The War of 1812, Secession, and Salem Smugglers


The war of 1812 almost did not happen. Spencer Perceval  opposed the upcoming  war with the America in light with their ongoing war with Napoleon.  To silence his opposition he was assassinated (the only British Prime Minister to be assassinated in office) and replaced by Robert Banks Jenkinson, the 2nd Earl of Liverpool, who was all for reconquering the lost colonies.

Also opposed to the war were the Federalist in New England.  As the war progressed they refused to pay any money to Washington to continue this war.  Governor Strong of Massachusetts refused to supply troops or money to retake Maine which was part of his state at the time. Instead he raised $1 million to raise a state army of 10,000.  The on the contrary their privateers were making a fortune raiding British commerce at sea.  Or were they?

These Federalist were in open opposition to Jefferson’s Embargo Acts (Spencer Perceval’s Orders in Council act was the cause of Jefferson imposing the Embargo Act. ) which were strengthened during the war by President Madison in 1813. There were some reports stating that Federalist sea captains  were engaging in commerce not raiding with these British ships at sea.

Opposition grew so great during the War of 1812 that the New England Federalists made plans to secede from the union.  Harrison Gray Otis, of Boston who inspired these measures, suggested that the Eastern States meet at a convention in Hartford, Connecticut.  Otis was reportedly worth at least US$800,000 in 1846, which in 2014 would be equivalent to $6.5 Billion. A Boston smuggler who had his home built my Charles Bulfinch who was the official tunnel digger in our nation’s capital and built the tunnels leaving the Massachusetts state house. The idea of leaving the union was not a new one. As early as 1804 some New England Federalists had discussed secession from the Union if the national government under Jefferson became too oppressive.

Timothy Pickering Salem MA
Timothy Pickering. Secretary of State for Washington and Adams.

The Federalists’  national leadership was decimated and their viable base was reduced to the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Delaware. Timothy Pickering of Salem (smuggler, Secretary of State, and aid to General Washington) and a few Federalists envisioned creating a separate New England confederation, possibly combining with lower Canada to form a new pro-British nation.  Later during the Hartford Convention these ideas resurfaced. The Hartford Convention met December 15 1814. At the convention radical proposals such as a seizure of the Federal customs house, impounding federal funds, and declaring neutrality in the War of 1812 were voiced. Firebrands like George Cabot, John Lowell, Jr., Timothy Pickering, and Josiah Quincy  pushed for secession.  Cabot was another smuggler from Salem that had his homes in Salem and Beverly attached to the tunnels. Cabot became the president of the convention. Otis thought unless moderates like himself and the other delegates took charge, the radical secessionists might take power. Indeed, Otis was unaware that Massachusetts Governor Strong had already sent a secret mission to discuss terms with the British for a separate peace.

George Cabot Salem Tunnel Smuggler
George Cabot, President of the Hartford Convention

Madison moved troops from the New York–Canadian border to Albany where they could quickly be sent to Massachusetts or Connecticut if needed to preserve federal authority. Several New England regiments that had participated in the Niagara campaign were returned home where it was hoped that they could serve as a focal point for New Englanders opposed to disunion.

After the convention ended in January 1815, Massachusetts sent three commissioners to Washington, D.C. to negotiate for the terms that had been agreed upon at the convention. Because of Otis these terms did not propose secession. By the time they arrived in February 1815, news of Andrew Jackson‘s overwhelming victory at the Battle of New Orleans, and the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, preceded them and, consequently, their presence in the capital seemed both ludicrous and subversive. They quickly returned. Thereafter, both Hartford Convention and Federalist Party became synonymous with disunion, secession, and treason, especially in the South. By 1823 the Federalist party even in Massachusetts was decimated.

~ To find out more about the tunnels in Salem and the smugglers’ who shaped our nation read Salem Secret Underground:The History of the Tunnels in the City and its sequel coming out this fall called Subrosa by Christopher Jon Luke Dowgin. Look for them at Barnes & Noble, Wicked Good Books, and Also to learn about the tunnels and the conspiracies engineered in Salem Ma book a ticket on the Salem Smugglers’ Tour!


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