A Short Account of the Hartford Convention, Taken from Official Documents, and Addressed to the Fair Minded and the Well Disposed.


Transcription of Primary Source


            Mr. Otis was a member of the Hartford Convention. This is the text, paraphrase and commentary, in all its forms and readings, of all the reproaches, imputation, misstatements, and misrepresentations, now proclaimed and promulgated against the federal candidate for Governor….And it is obvious that the same objection would also be uttered against any other candidate, who was a member of the Legislature, which called the Convention, or any distinguished individual who had approved of its measures. To all persons of sense and information, who were grown up to manhood at the time of the Convention, the unfounded and unceasing accusations thrown broad-cast upon the members of that body, and renewed at every election during eight years, have now become insipid and worthless, and are utterly worn to the thread. All such persons well and truly know, that whatever took place at that time, was done not only in the face of the broadest day, but in the face of the political adversary; that it was proclaimed and spread far and wide by records, pamphlets and newspapers; that there never was, and never could have been, either silence or mystery or secrecy, and above all, that the proceedings of the Convention itself do not contain a sentiment or an opinion, but what in other time and from the lips of other men, would be called patriotic and public spirited. Still, a generation has grown up into active and useful life since that period, and as the declaimers and writers against the Convention have never thought proper to publish in their papers the transactions of that body, it is now believed that a brief history of it, accompanied by some notices of its members, would not be ill received by those, who either have not leisure or documents, or inclination to study its proceedings in great detail or at much length.

            In the summer of 1814, the war, which before had not approached nearer than the great northern lakes, at length fell unexpectedly and in an alarming manner upon the borders of Massachusetts. The English in considerable force captured…a small town at the mouth of the Penobscot, and in a short time had the absolute control of all that part of Maine….Intelligence was shortly received by express at Head Quarters in Boston, that the enemy was preparing to execute without delay a more extensive invasion, and it therefore became necessary to take measures of immediate and vigorous defense. Under these distressing and disastrous circumstances, CALEB STRONG, at that time Governor of the Commonwealth, resolved to assemble the members of the Legislature. The General Court accordingly met on the 5th day of October of the same year; and His Excellency commenced his Message, which subsequent events have made more important than any other Message that has been delivered in this country since the Independence, in the following words:- “Since your last adjournment such important changes have taken place in the state of our public affairs, and the war in which we have been unhappily involved has assumed an aspect so threatening and destructive, that the Council  unanimously concurred with me in opinion that an extraordinary meeting of the Legislature was indispensable.” We shall shortly see that a majority of the House of Representatives, without example since the existence of the State Government, entirely coincided in the opinions expressed by the Governor. Two days after the session began, on the 7th of October, a resolution approving of the Governor’s conduct as it related to the defence of the state, passed the House by a vote of 222 to 59. On the 13th of October another resolution, authorizing the Governor to raise ten thousand men for the defence of the State, passed the House by a vote of 252 to 71. And on the 16th of October the celebrated fifth resolution, authorizing the calling of a Convention at Hartford, passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 260 yeas to 90 nays. The resolution is in the words following:-

            “Resolved, That twelve persons be appointed as delegates from this Commonwealth to meet and confer with delegates from the other New England States, or any other, upon the subject of their public grievances and concerns; and upon the best means of preserving our resources; and of defence against the enemy; and to devise and suggest for adoption by those respective States such measures as they may deem expedient; and also to take measures, if they shall think it proper, for procuring a convention of delegates from all the United States, in order to revise the Constitution thereof, and more effectually to secure the support and attachment of all the people, by placing all upon the basis of fair representation.”

            On the 18th of October, the delegates from Massachusetts were chosen in a convention of the two Houses.

            These votes are recorded, and as we are not disposed to allow the democratic papers to call the proceedings of the people of this State at that time the work of sorry factions, cabals, and intrigues, we shall give the votes of the countries of Massachusetts Proper in detail as they appear upon the Journals of the House….

