Decades of Darkness Complete Decades of Darkness #1: Seeds of Division



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Decades of Darkness Complete
Decades of Darkness #1: Seeds of Division
POD: 6 January 1809: Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States, suffers a severe heart attack and dies two days later; the first President of the United States to die in office. Pressure from the vigorous debates in Congress about the Embargo Act may have contributed; he had certainly been under considerable strain for the last few months. Congress had been considering the repeal of the Embargo Act, an Act which Jefferson himself had proposed but which had been increasingly unpopular.
This places the current Vice-President, George Clinton, in an unenviable position. James Madison is the President-elect, and Clinton has been re-elected as the Vice-President. So until the 4th of March, he has the dubious distinction of being Acting President, then returning to being Vice-President. Hardly a boost to a man’s ego.
In this time, Clinton does not really have the opportunity to enact many policies. One he does do, however, is lobby against the repeal of the Embargo Act, which he (along with President Madison) believes is the best way of putting pressure on Britain and France to stop impressments and other issues arising out of the Napoleonic Wars. Both Clinton and President-elect Madison view the proposed alternative Non-Intercourse Act as too weak. Clinton also feels that, given the temporary nature of his office, he should not sign any Act. Given that Clinton has made it clear that he will refuse to sign the repeal of the Embargo Act, Congress decides to delay discussions on it for a couple of months – they know he will be gone soon, so it’s no great stumbling block.
4 March 1809: James Madison inaugurated as the 4th President of the United States. Madison makes it clear quickly that he is also interested in preserving the Embargo Act. He doubts that the Non-Intercourse Act (the proposed replacement) will be enforceable, and believes that pressure still needs to be placed on Britain. He also likes the benefits to domestic manufacturing which Jefferson himself pointed out in his address to the nation last November. Madison is aware of the New Englanders complaints, but doubts their willingness to do anything more than complain.
April-October 1809: The Embargo Act remains in force, with the blessing of President Madison. Congress is distinctly divided, with New England representatives furious over its maintenance but the rest of the country favouring it. President Madison’s argument that an alternative Act will be unenforceable is enough to swing the balance.
Some areas of New England and upstate New York are declared to be regions in insurrection, as Lake Champlain was under Jefferson’s administration the year before, and the actions of the army and the militia in enforcing the embargo further radicalise sentiment in New England. The economy of New England is nearing collapse, but President Madison does not, as yet, believe that the situation is as serious as is being made out.
October 1809: The Massachusetts Legislature calls for a constitutional convention to meet in Hartford. The primary point of dispute is the embargo, but there are also broader questions being raised issues being raised about the dominance of the Southern states and their over-representation under the U.S. Constitution. Moderate Federalists want to reform the Constitution, but the growing numbers of extremists (led by influential voices such as John Lowell and Timothy Pickering) advocate secession as the only way to permanently solve the problem.
November 1809: The legislatures of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island choose representatives; New Hampshire and Vermont Federalists select their candidates by popular vote. New York is also invited to attend, but Governor Tompkins refuses to send representatives, despite much argument within the legislature and the state. Secessionist sentiment is strong amongst the delegates, but it is not yet a majority.
December 1809-January 1810: The debates in the convention include many arguments in favour of secession, with the extremist wing of the Federalist Party, led by Timothy Pickering, demanding that New England leave the Union. However, the convention is presided over by the head of the Massachusetts delegation, George Cabot, who is a moderate Federalist and prefers to negotiate within the Union. After much wrangling, the convention is resolved through compromise, with a detailed list of proposals that, if accepted, would severely limit the powers of the president, and weaken the influence of the slave states. The final document does not include an overt recommendation for secession, but makes it clear that this is a distinct possibility.
