or sea, for a war which was to protect American commerce by invading Canada, and in which the navy was to be drawn up on shore and defended by the militia. Against such a war so conducted the federalists were unanimous, on the grounds (as stated in the address of the federalist members of congress in 1812) that French aggressions had never really ceased; that the British orders in council operated only against American trade with France, Holland and northern Italy; that this deprivation, though burdensome, was not sufficiently so to justify the destruction of all remaining American commerce for the purpose of avenging it; that American commerce asked from the dominant party, not war, but protection in the form of an efficient navy or the power to arm and protect itself; and that the declaration of war was only designed by American Jacobins to draw off by a side attack the energies of Great Britain from its struggle with France. They denounced the invasion of Canada as "a cruel, wanton, senseless and wicked attack, in which neither plunder nor glory was to be gained, upon an unoffending people, bound to us by ties of blood and good neighborhood, undertaken for the punishment over their shoulders of another people 3,000 miles off." When summoned, June 12, to supply detachments of militia for garrison duty, the governors of Massachusetts and Connecticut denied the power of the president to make such a draft except to execute the laws, suppress insurrections, or repel invasions. In this denial the council and legislature of Connecticut joined, and the popular approval of their action was shown by the election, immediately after, of 163 federalists to 36 democrats in the house. The difficulty was in part removed by allowing the militia to remain under its state officers, and by the general conciliatory measures of the federal government. Nevertheless, the New England states continued in every debatable point to adopt the very strictest construction of the federal government's constitutional powers, and to do so in language which showed plainly their continued dislike for the war; and their action seemed to meet popular approval. In the spring of 1813 the federalists showed a clear majority in every state election in New England. Their Massachusetts majority rose from 1,370 in 1812 to 13,974; in Connecticut and Rhode Island the democratic vote was much decreased, and even the hitherto doubtful or democratic states, New Hampshire and Vermont, were carried by the federalists. In the 13th congress, which met May 24, the house contained 68 peace to 112 war members, the New York delegation having become largely federalist.

I.298.2

—Stimulated by success the party took a higher tone. The Massachusetts legislature declared the whole war "impolitic and unjust," and refused votes of thanks for naval victories on the ground "that, in a war like the present, waged without justifiable cause, and prosecuted in a manner indicating that conquest and ambition were its real motives, it was not becoming a moral and religious people to express any approbation of military and naval exploits not immediately connected with the defense of our seacoast and soil." The state officers and leading federalists even refused to attend the public funeral of captain Lawrence of the Chesapeake. In November the newly elected federalist governor of Vermont recalled a brigade of militia which his democratic predecessor had ordered out for garrison duty, and, when a proposition was made in congress to direct the attorney general to prosecute the governor, a counter proposition was at once brought into the Massachusetts senate to aid Vermont with the whole power of the state. New England, in short, presented a united federalist front of opposition to the war; and the administration, ceasing its futile efforts at conciliation, practically abandoned the whole section and threw all its efforts into the invasion of Canada. For this purpose it was driven to attempts to raise men by conscription and impressment (see DRAFTS, I.), measures to which submission could hardly have been expected from New England.

I.298.3

—In the autumn of 1814 the difficulties of the federal government, the desperation of the democratic leaders, and the exasperation of the New England federalists, seemed to have reached their common climax. The propositions in congress to enforce a draft and to enlist minors without the consent of their parents, the embargo which had been enacted to counteract the British exemption of the New England coast from blockade, the neglect of the federal government to provide for the defense of the New England coast or to prevent the advance of the British along the shores of Maine, which they now controlled up to the Penobscot river, the destruction of New England commerce and fisheries, for which privateering and infant manufactures were no substitute, and the complete nullity of New England in the councils of the nation, formed a mass of grievances which seemed to have become intolerable. In February, 1814, a committee of the Massachusetts legislature, while referring the question of a New England convention to the next legislature, had used the following strong language. "We believe that this war, so fertile in calamities and so threatening in its consequences, has been waged with the worst possible views, and carried on in the worst possible manner; forming a union of wickedness and weakness which defies, for a parallel, the annals of the world." It is significant of the temper of the times that this language was pronounced weak and inadequate by many federalists who considered "action" to be the most urgent need.

I.298.4

—Oct. 18, 1814, the Massachusetts legislature adopted the proposal of a convention of the New England states to "lay the foundation of a radical reform in the national compact by inviting to a future convention a deputation from all the other states in the Union." The proposal was promptly adopted by the legislatures of Rhode Island and Connecticut, which last named body had just ordered its governor to call a special session for the protection of its citizens if the federal conscription bill should become a law. The object was cautiously limited in Massachusetts to matters "not repugnant to their obligations as members of the Union," in Connecticut to matters "consistent with our obligations to the United States," and in Rhode Island to "measures which it may be in the power of said states, consistently with their obligations, to adopt." In New Hampshire, where the council was democratic, and in Vermont, where the successful fight at Plattsburgh had wakened a new war feeling, the federalists did not venture any state action upon the proposal, but the federalist counties of Cheshire, Grafton and Coos, in New Hampshire, and Windham, in Vermont, appointed delegates by town meetings. That the recent disasters of the war, the depreciation of the public credit 25 per cent. below par, and the humiliating demands of the English commissioners as the price of peace, should now be supplemented by this portentous union among the New England federalists, who had just succeeded in carrying every congressional district in their section except three, in which there was no popular choice, brought the wrath, alarm and suspicion of the democratic party and the administration to their highest point. Executive agents were scattered over New England to search for evidences of a secret plot to separate that section from the Union and form a grand duchy under an English prince of the blood; a regular officer was sent to Hartford, with assurances of support from the New York state troops and the "fighting democracy" of Connecticut, to oversee the deliberations of the 26 elderly gentlemen who were soon to meet there in convention; and the president, at the request of congress, appointed Jan. 12, following, as a day of national fasting and prayer.

