Hartford Convention , an assemblage of delegates from the New England states which met at Hartford, Dec. 15, 1814. The war between the United States and Great Britain, which began in 1812, was from the first distasteful to the majority of the people of New England, who regarded it as unnecessary and impolitic, and who had suffered from it immense losses by the destruction of their commerce and their fisheries. They regarded the war as a mere party measure of the democrats, and as federalists they had earnestly and persistently opposed it. In February, 1814, a committee of the Massachusetts legislature made a report on public affairs, in which they declared that, in their opinion, the constitution of the United States had been violated by the federal government, and that still worse measures were likely to follow; and they suggested the appointment of delegates to meet such as might be appointed by the legislatures of other states "for the purpose of devising proper measures to procure the united efforts of the commercial states to obtain such amendments or explanations of the constitution as will secure them from future evils." The defence of the New England coast was neglected by the federal government, and the British were beginning to attack it with vigor.
Stonington in Connecticut was bombarded, Castine and all Maine east of the Penobscot taken possession of, while a rumor spread that Massachusetts was to be invaded by a formidable force. Another committee of the Massachusetts legislature reported in October, 1814, that, in the position in which that state stood, no choice was left her between submission to the enemy, which was not to be thought of, and the appropriation to her own defence of those revenues derived from her people which the general government had hitherto thought proper to expend elsewhere. The committee also recommended a convention of the New England states; and their report being adopted by the legislature by a vote of three to one, a delegation of 12 men of the highest reputation, with George Cabot, William Prescott, and Harrison Gray Otis at their head, was appointed. A circular letter to the other New i England states called upon them to meet in convention "to devise means of security and defence which may be consistent with the preservation of their resources from total ruin, and adapted to their local situation and mutual relations and habits, and not repugnant to their obligations as members of the Union." Connecticut and Rhode Island responded to this invitation, the former by appointing seven, and the latter four delegates.
Two delegates appeared from New Hampshire, and one from Vermont, not sent by these states, but by separate counties. When the convention assembled they chose George Cabot president, and Theodore Dwight secretary. For 20 days the convention sat with closed doors, and on their adjournment embodied the result of their deliberations in a report addressed to the legislatures which they represented. This manifesto was moderate in tone and patriotic in sentiment, expressing strong affection for the Union and the greatest aversion to violent or unconstitntional opposition to legal authority. It pointed out, however, the dangers impending over New England from the alleged usurpations of the general government and from the foreign enemy. In the power over the militia claimed for the general government; in the filling up of the ranks of the regular army by conscription; in authorizing the enlistment of minors without the consent of their parents or guardians, thus invalidating contracts, the report maintained that the federal constitution had been disregarded in a way that demanded from the individual states firm and decided opposition.
The convention recommended to the legislatures of the states for which it spoke the adoption of such measures as might be necessary effectually to protect their citizens from the operation of the acts passed by congress containing provisions subjecting the militia and other persons to forcible drafts, conscriptions, or impressments not authorized by the constitution of the United States. It recommended also an immediate application to the federal government by the New England states for authority to combine their forces for their defence against the British, and to appropriate for the same purpose a reasonable amount of the taxes levied upon them. Finally, it proposed several amendments to the federal constitution, among which were : basing representation on free population; making the president ineligible for a second term; disqualifying persons of foreign birth to hold office; limiting embargoes to 60 days; requiring a two-thirds vote in congress to admit new states, to interdict commercial intercourse, to declare war, or to authorize hostilities, except in cases of invasion.
These questions had arisen during the hostilities with Great Britain, and the news of the negotiation of the treaty of peace at Ghent, which arrived soon after the adjournment of the convention, put a practical stop to their discussion. Congress, however, which was then in session, settled some of them by an act regulating the employment of state troops by the federal government in a satisfactory manner. - The holding of the Hartford convention and its supposed treasonable designs caused a great outcry from the democratic party, and excited much alarm and apprehension at Washington. The government stationed Major Jessup, a Kentucky officer of distinction, at Hartford with a regiment of troops to repress any sudden outbreak; but after the most careful investigation, this officer reported to his superiors at Washington that the convention would confine itself to complaints, remonstrances, and an address to the people, and that there was no reason to apprehend any treasonable action. The state department, however, had a correspondent who pretended to be in the confidence of the late British consul at Boston, and to have learned from him or from his papers the existence of a committee of New England royalists, who intended to establish the kingdom of New England with the duke of Kent as its sovereign.
The chief clerk of the state department was sent to Boston to investigate this matter, but could discover no trace of the pretended committee. The imputation of treasonable designs to the Hartford convention continued until a recent period, and resulted in excluding from political power in the nation almost every man implicated in its doings. It was also one of the chief causes which destroyed the federal party. It is now, however, almost universally conceded that the Hartford convention was guiltless of any designs which could justly be considered treasonable. - See "History of the Hartford Convention," by Theodore Dwight (Boston, 1833).