The Hartford Convention grew out of the Federalist secession movement. This had begun to be discussed in secret in 1804 in reaction to the policies of President Jefferson. Support for it grew rapidly as Republican policies aggravated the situation (Embargo Act of 1807 and Non-Intercourse Act of 1809). President Madison was even less popular in New England than President Jefferson.unionblue said:Did the Hartford Convention in 1815 actually recommend secession? Were there any articles or resolutions printed by the convention that advocated secession? It was my impression that a few delegates to the convention brought the idea up, but were by far in the minority, and none of their ideas were supported concerning secession.
But my final question is, why didn't any New England States secede over 'Mr. Madison's War?' And did any of the delegates of the convention advoce unilateral secession from the Union in 1815?
The first attempt to convene a New England Convention was made in 1808-09. The next was made in 1812 when the War Hawks led the way into "Mr. Madison's War" with Great Britain. Neither succeeded.
When Madison was re-elected, a furor arose. The last dozen years of Jefferson-Madison leadership had damaged New England maritime interests greatly (far worse than anything Southern planters ever endured at the hands of their government before secession in 1860). Now they had been dragged into a war where their ships and sailors were most exposed to the enemy, and where their borders and coasts were subject to raids and invasion.
In this situation, the New England states refused to put their militia under Federal control, fearing they would be sent off into the disasters on the Canadian border, leaving their coasts even more vulnerable to British raids. Madison therefore refused to pay their expenses, which led to further financial pain in New England. That may seem natural, but Madison was being inconsistent here. While other state governors were allowed to control their militia for home defense, Madison had tried to take that away from governors in New England, leading to angry suspicion. MA appropriated $1,000,000 to fund a 10,000 man army.
Both sides were acting badly by this point. Most Federalist papers in New England were crying out for the expulsion of the western states that had dragged the nation into this war under the War Hawk leadership. Harrison Gray Otis of MA led the call for a Convention to meet on December 14, 1815 in Hartford.
Otis was actually a conservative. He thought the Madison regime was faltering (this is late 1814: Napoleon has fallen, the British have turned to America, the blockade is tightening, Washington is burned, etc.). He blocked most of the radical ideas (like seizing the Boston Customs House -- contrast that with how LA actually did seize the New Orleans Custom House, the Mint, etc.) Meanwhile, and unknown to Otis, the Governor of MA, Caleb Strong, had secretly sent a delegation to the British to sound them out on peace terms for a separated New England (otherwise known as treason, IMHO).
Three state legislatures sent official representation: MA (12 delegates), RI (4), CT (7). NH and VT legislatures refused to do so, but three more delegates came from those 2 states, selected by country conventions in great acrimony. In all, 26 men attended. They met in Hartford from Dec. 15 1814 to Jan. 5, 1815. A US Army officer arrived in Hartford at the same time, mission unstated, but obviously sent by the government to watch the proceedings. General outrage and suspicion on their purposes is obvious in the speeches and editorials of the rest of the country at the time.
The Hartford Convention met in secret secession only. No records were kept of what was discussed. There is no rollcall of yeas and nays on votes, no text of matters voted on, not even a description kept of the motions.
The Convention ended with by delivering a report and several resolutions. The report said that New England had a "duty" to resist unconstitutional infringement of its sovereignity (much like the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions of 1798 by Madison and Jefferson). The resolutions recommended a series of amendments to the Constitution that would have limited the power of the central government and weakened the stranglehold the South seemed to have on power.
The 5 proposed amendments would:
1) Limit all trade embargo acts to 60 days
2) Require a 2/3rds majority in Congress to declare war, admit a state, or interdict commerce as in #1
3) Repeal the 3/5ths slave clause
4) Limit Presidents to a single term
5) Prohibit a new president from being elected from the same state as his predecessor
Those first 2 are obviously aimed at the Jefferson/Madison/War Hawk policies that had crippled New England trade, started the war with Great Britain, and were moving the center of power further and further from New England.
The last 3 were aimed squarely at Southern (particularly Virginian) dominance of US politics.
To the best of anyone's knowledge, and as far as almost 2 centuries of investigation have revealed, there never was a resolution to secede voted at the Hartford Convention. The Democratic-Republican Party of Madison, under heavy criticism for their failed policies and fiascos during the war, seems to have "spun" this out as very effective and long-lasting propaganda. However, there undoubtedly were politicans in New England advocating such a course.
Historians speculate as to the real purpose of this. It is believed that the resolutions and report were intended to start the ball rolling on negotiations with the rest of the country, and to form a platform for New England's position in the bargaining. That might easily have led to secession or to a compromise -- just as the great dispute over slavery would lead to the Missouri Compromise five years later. It is generally thought that the more conservative members, like Otis, were really seeking to get a better deal from the rest of the country, were not really in favor of secession, and were trying to control and channel the debate to keep the radicals among them from causing a catastrophe.
The state of MA -- not New England as a whole or the Hartford Convention -- sent three delegates to Washington to meet with the government and discuss this situation. They arrived in February, right after the news of Jackson's victory at New Orleans and the Treaty of Ghent. It was obvious the moment had passed. The war was over, most problems already resolved. The delegates returned to MA and nothing was done.
While people like to point to the Hartford Convention when speaking of Southern secession in 1860-61, it is really not a very good example to use. No state ever did vote to secede, although the possibility was surely being discussed. An attempt was actually being made to negotiate with the Federal government and the other states that would resolve issues inside the Union -- where none was made by the Southern states in 1861. No New England state seized Federal forts, arsenals, customs houses, ships, or menaced Federal troops/employees. It is like comparing a loud-voiced debate in a pub with a car-bombing in the streets: they are not the same beast at all.