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What is the Hartford Convention?

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  • Written By: Jim B.
  • Edited By: Jacob Harkins
  • Last Modified Date: 26 November 2016
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The Hartford Convention was a meeting held in Hartford, Connecticut, in the United States by delegates from several New England states in December of 1814 and January of 1815. It was in protest of the War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain. Upset by trade restrictions that hurt the economy in the region, Federalist Party politicians in New England used the Convention to challenge what they perceived as the federal government's favoritism toward the South and the overall decline in states' rights.

Members of the Hartford Convention agreed on a series of amendments to the U.S. Constitution to redress these wrongs. The cause was undermined when the War of 1812 concluded at approximately the same time as the convention was taking place. In the wave of patriotism that followed the successful outcome of the war, the delegates were labeled as traitors and secessionists by the general public.

Although the Hartford Convention essentially protested the War of 1812, the problems it addressed had persisted for many years previous. The Republican Party, which ruled the United States in the early 1800s, was based primarily in the South, and the anti-British sentiment of the Republicans led to foreign trade restrictions that seriously hampered the economy of the New England states. As a result, when U.S.-British tension rose to the point that President James Madison declared war in 1812, the governor of Massachusetts refused to send his state's militia for the war cause.

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Meeting in Hartford on December 15, 1814, the convention consisted of 26 delegates representing the states of Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. The Federalist politicians that ended up in charge at the convention were of a more moderate stripe than some of the more aggressive members who attended. As such, the eventual outcome of the meeting was far less controversial than what its critics eventually charged.

In the end, the most concrete proposal of the Hartford Convention, which concluded on January 4, 1815, was that a second meeting be held the following June if the war had continued. It also offered strong denunciations of the Madison administration and proposed a set of Constitutional amendments. Among those were proposals that called for a two-thirds vote in Congress necessary to declare war or admit a new state, a limit of one presidential term, taxes apportioned according to population, and no presidents from the same state in consecutive terms. All of these proposals were in line with the group's concerns about the dominance of the South and the possible expansion of that dominance into new regions of the country to the detriment of New England.

Unfortunately for the delegates at the convention, all of this coincided with President Madison signing the Treaty of Ghent to end the war in December and Andrew Jackson's leading the United States to a magnificent victory in the Battle Of Orleans in January. Their concerns were rendered meaningless in the wake of the triumph, and the Federalists were branded as secessionists by the public, even though no secession was ever formally proposed at the convention. The resulting disgrace effectively ended the Federalist Party in the United States.

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