- During this period, there were two occasions where Americans raised the idea of individual states defying the federal government or leaving the union.
These were the Essex Junto in 1804 and the Hartford Convention in 1814. How did Jefferson and Madison’s ideas in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions in 1798 support these later proposed actions?
The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, proposed by Madison and Jefferson respectively, proposed a way in which states might respond to federal legislation that was contrary to their interests, and that they deemed unconstitutional. Drafted in response to the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798, they drew on a compact theory of the US constitution to argue that states might form conventions to nullify, or refuse to acknowledge federal legislation. In this way, they might interpose themselves between the federal government and their citizens.
The Essex Junto, a group of radical Federalists, took this notion a step further in 1804, when they undertook an abortive attempt to leave the Union in anticipation of the hated Jefferson's reelection.
The Hartford Convention, which was actually called by the Essex Junto, briefly contemplated secession from the Union in response to the War of 1812, which was obviously harmful to merchant interests in New England. Most of the focus, however, was to formulate changes to the Constitution that would make it more difficult for Democratic-Republicans to consolidate their power, and to weaken the power of Congress in general.
While both the Essex Junto and the Hartford Convention made proposals that explicitly offered a solution to the conflict between regional and national interests, they did not overtly rely on the precedent set by the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions.