Secession and Mr. Madison’s War
The War of 1812 is one that many Americans know little about. Sometimes it is seen as a continuation of the American Revolution. The basic facts are that the United States went to war against Great Britain between 1812 and 1815. The causes and reasons for the war are wide and varied and frankly a little embarrassing. Had communication between the leadership of the two countries been more expedient it possibly could have been avoided. Battles were fought, lost, and won by both sides, and in the end, it was perhaps at best a draw. However, the most interesting part of the conflict was not fought on land or on the sea. It was fought in a meeting hall in Hartford Connecticut in 1815.
The war was not popular, especially among the Federalist Party in New England. They saw it as unnecessary and called out President James Madison for being reckless, in their circles, it was even referred to as Mr. Madison’s War. Some of the New England states actively refused to take part, which made the fight against Canada a little hard. They would not allow their militia to leave their states. When it came time to move into Canada they flat-out refused. Later in the war, as the weight of the British Navy was being felt, these states suffered most. Suffered to the point where the town of Nantucket declared themselves neutral in the war.
The Federalists began calling for New England to secede from the union. They felt that the national government was no longer acting in good faith. At one point a secret envoy was even sent to London to discuss the possibility of a separate peace. The movement came to a head in a series of meetings in Hartford between December 15, 1814, and January 5, 1815. These were known as the Hartford Convention.
During the meeting, the Federalists put together a long list of grievances against the Federal government The running theme was states rights and nullification, the ability of a State to opt not to follow Federal law. Issues with the balance of power were brought up, the feeling that the Southern states were over-represented in the government thanks to the 3/5 clause of the Constitution. Economic issues were brought forward, tariffs, and trade that was unfair and unbalanced. While the idea of separating from the union was discussed, the main product of the convention was a number of proposed amendments of the Constitution. While the conversation got heated at times, cooler heads prevailed. What the delegates did not know was that the war they were protesting was actually over, the Treaty of Ghent had been signed by the two parties and was en route to Washington.
Secession as a Right
The idea of secession would not go away. In fact, up until the Civil War, the idea of secession had become part of the national conversation. Cloaked in the wording of States Rights, which was a concept that existed long before the South appropriated it as a justification for slavery, the New England states almost beat the Confederacy to the punch nearly two generations earlier.
The picture above shows the uniforms of the regular US Army soldier, in the front, and a typical militia style soldier in the rear.