5 January 1810: The Hartford Convention publishes its famous report, which future historians will call the first step in the formation of the grand and glorious Republic of New England.
Report and Resolutions of the Hartford Convention
January 5, 1810
That it be and hereby is recommended to the legislatures of the several states represented in this Convention, to adopt all such measures as may be necessary effectually to protect the citizens of said states from the operation and effects of all acts which have been or may be passed by the Congress of the United States, which shall contain provisions not authorised by the constitution of the United States.
Resolved, That it be, and hereby is, recommended to the said Legislatures, to pass laws (where it has not already been done) authorizing the governors or commanders-in-chief of their militia to make detachments from the same, or to form voluntary corps, as shall be most convenient and conformable to their constitutions, and to cause the same to be well armed, equipped and disciplined, and held in readiness for service; and upon the request of the governor of either of the other states to employ the whole of such detachment or corps, as well as the regular forces of the state, or such part thereof as may be required and can be spared consistently with the safety of the state, in assisting the state, making such request to repel any invasion thereof which shall be made or attempted by the public enemy [1].
Resolved, That it be, and hereby is, recommended to the aforesaid Legislatures that if the following amendments are not accepted by the government of the United States, that the individual and sovereign States shall pass laws overruling any illegal federal laws concerning embargos or other measures to interdict the commercial intercourse of any of the States, and further to the aforesaid Legislatures that they pass laws authorizing the governors of the said States to grant clemency to any persons who have been wrongfully detained or withheld under any illegal federal laws.
Resolved, That the following amendments of the constitution of the United States be recommended to the states represented as aforesaid, to be proposed by them for adoption by the state legislatures, and in such cases as may be deemed expedient by a convention chosen by the people of each state.
First. Congress shall not have power to lay any embargo on the ships or vessels of the citizens of the United States, in the ports or harbours thereof, for more than sixty days.
Second. Congress shall not have power, without the concurrence of two thirds of both houses, to interdict the commercial intercourse between the United States and any foreign nation or the dependencies thereof.
Third. Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this Union, according to their respective numbers of free persons, including those bound to serve for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, and all other persons.
Fourth. No new state shall be admitted into the Union by Congress, in virtue of the power granted by the constitution, without the concurrence of two thirds of both houses.
Fifth. Congress shall not make or declare war, or authorize acts of hostility against any foreign nation, without the concurrence of two thirds of both houses, except such acts of hostility be in defence of the territories of the United States when actually invaded.
Sixth. No person who shall hereafter be naturalized, shall be eligible as a member of the senate or house of representatives of the United States, nor capable of holding any civil office under the authority of the United States.
Seventh. The same person shall not be elected president of the United States a second time; nor shall the President be elected from the same state two terms in succession.
Resolved, That if the application of these states to the government of the United States, recommended in a foregoing resolution, should be unsuccessful, it will, in the opinion of this convention, be expedient for the legislatures of the several states to appoint delegates to another convention, to meet at Boston... with such powers and instructions as the exigency of a crisis so momentous may require to preserve the sovereign rights of the aforesaid states and the people thereof, and to consider and propound the secession of the aforesaid states from the Union.
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[1] This clause was primarily included in the OTL Hartford Convention because of the existing war and demands that the militias operate under state command, not national. A similar clause was included in this convention because the secessionists foresaw the need to raise militias if secession went ahead.
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Decades of Darkness #2: Growth of Disharmony
25 January 1810

