When Wells wanted nothing to do with Maine
Wells wanted nothing to do with separation from Massachusetts. Dependant upon commercial relationships with maritime interests in Boston, coastal communities stood to lose money if Maine became a state.
The Coasting Law allowed vessels carrying cargo worth more than $400 to travel between contiguous states without the incursion of port charges. As subjects of Massachusetts, Maine coasters freely traded as far south as Rhode Island. As subjects of a separate State of Maine, the free zone would extend only as far as New Hampshire. Representatives of Wells insisted the Coasting Law was their primary reason for opposing statehood. That was, until the Coasting Law was modified on March 2, 1819. The whole Atlantic coast was opened to free trade and Wells was as adamantly opposed as ever. It became clear that the debate was a contest for political party dominance.
Separation meant a Democratic-Republican government. The population was growing more rapidly in the District of Maine than it was in Federalist controlled Massachusetts proper. Newcomers leaned predominately toward the Democratic-Republican Party but most coastal York County merchants and mariners were Federalists.
The first movement toward statehood was recorded shortly after the Revolutionary War when The Falmouth Gazette, was established for the purpose of advocating separation. At first, little attention was paid to the notion and proponents could convince but a tiny proportion of eligible voters to even show up at the polls.
It was again proposed in 1792 and in 1797 to an equally tepid response. A separation proposal in 1807 was also defeated but by a much smaller margin.
War with the British was declared by Democratic-Republican President James Madison on June 18, 1812 to fierce opposition by the Federalist Party.
New England Federalists even considered secession at the Hartford Convention in 1814. This contemplation, though fleeting, would forever label them as disloyal and spell the beginning of the end for their party.
Many Mainers felt Massachusetts had not provided them adequate protection during the War of 1812. After it ended there was more support for statehood than ever. The Massachusetts Legislature agreed to allow citizens of Maine to write their own constitution if they could achieve a majority vote of 5 to 4.
A Convention was planned in Brunswick Maine. On the question of the expediency of separation, in Wells, the yeas were 47 and the nays 374. Most towns southwest of the Saco River cast similar votes.
During the first count at the Brunswick Convention some of the York County ballots disappeared. When the omission was discovered the ballots reappeared, as if by magic, on the vote counter’s desk. It was clear to all the delegates that the motion had not passed by the required margin, but by some creative calculation understood only by those fast talking men who performed it a 5 to 4 majority was declared.
Delegates were embarrassed to admit their confusion and before they knew what was happening a State Constitution was drawn up and the whole package was sent off to Massachusetts for confirmation.
Members of the Massachusetts Legislature were baffled by what they called “Brunswick Arithmetic.”. They found the 5 to 4 margin to be unwarrantable, but the measure had passed by a slim majority.
Massachusetts lawmakers began to contemplate the wisdom of cutting all those fervent Maine Democratic-Republicans loose before they diluted their own Federalist majority. They loosened the margin requirement to 1,500 votes in 1819 and Congress modified the Coasting Law in March of the same year.
The Democratic-Republicans, with the 1816 Constitution in hand, were all but assured control of a new State of Maine. The Federalist editor of The Kennebunk Visitor commenced a war of words with the Democrat editor of The Eastern Argus.
“The town of Wells at a meeting on the 15th of May”, wrote E. E. Bourne in his History of Wells, “indignant at the probable successful result of the indefatigable labors of these uneasy spirits, adopted the following vote: That George W. Wallingford, Joseph Dane, Nahum Morrill, Joseph Gilman and Elijah Curtis be a committee to petition the Legislature of New Hampshire, that Wells may be annexed to that State, should the District of Maine be formed into a new State, and Massachusetts will not consent that the town of Wells may still be attached to her.”
Wells was unsuccessful in her desperate attempt to remain subject to a Federalist controlled state. March 15, 1820, after a delay in Congress while the Missouri Compromise was debated, Maine became the 23rd state in the Union and Wells became her unwilling subject.