The Hartford Convention

Joined
Apr 15, 2016
Messages
537
#1
The Hartford Convention is routinely brought up by those of a pro-secessionist bent. However, it seems a tad misunderstood. Especially if you read it within the context of its times, as opposed to looking it through the lens of justifying secession 50-200 years later.

While the discussion of disunion did occur, it was not resolved by the attendees. There's limited knowledge of the proceedings, as the president of the convention George Cabot's minutes are the only ones surviving (to my knowledge) and those are woefully incomplete.

However, there is correspondence from the delegates to their respective legislatures. They spoke against unilateral secession, especially in time of war (the war of 1812, not the possibility of war over secession).

The Delegates from Massachussets, Connecticut, and Rhode Island reported this to their legislatures:
http://archive.org/stream/hartfordconv00dwigrich#page/354/mode/2up

"Finally, if the Union be destined to dissolution, by reason of the multiple abuses of bad administration, it should, if possible, be the work of peacable times, and deliberate consent."

The report then goes on to discuss what such a disolution should look like (sorry, don't feel like typing all that in, but its on p355 bottom paragraph of that link, which is an online copy of 'History of the Hartford Convention).

It then summarizes:
"But a severance of one or more against states against the will of the rest, especially in a time of war, can be justified only by absolute necessity. These are among the principal objections of precipitous measures tending to disunite the states, and when examined in connection with the farewell address of the Father of his country, they must, it is believed, be deemed conclusive."

Washington of course spent several paragraphs in his farewell address on the avoidance of sectionalist conflict, the numerous advantages of union, the crime of speculating on disunion, and the 'permanency of this happy state (union under the constitution) and the fact that "the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. "
http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/washing.asp

Page 376-379 gives the resolutions recommended by the convention to the legislatures, all of which are constitutional amendments, not calls for secession.

Also within the conext of the time - this was the death knell of the Federalists. The original party that managed to pass the Constitution did not survive the scorn their convention created, even when it wasn't an outright call to secession.
 

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CW Buff

First Sergeant
Joined
Dec 22, 2014
Messages
1,504
Location
Connecticut
#2
Also within the conext of the time - this was the death knell of the Federalists. The original party that managed to pass the Constitution did not survive the scorn their convention created, even when it wasn't an outright call to secession.
If it had been left to its own devices, i.e. the scorn that the Convention itself created, it probably would not have been associated nearly so much with secession. There was a very effective post-war campaign waged against the Federalists to paint them as disloyal malcontents seeking to split the Union and align with the enemy. Samuel Elliott Morrison wrote "Democratic [-Republican] politicians, seeking a foil to their own mismanagement of the war and to discredit the still formidable Federalist party, caressed and fed this infant myth until it became so tough and lusty as to defy both solemn denials and documentary proof." But, I would also say, the Federalists made it somewhat easy by holding the proceedings in secret. Timing also conspired against them; they unknowingly took their strongest stand against the war in the country's moment of victory.
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Feb 23, 2010
Messages
10,333
#3
To me, the relevant fact concerning the secession conventions of 1860-'61, was how those at Hartford, proceeded compared to the southern slave states.

The southern secessionists certainly could not have gotten their confidence in how to do it, from the experiences of New England, over 4 decades earlier.
 

cash

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Messages
33,528
Location
Right here.
#4
The Hartford Convention is routinely brought up by those of a pro-secessionist bent. However, it seems a tad misunderstood. Especially if you read it within the context of its times, as opposed to looking it through the lens of justifying secession 50-200 years later.

While the discussion of disunion did occur, it was not resolved by the attendees. There's limited knowledge of the proceedings, as the president of the convention George Cabot's minutes are the only ones surviving (to my knowledge) and those are woefully incomplete.

However, there is correspondence from the delegates to their respective legislatures. They spoke against unilateral secession, especially in time of war (the war of 1812, not the possibility of war over secession).

The Delegates from Massachussets, Connecticut, and Rhode Island reported this to their legislatures:
http://archive.org/stream/hartfordconv00dwigrich#page/354/mode/2up

"Finally, if the Union be destined to dissolution, by reason of the multiple abuses of bad administration, it should, if possible, be the work of peacable times, and deliberate consent."

The report then goes on to discuss what such a disolution should look like (sorry, don't feel like typing all that in, but its on p355 bottom paragraph of that link, which is an online copy of 'History of the Hartford Convention).

It then summarizes:
"But a severance of one or more against states against the will of the rest, especially in a time of war, can be justified only by absolute necessity. These are among the principal objections of precipitous measures tending to disunite the states, and when examined in connection with the farewell address of the Father of his country, they must, it is believed, be deemed conclusive."

Washington of course spent several paragraphs in his farewell address on the avoidance of sectionalist conflict, the numerous advantages of union, the crime of speculating on disunion, and the 'permanency of this happy state (union under the constitution) and the fact that "the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. "
http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/washing.asp

Page 376-379 gives the resolutions recommended by the convention to the legislatures, all of which are constitutional amendments, not calls for secession.

Also within the conext of the time - this was the death knell of the Federalists. The original party that managed to pass the Constitution did not survive the scorn their convention created, even when it wasn't an outright call to secession.
The only thing I have to disagree with is that if we look at the notes of the convention itself, we see no mention of secession or disunion. Now, some individual Federalists had been talking about disunion prior to the convention, and that makes it no surprise the report would take that talk into account. But I see no evidence secession or disunion as a possible course of action was ever discussed.
 

Hunter

First Sergeant
Joined
Apr 23, 2016
Messages
1,037
#5
The only thing I have to disagree with is that if we look at the notes of the convention itself, we see no mention of secession or disunion. Now, some individual Federalists had been talking about disunion prior to the convention, and that makes it no surprise the report would take that talk into account. But I see no evidence secession or disunion as a possible course of action was ever discussed.

Yes. Antebellum history reflects that hollow threats of secession were a common means of bringing about changes it federal policy. That is one reason why the South's threats in 1860 were not taken seriously until Fort Sumter.
 



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