The White House

Washington, District of Columbia

United States of America


“You’ve read this... document,” President James Madison said, in lieu of saying something far stronger, as he threw the Hartford Convention report onto the table. He looked up carefully, watching for everyone’s reactions. “What do you think of it?”
Senator William Branch Giles nodded first. He looked angry, but then Madison had expected nothing else. Giles was here to represent the Senate, but Madison had chosen him because he was both a Virginian and a staunch Republican. “This is dire news,” Giles said.
“It spells trouble, certainly,” said Chief Justice John Marshall. He was also a Virginian, which was a good thing as far as Madison was concerned, since it might mean he was more likely to see reason. Marshall was busily turning the Supreme Court into the most powerful branch of the government, in many ways. Sometimes Madison had had disagreements with the Chief Justice, but he needed his support today, of all days.
“The Embargo Act has to go,” said Vice-President George Clinton, the only non-Virginian in the room. Clinton had been saying that for the last couple of months. He’d supported it at first, since he knew that the alternative Act was worse, but had shown grave misgivings since they first received word that the Federalists were gathering in Hartford. And Clinton’s home state was now wavering, too. Many New Yorkers felt the same way as the New Englanders.
“I don’t want to do that,” Madison said. He needed something to put pressure on the French and especially the British, whose impressment of American soldiers had been a running sore for years, and was only growing worse. The late President Jefferson had seen the same thing, and fought until his death to keep the Embargo Act in force.
“Congress may overrule you,” Giles said. “The majority of both houses want to get rid of it. They might get a two-thirds majority.”
Madison sent the Senator a sour look. “The British are confiscating our ships, impressing our sailors, and you think we should do nothing? We need to stop the British somehow.”
“We can,” Giles insisted. “The Non-Intercourse Act will-”
“Will do nothing,” Madison said. “Once a ship puts to sea, we have no way of saying where it will go.”
“If properly enforced, it might-” said Giles.
“If we found a way to enforce it – and I can’t see one – Calhoun and his fellow-travellers will scream just as loudly about that Act,” Madison said. He drummed his fingers on his chair. “And unless we can stop every way into the Canadas and Nova Scotia, it won’t be enforceable anyway.”
Clinton cleared his throat. “If I might suggest, Mr. President, better to allow the Embargo Act to be repealed and sign it, rather than vetoing it and then being overruled.”
Madison sighed. “Tell Congress to go head with the repeal of the Embargo Act, then.” It went against his better judgment, but he could see no way out. “We’ll replace it with... something. But we still have to respond to this outrageous threat.” He waved a hand at the Hartford Convention report still sitting on his desk.
“Surely not outrageous, Mr President,” Marshall said. “The Embargo has caused them grave damage.”
“The British impressments have done the whole country grave damage,” Madison said. “We can get rid of the Embargo Act – it might take away some of their steam – but as for the rest... They’re demanding intolerable amendments to the Constitution.”
“It’s not constitutional unless three-fourths of Congress approves it,” Marshall said.
“Which will never happen,” Giles added.
Madison picked up the report again, forcing himself to read it. “Forming their own militias – states to have the power to overrule federal laws – oh, look, only free men to be counted for representation in Congress.”
“That will never be passed,” Giles said.
Madison silently read past the passage limiting the President to a single term. That alone would have given him good reason to reject the report. But when he took it all together... “This will irrevocably weaken the Union, almost to the point where we may as well dissolve it. Any single state can say what it likes, and force the rest to go along with it.”
“Tyranny of the minority,” Giles said acidly.
Clinton said, “We could put it to the state legislatures. Most of them would reject it.”
“I don’t like to take the chance,” Madison said. “No, I think we should present this to Congress.” If they didn’t reject it outright, then they would tie it up in committee indefinitely. “Let them consign it to oblivion.”
“This won’t be the last we hear of it,” Clinton predicted.
“I know,” Madison said, suppressing another sigh. “I know.”
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31 March 1810

