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Secret Journal of the Hartford Convention

Nathan Dane’s Role in the Hartford Convention of 1814-1815

By Ethan Norton
Submitted to Mr. Eastman
Department of History
Beverly, Massachusetts
23 January 2002

The Hartford Convention of 1814-1815 was a final attempt by the Federalists of New England to keep themselves a prominent political party in the early days of the United States.  Turmoil had been brewing in the Federalist Party since 1807, when the Embargo Act, which demolished New England’s foreign trade and greatly hindered coastwise commerce, was passed.  Immediately after the Act was passed, the New England States began talk of calling a convention to discuss their refusal to accept the Embargo Act and maybe even secede from the Union if problems persisted.  Fortunately, for the time being, the problems were halted, the Embargo Act was replaced with the Non-Intercourse Acts, and no convention was called. At least not yet.  It was not until 1812, when the situation worsened, that discussion of a convention arose again. [1]

The Congress of 1812 was very much set on a war with Britain, something the Federalists, especially Nathan Dane, did not want.  As soon as war on Britain was declared, the Massachusetts legislature passed resolutions, which encouraged its people to fight against the war and only join the armies if it was necessary to defend their home, not to attack England.  Later that year, both Massachusetts and Connecticut refused to send their militias to the New England seacoast for defense, claiming that the President’s authority over state militias only allowed him to use the militias “to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and rebel Invasion” (Buckly, 4) and that none of these problems were present in the current situation.  Over the next month Massachusetts attempted to call a convention by appointing delegates, Nathan Dane included. However, the Federalist Party as a whole was still not ready for this move, and thus denied the movement and continued to wait. [2]

As the war continued, so did the problems.  Britain hoped to gain support from the New England states by continuing the use of New England goods’ in the West Indies and by leaving the New England states out of the British blockade of the eastern seacoast of the United States.  In an attempt to stop the New England states from indirectly contributing to the English war effort, President Madison created a new embargo bill.  This new bill cut off all of New England’s trade with the enemy.  Immediately, towns all over New England, led by Federalists like Nathan Dane, petitioned for a convention to discuss these problems and attempt to find a solution.  Again, with Congress fearing secession, the embargo was removed and an attempt to make peace with the New England states was brought about. [3]

A few months later, the government attempted to raise new war loans to pay off the debts of the war and expected the New England states to contribute significant amounts to propagate their commercial wealth.  New England did not comply.  Unfortunately, Massachusetts soon felt threatened by a British invasion and turned to the government for protection, who said there was nothing they could do. They left it up to the Massachusetts militia to fend for themselves.  This was the final straw.  By the middle of October of 1814, the Massachusetts legislature was successful in calling a convention of the New England states. [4]

It was decided that the first meeting would be held on December 15th in Hartford Connecticut.  Twenty-four delegates arrived the first day from Massachusetts (at the time, Maine was still a part of Massachusetts), Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Hampshire.  Among them were notable characters such as George Cabot, Harrison Grey Otis, Nathan Dane, Chauncey Goodrich, Roger Minot and Samuel Ward.(see document 1)  As the Convention went on, several more delegates would arrive from New Hampshire and Vermont.  During the first day of the Convention, George Cabot was elected to be president of the Convention and two committees were chosen, the first to make sure all members of the Convention were qualified to be there and the second to prepare rules and orders for the Convention.  At the end of the first day, a committee was chosen to determine what subjects would be appropriate to discuss at the Convention.(see document 4)  Nathan Dane was chosen to be on this committee along with four other members of the Convention.  The committee was in session all night. By the morning it had a complete list of all the subjects that should be discussed at the Convention.  They ranged from the President’s powers to call upon state militias, to the failure of the government to pay the state militias and even a bill proposing the drafting of the militias and dividing these new militias by social classes.(see documents 4 & 5)  This committee was extremely important to the success of the Convention because the Convention knew they had limited time and needed only to discuss the issues that were extremely important and prevalent. [5]

