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Hartford Convention
Hartford Convention (1814)

Peace negotiations - The Hartford Convention

President Madison officially accepted the British offer of direct peace negotiations in January 1814. He sent two more members to join the peace delegation, Henry Clay and Jonathan Russell, who arrived mid-April, after a harrowing sea voyage. The spring of 1814 also brought the abdication of Napoleon which marked a pause, if not the end, of what had seemed an interminable war on the Continent. The end of hostilities in Europe was a key development that pushed forward peace negotiations. On the American side, leaders quite rightly saw that the North American war would soon have the full attention of Great Britain. The British side, on the other had, suffered from fatigue and financial instability wrought by many years at war.

By mid-summer the U.S. dropped its opposition to British impressment. The practice was already on the wane, and peace between Britain and France promised further diminishment of impressment. The five member U.S. delegation met with British representatives starting on August 8. The British negotiators were Admiral Lord Gambier, Henry Goulburn, and William Adams, who worked in close contact with Secretary of War and the Colonies Lord Bathurst who coordinated the talks with Prime Minster Lord Liverpool and the diplomatic leaders handling the post-war settlements in Europe.

Once the impressment issue was off the table, negotiations revolved around territory. The U.S. advocated a return to pre-war territorial divisions while Britain sought territorial concessions in the north and a buffer state set aside for Native Americans in the Old Northwest. By the time a treaty was signed, on December 24, the two sides agreed to a return to pre-war boundaries and the buffer state was watered down to a toothless article governing the fair treatment of Indians, which the United States subsequently ignored.

Even as the peace treaty was being finalized, American opponents to the war met to discuss their grievances and propose political remedies to prevent future wars. The gathering brought Federalist representatives drawn from the legislatures of five states to Hartford, Connecticut, to meet in secret session. The Hartford Convention’s final report endorsed checks on presidential power and the power of the southern states, but the meeting was characterized by Democratic opponents as a seditious gathering designed to craft a plan for the secession of the New England states. The secessionist interpretation stuck, and the Hartford Convention signaled the beginning of the demise of the Federalist party.