The Federalists strongly opposed the War of 1812. Many Federalists viewed the conflict as an unnecessary one, manufactured by James Madison and his Republican Party to advance their own political interests. Federalist Senator Rufus King stated that he “regarded the war, as a war of party and not of country.” That perspective was adopted among Federalists after a series of riots in Baltimore during the summer of 1812. They believed the violence was meant to intimidate those who challenged President Madison’s war declaration.
Federalists often disagreed with the president’s wartime strategy. Many believed the war should be restricted to clashes on the high seas rather than campaigns on land. Federalists generally opposed the Republican strategy of invading Canada, believing it would bring disaster to America. They disagreed with the Republican decision to target Britain while rejecting the opportunity to confront France. Many Federalists believed the nation’s real enemy was Napoleon.
Although there was Federalist opposition to the war throughout the nation, the opposition was most intense in New England. By 1814, Federalists there were eager to end the conflict. But Madison was unwilling to make any concessions to the British. With British forces occupying parts of coastal Maine and devastating the coastal commerce vital to their maritime economies, New England Federalists felt they shouldered an unfair share of the war’s burdens.
Leading Federalists in New England believed that they should visibly oppose the conflict. When New England’s ranking general Henry Dearborn tried to call out companies of state militia to support an offensive into Canada, the governors of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts refused to provide troops, arguing that militia could only be provided for defense against invasion.
In the winter of 1814-15, New England Federalists became so angry at the continuation of the war that they staged a meeting at Hertford, Connecticut. That meeting, which became known as the Hartford Convention, provided Federalist delegates with the opportunity to air their grievances and discuss responses to the Republicans’ leadership. One of the convention proposals was that New England would secession from the Union. This option seemed extreme, but some radical Federalists believed that the president’s war required a drastic solution.
Source: Federalists oppose Madison’s War
National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Public Domain