Over the next few days, the Convention discussed the report presented by this committee and another report presented by a committee assigned to determine what results of the Conventions’ discussions shall be adopted by the Convention.(see document 6)  On December 21st, a new committee was appointed, this time to come up with a report that explained why the Convention had adopted the ideas that it had.(see document 7)  Assigned to this committee with six other members of the Convention was Nathan Dane.  This committee worked from the 21st to the 29th, (taking only Christmas off) to create their report and presented it on December 30th.(see document 11)  Discussion of this report went on until January 3rd, with January 1st taken off to celebrate the New Year, when it was amended, voted on, and adopted.  Over the next few days, the Convention discussed the final report that would be sent to the Governors and Congress of each state represented.  The Convention met for the last time on January 5th and voted that the Hartford Convention be adjourned immediately. [6]

Nathan Dane played an extremely important role in the Hartford Convention.  The two committees he served on are arguably the two most important committees that were chosen at the Hartford Convention.  The first committee decided what would be important to discuss at the convention.  Everything that took place at the convention from there on was based on his committee’s report.  A committee was assigned to determine which of the issues in this report the convention would adopt and from there a committee was chosen to explain the convention’s reasoning behind choosing to adopt these issues.  This was the second committee Nathan Dane served on.  This committee's report was the basis for the final report, which was published and sent to Congress the day after the close of the Convention. [7]

This final report discussed the convention and attempted to “justify the claim made by Otis and the moderates that one of the objects of the convention was to turn the popular excitement and resentment into legitimate channels.”  (Buckley 18) It claimed that secession did not seem necessary at the time, but that it should not be counted out in the future if the situation does not improve and some of the Convention’s ideas are not considered.  It also spoke of the government’s military policy during the War of 1812 and how the president did have power to call upon state militias, if the circumstances allowed, but the given situation did not present the necessary problems to enact that power.  It also claimed that since there had been a strong focus on conquering Canada, New England was left defenseless and open for attack.  There was a long list of charges against the Democrats, claiming that they did everything from attempting to make it so the country was only controlled by one section of states, to an unconstitutional interference with courts, to a hatred of commerce and an attempt to ruin it by using it as an instrument of war.  The final part of their report was a list of recommended amendments which proposed that a two-thirds vote of Congress be needed to allow new states admittance to the union and for a declaration of war. It recommended that presidents cannot run for second terms and that two consecutive presidents may not be from the same state. Finally, it recommended that all embargos last no longer than sixty days. [8]

During the convention, a treaty was signed which ended the war, but word did not reach back to the union until a month after the convention ended.  With this treaty enacted, the convention was made to appear pointless and became almost a joke and a cause of ridicule for the dying Federalist Party and Nathan Dane.  Unfortunately, after this great embarrassment, the Federalist Party was unable to keep up with the changing government and soon faded out.  Nathan Dane, being such a strong man, was able to overcome this ridicule and embarrassment and stayed involved in Congress and the political world.  The Hartford Convention itself had very little affect on the United States’ government and unfortunately, the Federalists final attempt to regain strength ultimately became their downfall. [9]



Buckly, William Edward. The Hartford Convention.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 1934.

Lyman, Theodore. A short account of the Hartford Convention: taken from official documents, and addressed to the fair minded and the well disposed; To which is added an attested copy of the secret journal of that body. Boston: O. Everett, 1823.

Secret Journal of the Hartford Convention.

All documents courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical society.

[1] William Edward Buckly. The Hartford Convention.  (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1934) 2-5.

[2] Buckly, 2-5.

[3] Buckly, 5-10.

[4] Buckly, 10-14.

[5] Theodore Lyman. A short account of the Hartford Convention : taken from official documents, and addressed to the fair minded and the well disposed ; To which is added an attested copy of the secret journal of that body.  (Boston: O. Everett, 1823) 22-36.

[6] Lyman, 22-36.

[7] Lyman, 22-36.

[8] Buckly, 18-24.

[9] Buckly, 18-24.


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