While the entire country suffered from the effects of Britain’s military-enforced embargo against the United States, probably no region endured greater hardship as a direct result of that embargo than the states of New England. Heavily dependent upon foreign trade, especially via maritime trade routes, New England was badly damaged economically by the “get tough” foreign policies of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Those two presidents, while cognizant of the continued fragility of the newly-established nation they were instrumental in creating, nevertheless vigorously opposed British and French policies in North America. Even while maintaining economic relations with those two European powers, successive American administrations continued to agitate against the routine conduct of commercial relations with two imperial nations, one ruled by Napolean Bonaparte, the other by King George III. Britain, in particular, continued to pursue policies hostile to the emerging United States, and Jefferson responded with his own embargos and sanctions in retaliation for Britain’s strangulation of U.S. maritime commerce. The constant presence off U.S. shores of the Royal Navy, which the South resented for the anti-slavery mission of that navy (mandated by England’s Slave Trade Act of 1807) and the north resented for the economic suffering the embargo caused, was an enormously contentious issue for the States. While much of the country supported Jefferson, and later Madison’s hardline stance, though, the states of New England grew increasingly fractious, with more extreme elements (albeit relatively few in number) suggesting that secession from the Union, or merely the threat of secession, should be advanced in contravention of policies established and enforced from Washington, D.C. that were blamed for the region’s economic hardships. As relations between Britain and the U.S. came to head in 1812, discussions regarding options among the New Englanders picked up steam. It was in this context that the Hartford Convention was convened on December 15, 1814, and which would last until January 5, 1815. Delegates from Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire met in secret to discuss strategies for transforming U.S. relations – or, failing that, New England’s relations – with Britain.
The political cartoon by William Charles, “Leap or No Leap,” was intended to lampoon the position of the New Englanders who opposed the Jefferson-Madison agenda. A particularly noteworthy target of the cartoon was Massachusetts political figure and former member of the Continental Army and former U.S. secretary of State (1795-1800) Timothy Pickering, who led the small minority of New Englanders advocating for secession. The cartoon depicts Pickering and others slavishly appealing to King George while pondering the wisdom of making that great leap into the king’s outstretched arms. Pickering had been a prominent pro-Britain member of the American political establishment, but had served his nation honorably. That said, the political party established to represent the New England perspective, the Federalists, suffered irreparable damage as a result of its stance on relations with Britain at the same time the U.S. was beginning to emerge victorious in military campaigns against that same Britain.
The Hartford Convention was held by a radical group of New England Federalists. They discussed ways to demand that the federal government pay them for the loss of trade due to Embargo Act, Macon's Bill No. 2. The Embargo Act prohibited U.S merchants vessels from engaging in foreign trade and this hurt the American economy. The damage was inflicted on New England merchants and Southern farmers. A vast network of black market good arose along the Canadian border to circumvent the embargo. This led to the passage of harsher enforcement laws that many New Englanders saw as oppressive. Both the war of 1812 and Macon's Bill No. 2 had affected the New England Federalists economically because it affected trade and lost them money . The Federalists had opposed the war from the start and didn't like where the Republicans were taking the nation. At the Hartford Convention, they discussed how they can limit the Republican powers and even suggested succession from the Union. The convention showed the split between the federalists and the Republicans and showed the end of Federalist party.