Resolutions Adopted by the Hartford Convention

Image: Senate Chamber, restored to its 1818 appearance in the Old State House, Hartford Connecticut.,_Old_State_House,_Hartford_Connecticut.j
Consider the proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution recommended by the Hartford Convention. What were the origins and purposes of these various amendment proposals? Would adopting these amendments be beneficial for the U.S. federal system?
Compare the Hartford Convention’s recommendations for how states should respond to congressional actions taken and proposed to be taken to prosecute the War of 1812 with the Virginia General Assembly’s Resolutions of 1798 and the Massachusetts Legislature’s Resolutions on the Enforcement Act for the Embargo . In what ways do the Hartford Convention’s Resolutions reflect continuity with these prior state resolutions, and in what ways do the Hartford Convention’s Resolutions differ from prior state resolutions?

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Driven by dissatisfaction with President James Madison’s (1751–1836) prosecution of the War of 1812 and congressional acts adopted pursuant to the war, as well as a sense that the federal system was out of balance and in need of rebalancing, several New England state legislatures issued calls for a convention to discuss plans for resisting federal actions that were seen as oppressive as well as shoring up these states’ defenses against British attacks and making broader changes to the constitutional system. Pursuant to these calls, twenty-six delegates representing the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, as well as two counties in New Hampshire and one county in Vermont assembled for a convention in Hartford, Connecticut, between December 15, 1814, and January 5, 1815. On the penultimate day of the proceedings they issued their report.

The delegates to the Hartford Convention identified a number of “obnoxious measures,” and argued that it was “undeniable” that “acts of Congress in violation of the Constitution are absolutely void.” The Convention declared that states had a right and duty to protect themselves and accordingly recommended measures that states should take. The report also set out a series of broad concerns about the direction that the country had taken under the Jefferson and Madison administrations and recommended adopting several amendments to the U.S. Constitution to address these concerns. Taken together, the amendments were meant to rebalance power among the states in the federal system.

Source: Public Documents: Containing Proceedings of the Hartford Convention of Delegates ... , Published by order of the [Massachusetts] Senate, 1815, 3, 9, 12, 13, 14–15, 20–21,

The delegates from the legislatures of the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, and from the counties of Grafton and Cheshire in the state of New Hampshire and the county of Windham in the state of Vermont, assembled in convention, beg leave to report the following result of their conference.

The Convention is deeply impressed with a sense of the arduous nature of the commission which they were appointed to execute of devising the means of defense against dangers, and of relief from oppressions proceeding from the act of their own government, without violating constitutional principles, or disappointing the hopes of a suffering and injured people. To prescribe patience and firmness to those who are already exhausted by distress, is sometimes to drive them to despair, and the progress toward reform by the regular road is irksome to those whose imaginations discern, and whose feelings prompt, to a shorter course. But when abuses reduced to system and accumulated through a course of years have pervaded every department of government, and spread corruption through every region of the state; when these are clothed with the forms of law, and enforced by an executive whose will is their source, no summary means of relief can be applied without recourse to direct and open resistance....

That acts of Congress in violation of the Constitution are absolutely void is an undeniable position. It does not, however, consist with the respect and forbearance due from a confederate state toward the general government, to fly to open resistance upon every infraction of the Constitution. The mode and the energy of the opposition should always conform to the nature of the violation, the intention of its authors, the extent of the injury inflicted, the determination manifested to persist in it, and the danger of delay. But in cases of deliberate, dangerous, and palpable infractions of the Constitution, affecting the sovereignty of a state and liberties of the people; it is not only the right but the duty of such a state to interpose its authority for their protection, in the manner best calculated to secure that end. When emergencies occur, which are either beyond the reach of the judicial tribunals or too pressing to admit of the delay incident to their forms, states, which have no common umpire, must be their own judges, and execute their own decisions. It will thus be proper for the several states to await the ultimate disposal of the obnoxious measures, recommended by the secretary of war, or pending before Congress, and so to use their power according to the character these measures shall finally assume, as effectually to protect their own sovereignty, and the rights and liberties of their citizens....

The last inquiry, what course of conduct ought to be adopted by the aggrieved states, is in a high degree momentous. When a great and brave people shall feel themselves deserted by their government, and reduced to the necessity either of submission to a foreign enemy, or of appropriating to their own use those means of defense which are indispensable to self-preservation, they cannot consent to wait passive spectators of approaching ruin, which it is in their power to avert, and to resign the last remnant of their industrious earnings, to be dissipated in support of measures destructive of the best interests of the nation.

This Convention will not trust themselves to express their conviction of the catastrophe to which such a state of things inevitably tends. Conscious of their high responsibility to God and their country, solicitous for the continuance of the Union, as well as the sovereignty of the states, unwilling to furnish obstacles to peace—resolute never to submit to a foreign enemy, and confiding in the Divine care and protection, they will, until the last hope shall be extinguished, endeavor to avert such consequences....

But the duty incumbent on this Convention will not have been performed, without exhibiting some general view of such measures as they deem essential to secure the nation against a relapse into difficulties and dangers, should they, by the blessing of Providence, escape from their present condition without absolute ruin....

To investigate and explain the means whereby this fatal reverse has been effected would require a voluminous discussion. Nothing more can be attempted in this Report, than a general allusion to the principal outlines of the policy which has produced this vicissitude. Among these may be enumerated

First. A deliberate and extensive system for effecting a combination among certain states, by exciting local jealousies and ambition, so as to secure to popular leaders in one section of the Union, the control of public affairs in perpetual succession. To which primary object most other characteristics of the system may be reconciled.

Secondly. The political intolerance displayed and avowed, in excluding from office men of unexceptionable merit, for want of adherence to the executive creed.

Thirdly. The infraction of the judiciary authority and rights by depriving judges of their offices in violation of the Constitution.

Fourthly. The abolition of existing taxes, requisite to prepare the country for those changes to which nations are always exposed, with a view to the acquisition of popular favor.

Fifthly. The influence of patronage in the distribution of offices, which in these states has been almost invariably made among men the least entitled to such distinction, and who have sold themselves as ready instruments for distracting public opinion, and encouraging administration to hold in contempt the wishes and remonstrances of a people thus apparently divided.

Sixthly. The admission of new states into the Union, formed at pleasure in the western region, has destroyed the balance of power which existed among the original states, and deeply affected their interest.

Seventhly. The easy admission of naturalized foreigners to places of trust, honor or profit, operating as an inducement to the malcontent subjects of the old world to come to these states in quest of executive patronage, and to repay it by an abject devotion to executive measures.

Eighthly. Hostility to Great Britain, and partiality to the late government of France, adopted as coincident with popular prejudice, and subservient to the main object, party power. Connected with these must be ranked erroneous and distorted estimates of the power and resources of those nations, of the probable results of their controversies, and of our political relations to them respectively.

Lastly and principally. A visionary and superficial theory in regard to commerce, accompanied by a real hatred but a feigned regard to its interests, and a ruinous perseverance in efforts to render it an instrument of coercion and war....


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 represented 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.

First. Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within the 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.1

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.2

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....

  1. 1. This amendment would have removed the provision in the Constitution giving representation (for purposes of apportioning the House of Representatives and direct taxation) to enslaved persons through the three-fifths clause, Article I, section 2, in the Constitution as originally adopted. The three-fifths clause gave the slaveholding states more political power than they would otherwise have had if enslaved persons were not counted for purposes of representation.
  2. 2. Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, both from Virginia, and each serving two terms, held office from 1801 to 1817.
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