Hartford Convention


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Hartford Capitol BuildingHartford Conventions. Two noteworthy conventions have been held in Hartford, Connecticut. The first was on Oct. 20, 1779, when the alarming depreciation of the Continental paper money was producing great anxiety throughout the colonies. There were delegates from five of the Eastern States. They proposed a new regulation of prices, on the basis of $20 in paper for $1 in coin; and they advised a general convention at Philadelphia at the beginning of 1780, to adopt a scheme for all the colonies. Congress approved the suggestion of the convention, but urged the States to adopt the regulation at once, without waiting for a general convention. The second, politically known as " the Hartford Convention," was convened on Dec. 15, 1814. Because the Massachusetts militia had not been placed under General Dearborn's orders, the Secretary of State, in an official letter to Governor Strong, refused to pay the expenses of defending Massachusetts from the common foe. Similar action, for similar cause, had occurred in the case of Connecticut, and a clamor was instantly raised that New England was abandoned to the enemy by the national government. A joint committee of the legislature of Massachusetts made a report on the state of public affairs, which contained a covert threat of independent action on the part of the people of that section, saying that, in the position in which that State stood, no choice was left it but submission to the British, which was not to be thought of, and the appropriation for her own defence of those revenues derived from the people which the national government had hitherto thought proper to expend elsewhere. The report recommended a convention of delegates from sympathizing States to consider the propriety of adopting " some mode of defense suited to the circumstances and exigencies of those States," and to consult upon a radical reform in the national Constitution. The administration minority denounced this movement as a preparation for a dissolution of the Union. The report was adopted by a large majority, and the legislature addressed a circular letter to the governors of the other New England States, inviting the appointment of delegates to meet iii convention at an early day, to deliberate upon " means of security and defense " against dangers to which those States were subjected by the course of the war. They also proposed the consideration of some amendments to the Constitution on the subject of slave representation. The proposition was acceded to. Hartford was the place, and Thursday, Dec. 15, 1814, the time, designated for the assembling of the convention. On that day twenty-six delegates, representing Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Vermont, assembled and organized by the appointment of George Cabot, of Boston, as president of the body, and Theodore Dwight as secretary.

Delegates to the Hartford Convention:

George Cabot, the president of the convention, was a descendant of one of the discoverers of the American continent of that name. He was a warm Whig during the Revolutionary struggle, and soon after the adoption of the national Constitution was chosen a Senator in Congress by the legislature of Massachusetts. He was a purehearted, lofty-minded citizen, a sound statesman, and a man beloved by all who knew him.

Nathan Dane was a lawyer of eminence, and was also a Whig in the days of the Revolution. He was a representative of Massachusetts in Congress during the Con-federation, and was specially noticed for his services in procuring the insertion of a provision in the famous ordinance of 1787 establishing territorial governments over the territories northwest of the Ohio which forever excluded slavery from those regions. He was universally esteemed for his wisdom and integrity.

William Prescott was a son of the distinguished Colonel Prescott, of the Revolution, who was conspicuous in the battle of Bunker Hill. He was an able lawyer, first in Salem, and then in Boston. He served with distinction in both branches of the Massachusetts legislature.

Harrison Gray Otis was a native of Boston, and member of the family of that name distinguished in the Revolution. He was a lawyer by profession, and served the public in the Massachusetts legislature and in the national Congress. He was an eloquent speaker, and as a public man, as well as a private citizen, he was very popular.

Timothy Bigelow was a lawyer, and for several years speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Joshua Thomas was judge of probate in Plymouth county, Massachusetts, and was a man of unblemished reputation in public and private life.

Joseph Lyman was a lawyer, and for several years held the office of sheriff of his county.

George Bliss was an eminent lawyer, distinguished for his learning, industry, and integrity. He was several times a member of the Massachusetts legislature.

Daniel Waldo was a resident of Worcester, where he established himself in early life as a merchant. He was a State Senator, but would seldom consent to an election to office.
Samuel Sumner Wilde was a lawyer, and was raised to a seat on the bench of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts.

Hodijah Baylies was an officer in the Continental army, in which he served efficiently. He was for many years judge of probate in his county, and was distinguished for sound understanding, fine talents, and unimpeachable integrity.

Stephen Longfellow, Jr., was a lawyer of eminence in Portland, Me., where he stood at the head of his profession. He was a Representative in Congress.

Chauncey Goodrich was an eminent lawyer, and for many years a member of the legislature of Connecticut, in each of its branches. He was also a member of each House of Congress, and lieutenant-governor of Connecticut. His reputation was very exalted as a pure statesman and useful citizen.

John Treadwell was in public stations in Connecticut a greater part of his life, where he was a member of each legislative branch of the government, a long time a judge of the court of common pleas, and both lieutenant-governor and governor of the State. He was a Whig in the Revolution, and a politician of the Washington school.

James Hillhouse was a man of eminent ability, and widely known. He was a lawyer of celebrity, served as a member of the legislature of Connecticut, and was for more than twenty years either a Senator or Representative in Congress. He fought bravely for his country in the Revolutionary War, and was always active, energetic, and public-spirited.
Zephaniah Swift was a distinguished lawyer. He served as speaker of the Connecticut Assembly, and was a member of Congress, a judge, and, for a number of years, chief-justice of the Supreme Court of Connecticut.

