Categories: Arts, Politics and Government, War of 1812

The Hartford Convention or Leap no Leap

The Hartford Convention or Leap no leap
William Charles, The Hartford Convention or Leap no Leap, ca. 1814, etching and aquatint with watercolor – Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

The Hartford Convention or Leap no Leap is a political cartoon by the artist William Charles poking fun at the secret meetings held by New England Federalists in Hartford during December of 1814.

Historical Background

The Hartford Convention, as it came to be known, met during the War of 1812 in reaction to the rise to power of the rival Republican Party and their policies. During his time as president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson had passed the Embargo Act of 1807 that prohibited trade with Great Britain in response to that nation’s and France’s assaults on US ships during the Napoleonic Wars.

The embargo devastated New England’s economy, then heavily dependent on shipbuilding and international trade.  When the conflict escalated and the then-current president, James Madison, declared war on Britain in 1812, it served as a further catalyst to unite the Northern Federalists who had voted against the war. William Charles’ illustration satirizes the more radical minority among the New England Federalists who spoke of secession from the United States as a solution.

Details Deciphered

Detail of the upper left hand corner from The Hartford Convention or Leap no leap by William Charles, ca. 1814

Detail of the upper left hand corner from The Hartford Convention or Leap no Leap by William Charles, ca. 1814 – Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Detail of the lower right hand corner from The Hartford Convention or Leap no leap by William Charles, ca. 1814

Detail of the lower right hand corner from The Hartford Convention or Leap no Leap by William Charles, ca. 1814 – Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

The upper left-hand corner of the illustration depicts a man, representing Massachusetts, pulling Rhode Island and Connecticut towards the edge of a cliff and asking them to make the “leap” of seceding from the Union. The Rhode Island figure laments, “Poor little I, what will become of me? this leap is of a frightful size—I sink into despondency.” Likewise, Connecticut protests, “I cannot Brother Mass; let me pray and fast some time longer—little Rhode will jump the first,” while Massachusetts urges, “What a dangerous leap!!! but we must jump Brother Conn.”

The lower left-hand corner depicts King George III of England enticing the New England states with economic incentives: “O’tis my Yankey boys! jump in my fine fellows; plenty molasses and Codfish; plenty of goods to Smuggle; Honours, titles and Nobility into the bargain_”.

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