How Moderates Continued to Control the Convention

Otis’ control of the agenda caused intense debate from those who wanted constitutional amendments.  James Hillhouse, of Connecticut, a staunch advocate of constitutional amendments was horrified by measures he considered timid and halfway.  He urged more action pressing for the amendments.  George Bliss, from Springfield also argued for bolder action.[1]

Cabot continued to exert control over the convention, naming a second committee, also chaired by Otis, to submit more proposals for the proceedings of the convention.  Hillhouse and Bliss were excluded from this committee, as they had been from all others.[2]

 

[1] James M. Banner, Jr.  To the Hartford Convention:  The Federalists and the Origins of Party Politics in Massachusetts 1789-1815 ( New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1970) 336.

[2] Banner, To the Hartford Convention,  337.

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How Moderates Seized Control of the Hartford Convention

Unknown to the Connecticut delegates, Harrison Gray Otis and George Cabot had a plan.  George Cabot, president of the Convention, had the authority to decide on the committees to be formed, and to acknowledge speakers.  He immediately recognized Harrison Gray Otis who offered the terms of debate for the Convention.[1]

Otis spoke about the need for defense.    He failed to mention a constitutional amendment.  He spoke about the need of New England to unite in defense against Britain.  He proposed that revenues collected in New England be credited to the national treasury.  The Federal government would refund New England for defense expenses including those beyond the amount collected in New England.[2]

Otis’s plan was referred to committee.  The next day they advised the convention take up the plan.  It was expanded to encompass issues concerning the militia, the draft age, expenses of war not related to defense, and the issue of state defense.[3]

[1]James M. Banner, Jr. To the Hartford Convention:  The Federalists and the Origins of Party Politics in Massachusetts 1789-1815, (New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1970)  333-334 ff 333-334.

[2] Banner, Hartford Convention, 336.

[3] Banner, Hartford Convention, 336.

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Why Harrison Gray Otis Dismissed Comments the Hartford Convention Would Seek Secession

Despite Mathew Carey’s concerns that New England was on the brink of seceding from the Union, Harrison Gray Otis had other plans.  He wrote the purpose of the convention was “to take measures to defend ourselves against the enemy; as the General Government cannot do it.”  Otis intended, he said, “to treat the administration as having abdicated the Government.”[1]

Otis and the other leaders of the Hartford Convention planned to do what the Massachusetts resolution had suggested they do.  They were to devise a plan for defense of New England’s coast.  They also hoped to bring about changes in the national government with discussion of a constitutional amendment.[2]

 

[1] James M. Banner, Jr.  To the Hartford ConventionThe Federalists and the Origins of Party Politics in Massachusetts 1789-1815 (New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1970)  333.

[2] Banner, To the Hartford Convention, 333.

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Why Cooler Heads Urged Moderation at the Hartford Convention

Those favoring radical action, Timothy Pickering and John Lowell, did not take part in the Hartford Convention.  George Cabot planned to urge a moderate course.  He said that he went to Hartford “to allay the ferment and prevent a crisis…We are going to keep…young hot-heads from getting into mischief.”[1]

Nathan Dane also worried about mischief.  As he traveled to Hartford he said “Somebody must go to prevent mischief.”  Later he wrote, “…moderate men saw the excitement was going too far and that it was leading to evils far greater than the war itself…This convention, as intended, moderated and checked an inflamed, growing opposition to the administration of federal affairs…[it] might, in the then violence of party spirit, have in time embarrassed and shaken the Union.”[2]

After the Convention, Harrison Gray Otis recalled that calls for a convention “[were] the consequence, not the source of a popular sentiment; and it was intended by those who voted for it, as a safety valve by which the steam arising from the fermentation of the time might escape, not as a boiler in which it should be generated.”[3]

 

[1] James M. Banner, Jr. To the Hartford Convention:  The Federalists and the Origins of Party Politics in Massachusetts 1789-1815, (New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1970) 332.

[2] Banner, To the Hartford Convention, 332.

[3] Banner, To the Hartford Convention, 332.

