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Otis on the Infamous Hartford Convention:
“We Ought Not … Be Indifferent to The Effects Of An Erroneous Public Opinion On This Subject,
Upon The Present Age & Upon Posterity …”
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The presiding officer of the infamous Hartford Convention endeavors to clear the names of its Federalist creators.

HARRISON GRAY OTIS. Autograph Letter Signed, to George Bliss. Boston, October 20, 1818. 1 p. With integral address leaf.

Inventory #20023       Price: $1,250

It has occurred to me, that justice to the states represented in the late Hartford Convention, seems to require that the private journal of their proceedings, should be deposited in some place, to which access may be had…we ought not…be indifferent to the effects of an erroneous public opinion on this subject, upon the present age & upon posterity…”

Historical Background

The Hartford Convention (December 15, 1814 to January 4, 1815) was a meeting of legislators and New England Federalists, who discussed how the United States could address grievances of the northern states.  Unhappy with Jefferson’s Embargo and other continuing trade policies, The New England states refused to turn control of their militias to the national government in 1814 when threatened with invasion, and did not support loans to the federal government or conscription.  The more radical Federalists even considered a separate peace with Great Britain.  Rumors circulated outside the meeting that the delegates were planning to secede from the U.S. – a proposal raised by the extremist faction but rejected by the majority.  Instead, the convention drafted a set of proposed changes to the U.S. constitution and laws, such as prohibiting embargos longer than 60 days, and requiring a two-thirds majority in Congress to declare war.  These resolutions were rendered irrelevant by the Treaty of Ghent, signed on December 24, which ended the war.  But the rumors of the convention’s disloyalty to the U.S. harmed the reputation of the Federalist Party, which ceased to be an important political force.

Harrison Gray Otis (1765-1848), appointed by President Washington U.S. district attorney for Massachusetts (1796); elected as a Federalist to the Fifth and Sixth Congresses (1797-1801); appointed district attorney for Mass.  by President John Adams (1801-2); member and speaker of the State house of representatives 1802-1805; member State senate 1805-1813, 1814-1817, and its president 1805-1806, 1808-1811; overseer of Harvard University 1810-1823; delegate to the Hartford convention in 1814; judge of the court of common pleas 1814-1818; elected as a Federalist to the U. S. Senate (1817-1822), unsuccessful candidate for mayor of Boston 1822 and for governor of Massachusetts 1823; fellow of Harvard University 1823-1825; mayor of Boston 1829-1832 (excerpted from bioguide.congress.gov). Otis made a fortune developing Beacon Hill.  His home is now Otis House Museum, a National Historic Landmark, designed by Charles Bulfinch.


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