In April, 1778, a number of prominent Essex County men gathered in Ipswich to discuss the drafting of a new Massachusetts constitution, and became the local backbone of t he Federalist Party, advocating the financial policies of Alexander Hamilton. Although President John Adams was also a Federalist, he is said to have coined the name “Essex Junto” for this group, who he deemed his adversaries.
Members of the Junto held high political office in Washington, and found themselves often in the minority on issues of great importance, opposing the French Revolution, while at the same time opposing the Louisiana Purchase. Even Alexander Hamilton, one of their original leaders, broke with the Junto over their support for Aaron Burr for President. Determined to prevent the Democrat-Republican party of Jefferson, who they called Jacobeans, from gaining a political majority, several members of the Junto, including Timothy Pickering of Salem advocated for New England’s secession from the rest of the country.
The Federalist Party dominated Ipswich politics until its demise in 1816. Other politicians identified with the Essex Junto were Salem’s George Cabot, Benjamin Goodhue, Stephen Higginson, Jonathan Jackson and John Lowell of Newburyport, Israel Thorndike of Beverly, Theophilus Parsons of Newbury, and Nathan Dane of Ipswich.
Abbreviated excerpts below are from Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, by Thomas Franklin Waters follow:
Clouds and Gloom
Gen. George Washington died on Dec. 14, 1799, and the town went into mourning. The pirates of Algiers and Tripoli continuing their depredations on the ships of all The United States and the European Powers were making the most humiliating concessions to secure exemption from attack.
The feeble navy of the United States brought the Mediterranean pirates to terms in 1806, but British men-of-war were constantly impressing sailors from American vessels, claiming them as deserters from the British navy. War with England seemed unavoidable.
The Jeffersonian party, known as Anti-Federalists, Democratic Republicans or simply Republicans, favored active measures of retaliation. Though Ipswich was strongly Federalist, the Jeffersonian minority was active and vigorous. Federalists warned that Jefferson was a dangerous revolutionary, hostile to religion, and that Jefferson would drag us into war with Britain.
On July 4, 1805, the Town of Ipswich celebrated the national anniversary with a procession to Swazey’s Tavern and the church at the South Green. The newly-arrived Baptist minister “Citizen Pottle,” by special request addressed the Supreme Being and then made a very ingenious, pertinent and solemn discourse from the words, followed by a toast: “The Venerable Town of Ipswich. May it be purged of all old Toryism and mock Federalism.”
The other ministers in town were strong Federalists, and Pottle’s toasts were suspected of being nothing more than a spirited demonstration of Baptist enthusiasm. They replied with the final toasts of the day, “May more Piety and less Politics adorn the American Clergy” and “Citizen Pottle. May his Labours of Love abide on our minds.” Good order and decency being nonetheless observed, the day was closed agreeably.
Embargo with England
In December, 1807, President Jefferson proclaimed an Embargo with Britain, which had been voted by Congress, forbidding all American vessels to leave United States ports for foreign countries and prohibiting foreign vessels from sailing, except with the cargo actually on board. The ports of Ipswich, Newburyport and Salem were instantly paralyzed. By 1808, New England ports were at a standstill and its cities and towns were heading into a depression. The people of Ipswich were united in their opposition to the Embargo, and Town Meeting dictated a complaint to the President Jefferson. (Read the full complaint.)
- That the laws of the United States, laying an embargo on all ships and vessels in the country, have operated in a very grievous manner on all classes of our citizens;
- That farmers, mechanics, fishermen, and manufacturers have, in their turns, experienced and still experience their ill effects; and we cannot contemplate their further continuance without most disquieting apprehensions;
- Nor will we believe, that the regular expression of the wishes of a free people can be offensive to enlightened and patriotic rulers.
- Therefore, your petitioners beg leave to suggest, whether the great events which have lately taken place in Europe will not afford your Excellency an opportunity for relieving the people of this once prosperous country from their present embarrassed and distressed condition.
To which the President replied, (Read in full)
“I would, with great willingness, have executed the wishes of the inhabitants of the town of Ipswich, had peace or a repeal of the obnoxious edicts, or other changes, produced the case in which alone the laws have given me that authority… But while these edicts remain, the legislature alone can prescribe the course to be pursued.” (read in full)
At this juncture, the Republican Convention of Essex County met at Ipswich on February 24th, 1808, and adopted the platform: “We consider the Embargo at the present crisis as a measure best calculated to preserve our property from plunder, our seamen from impressment and our nation from the horrors of War.”
The Federalists of Ipswich met on Friday evening, March 25th, and adopted a lengthy Report of their Committee. Their forecast was gloomy: “National ruin is not far distant, when our beloved country seems destined to be whirled into the all-devouring vortex of unbounded and lawless ambition and like every other republic to be blotted out from the already reduced and almost annihilated catalogue of free and independent nations.”
For the Fourth of July celebration of 1808, upwards of a hundred citizens marched to the meeting-house of the First Parish, where Dr. Dana read Washington’s Farewell Address. On hearing that the leader of the Democratic party in the Town had likewise read Washington’s Farewell Address to its assembly, the following toast was given by one of the Federalist Company: “May the tomb of Washington never again be profaned by a hypocritical tear, nor his legacy by a Jacobin reader.” Harmony and good order again prevailed through the day, and the Clergy judiciously retired after twenty toasts had been drunk.
The extremists in the Essex Junto are credited by historians with destroying the Federalist Party. Unable to stop the political ascension of the Southerners and Westerners in the Democratic-Republican Party, they proposed splitting the country into Northern and Southern Confederacies. In a letter to George Cabot, Timothy Pickering wrote, “The last refuge of Federalism is New England” He advocated that the “British provinces in Canada and Nova Scotia, with the assent of Great Britain may become members of the Northern Confederacy. Certainly that government can only feel disgust at our present leaders.
When war was declared against Great Britain in 1812, all members of the Essex Junto came forward in support of England and became referred to as the “Peace Faction.” Members of the Junto were so enraged that they renewed their calls for a Northern Confederation. The Federalists were without a prominent leader after an exasperated Alexander Hamilton forsake the Junto and endorsed Jefferson for President. Jefferson wrote, “The ‘Essex Junto’ alone desire separation. The majoring of the Federalists do not aim at separation. Monarchy and separation is the policy of the Essex Federalists.”
The Federalists were routed in the 1812 polls, resulting in a diminished national role for the Essex Junto. Their final attempt at relevancy was a series of secret meetings of 26 delegates from New England known as the Hartford Convention. Their final report included:
- Several proposals to amend the U.S. Constitution.
- Prohibiting any trade embargo lasting over 60 days
- Requiring a two-thirds Congressional majority for declaration of war or admission of a new state
- Repealing the three-fifths compromise
- Limiting future presidents to one term
Nathan Dane of Ipswich and Beverly was one of the most important delegates to the Hartford Convention, being on the committee to set the agenda., maintaining that he was not a secessionist and that, “Someone must go to prevent mischief.” By the time representatives from the Hartford Convention reached February 1815, news of Andrew Jackson’s victory at the Battle of New Orleans, and the signing of the Treaty of Ghent made any venture by the Federalists irrelevant. Southerners viewed the Federalists as the party of succession and treason, and it ceased to hold any political relevance except in Massachusetts, where Federalists were elected governor annually until 1823.
Sources and further reading
- The Northern Confederacy according to the plans of the “Essex junto”, 1796-1814, by Charles Raymond Brown
- Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, by Thomas Franklin Waters
- Understanding the Essex Junto: Fear, Dissent, and Propaganda in the Early Republic , New England Quarterly