Saturday, December 15, 2018

New England and Secession: 1814

The first serious effort at secession in the United States came not from the South, but from New England.  As a result of the economic impact of the War of 1812 and the seeming stranglehold that the southern states held in the national government, the Federalists from several states met at Hartford, Connecticut, to discuss their grievances. 

The Hartford Convention began on December 15, 1814 and lasted nearly three weeks.  There were representatives from Connecticut, Massachusetts (the largest delegation), New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.  They urged several constitutional amendments that they felt would strengthen their regions’ influence.  Secession was discussed.

But timing is everything.  The War of 1812 ended almost immediately after the convention and the Federalists, already dwindling in number, were discredited.  The Hartford Convention sounded the death knell for the nation’s first ruling political party.  Their last presidential candidate competed in 1816 and he was soundly defeated.

Theodore Dwight, a prominent Federalist and journalist, served as the convention’s secretary.  He later wrote a defensive account of the proceedings. He said, for example, that “the Hartford Convention, from the time of its coming together to the present hour, has been the general topic of reproach and calumny, as well as of the most unfounded and unprincipled misrepresentation and falsehood.”  Not surprisingly, he was critical of Democratic-Republicans Jefferson and Madison.

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