The Hartford Convention — the Downfall of the Federalist Party

December 15, 1814–January 4, 1815

The Hartford Convention was held by Federalists in 1815–1815 for the purpose of discussing their grievances with the Federal Government over the War of 1812. The convention suggested a series of amendments to the Constitution, but the dawn of the Era of Good Feelings cast the Federalists in a poor light and signaled the end of their political party.

James Madison, Painting

New England Federalists held the Hartford Convention in response to the policies of President James Madison and the Democratic-Republican Party. Image Source: Wikipedia.

What was the Hartford Convention?

The Hartford Convention — also known as the New England Convention — was a series of meetings held from December 15, 1814, to January 4, 1815, in Hartford, Connecticut. 

It was a gathering of New England Federalists who were concerned over perceived abuses of power by President James Madison and the Democratic-Republican Party, particularly during the War of 1812. They also had concerns over the Louisiana Purchase and economic sanctions against France and Britain that had led to the war.

Although the idea of secession was discussed, it was ultimately rejected. Moderates led the convention, proposing amendments to the U.S. Constitution to safeguard Northern interests, including restrictions on presidential terms and altering slave representation. The recommendations of the convention were compiled into a report.

However, the report was overshadowed by news of the Treaty of Ghent and Andrew Jackson’s victory at the Battle of New Orleans (January 8, 1815). The end of the war ushered in a period of nationalism, known as the “Era of Good Feelings.” 

In the aftermath of the war, the Hartford Convention damaged the reputation of the Federalist Party enough that it started the decline of the party and contributed to the growing sectional divide that was building between the North and the South.

Battle of New Orleans, 1815, Moran, Painting, LOC
The Battle of New Orleans. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Hartford Convention Facts

1. The Hartford Convention took place from December 15, 1814, to January 4, 1815.

2. It was organized by New England Federalists in response to concerns over perceived federal government encroachments.

3. The convention was held in secret and discussions involved fears of New England’s vulnerability during the War of 1812.

4. The idea of secession from the Union was considered during the convention but ultimately rejected.

5. Prominent figures involved in the convention included George Cabot and Harrison Gray Otis, who were moderates.

6. Proposed constitutional amendments were discussed during the convention, aimed at addressing New England’s perceived grievances.

7. The War of 1812 was unpopular in New England due to economic interests and perceived disproportionate impact.

8. The Federalist Party’s reputation suffered irreparable damage as a result of the convention.

9. News of the Treaty of Ghent, ending the War of 1812, and Andrew Jackson’s victory at New Orleans overshadowed the convention’s proceedings and its recommendations.

10. The Hartford Convention’s legacy continued through the ongoing debates over nullification and secession, influencing later events in American history.

Hartford Convention Dates and Timeline

Late 1790s — The Alien and Sedition Acts are implemented by Federalists in control of the government, leading to politician and public opposition and the Democratic-Republicans issuing the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions.

John Adams, Portrait, Stuart
President John Adams, a Federalist, signed the Alien and Sedition Acts into law. Image Source: Wikipedia.

1801 — In the Election of 1800, Thomas Jefferson is elected President, and the Democratic-Republicans gain control of the federal government and implement economic policies perceived by Federalists as favoring the South’s economic interests.

1807 — The Embargo Act of 1807 causes further discontent among Federalists, who believe the federal government is overlooking New England’s interests.

June 1812 — The War of 1812 is initiated by President James Madison, leading to increased tensions between New England Federalists and the federal government.

Late 1814 — Many New England states refuse to provide militias for federal control during the war, leading to threats of conscription and enlistment of minors without parental consent.

December 15, 1814 — The Hartford Convention begins, with New England Federalists gathering to address concerns over perceived federal government encroachments and the impact of the War of 1812.

December 15, 1814–January 4, 1815 — The Hartford Convention takes place in secret, where 26 delegates discuss concerns and proposed solutions, including constitutional amendments.

