Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Two Views of the Hartford Convention

Would New England leap back into the arms of George III?

Thomas J. DiLorenzo (TJD) is a "lost cause" apologist who accuses Lincoln of being an unprincipled centralizing tyrant in his book, The Real Lincoln http:/  He brings up the Hartford Convention which took place during the War of 1812* to justify the principle of secession from the Union that would later be used by the Confederacy. (See earlier post War of 1812, April 1 2012) Here is what TJD has to say...

"The War of 1812 also outraged the New Englanders and added more fuel to the secessionist fire.  they feared that another war with England would annihilate their commerce and also feared being taxed into poverty.  Massachusetts refused to send troops to the war, effectively seceding from the Union temporarily.  On August 24, 1813, the British captured Washington D.C. and New England was in rebellion.  the governor of Massachusetts announced that the federal government had failed to live up to the terms of the Constitution.  The state legislature agreed and issued a decree that the Constitution 'must be supplanted."

Ron Paul's favorite historian
In December 1814 the New England Federalists held a secession convention in Hartford, Connecticut, which was attended by politicians who were not quite so radical as the rank-and-file Federalists.  these men feared that voting for secession would ruin any possibility they would have for a career in federal politics in the event that they didn't muster sufficient votes to actually secede, and so most of them voted against secession.  The convention did call for an elimination of the three-fifths clause, a two thirds vote from both houses to admit any new states, a sixty day limit on trade embargoes, and a two thirds vote requirement in Congress before any embargoes could be enacted.  Pickering complained bitterly that the convention had been captured by 'political careerists,' but to no avail.  Pickering and Governor Strong of Massachusetts nevertheless predicted that the Union would not last.  When the war ended, so did the Federalist Party's efforts to have New England secede from the Union.

Throughout this whole ordeal no one ever made a principled argument against a state's right of secession.  It was assumed by everyone that, as Pickering said, secession was the principle of the American Revolution, and there would nothing so un-American as opposing the right of secession."

Here, is what historian George C. Daughan (GCD) has to say about the Hartford Convention...

"New England Federalists were particularly upset that Madison planned to continue the war indefinitely.  Grievances they had all felt during the war came to head in the fall of 1814, when the British occupied northern Maine, tightened their blockade along the coast, burned Washington, and raided coastal towns with impunity.  The Federalists were furious that while Madison had concentrated on invading Canada, he had left the coasts exposed and vulnerable.  Instead of squandering money on invading Canada, they thought Madison should have spent it defending the coast and strengthening the navy.  And Madison's embargoes, they contended, had annihilated the source of New England's prosperity, her commerce.  The Federalists felt they were paying for a war they despised and that was bringing unnecessary ruin on them without any support from Washington.  Extreme Federalists like Timothy Pickering wanted to secede and make a separate peace.  Governor Strong of Massachusetts had gone so far as to send a representative to Nova Scotia to explore the possibility with Sir John Sherbrooke.

GCD is Harvard prof., USAF vet.

Pickering and Strong were in the minority, however.  Most new England Federalists did not want to go so far as seceding from the Union, but they were unhappy enough to call, as they had in the past for a convention of the New England states to articulate their grievances...Some thought they might call for secession, others that they would simply talk and issue a meaningless statement.  Speculation was rife.  Madison and Secretary of War Monroe took the threat from the secessionists seriously, and they kept a close eye on developments...

To counteract the extreme Federalists, Massachusetts Republicans (Madison's party), led by former Secretary of War, William Eustis, met in Boston on October 19 to condemn British aggression and the Hartford Convention.  Eustis called for unity.  He pointed out that any move to separate states from the Union would 'inevitably' result in a civil war.  He made it plain that there would be no separation of
New England, or any part of it, from the United States that would not result in a bloody fight, in which the federal government would intervene on the side of the Republicans.  The calls for New England independence, thus, were calls for civil war (Commander Kelly's bold)...

The Hartford Convention convened on December 15.  Tweny six delegates attended...On January 6 the convention issued a report for the public.  It announced that the delegates were commissioned to devise means for the defenseagaisnt dangers and to obtain relief from 'oppressions proceeding from acts of their own government, without violating constitutional principles or disappointing the hopes of a suffering and injured people.'

Theodore Dwight (secretary of the Convention from Connecticut) wrote many years later that 'the expectation of those who apprehended the report would contain sentiments of a seditious, if not a treasonable character were entirely disappointed...equally free was it from advancing doctrines which had tendency to destroy the union of the states.  On the contrary, it breathed and ardent attachment to the integrity of the republic.  Its temper was mild, its tone moderate, and its sentiments were liberal and patriotic.'

Looking at the report, it was hard to disagree with Dwight.  Defense matters had occupied most of the convention's time.  The report stressed that state militias could only be called into national service to execute laws, suppress insurrection or repel foreign invasion, not to invade another country.  In fact, the report contended that the whole notion of offensive war was unconstitutional."  George C. Daughan, 1812: the Navy's War, 2011. http:/

Commander Kelly weighs in.  Whose account of the Hartford Convention do you find more balanced and persuasive, TJD's or GCD's?

In the fall of 1814, America appeared to be losing the War of 1812.  Madison's Republican party was essentially Francophile and Anglophobic.  Madison had committed the US to an unpopular war that his congressional allies did not actually want to pay for.  The American invasions of Canada were led by incompetents.  Napoleon, America's de facto ally, had been vanquished after his disastrous invasion of Russia and sent into exile on Elba.  The Royal navy had command of the seas and Wellington's veteran armies from the Peninsular campaign were being dispatched to North America to teach those Yankee upstarts a lesson.

The war was tremendously unpopular in Federalist-dominated New England.  Governor Caleb Strong of  Massachusetts flirted with treason in attempting to negotiate a separate peace with the British.  Can you imagine the Governor of Vermont, for example, attempting to negotiate a separate peace with the Taliban today?

Secretary of War, William Eustis, who TJD fails to mention entirely,  got it right.  Notwithstanding TJD, he quite clearly did make a principled argument against a state's right to secede from the Union.  The calls for New England independence by extremists such as Pickering and Strong were calls for civil war.  Unfortunately, the sons of the South did not heed his prophetic call nearly fifty years later.

The treaty of Ghent ended the War of 1812 and the victory at the battle of new Orleans helped to end it on a more positive note for the American side.  The recommendations of the Hartford convention were summarily dismissed by president Madison and congress.  The Hartford Convention marked the demise of Federalist party credibility in the United States.

*  The War of 1812 is particularly tricky for TJD to deal with honestly as it shatters his template of the Libertarian alternate universe beloved of Ron Paul and other neo-Confederates.  TJD claims to be a Libertarian who admires Jeffersonian democracy and despises Hamilton and his centralizing and "imperialistic" tendencies.  Yet it was Madison, Jefferson's protege, who started the War of 1812.  It was Madison who planned and attempted to invade Canada in an imperialistic bid for American expansion that had Thomas Jefferson's full blessing.  Madison did receive a formal declaration of war from Congress, but that did not prevent the war from becoming very unpopular in New England.

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first book, America Invades or on

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