            We have taken the votes of the House of Representatives as expressing more emphatically the voice of the people, and it appears that three quarters of all citizens of this Commonwealth were, in 1814, in favour of the Hartford Convention. Shall we now be told that these citizens were tainted, corrupted, and held in bondage by plots, bribery, and prejudice? And does any man in the State believe, or will any man of any party now say, that half a dozen individuals led blindfold and muzzled for three years three quarters of the virtuous, intelligent, and independent people of Massachusetts? Nay, have continued, notwithstanding countless charges and accusations, any one of which would have amounted to a gross desertion and sacrifice of the welfare and interests of the State and Union, still to lead blindfold and muzzled this deluded people- eight years, fellow citizens, of bondage and servitude! Mark, reader, the result. These weak and degenerate men, gave for this Caleb Strong, in the year 1815, the first year after the Hartford Convention, they gave him, we say, 50,921 votes, and the candidate of the other party, the honorable Samuel Dexter, 43,938 votes, as great a relative majority as he had received the year before; and since the year 1816 they have continued to give John Brooks, “the rebel general,” a majority equally great in relative numbers. For eight years the people of this State have each and every year confirmed, affirmed, and ratified the proceedings of the Hartford Convention. For eight years they have each and every year chosen for their rulers the authors and supporters of those measures; and where is the man that will now stand out before the citizens, and say that the independent electors of Massachusetts have given their votes to the whole of that time for rebels and traitors.

            Here finish the public proceedings of Massachusetts as it regards her own domestic policy concerning the origin of the Hartford Convention. But Massachusetts manifested no desire either to conceal the transactions of her own government from the scrutiny of the whole nation, or to withhold from the States of the Union a cooperation in her own measures. The sense of her citizens was at that time well known, and in relation to the Hartford Convention, she adopted without delay that course of conduct, of which an eminent example had been given less than half a century before, and which, in this juncture of affairs, was especially desirable and judicious, from the vast magnitude of the subject and occasion. The two officers, who presided over her Senate and House of Representatives, were therefore directed to make known, as speedily as possible, to the different governments of the union, the proceedings of the government of his Commonwealth. We here insert at large the letter which was written on this occasion.


Boston, October 17, 1814.

            Sir- Your excellency will herewith receive certain resolutions of the Legislature of Massachusetts, which you are respectfully requested to take the earliest occasion to lay before the Legislature of your State, together with this letter, which is intended as an invitation to them, to appoint delegates, if they shall deem it expedient, to meet such others as may be appointed by this and other States, at the time and place expressed in these resolutions.

            The general objects of the proposed conference, are, first, to deliberate upon the dangers to which the eastern section of the Union is exposed by the course of war, and which there is too much reason to believe will thicken round them in its progress, and to devise, if practicable, means of security and defence which may be consistent with the preservation of their resources from total ruin, and adapted to their local situation, mutual relations and habits, AND NOT REPUGNANT TO THEIR OBLIGATIONS AS MEMBERS OF THE UNION. When convened for this object, which admits not of delay, it seems also expedient to submit to their consideration, the inquiry, whether the interests of these States demand that preserving endeavors be used by each of them to procure such amendments, to be effected in  the national constitution, as may secure to them equal advantage, and whether, if in their judgment this should be deemed impracticable, under the existing provisions for amending that instrument, an experiment may be made without disadvantage to the nation, for obtaining a Convention from all the States in the Union, or such of them as approve of the measure, with a view to obtain such amendment.

            It cannot be necessary to anticipate objections to the measure which may arise from jealousy or fear. This Legislature is content, for its justification, to repose on the purity of its own motives, and upon the known attachment of its constituents to the national union, and to the rights and independence of their country.

            We have the honor to be, with the highest respect, your Excellency’s humble servants,

                                                  JOHN PHILLIPS, President of the Senate of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
                                                  TIMOTHY BIGELOW, Speaker of the House of Representatives of said Commonwealth.


            This letter is important, not only for the proper continuation and understanding of our history, but it plainly proves that the same party which recorded its yeas in favor of the Union and the Constitution, in February, 1788, had diminished nothing of its respect and attachment, in October, 1814.

            The delegates, to the number of twenty, from the States of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and from parts of New Hampshire, and Vermont, assembled at Hartford, in December, 1814, and on the 4th of January, 1815, published a long report; stating with great ability the opinions of the Convention, in relation to the construction of the Constitution….

