John Quincy Adams Letter to Boston--1815
This exposition of the object and purposes of the Convention is complete. It is taken, word for word, from the first and second pages of the final report; nor is there in all the remainder of the report, or in the resolutions appended to it, excepting that anomaly of the third resolution, a word showing any different object or purpose.
And where in all this do you find a single word about the defence of this part of the country against the foreign enemy? Read the whole proem, and ask yourselves whether it indicates the existence of a foreign enemy. Ask rather if it was possible that twenty-six men, citizens of the United States, should have put their names to a paper professing such purposes, with a foreign enemy in the heart of their country ; and against the government and authority charged with the defence of their country ; and against the very measures of defence which they were employing.
You are told that these twenty-six men represented whatever of moral, intellectual, or patriotic worth is to be found in the character of the New England community. The moral
character of the individuals, so far as it relates to the concerns of private life, is not here in question; but a sweeping claim to all the morality, and all the intellect, and all the patriotism, of a large division of the Union is not very demonstrative, either of that benevolence, or even of that justice, which constitute essential parts of private morals. "Not like this publican" is read in characters rather too legible in the assumption for the humble and sublime standard of Christian morality. But let this pass. The members of the Convention are men of respectable private character, and, when claiming no especial privileges of high heroic virtue, may be admitted to have been as good as their neighbors. They were almost all lawyers by profession, and in that profession there is as much moral integrity as in any other, with the exception perhaps of the clergy. The claim of pre-eminent intellect has perhaps more foundation than that of supererogatory virtue. They were most of them eminent lawyers, and that is a profession in which eminence cannot be obtained but by the exercise of powerful intellect. But the errors of intellect are precisely those which are the most pernicious to the welfare of communities. They are the infectious errors, which catch from man
to man, till they walk like a pestilence in the city. With regard to the patriotism of the conventionists, their exclusive, or even their supereminent, claim is far more questionable.
To an American citizen, patriotism is the love of the whole Union; for the whole Union is his country. There is nothing sectional, nothing of party spirit, nothing selfish, in its composition. The Hartford Convention represented exclusively a section. It represented exclusively a party, and that an extreme party; and, without imputing more than ordinary selfishness to its members, they were not men peculiarly remarkable for the humility of their pretensions or the self-denial of their ambition. Of Mr. Otis, the person in whom all the transactions of the Convention appear from the journal to have been concentrated, I say nothing, inasmuch as he has excepted himself from the claim of all-absorbing talent and virtue which he puts in for his colleagues.
The Convention represented the extreme portion of the Federalism of New England, — the party spirit of the school of Alexander Hamilton combined with the sectional Yankee
spirit. I use this somewhat vulgar word, because, though somewhat humble in its original, it has gathered many a laurel in the field of glory, and because — like Brother Jonathan and Uncle Sam — it has an energy of significancy for which no other can be substituted. The Yankee spirit is a social spirit, and carries with it the fire of the flint. It was not well or naturally associated with the Federalism of Alexander Hamilton; and he himself once complained of it as clannish. And so it was, and that was its inherent defect. In itself it was good: it was the distillation from the spirit of the Puritan
fathers of New England ; but it was not American patriotism ; on the contrary, it was that virtue which, in its excess, turns to vice.
Is that temptation which doth lead us on
To sin in loving virtue."
But with this spirit was associated the ultra-Federalism of Hamilton, execrating Mr. Jefferson and all his principles and administration ; hating Mr. Madison and my father, whom they had sacrificed to Hamilton and his policy seventeen years before. This was the composition; and this was not patriotism. It was the very reverse.
This coalition of Hamiltonian Federalism with the Yankee spirit had produced as incongruous and absurd a system of politics as ever was exhibited in the vagaries of the human mind. It was compounded of the following prejudices:
1. An utter detestation of the French Revolution and of France, and a corresponding excess of attachment to Great Britain, as the only barrier against the universal, dreaded
empire of France.
2. A strong aversion to republics and republican government, with a profound impression that our experiment of a confederated republic had failed for want of virtue in the people.
3. A deep jealous}^ of the Southern and Western States, and a strong disgust at the effect of the slave representation in the Constitution of the United States.
4. A belief that Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Madison were servilely devoted to France, and under French influence.
Every one of these sentiments weakened the attachments of those who held them to the Union, and consequently their patriotism. The sentiment itself, in a great measure, changed its object. The feeling against the general administration was so strong that it extended itself to the States and people by which it was supported; and all the impulses of patriotism became concentrated upon New England; and the temper of hostility, instead of patriotism, connected itself with every thought of the general government. All these opinions will be found disclosed in the vivid and forcible language of Fisher Ames, in the volume of his works which was published shortly after his death. I refer you particularly to the essay in it entitled "Dangers of American Liberty," for a full exposition of this system of opinions.
These were the opinions, aggravated by the pressure of the embargo, and afterwards of the war, represented by the Hartford Convention; but they were still not entertained by
a large portion of the Federal party, — by very few to the degree of those represented in the Convention. They were utterly and totally disapproved by the whole Republican party.
It will, therefore, not be surprising that the final report of the Convention begins its calculation of the value of the Union by the explicit declaration, that a sentiment prevailed to no inconsiderable extent that the time for a change was at hand, and that the causes of it were intrinsic and incurable defects in the Constitution. The Convention say that " this opinion may ultimately prove to be correct: " but they think the evidence of it not yet conclusive; and, to avoid the danger of precipitate and irrevocable measures, they propose a course which may probably avert the evil, or at least insure consolation and success in the last resort.
But who were those among whom prevailed to no inconsiderable extent the sentiment that the time for a change was at hand, because of intrinsic and incurable defects in the Con-
stitution? They were, assuredly, none of the Republican party; no such sentiment prevailed among them. It was those of the party represented by the Convention itself.
Among them^ the report says, the sentiment prevailed to no inconsiderable extent. The party were then divided among themselves; even the party comprising whatever of moral,
intellectual, or patriotic worth was to be found in the character of the New England community, were divided among themselves upon no less a question than whether the time for a dissolution of the Union, for intrinsic and incurable defects in the Constitution, was or was not at hand.
The opinion of the Convention itself is distinctly expressed, that the time for this change was " not yet " at hand; and they present an argument containing their reasons for coming to that conclusion, the object of which they declare to be the hope of reconciling all to a course of moderation and firmness, which might save them from the regret incident to sudden decisions, probably avert the evil, or at least insure consolation and success in the last resort. . .