Nathaniel Smith was an extraordinary man. He was a lawyer by profession, and for many years was considered as one of the most distinguished members of his profession in Connecticut. He was a member of Congress, and a judge of the Supreme Court of Connecticut. His whole life was marked by purity of morals and love of country.

Calvin Goddard was a native of Massachusetts, but studied and practiced law in Connecticut, and became a distinguished citizen of that State. He rose to great eminence in his profession, and was in Congress four years. He was repeatedly elected a member of the General Assembly, and was appointed a judge of the Supreme Court of Connecticut.

Roger Minot Sherman was another distinguished lawyer of Connecticut, and was for a long time connected with the government of that State. He was a man of the highest reputation as possessor of the qualities of a good citizen.

Daniel Lyman was a soldier of the Revolution, and rose to the rank of major in the Continental army. After the peace he settled as a lawyer in Rhode Island, where he became distinguished for talents and integrity. He was chief - justice of the Supreme Court of that State.

Samuel Ward was a son of Governor Ward, of Rhode Island, and at the age of eighteen years was a captain in the Continental army. He was with Arnold in his expedition to Quebec, in 1775. At that city he was made a prisoner. Before the close of the war he rose to the rank of colonel. He was elected a member of the convention held at Annapolis, Maryland, in 1786, which was the inception of the convention that framed the national Constitution.

Benjamin Hazard was a native of Rhode Island, and a lawyer, in which profession he was eminent. He served for many years in the legislature of his State.

Edward Manton was a native of Rhode Island, and rarely mingled in the political discussions of his day. He was a man of sterling worth in every relation in life.

Benjamin West was a native of New Hampshire, and a lawyer by profession, in which he had a good reputation.

Mills Olcott was a native of New Hampshire, and a son of Chief-Justice Olcott, of that State. He was a lawyer by profession.

William Hall, Jr., was a native of Vermont. His business was that of a merchant, and he was frequently a member of the State legislature. He was universally esteemed and respected by all good men.

The Conference Alarms the Government

The sessions of the convention, held with closed doors, continued three weeks. Much alarm had been created at the seat of the United States government by the convention, especially because the Massachusetts legislature, at about that time, appropriated $1,000,000 towards the support of 10,000 men to relieve the militia in service, and to be, like the militia, under the State's control. All sorts of wild rumors, suggesting treason, were set afloat, and the government sent Major Thomas S. Jesup with a regiment of soldiers to Hartford at the time of the opening of the convention, ostensibly to recruit for the regular army, but really to watch the movements of the supposed unpatriotic conclave. The convention, at the outset, proposed to consider the powers of the national executive in calling out the militia; the dividing of the United States into military districts, with an officer of the army in each, with discretionary power to call out the militia; the refusal of the executive to pay the militia of certain States, called on for their own defense, on the ground that they had not been put under the control of the national commander over the military district; and the failure of the government to pay the militia admitted to have been in the United States service; the proposition for a conscription; a bill before Congress for classifying and drafting the militia; the expenditure of the revenue of the nation in offensive operations on neighboring provinces; and the failure of the United States government to provide for the common defense, and the consequent necessity of separate States defending themselves. A committee, appointed December 20, reported a " general project of such measures " as might be proper for the convention to adopt; and on the 24th it was agreed that it would be expedient for it to prepare a general statement of the unconstitutional attempts of the executive government of the United States to infringe upon the rights of the individual States in regard to the military, etc., and to recommend to the legislatures of the States the adoption of the most effectual and decisive measures to protect the militia and the States from the usurpations contained in those proceedings. Also to prepare a statement concerning the general subject of State defenses, and a recommendation that an application be made to the national government for an arrangement with the States by which they would be allowed to retain a portion of the taxes levied by Congress, to be devoted to the expenses of self-defense, etc. They also proposed amendments to the Constitution to accomplish the restriction of the powers of Congress to declare and make war, admit new States into the Union, lay embargoes, limit the Presidency to one term, and alterations concerning slave representation and taxation.

The convention adopted a report and resolutions in accordance with the sentiments indicated by the scope of the deliberations. These were signed by all the delegates present, and ordered to be laid before the legislatures of the respective States represented in the convention. The report and resolutions were moderate but firm, able in construction, and forcible though heretical in argument and conclusion. The labors of the Hartford Convention ended on January 4, 1815, and after prayer on the morning of the 5th that body adjourned, but with the impression on the part of some of the members that circumstances might require them to reassemble. For that reason the seal of secrecy on their proceedings was not removed. This gave wide scope for conjecture, suspicion, and misrepresentation, some declaring that the proceedings were patriotic, and others that they were treasonable in the extreme. Their report was immediately published throughout the country. It disappointed radical Federalists and suspicious Democrats; yet, because the members of the convention belonged to the party to which the peace faction adhered, they incurred much odium, and for many years the term " Hartford Convention Federalists " conveyed much reproach.

At the next election in Massachusetts the Administration, or Democratic, party issued a handbill with an engraving indicative of the character of the opposing parties - the Federal party was represented by the devil, crowned, holding a flaming torch, and pointing to British coin on the ground ; the Democratic party by a comely young woman representing Liberty, with an eagle beside her, holding in one hand the Phrygian bonnet on a staff, and in the other a palm-leaf. The cut on preceding page is a copy of the engraving on a reduced scale.



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