The New International Encyclopædia/Hartford Convention

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HARTFORD CONVENTION. In American history, a political assembly representing the Federalists of New England States, which met at Hartford, Conn., December 15, 1814, and adjourned sine die, January 5, 1815. Its members numbered twenty-six, twelve coming from Massachusetts, seven from Connecticut, four from Rhode Island (all appointed by the Legislatures of their respective States), two from counties in New Hampshire, and one from Windham County, Vt. The convention grew out of the opposition of the Federalists in New England to the War of 1812, and its members all belonged to that party. George Cabot, of Massachusetts, was elected president, and Theodore Dwight, of Connecticut, secretary. The members were as intelligent and as high-minded men as could have been found in the country, but Federalism was exceedingly unpopular, and the fact that the sessions were held with closed doors, and that the members were pledged to secrecy, gave rise to a report that the secession of the New England States was contemplated. The extreme stand thus attributed to the leading Federalists (q.v.), as well as their pronounced opposition to the war, hastened the movement which resulted in the complete overthrow of the Federalist Party. The object of the convention was to devise means not only of security and defense against foreign nations, but also for safeguarding the privileges of the separate States against the alleged encroachments of the Federal Government; and no treasonable intention could be proved. The act of Massachusetts calling the convention stated that the steps taken by the consulting body were to be “not repugnant to their obligations as members of the Union;” and the resolutions of Connecticut and Rhode Island were to the same effect. The main propositions were stated in the form of amendments to the Federal Constitution, which the convention recommended to the several States. The suggested changes were that direct taxes and representatives be apportioned among the States according to the number of free persons therein; that no new State should be admitted to the Union except upon a two-thirds vote in each House of Congress; that Congress should have no power to lay an embargo on ships of American citizens for more than sixty days; that Congress should not interdict foreign commerce or declare offensive war except by a two-thirds vote; that no person thereafter naturalized should be capable of sitting in Congress or of holding any Federal civil office; that no person should serve as President more than one term; and that the President should never be chosen twice successively from the same State. The delegates further resolved that, if their recommendations should not be heeded and if the defense of their respective States should still be neglected, a further convention should be created “with such powers and instructions as the exigency of a crisis so momentous may require.”

The war was practically over before the convention finished its work, the Treaty of Ghent (q.v.) having been concluded on December 24th, though the fact was unknown to the members of the convention. The battle of New Orleans, January 8, 1815, and the ratification of the Treaty of Ghent (February 17th) increased the popularity of the Government and hastened the downfall of the Federalist Party; and ‘Hartford Convention Federalist’ was for many years a term of reproach. The controversy over the absolute obligation of a Governor to respond to the President's call for the militia presented a problem in constitutional law, and in the relations of the States to the Union, which was not fully settled even at the outbreak of the Civil War. For an authoritative and complete work, consult the History of the Hartford Convention (New York, 1833), by Theodore Dwight, secretary of the convention; also consult: Lodge, Life and Letters of George Cabot (Boston, 1877); and Henry Adams, Documents Relating to New England Federalism (Boston, 1877). See Federalists.