I.298.5

—The convention met at Hartford, Conn., Dec. 15, 1814, the delegates being as follows. Massachusetts—George Cabot, Nathan Dane, William Prescott, Harrison Gray Otis, Timothy Bigelow, Joshua Thomas, Samuel Sumner Wilde, Joseph Lyman, Stephen Longfellow, Jr., Daniel Waldo, Hodijah Baylies, George Bliss. Connecticut—Chauncey Goodrich, John Treadwell, James Hillhouse, Zephaniah Swift, Nathaniel Smith, Calvin Goddard, Roger Minot Sherman. Rhode Island and Providence Plantations—Daniel Lyman, Samuel Ward, Edward Manton, Benjamin Hazard. New Hampshire—Benjamin West, Mills Olcott. Vermont—William Hall, Jr. George Cabot was chosen president, and Theodore Dwight, editor of the Hartford Union, secretary. After a secret session of three weeks and the preparation of a report to their respective legislatures, the convention adjourned, Jan. 5, 1815. The report denied any present intention to dissolve the Union, and admitted that, if a dissolution should be necessary, "by reason of the multiplied abuses of bad administrations, it should, if possible, be the work of peaceable times and deliberate consent." It enumerated the New England grievances above mentioned, with the addition of "the easy admission of naturalized foreigners to places of trust, honour and profit," and "the admission of new states formed at pleasure in the western regions," as destroying the original balance of the sections. It proposed that congress, paying in to the state treasuries a certain proportion of the taxes raised in the respective states, should confide to the states their own defense. It laid down the general principle that "it is as much the duty of the state authorities to watch over the rights reserved as of the United States to exercise the powers which are delegated;" and proceeded from this stand point to the narrowest particularism of the Kentucky resolutions. (See also STATE SOVEREIGNTY.) It recommended the following changes in the constitution: 1. That the southern states should be deprived of the representation given them for three-fifths of their slaves. 2. That a two-thirds vote of both houses should be requisite for the admission of new states. 3. That embargoes should be limited to 60 days. 4. That a two-thirds vote of both houses should be requisite to prohibit commercial intercourse; or 5, to declare war, or authorize hostilities, except in case of invasion. 6. That naturalized foreigners should be debarred from membership in congress and from all civil offices under the United States. 7. That the president should not be re-eligible, and should not be taken from the same state two terms in succession. It closed with a suggestion that if affairs should not change for the better, or if these amendments should be slighted, another convention should assemble in Boston, on the third Thursday of June following, "with such powers and instructions as the exigency of a crisis so momentous may require."

I.298.6

—The legislatures of Massachusetts and Connecticut adopted the suggestions of the report, and sent commissioners to Washington to urge the proposed amendments. Before they arrived the administration had been relieved from all anxiety; England had agreed to an honorable peace; the rout of 12,000 picked veterans from Wellington's peninsular army by Jackson and 7,000 raw Kentucky and Tennessee militia at New Orleans, had closed the war in a blaze of glory; and the commissioners found themselves only the discredited agents of a meeting of secret conspirators against the unity of the republic, and of states which had deserted their country in its hour of sorest need. No attention was paid to their recommendations, nor was any renewal of the convention ever attempted. From the series of humiliations, of which the Hartford convention was the close, New England learned thoroughly the necessity of carrying on struggles against the national government within the Union, a lesson which it had occasion to rehearse often afterward. It would have been fortunate for her sister section of the south if the same lesson had been impressed upon her attention 50 years previous to 1861.

I.298.7

—The federalist politicians who fathered or composed the Hartford convention never escaped from the popular odium which attended it. Nov. 16, 1819 the president, Cabot, deposited its journal with the secretary of state at Boston, that all men might see that its designs and debates were legitimate and not treasonable. In 1833 Theodore Dwight, the secretary, published his History of the Hartford Convention, but public opinion had even then become fixed, as it has since remained, against the convention. (See EMBARGO; SECESSION, I.; STATE SOVEREIGNTY; FEDERAL PARTY, II.; DEMOCRATIC PARTY, III.)

I.298.8

—See Dwight's Hartford Convention; 6 Hildreth's United States, 545; 4, 5 Benton's Debates of Congress; 2 Ingersoll's Second War with Great Britain, 216, 248; 2 Holmes' Annals, 467; 2 Goodrich's Recollections, 9; 3 Spencer's United States, 286; Carey's Olive Branch; Adams' Documents relating to New England Federalism; Sullivan's Letters; Quincy's Life of Quincy; 1 von Holst's United States, 263. The act recognizing the existence of war between the United States and Great Britain is in 2 Stat at Large, 755.

ALEXANDER JOHNSTON.

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