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A Shadow of Secession? The Hartford Convention, 1814

A separatist assembly of Federalist New England at the height of war-weariness provided precedence and philosophy for future defiance of the Union.

The summer of 1814 was the American nation's worst time since the winter of 1778, when independence hung in the balance. Its second war with Great Britain was two years old; and after two years of military reverses, relieved only by the exploits of American seamen, the United States was verging on bankruptcy and defeat. Britain, having put Napoleon to rout, had begun to concentrate her superior forces in North America. By June, the Royal Navy held the entire east coast under blockade. A month later, Eastport and Moose Island, Maine, fell to invading forces. In August, the British reached Washington, burned the White House and Capitol, and sent President James Madison and the government fleeing in humiliation over the countryside. Early September brought news that Sir George Prevost had invaded New York at Lake Champlain and that Maine as far south as the Penobscot River had fallen under enemy control. The War of 1812, a war declared by the United States, seemed to be ending in disaster. And the possible consequences were not too far to seek: a permanent loss of territory, a forced dismemberment of the Union, worst of all the reimposition of British rule.

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