Secession Crisis

    The Hartford Convention  "New England Considers Secession"  December 15, 1814- January 5, 1815

Concern for states' rights and thoughts of secession were not exclusive to the South. As early as December 1814, a gathering of New England Federalists met at Hartford, Conn., to call for states' rights. The Constitutional amendments proposed there reflected the delegates' hostility toward the South and West. The War of 1812 was very unpopular in commercial New England.

Of the 26 delegates, 12 were from Massachusetts, 7 from Connecticut, 4 from Rhode Island, 2 from New Hampshire, and 1 from Vermont. (Maine was still a district within Massachusetts.) The delegates drafted proposals for constitutional amendments that would challenge what they saw as President James Madison's military despotism and force him to resign. Political cartoons of the day depicted England's King George III trying to lure Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island back into the British fold.

The delegates loathed the Jeffersonian Republicanism they saw in the nation's capitol. Their recommendations would likely have been more separatist if the Essex Junto, a group of extremist Federalists, had not been restrained by the moderation of delegate Harrison Gray Otis. A member of the Essex Junto, former U.S. Senator from Massachusetts George Cabot, presided at the convention.

By the time the Hartford delegation arrived in Washington to make their recommendations, the War of 1812 was over. The Treaty of Ghent had already been signed by President Madison and news of Gen. Andrew Jackson's victory at New Orleans had reached the excited capital. "Their position," according to a French diplomat, "was awkward, embarrassing, and lent itself to cruel ridicule," and they swiftly withdrew their recommendations.

Fascinating Fact:  The Federalist party, which had been discredited during the War of 1812 for such secessionist sympathies as those illustrated by the Hartford Convention, fared so poorly in the 1816 election that it did not run a national candidate against the Democratic Republicans in 1820.

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