            The Report concluded by recommending two Resolutions, urging the State Governments to solicit the consent of the United States to an arrangement, whereby the defence of the territory should be placed in the hands of the States. This was the substance of the resolutions, and it was also the substance of a law, incredible, and unlooked for, as it certainly was, which was enacted by the national government on the 27th day of January, 1815. We shall quote part of the first section, as we profess to deal in facts in this history. “Be it enacted, &c. That the President of the United States be, and he is hereby authorized and required to receive into the service of the United States, any corps of troops, which may have been, or may be raised, organized, and officered under the authority of any of the States…which corps, when received into the service of the United States, shall be subject to the rules and articles of war, and be employed in the State raising the same, or in an adjoining State, and not elsewhere, except with the assent of the Executive of the State so raising the same.” Laws of the U.S. vol. 4, p.778.

            Now, we declare, and we appeal most solemnly to every honest man, who lived in those disastrous days, if the whole bone, and muscle, and marrow of the controversy, was not touching the exact and precise point which this law absolutely and entirely settled. We ask again, whether there would have been a Hartford Convention, if this law had been passed in January, 1814, instead of January, 1815….

            The Hartford Convention further recommended, that the States should propose seven amendments to the Constitution, for adoption by the State Legislatures. These amendments are all printed in the report, and when any democrat in Massachusetts, or Virginia, will declare that Samuel Adams, or Patrick Henry, was not in favor of similar alterations in the Constitution, and did not vindicate them at all hours of the day, we, in our turn, will admit that the amendments of the Hartford Convention are overflowing with sedition, disunion, and treachery….

            The Governor…appointed three gentlemen to go to Washington without delay – whose commission is the words following: -

…"Whereas by a resolve of the Legislature of this Commonwealth, of the twenty-seventh day of this present month, the Governor, with the advice of Council, is authorized and empowered to appoint three Commissioners to proceed immediately to the seat of the National Government, and in pursuance of such instructions as His Excellency the Governor, and the Honourable Council, may think proper to give them, to make earnest and respectful application to the Government of the United States, requesting their consent to some arrangement, whereby the State of Massachusetts, separately, or in concert with neighbouring States, may be enabled to assume the defence of their territories against the enemy; and that to this end, 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 to the said States, and to the future defence of the same….

            “Now, therefore, by virture of the Resolve aforesaid, and the power and authority thereby vested in me, I, Caleb Strong, Governor of the said Commonwealth of Massachusetts, confiding in the ability, integrity, and patriotism, of the Honourable Harrison G. Otis, Thomas H. Perkins, and William Sullivan, Esquires…have nominated, and with the advice and consent of the Council, do appoint you the aforenamed…to be Commissioners for the purposes aforesaid….And in your endeavours to effect this object, you will also consult with, and solicit the assistance and cooperation of the Senators and Representatives of this Commonwealth, in the Congress of the United States….”

            These gentlemen arrived in Washington one day after the news of peace had reached that city. That circumstance was in itself the most successful accomplishment of their mission, but, that the Government was not only disposed but prepared to comply with every proposition, contained in the commission, we have already furnished abundant proofs in this brief history….

            Such is a short history of the Hartford Convention. How unjust, how unreasonable, how absurd, to impute to an assembly thus constituted, any secret or sinister design….

            Now, with the utmost earnestness and sincerity, we ask any candid, honest man, if he believes in his conscience, that these…persons…were capable of plotting a conspiracy against the national government – of exciting to a civil war – of leading to a dissolution of the Union – of submitting to an allegiance to George the Third? We ask again, if these very identical persons are not precisely such men as the people and the public, upon all occasions, do honourably and confidently trust and employ? And for the last time, we ask the candid and honest men of this State, if the people and the public have not from year to year given proof and evidence not to be denied or refuted, that they utterly and totally disregard the numberless misrepresentations and misstatements which violent men have labored for eight years to cast upon the conduct and characters of these virtuous, upright, enlightened, and patriotic individuals?

Curator Notes

Exact Title: 
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 the Body.
Theodore Lyman
Place of Publication: 
Boston, Massachusetts
American Antiquarian Society