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Why Peace Was So Important to New Englanders

 

John Lowell urged immediate action.  He wrote “Throwing off all connection with this wasteful war making peace with our enemy and opening once more our commerce with the worlds would be a wise and manly course.”[1]

The war was “wasteful” because New England did not have the funds to support a militia capable of expelling the British, who already occupied territories in Maine and Nantucket.

While militias in New England were crack troops, calling out thousands of soldiers from the citizenry required funds that New England states did not have. Historian Donald Hickey argues that defending New England was too costly. It was, he wrote, another reason that drove the Federalists to the Hartford Convention.[2]

[1] Henry Adams, History of the United States of America During the Administrations of James Madison  (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1986) 1109-10.

[2] Donald R. Hickey, “New Englands Defense Problem and the Genesis of the Hartford Convention,” The New England Quarterly, V. 50 N. 4 (December, 1977)  588.

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How Governor Strong Responded to British Conditions for Peace

On October 17, 1814, the day the Massachusetts legislature invited New England states to a convention, newspapers published British conditions for peace.  They were issued August 20 in Ghent.  Governor Strong wrote to Timothy Pickering that the terms seemed reasonable.  They included cession of Massachusetts territories then in British hands.  That included two counties in Maine and the island of Nantucket.  The demands also included giving up fishing rights granted with American independence.  The British wanted a road between St. John, New Brunswick and Quebec.  The boundary between Canada and the United States needed to be redrawn allowing the British access to the Mississippi.  Another demand, more extravagant, was for an Indian state. [1]

Strong polled his associates on the concessions.  Those in Essex anticipated losing the fisheries, but were ready to give up territories in Maine to keep them.  [2]

Pickering agreed with Strong.  Federalists in New England agreed with Strong and Pickering.  They were unhappy with American negotiators in Ghent who rejected British offers.[3]

Elections in November proved to be a referendum on two issues.  New Englanders were invited to weigh in on British conditions for peace.  They were also asked whether their state should take part in the Hartford Convention.  The results supported the Federalists.  Democratic-Republican candidates suffered defeat.

Federalists were ready for peace.  They were also prepared to create a new “Federal compact” composed of either the entire union, of just a portion of it.[4]

Next:  Why Peace Was So Important to New Englanders

Look for it Monday, December 1, 2014

 

[1] Henry Adams, History of the United States of America during the Administrations of James Madison (New York:  Literary Classics of the United States, 1986) 1108-9; Samuel Eliot Morison and Henry Steele Commager, The Growth of the American Republic, Volume I (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1962) 439.

[2] Adams, History of the United States…Administrations of James Madison, 1108.

[3] Adams, History of the United States…Administrations of James Madison, 1109.

[4] Adams, History of the United States…Administrations of James Madison, 1109.

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How President Madison Responded to New England’s Threat of Secession

To recap: On October 17, 1814 the legislature in Massachusetts invited New England states to a convention in Hartford on December 15.  They responded.  Connecticut named seven delegates.  Rhode Island appointed four delegates.   Democratic-Republicans blocked attempts to appoint delegates in New Hampshire.  Vermont voted with unanimity to turn down the invitation.[1]  Eventually two Federalist counties from New Hampshire sent two delegates, and a Federalist county in Vermont sent one.

Elections in New England followed that autumn.  During the previous term, in 1812, New England states sent eleven Democratic-Republicans to Congress, and thirty Federalists.  In 1814, New Englanders were clear.  They voted for thirty-nine Federalist Congressmen and only two Democratic-Republicans.  As Henry Adams reported, “President Madison might safely assume that no man voted for Federalist Congressmen in November, 1814, unless he favored the project of a New England Convention.”[2]

President Madison was known for his even-tempered responses to difficulties.  The defeat of American forces at Bladensburg and his flight from the White House, before British troops invaded Washington had taken their toll.  A visitor to Madison on October 14 reported:

“I called on the President.  He looks miserably shattered and woe-be-gone.  In short, he looked heart-broken.  His mind is full of New England sedition…I denied the probability…that the yeomanry of the North could be induced to place themselves under the power and protection of England…[he] convinced me that his heart and mind were painfully full of the subject.”[3]

                                                                             William Wirt

Next:  How Governor Strong Responded to British Conditions for Peace

Look for it Monday, November 3

 

[1] Henry Adams, History of the United States of America During the Administrations of James Madison (New York:  Literary Classics of the United States, Inc, 1986) 1068.

