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The Hartford Convention of 1814

Robbie Tubbs, Mark Pearcy
  • Author
    Robbie Tubbs

    Robbie has been teaching high school history in public schools for 8 years. He earned his Bachelors degree in Secondary Education/Social Studies from Clarion University of Pennsylvania and a Masters degree in Education from Saint Francis University. He is the PA 2020 recipient of the James Madison Fellowship and is completing a second Masters degree in American History and Government. Robbie is a licensed teacher in Pennsylvania teaching AP US History and Civics and Government.

  • Instructor
    Mark Pearcy

    Mark has a Ph.D in Social Science Education

Learn about the Hartford Convention, its resolutions, and its significance to American History. Updated: 04/28/2022

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What Was the Hartford Convention of 1814?

The Hartford Convention of 1814 was a meeting of twenty six Federalists from the New England states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, and New Hampshire. Disgruntled by the political dominance of the southern states and the Democratic-Republican party in the Early National Period, and weary from the costly war with Britain, these men gathered to discuss the collective action that they should take. The debates were secret and covered a variety of potential solutions, ranging from radical to moderate. Ultimately, the convention ended with resolutions that advocated for changes to the federal Constitution and contributed to the fractious political landscape of the period.

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  • 0:00 The Hartford…
  • 0:33 The Background
  • 2:59 The War of 1812
  • 3:46 The Convention
  • 4:22 The Reaction
  • 5:49 Lesson Summary
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The Hartford Convention: Background and Context

By December of 1814, the United States was involved in a costly war with Great Britain. This war, referred to simply as The War of 1812, was largely unpopular with the American people and especially the New England Federalists. A major reason for the war's unpopularity was the fact that it came in the wake of a financial downturn due to the after-effects of policies from Thomas Jefferson's administration. In a response to the British action of impressment (the act claiming a right to stop and search American vessels for potential British deserters), Jefferson signed the Embargo Act of 1807, banning all American shipping to foreign ports. In their efforts to accomplish "peaceable coercion," This act and its successors sacrificed the fragile American economy, significantly affecting the New England shipping and merchant trade in the process.

Regional and Political Divisions Before the War of 1812

The early American republic was divided in its politics because of the different economies that emerged in its development. New England, lacking the long growing season and topography to cultivate a cash crop such as tobacco, had created an economy centered on shipping and merchant trade. This economy relied on the shipment of goods to and from New England ports and bound for ports in the South, the West Indies in the Caribbean, and abroad to Europe. Conversely, the Chesapeake and Southern colonies had developed economies based around the cultivation of crops like tobacco and cotton. The stability of these colonies rose and fell with the prices of these crops.

Because of the difference in economy, these regions developed starkly different politics. In New England, wealth was less concentrated, spread to more individuals, and created a middle class of professional merchants. It was relatively low in cost to begin a venture in merchant shipping, especially with the advancement of joint stock ownership of ships and the burgeoning insurance industry, allowing many people of middle class means to be involved in the economy. Because of this, the majority of New Englanders were Federalists and favored strong central government practices that encouraged the unity of the states, promoted the nation's strength as a whole, and regulated banking and trade to favor their economy. For example, Federalists supported protective tariffs, as these tended to favor domestic shipping.

In contrast, the Chesapeake and Southern colonies experienced high levels of wealth concentration as rich land owners used their profits from tobacco to build large plantations, mostly operated via slave or indentured labor. In this consolidation, wealthy planters experienced high levels of control and influence in their local governments as well as a high degree of autonomy to expand their enterprises through land speculation and increased cultivation. In kind, it was common for southern planters to side with Democratic-Republicans and their inclination towards weaker central government, with power localized in states or municipalities, and with policies that favored private property ownership and individual liberties.

Political Problems Related to the War of 1812

By the year 1812, the United States was moving towards war. The main reason driving the tension was the aforementioned British policy of impressment. Because of the harsh life of a maritime sailor, desertion was at an all time high. Many of these deserters found their way into American shipping, an industry that played to their skills but kept them at arms length from the British government. In response, the British felt justified to forcibly halt American ships on the high seas, inspect the crew for harboring deserters, and then if found, impress those individuals back into service. However, this policy was also manipulated to confiscate goods, and even American sailors were unfairly pressed into service in the British navy.

When president James Madison advocated for heightened conflict with Britain in response, the Congressional vote showed the political and economic differences between the regions and parties. The majority of votes favoring war came from members representing states from Pennsylvania southward; the states from New York northward voted in opposition. Because southern economies were so tied to the export of their cash crops, Democratic-Republicans in the south favored military intervention. The north felt differently: even though northern maritime economies were also hurt by British impressment, the policies of the trade Embargo and the Non-Intercourse acts that succeeded it — implemented by Democratic-Republican presidents — had hurt their economy more. Fearing further depression to trade and intercourse, New England Federalists staunchly opposed the war and advocated for its swift end.

By 1814, New England Federalists had tired of the war. Ever defiant and self-interested, many New England merchants continued to sell supplies to the British, Connecticut and Massachusetts refused to provide a militia to the war cause, and by October of that year, Federalists agreed to meet in a secret convention to discuss their independent action.

What Happened at the Hartford Convention of 1814?

In December 15th of 1814, while peace negotiations were being worked out between the Americans and the British, delegates from five New England states - all Federalists - decided to convene in Hartford, Connecticut to discuss opposition to the war as well as political action that needed to be taken to ensure the protection of Federalist interests. The intent of the convention was to discuss constitutional amendments that would be proposed to strengthen the power of Federalists and ensure a balance of power. The delegates believed that Democratic-Republicans would be forced to listen to their demands since the war effort was going poorly and the government was losing morale.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What was demanded at the Hartford Convention?

Demands ranged from secession to changes to the Constitution. Ultimately the report called for 7 amendments to be added to the Constitution.

Why is it called Hartford Convention?

It was called this because the convention met in Hartford, Connecticut, the capital of the state and a center of Federalist politics.

What is the importance of the 1814 Hartford Convention?

Though it had little political impact, the Hartford Convention proved to be the final political blow to the Federalist party as they declined in prominence.

What was the purpose of the Hartford Convention?

The convention was a meeting of New England Federalists to discuss reactions to Democratic-Republican policies and the War of 1812.

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