As Britain and France battled each other in the early 1800's, enterprising Americans wanted to take advantage of the war by transporting goods for both sides, across each nation's blockade lines. The violation of the lines angered both governments, but Britain most of all. In a move widely hated in America, Britain started to seize U.S. ships and "impress" the sailors on the ships, claiming that they were actually British citizens and subject to British law. But President Thomas Jefferson was not looking for war, and worked hard with Congress to pass laws to exert economic, rather than military, force.
When James Madison took office as President, he was influenced by France into imposing more economic sanctions towards Britain. At the same time, Western Americans were involved in battle with the British over expansion rights and support for Indians, and Southern Americans wanted to expel Spain, a then-ally of Britain, from Florida. Though attempts to thwart war were tried, they were unsuccessful, and on June 18, 1812, Britain and the United States were at war.
By 1814, the prospects for an end to the conflict were gloomy. Though the U.S. had had success in naval battles, it was woefully unprepared for land war. New England, never a fervent supporter of the war, was worried. At its western edge, British naval forces tried to probe into the nation, though they were defeated on Lake Champlain. In August, land forces took Washington, D.C., and burned the capitol buildings and the White House. New England feared invasion and despised the costs of the war (both in terms of expenditures and of the decrease in trade). New England states also refused to place militia troops under federal control.
In October 1814, Massachusetts Federalists, opposing President Madison and the war, called for a convention to be held in Hartford, Connecticut. Twenty-six Representatives from the New England states attended: 12 from Massachusetts, seven from Connecticut, four from Rhode Island, two from New Hampshire, and one from Vermont. Many contemplated secession and a separate peace with Britain.
The meeting opened on December 15, 1814, and was held in secret. Though secession was debated, the action was rejected as premature. The convention did, however, issue a declaration, calling on the federal government to protect New England, and offering several amendments to the Constitution for review by Congress. The final report was issued on January 5, 1815. The amendments were read into the journals of both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate, but no action was taken - for good reason.
Unfortunately for the Federalists, peace had prevailed while the convention had met, negating its complaints and amendments. On December 24, 1814, the Treaty of Ghent was signed, ending the hostilities. The Federalists were seen as reactionary, and the very contemplation of secession seen as too extreme and disloyal. The party was devastated, and it never recovered. In the election of 1816, the Federalist candidate garnered only 34 electoral votes. By the election of 1820, there were to be no more Federalist candidates.
Sources: The New England Magazine, Volume 6, March 1834, p 181ff; Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Volume 25 Number 146, July 1862, p 217ff; The Avalon Project; various web sources for data on the War of 1812; the Nathon Dane Archival Collaborative has images of the Journal of the Convention.
Resolved. - That it be and hereby is recommended to the Legislatures of the several States represented in this Convention to adopt all such measures as may be necessary effectually to protect the citizens of said States from the operation and effects of all acts which have been or may be passed by the Congress of the United States, which shall contain provisions, subjecting the militia or other citizens to forcible drafts, conscriptions, or impressments, not authorized by the Constitution of the United States
Resolved. - That it be and hereby is recommended to the said Legislatures, to authorize an immediate and earnest application to be made to the Government of the United States, requesting their consent to some arrangement, whereby the said States may, separately or in concert, be empowered to assume upon themselves the defense of their territory against the enemy, and a reasonable portion of the taxes, collected within said States, may be paid into the respective treasuries thereof, and appropriated to the payment of the balance due said States, and to the future defense of the same. The amount so paid into the said treasuries to be credited, and the disbursements made as aforesaid to be charged to the United States.
Resolved. - That it be, and it hereby is, recommended to the Legislatures of the aforesaid States, to pass laws (where it has not already been done) authorizing the Governors or Commanders-in Chief of their militia to make detachments from the same, or to form voluntary corps, as shall be most convenient and conformable to their Constitutions, and to cause the same to be well armed equipped and disciplined, and held in readiness for service; and upon the request of the Governor of either of the other States, to employ the whole of such detachment or corps, as well as the regular forces of the State, or such part thereof as may be required and can be spared consistently with the safety of the State, in assisting the State, making such request to repel any invasion thereof which shall be made or attempted by the public enemy.
Resolved. - That the following amendments of the Constitution of the United States, be recommended to the States as aforesaid, to be proposed by them for adoption by the State Legislatures, and, in such cases as may be deemed expedient, by a Convention chosen by the people of each State.
And it is further recommended, that the said States shall persevere in their efforts to obtain such amendments, until the same shall be effected.
First. - Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this union, according to their respective numbers of free persons, including those bound to serve for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, and all other persons.
Second. - No new State shall be admitted into the union by Congress in virtue of the power granted by the Constitution, without the concurrence of two-thirds of both Houses.
Third. - Congress shall not have power to lay any embargo on the ships or vessels of the citizens of the United States, in the ports or harbors thereof, for more than sixty days.
Fourth. - Congress shall not have power, without the concurrence of two-thirds of both Houses, to interdict the commercial intercourse between the United States and any foreign nation or the dependencies thereof.
Forth. - Congress shall not make or declare war, or authorize acts of hostility against any foreign nation, without the concurrence of two-thirds of both Houses, except such acts of hostility be in defense of the territories of the United States when actually invaded.
Sixth. - No person who shall hereafter be naturalized, shall be eligible as a member of the Senate or House of Representatives of the United States, nor capable of holding any civil office under the authority of the United States.
Seventh. - The same person shall not be elected President of the United States a second time; nor shall the President be elected from the same State two terms in succession.
Resolved. - That if the application of these States to the government of the United States, recommended in a foregoing Resolution, should be unsuccessful, and peace should not be concluded and the defense of these States should be neglected, as it has been since the commencement of the war, it will in the opinion of this Convention be expedient for the Legislatures of the several States to appoint Delegates to another Convention, to meet at Boston, in the State of Massachusetts, on the third Thursday of June next with such powers and instructions as the exigency of a crisis so momentous may require.