[2] Adams, History of the United States…James Madison, 1068.

[3] Adams, History of the United States…James Madison, 1070.

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Governor Caleb Strong’s Secret Mission

In the weeks before the Hartford Convention, George Cabot and Harrison Gray Otis did not know that Governor Caleb Strong sent an emissary to Halifax, Nova Scotia.  In November, 1814, his representative approached General Sir John Sherbrooke.  Governor Strong wanted protection in case he came into direct conflict with President Madison.  On November 20 Sherbrooke wrote to the Colonial Secretary hoping the British could gain from the dissolution of the United States.  The Secretary, Lord Bathurst, replied from London on December 13, 1814.  He expected that Madison would sign the peace treaty, but if the war continued, he gave Sherbrooke permission to sign a separate peace treaty with New England and offer the region logistical support—but not troops.[1]

Next:  How Madison Reacted To Talk of Secession

 

[1] Samuel Eliot Morison, “Our Most Unpopular War,” Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Third Series V. 80 (1968) 48, Alan Taylor, The Civil War of 1812:  American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies, (New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 2010) 415.

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What John Lowell Hoped the Hartford Convention Would Accomplish

Called “Crazy Jack” by his Democratic-Republican opponents, John Lowell had a plan.  In the months leading to the Hartford Convention, December 15, 1814, many thought the British would conquer New Orleans and occupy it indefinitely.  (Andrew Jackson did not win the Battle of New Orleans until January 8, 1815.)

Lowell thought the Harford Convention needed to re-write the Constitution.  The purpose of the new constitution would be to protect New England’s commercial and maritime interests.  He proposed presenting the new constitution to the original thirteen states.  Jefferson’s purchase of the Louisiana Territory breached the original compact between the states.   The rewritten constitution was to be used as an ultimatum.  The separation of the West needed to occur so that the original balance of power between the thirteen states could be restored.[1]

New England’s Federalist press endorsed the idea wholeheartedly.  One newspaper, the Centinel suggested that New England should make peace separately with Britain, and then invite other states to adhere.  A new convention from states in the North would be called, inviting only Southern states on the Atlantic seaboard to join.[2]

Next: Governor Strong’s Secret Mission

 

[1]Samuel Eliot Morison,”Our Most Unpopular War,” Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Third Series, V. 80, (1968) 50.

[2] Morison, “Our Most Unpopular War,” 51.

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What Timothy Pickering Hoped the Hartford Convention Would Accomplish

In Washington, November 28, 1814 Timothy Pickering wrote a letter to John Lowell, Jr.  After touching upon the notion he formerly held that “the Western States go off, leaving the ‘good old thirteen States…to themselves’ ”  Pickering wrote of the need to amend the Constitution, after New England had decided on how to defend itself.

He proposed twelve changes:[1]

  1. “Abolish negro representation,” the detested Three-Fifths Clause
  2. Prohibit interruption of trade for any reason without agreement by the nine states on the Atlantic seaboard
  3. Limit the presidency to one term
  4. Prohibit election of a new president from the same state as the previous president
  5. Restore the original method of presidential and vice-presidential elections
  6. Change the method of appointments to military and civil offices to prevent bribery and corruption
  7. Make attainment of citizenship more  difficult and exclude anyone but natives from Congress
  8. Limit the number of representatives in the House, despite any increase in population
  9. “Require the vote of two-thirds or three-fourths of each House of Congress” when declaring war
  10.  Prohibit the use of “usurious loans” for the waging of war
  11.  Question if the states west of the Mississippi might form a new confederacy
  12.  Revise the wording “to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises with the wording “but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.”  He noted that collection of taxes was often considered a separate power from paying debts and providing for defense and welfare.  He considered that providing for general welfare ought to be considered in conjunction with the expenditure of taxes, duties, imposts and excises.

Next:  What John Lowell Hoped the Hartford Convention Would Accomplish

 

[1] Timothy Pickering to John Lowell, Jr. 28 November, 1814, Henry Adams (ed.)  Documents relating to New-England Federalism 1800-1815, (Boston:  Little, Brown, and Company, 1877) 407-9.

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