January 4, 1815 — The convention concludes, with delegates approving a report criticizing President Madison’s administration and proposing amendments to address New England’s grievances.

December 24, 1814 — News of the Treaty of Ghent ending the War of 1812 reaches the convention, overshadowing its outcomes.

January 8, 1815 — News of Andrew Jackson’s victory at New Orleans further shifts public attention away from the convention.

1820s — The Federalist Party’s reputation is irreparably damaged by the perception of disloyalty and shortsightedness stemming from the Hartford Convention, leading to the party’s decline.

James Monroe, 5th President, Founding Father
James Monroe followed Madison as President, continuing the “Virginia Dynasty.” Image Source: Wikipedia.

Delegates to the Hartford Convention

There were 26 men from 5 states who attended the Hartford Convention. Massachusetts led the way with 12 delegates. George Cabot of Massachusetts served as President and Theodore Dwight, also from Massachusetts, served as Secretary.

Massachusetts

  • George Cabot
  • Harrison Gray Otis
  • Nathan Dane
  • William Prescott, Jr.
  • Timothy Bigelow
  • Joshua Thomas
  • Samuel Sumner Wilde
  • Joseph S. Lyman
  • Stephen Longfellow, Jr.
  • Daniel Waldo
  • Hodijah Baylies
  • George Bliss

New Hampshire

  • Benjamin West
  • Mills Olcott

Connecticut

  • Chauncey Goodrich
  • John Treadwell
  • James Hillhouse
  • Zephaniah Swift
  • Nathaniel Smith
  • Calvin Goddard
  • Roger Minott Sherman

Rhode Island

  • Daniel Lyman
  • Samuel Ward, Jr.
  • Edward Manton
  • Benjamin Hazard

Vermont

  • William Hall, Jr.

The Hartford Convention’s Resolutions and Proposed Amendments to the Constitution

The following text is from the report issued by the Hartford Convention and includes the resolutions and proposed amendments.

Resolutions of the Convention

Therefore resolved — That it be and hereby is recommended to the Legislatures of the several States represented in this Convention to adopt all such measures as may be necessary effectually to protect the citizens of said States from the operation and effects of all acts which have been or may be passed by the Congress of the United States, which shall contain provisions, subjecting the militia or other citizens to forcible drafts, conscriptions, or impressments, not authorized by the Constitution of the United States

Resolved — That it be and hereby is recommended to the said Legislatures, to authorize an immediate and earnest application to be made to the Government of the United States, requesting their consent to some arrangement, whereby the said States may, separately or in concert, be empowered to assume upon themselves the defense of their territory against the enemy, and a reasonable portion of the taxes, collected within said States, may be paid into the respective treasuries thereof, and appropriated to the payment of the balance due said States, and to the future defense of the same. The amount so paid into the said treasuries to be credited, and the disbursements made as aforesaid to be charged to the United States.

Resolved — That it be, and it hereby is, recommended to the Legislatures of the aforesaid States, to pass laws (where it has not already been done) authorizing the Governors or Commanders-in-Chief of their militia to make detachments from the same, or to form voluntary corps, as shall be most convenient and conformable to their Constitutions, and to cause the same to be well armed equipped and disciplined, and held in readiness for service; and upon the request of the Governor of either of the other States, to employ the whole of such detachment or corps, as well as the regular forces of the State, or such part thereof as may be required and can be spared consistently with the safety of the State, in assisting the State, making such request to repel any invasion thereof which shall be made or attempted by the public enemy.

Resolved — That the following amendments of the Constitution of the United States, be recommended to the States as aforesaid, to be proposed by them for adoption by the State Legislatures, and, in such cases as may be deemed expedient, by a Convention chosen by the people of each State.

And it is further recommended, that the said States shall persevere in their efforts to obtain such amendments, until the same shall be effected.

Constitutional Amendments Proposed by the Convention

First — Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this union, according to their respective numbers of free persons, including those bound to serve for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, and all other persons.

