More politics & the War of 1812

Connecticut was not the only New England state to object to the Federal government’s war plans and activities.  Recently I found, in that batch of correspondence of Connecticut’s Gov. Smith (and held in the collections of the Connecticut Historical Society), a longhand copy of the Rhode Island General Assembly’s committee report and resolution on the conduct of the war, dated October 1814.  The document gets into it immediately, in the second paragraph:

The Legislature and the whole people of this State already but too well know how frequently and fruitlessly they have petitioned the Federal Government for some portion of those means of defence for which we have paid so dearly and to which by the Constitution we are so fully entitled.  Our most pressing petitions and representations to the head and various departments of the general Government have often gone unanswered, sometimes have been answered by unmeaning professions and promises never performed, but generally by telling us to protect ourselves.  The result is, that at this moment we have fewer means of defence, less shew of protection afforded by that government than we had ever at any period during a state of peace.

Rhode Island, it must be remembered, included important and vulnerable port facilities on Narragansett Bay.  But wait, there’s more:

Directly after the war was commenced, the greater portion of United States troops then in the forts in this State, were ordered to a service more interesting to the general government than our defence.


All the troops also which have been enlisted by them during the war within this State, and amounting to many hundreds, have been wanted for other purposes.  Although many of them were enlisted with an understanding that they were to serve near their families and for the defence of their native State.

It would be interesting to find some actual documentation of that last bit.

The gun boat flotilla, pretendedly kept in our harbours for defence, has in reality been employed to entrap unguarded citizens into a distant and unpropitious Service.  In a word, the whole United States military force, stores and property within the State, at this moment, instead of affording any means of defence, do but serve to increase our danger by offering a temptation to the enemy.

According to the report, Rhode Island had paid $50,000 in taxes to support the war just during the past year, plus over $500,000 in “duties” (taxes on goods) per year of the war, and all they got from the general Government in return was promises.  Or as the committee put it less succintly,

All these revenues more than sufficient for our protection, they have received not as a sacred trust to be constitutionally applied to that object, but as their rightful tribute to be expended at their will.

… For example, on efforts to conquer Canada.  I’m particularly interested in the implication, here, that the state’s money was supposed to be spent on the state.  But I suppose they wouldn’t be so annoyed about it if, according to this document, the general government had actually shown willing to pay for anything at all in the way of troops, fortifications, etc. for Rhode Island.

At this point in the document, they also bring up the argument against putting state militia under command of Federal officers that Connecticut had brought up earlier.  The next bit is particularly interesting, and appears to have happened after the Connecticut complaints I talked about before.  It seems the general government tried another way to do the same thing:

We are divided into military districts, and a kind of military Prefect is placed over each.  A military commander over States instead of troops.  And to these military Prefects the President, without any warrant from the constitution, imparts a portion of his executive authority, creating thus an office unknown before and undefined.

I think two of the documents copied at the other day are an order book and a letter book connected with these Districts; I shall have to take a close look at them.

As with the Connecticut one, this is a lengthy document that thoroughly explores the issues involved.  But this one, coming later, also selects delegates to meet with delegates from the other New England states to confer

Upon the best means of cooperating for our mutual defence against the enemy, and upon the measures which it may be in the power of said States, consistently with their obligations to adopt, to restore and secure to the people thereof their rights and privileges under the constitution of the United States.

This meeting came to be known as the Hartford Convention, about which more at a later date.

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