The White House

Washington, District of Columbia

United States of America


Harrison Gray Otis adjusted his bowtie, carefully making sure it was in place. He was grateful it was only spring. Another couple of months later, and the summer heat in Washington, D.C. would make any weather intolerable.
“You still think you can convince Madison to see reason?” John Lowell said from beside him, as they waited to be admitted to the President’s office.
The Hartford Convention’s deliberations had included the option of sending delegates to Washington if the report wasn’t acted on. Otis and Lowell headed that delegation, but Otis was beginning to wish he hadn’t volunteered. “We have to try,” Otis said. “He did finally sign the repeal of the Embargo Act last week.”
“Waste of time, if you ask me,” Lowell said. “Congress will finally get around to voting for their Non-Intercourse Act this week, and we’ll be right back where we started. We should just tell them we’re walking away from the Union, and have done.”
“I heard all those arguments from you at the Convention,” Otis said. Lowell had proven to be even more extreme than Senator Timothy Pickering in his demands for secession from the United States. Otis himself took a more moderate line – he wanted to reform the Union along proper Federalist principles – but he had lately begun to despair of that possibility.
“Yes, and we went along with you and Cabot when you said that demanding secession was unnecessary. Well, Madison might as well have spat on the Convention’s report, for all he did with it. I think-”
Otis held up a hand, and Lowell fell silent as the President’s secretary arrived. They were ushered into Madison’s office. The President rose to greet them, politely shaking hands and inquiring after their health – Madison was a man of breeding, Otis had to concede, regardless of what else he may have been.
After the polite formalities, Madison said, “We may as well come to the point. You’re here to demand that I persuade Congress to accept the proposals of your “convention.”
“One doesn’t make demands of the President,” Otis said, with what he hoped was a disarming smile. “But we do hope you will listen.”
Madison nodded. “I’m listening.”
“Mr. President, Massachusetts – and the other New England states - have been gutted by your Embargo Act. Our merchants and ship captains have been left penniless. You need to understand the depth of distrust that people have up there.”
“I understand it,” Madison said. “The Embargo Act has been repealed.”
“That is a promising step, but not enough, Mr. President,” Otis said. “There is enough mistrust in New England that only more positive steps can help.” Such as approving the Convention’s recommendations, although Otis was not foolish enough to say that directly.
“Especially when the Embargo Act is about to be replaced by another just as bad,” Lowell said.
“We need to deal with these foreigners who think they can run rough-shod over the United States,” Madison said. “I regret the damage done to New England, and indeed to the rest of the country, but I believe the problems posed by the British and French actions are worse.”
“If you persist in this course, you will discover how wrong that belief is, Mr. President,” Otis said. “The rights of our states are being eroded; the principles of liberty have been sacrificed on the altar of foreign despots.”
“I don’t hold with this view of states rights,” Madison said. “I never have. We must stand united, and that requires a strong central authority. Your proposals would gravely weaken the authority of the presidency and Congress.”
“And the actions of Congress have gravely weakened the authority of the sovereign states,” Lowell returned.
“If you want your proposed amendments approved, you should be harrying Congress,” Madison said. “They have the authority to approve it, not I.”
“Some of our colleagues are doing that as we speak,” Otis said. “But if I may, Mr President, I would ask your personal view of the Hartford Convention.”
“I already told you; I mistrust the doctrine of state’s rights,” Madison said. “Accepting those proposals would have unacceptable outcomes.”
“You mean you won’t get a chance for a second term?” Lowell said.
Otis waved his colleague to silence, and turned to face the President. “You reject our Convention’s report, then?”
“I will do everything within my power to oppose it,” Madison said.
Regretfully, Otis said, “Mr President, until recently I had hoped we could stay within the Union. I truly did. But this high-handedness, the way our interests have been cast aside for the last five years, and how the interests of other states are allowed to run freely over us... it cannot go on. Either we make genuine reform, giving each state its proper and sovereign rights, or we shall have to part ways. I see no other choice.”
“I do hope that’s not a threat,” Madison said.
“So do I, Mr. President. So do I.” Otis rose, bowed and left. He did not look back, but he could feel Madison’s stare on the back of his neck as he walked out.
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Decades of Darkness #3: The Gathering Storm Clouds
14 April 1810

Washington, District of Columbia

United States of America
...And so, Mr Vice-President, I regretfully withdraw from my office as Senator of the United States of America. I shall no longer carry out my Senatorial duties until such time as the legitimate concerns of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, as communicated in the report of the Hartford Convention, have been addressed. While I do not yet tender formal resignation from my office, out of respect for the dignity of this great institution, I cannot remain here.
Be assured that I carry out this momentous step only after the gravest deliberation, but I can no longer continue in this office as affairs now stand. With heavy heart I have sought advice from the Lord our Saviour in many hours on bended knee, and my conscience now permits me no other choice.
I remain, sir, your obedient servant,

(Signed) Timothy Pickering


Pickering folded the letter into three, sealed it, and leaned back at his desk.

