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The War of 1812 (1809-1815)

Hartford Convention (1814)

Renewed British Vigor: Attack on Middle States (1814)

Treaty of Ghent (December 1814)

Summary

In New England, stronghold of the Federalist Party, people were very discontented throughout the war, even after the victory in Baltimore had electrified the rest of the nation. Some New England Federalists went so far as to argue for Secession from the Union, in which New England would separately establish peace with Britain, whether the rest of the country wanted to or not. Rumors abounded across the nation that some upset Federalists were even tipping off British cruisers about US ships that were trying to run the British naval blockade.

In late 1814, the New England Federalists began the most formal expression of their dissatisfaction war with the beginning of the Hartford Convention. At this time, even though the battle for Baltimore had been won, it still seemed possible that Britain could win the war, or at least that the war might go on a while longer. Delegates from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Vermont sent delegates to Hartford, where they met in secret for three weeks. Around the country, many took the meeting of the Hartford Convention to mean that New England was preparing to secede from the union. Some of the delegates were in fact very radical. John Lowell and Timothy Pickering, for instance, at least wanted to use the threat of secession to get their way. Most delegates, however, were more moderate, like Harrison Gray Otis, who feared that all the talk of secession might lead to civil war.

After deliberating for three weeks, the Hartford Convention's final demands were, in fact, quite moderate. The Convention asked for the federal government to supply financial aid to help New England's trade economy, and for a new Constitutional amendment which required a two-thirds majority, rather than a simple 51% majority, in order for embargoes to be imposed or war to be declared.

The members of the Hartford Convention sent messengers with their demands to burned-out Washington. Arriving at the same time as news of Andrew Jackson's victory in New Orleans, the messengers were paid little attention as the city celebrated wildly. Most people laughed at the messengers of the Hartford Convention; others saw them as dangerous secessionists. The Hartford Convention, despite moderate demands, had made the Federalist Party look suspicious, and after the convention, the party would rapidly decline.

Commentary

The New England Federalists had good reason to be upset. Northeastern shipping had been hurt more than any other industry, and though the war had caused economic hardship throughout the US, it was New England that suffered most. At the end of the war, as the rest of the country celebrated the Treaty of Ghent, Federalists had to wonder why the war, with all the economic sacrifices it entailed, had ever been fought in the first place if the final result did nothing more than maintain the status quo.

However, though the Federalists were bitter, New England also benefited in many ways from the war. Because the war had stopped British manufactured goods from coming into the US, New England manufacturers suddenly received protection against being undersold by British companies. In these conditions, profitable New England factories sprang up, and Northeastern manufacturing boomed during the period. In effect, the War of 1812 jump-started the American Industrial Revolution, making New England the dominant site of American manufacturing. In this way, Federalist anger overlooked a tremendously important side effect of the war.

The Hartford Convention was the end of the Federalists. Although not actually treasonous, the Convention appeared treasonous to many Americans. Thus tainted, the Democratic-Republican candidate, James Monroe, trounced the Federalist Rufus King in the presidential election of 1816. The Federalist Party evaporated, and the political alignment of the 19th century came into shape, as the Democratic-Republicanss split into the northern-dominated Republicans and the southern-dominated Democrats.

Although usually over-blown, the minority secessionist group at the Hartford convention did help set a precedent for later secessionists. Although many in 1814 and 1815 sharply criticized the Federalists, no one yet argued against the principle of States' Rights. These arguments, first made at the Hartford Convention in 1814, would be repeated in the 1850s, ultimately leading to the Civil War.

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