Second — No new State shall be admitted into the union by Congress in virtue of the power granted by the Constitution, without the concurrence of two-thirds of both Houses.

Third — Congress shall not have power to lay any embargo on the ships or vessels of the citizens of the United States, in the ports or harbors thereof, for more than sixty days.

Fourth — Congress shall not have power, without the concurrence of two-thirds of both Houses, to interdict the commercial intercourse between the United States and any foreign nation or the dependencies thereof.

Fifth — Congress shall not make or declare war, or authorize acts of hostility against any foreign nation, without the concurrence of two-thirds of both Houses, except such acts of hostility be in defense of the territories of the United States when actually invaded.

Sixth — No person who shall hereafter be naturalized, shall be eligible as a member of the Senate or House of Representatives of the United States, nor capable of holding any civil office under the authority of the United States.

Seventh — The same person shall not be elected President of the United States a second time; nor shall the President be elected from the same State two terms in succession.

The Convention’s Final Resolution

Resolved — That if the application of these States to the government of the United States, recommended in a foregoing Resolution, should be unsuccessful, and peace should not be concluded and the defense of these States should be neglected, as it has been since the commencement of the war, it will in the opinion of this Convention be expedient for the Legislatures of the several States to appoint Delegates to another Convention, to meet at Boston, in the State of Massachusetts, on the third Thursday of June next with such powers and instructions as the exigency of a crisis so momentous may require.

Treaty of Ghent, Peace Commissioners, 1814
This illustration depicts the signing of the Treaty of Ghent. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Hartford Convention APUSH Notes and Study Guide

Use the following links and videos to study the War of 1812, the Era of Good Feelings, and the Federalist Party for the AP US History Exam. Also, be sure to look at our Guide to the AP US History Exam.

Hartford Convention Definition APUSH

The Hartford Convention was a meeting of Federalist Party leaders that was held in Hartford, Connecticut in 1814. The convention was called in response to the perceived failures of the James Madison administration during the War of 1812 and the declining fortunes of the Federalist Party. The convention was characterized by a series of debates and discussions about the future of the Federalist Party and the role of the federal government in the United States. The convention was seen as a significant moment in the decline of the Federalist Party, and it is often cited as a key factor in the party’s eventual demise. As the Era of Good Feelings dawned, the party was seen as elitist and out of touch with the needs of the American people, and it struggled to adapt to the changing political landscape of the early Republic. The Federalist Party declined in the years following the Hartford Convention and eventually disappeared from the national stage.

Hartford Convention Video for APUSH Notes

This video from Heimler’s History discusses APUSH Unit 4, Topic 2, including the Hartford Convention and its impact on political parties and the Age of Jefferson.

What is a simple definition of the Hartford Convention?

The Hartford Convention, in simple terms, was a gathering of New England Federalists from December 15, 1814, to January 4, 1815. They discussed concerns over perceived federal government encroachments and the impact of the War of 1812. While some proposed secession, it was rejected. The convention produced proposed amendments to address New England’s grievances.

What was the main purpose of the Hartford Convention?

The main purpose of the Hartford Convention was to address concerns about federal government actions, especially during the War of 1812. New England Federalists worried about states’ rights and economic interests. They discussed potential secession but mainly focused on proposing constitutional amendments to protect their region’s influence and economic concerns.

How did the Hartford Convention affect the Federalists?

The Hartford Convention had significant consequences for the Federalists. It damaged their reputation as being disloyal and out of touch. The convention’s failure accelerated the decline of the Federalist Party. Despite proposing amendments and addressing grievances, the Federalists were perceived as reacting poorly to external events like the Treaty of Ghent and Andrew Jackson’s victory.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title The Hartford Convention — the Downfall of the Federalist Party
  • Date December 15, 1814–January 4, 1815
  • Author
  • Keywords Hartford Convention, Federalist Party, Democratic-Republican Party, War of 1812
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date June 13, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update January 5, 2024

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