I wish it hadn’t come to this, he thought. But every effort to change the Union from the inside had failed. Good morals and good government could never again be found within the United States of America. The Embargo Act had been the latest and worst in a long series of disasters which showed that.
Pickering himself had been advocating separation for years, and now more and more of the moderate Federalists had begun to see reason. Federalism could not be preserved within the Union; not with Virginians dictating terms and with Louisiana and the west about to be added. Only secession could save Federalism and New England now.
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25 April 1810

Bulfinch State House,

Boston, Commonwealth of Massachusetts,

United States of America


The third-floor House of Representatives chamber was crowded, with the Senate members packed into the larger chamber to hear Pickering give his address. They would still have to adjourn to their own chamber to debate afterwards, but they all here and listening to him. Pickering had called in a favour from recently re-elected Governor Christopher Gore, also a firm Federalist, to be allowed to address the Massachusetts Congress [1]. He suspected that the Legislature would back the Hartford Convention regardless of his speech, but he wanted to be sure.
“A friend of mine in Washington, on hearing of our Hartford Convention, lately asked me, “Is not a great deal of our chagrin founded on personal dislikes, the pride of opinion, and the mortification of disappointment?” I replied, or to speak correctly, I prepared the following reply. But when I had finished, perceiving the sentiments too strong for the latitude of Washington, I changed the form, and now address them to you.
“To those questions, perhaps to a certain degree, an affirmative answer may be given. I have more than once asked myself, For what are we struggling? Our lands yield their increase, we are building houses, “are marrying and given in marriage,” yet we are dissatisfied. Not because we envy the men in office - to most of us a private life is most desirable. We are dissatisfied, because we see the public morals debased by the corrupt and corrupting system of our rulers.
“Men are tempted to become apostates, not to Federalism merely, but to virtue and to religion and to good government. Apostasy and original depravity are the qualifications for official honors and emoluments, while men of sterling worth are displaced and held up to popular contempt and scorn. And shall we sit still, until this system shall universally triumph? Until even in the Eastern States the principles of genuine Federalism shall be overwhelmed?
“Make no mistake, my friends, this is not merely a struggle between Federalism and Democratic-Republicanism. Many of the distinguished gentleman on these hallowed benches before me are themselves Democratic-Republicans, and I address my remarks as much to you as to my Federalist friends. For this is a struggle, not between factions of men, but between corrupt and debased government on the one hand, and liberty and good moral character on the other.
“We have witnessed, over the infant years of our young Republic, a struggle between these forces. And for too many years, the corrupt forces have been advancing. We saw how Mr Jefferson’s plan of destruction unfolded. If at once he had removed from office all the men of good character, and given to the people such substitutes as we see, even his followers would have been shocked. Instead, he made steady progress in the same course, and he has the credit of being the real source of the innovations which threaten the subversion of the Constitution, and the prostration of every barrier erected by it for the protection of the best, and therefore to him the most obnoxious, part of the community.
“With gleeful heart, he removed such upright men from office as he thought the mass could accept, and then installed men of lesser character, who even if they were steadfast at first, let themselves be debased by the corrupting system of our rulers. And he cast up Mr Marshall, another Virginian man of good intentions but flawed judgement, who is erecting his own system of repression, turning the Supreme Court of our founding fathers into another instrument for placing his own narrow interpretation of the Constitution above what we have always known it to be, and for binding all the sovereign States of the Union under his will.
“This then, was the course that Mr Jefferson laid upon us during his first term, and then once he had established his minions within the halls of Washington, and had secured himself re-election from the mass who had not yet seen him for what he was, he closed his grasp around the throat of our beloved Commonwealth of Massachusetts. For if the rivers and waterways of Massachusetts be our life’s blood, he sought to bleed that away by imposing an Embargo Act upon us that halted our free commerce upon those waterways, making them as festering cesspools instead. He left New England to starve while Napoleon in France grew fat gorging himself on other nations, and old England found her trade elsewhere and cared not one whit for his precious Embargo, and all the while Mr Jefferson said that he was acting only for the interests of our nation.
“And I ask you, my friends, what interests did that preserve? Not that of our beloved Massachusetts! And when in fullness of His time Our Lord took Mr Jefferson unto himself, then the Embargo Act remained on its course, and a new man rose to the office of President. But Mr. Clinton has spent too long in the corrupting system of government in Washington, and he wrung his hands and said that the Embargo Act must continue, and New England should still suffer ever more.
“Finally, to the highest office in this land – or so it is called – rose Mr Madison. He too seeks to follow where Mr Jefferson led, appointing men of debased morals to the offices of the United States, and kept the Embargo in force until even the mass could see his true character, and cast it out despite his approval. So for now, my friends, the immediate yoke has been lifted from us, and we are free to trade and rebuild what should never have been cast down.
“But for how much longer? We look with dread on the ultimate issue - an issue not remote, unless some new and extraordinary obstacle be opposed, and that speedily; for paper constitutions are become as clay in the hands of the potter. The people of the East cannot reconcile their habits, views, and interests with those of the South and West. The latter are beginning to rule with a rod of iron. So Mr. Jefferson and now Mr Madison has shown. And must we with folded hands wait the result, or timely think of other protection?
“This is a delicate subject. The principles of our Revolution point to the remedy - a separation. That this can be accomplished, and without spilling one drop of blood, I have little doubt. One thing I know, if we first left the left the tyranny of England, should we not now also leave the popular tyrants in Washington, who shelter themselves under the forms or the name of the Constitution, tortured and interpreted to suit their views? I do not believe in the practicability of a long-continued union. A Northern confederacy would unite congenial characters, and present a fairer prospect of public happiness; while the Southern States, having a similarity of habits, might be left “to manage their own affairs in their own way.”

“If a separation were to take place, our mutual wants would render a friendly and commercial intercourse inevitable. The Southern States would require the naval protection of the Northern Union, and the products of the former would be important to the navigation and commerce of the latter. For while Mr Madison has imposed his debased morals on us while he is in Washington, he could no longer do the same if we lived alongside him. Think not that we should seek to destroy the Union, as if we were a rebellious son destroying his father’s house out of spite – and many of those in the South indeed see as children – but rather, of our nations as a pair of brothers who may have squabbled while growing up, so that they could no longer live under the same roof, but who once they have moved into separate houses can then become amicable neighbours.


“And then, my friends, we could build a new government for ourselves. The solid principles of government applied to a federate republic - principles which are founded in justice, in sound morals, and religion, and whose object is the security of life, liberty, and property, against popular delusion, injustice, and tyranny. It may yet be that we could build such a government within the United States. At the Hartford Convention we proposed measures that would, if not in themselves guarantee that just government be attained, would set us upon that road. But the debased character of Washington has been shown in their rejection of our Convention, and I fear we must take stronger steps. Let us first approve the amendments of that Convention, as the first State to do so, and an example for others to follow, so that they may yet be approved by the individual States if Congress and the President in Washington still malinger.
“Thus, my friends, I ask that you move to approve the report of the Hartford Convention: first that this Legislature accepts the proposed amendments to the Constitution, that they be set in ink and paper so that not even the government in Washington can misinterpret our Constitution as it wishes; and second, that in accordance with the Hartford Convention, that this Legislature name a time and place for a second convention to be held in this fair city, and name delegates from those assembled here to attend, that this Convention might discuss what measures should be taken if the proposals of our first Convention are not hereby approved by the various States.
“Thank you for listening, my friends, distinguished gentleman.” [2]
Pickering left the podium to thundering applause.
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[1] In OTL, Governor Christopher Gore, a Federalist, was defeated by Elbridge Gerry, a Democratic-Republican, in the 1809 election. Here, the stronger Federalist sentiment over the prolonged Embargo has seen Gore retain the Governorship.
[2] This address is closely based on a letter which Pickering wrote to George Cabot, head of the Essex Junto, and who presided over the Hartford Convention in both OTL and the ATL. In this TL, I have him reusing the contents of that letter, and modifying them in the light of later developments, to form his address. Some of the paragraphs of the letter have been used verbatim, some with slight modifications, and new paragraphs have been added to suit the nature of a spoken address rather than a letter.
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