About the Author: Johnny Roy has been an Advanced Placement US History teacher for the past 8 years at Cuyahoga Heights High School just outside of Cleveland, Ohio. He has been actively involved with the AP Reading as a grader for the past 3 years having scored the DBQ, LEQ, and SAQ sections of the exam.
Era of Good Feelings
Following the War of 1812, a strong nationalist sentiment and sense of unity spread throughout the still young country. By this time the Federalist party of Alexander Hamilton and George Washington was all but abandoned and Jefferson’s Democratic Republicans were the dominant single political party in the country. Though inner party conflicts still existed, this single party rule and political unity became known as the Era of Good Feelings and lasted from roughly 1815-1825 and with its end, came the closing of the Virginia Dynasty of Presidents (Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe).
This feel good era came to a close after the election of 1824 between John Q. Adams and Andrew Jackson. This heated political contest ended with no clear Electoral College winner and according to the 12thAmendment required a House of Representatives vote and a corrupt bargain to decide the winner.
However, there were clear social, economic, and political trends that permeated throughout the country during the Era of Good Feelings.
- A strong sense of national purpose and unity following the defeat of the British in the War of 1812.
- The embrace of Henry Clay’s American System that was designed to promote national internal improvements (roads/canals) and economic prosperity (Bank of U.S/protective tariffs).
- President James Monroe’s (1817-1825) efforts to unite the country by dissolving political factions and unify under a single political party, which he was able to do for a short time as he was the last American President to effectively run unopposed in the Presidential election of 1820.
Issues of… Good Feelings?
Though President Monroe enjoyed a relatively peaceful time politically as President, there were still several important ongoing issues that the country was having to deal with throughout the Era of Good Feelings.
- State vs National Power– The Supreme Court case McCulloch v Maryland (1819) tackled the concept of state vs national authority and the constitutionality of the 2ndBank of the United States that had been re-chartered in 1816. The case further examined the constitutionality of a state’s ability to levy a tax against a federal agency/entity as the state of Maryland passed legislation to impose taxes on the bank. Citing the “Necessary and Proper Clause” of the Constitution, Chief Justice John Marshall and a unanimous court held that Congress had the power to create the bank and that the state of Maryland could not impose a tax on instruments of the federal government while it carried out its constitutional functions. This decision further solidified federal supremacy over the states.
- Sectional Crisis Over Slavery –The debate over slavery was ongoing as more and more states entered the union. The Southern states were eager to keep political power in the US Senate, argued for expansion of the slave system to new western states as the Northern states argued for restricting the spread of the oppressive system. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 was meant to balance out these opposite positions. The admission of Missouri as a slave state and Maine was a free state would maintain sectional balance in the Senate while limiting the spread of slavery north of latitude 36°30´ in the recently acquired Louisiana Territory. Neither side was completely satisfied with this agreement. Yet, the compromise tentatively kept the peace until the issue once again threatened to destroy the delicate balance between the states during the events of Bleeding Kansas and the ensuing Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854.
- Henry Clay’s American System– New technologies and economic priorities changed during the Era of Good Feelings as Henry Clay promoted a new economic direction that would result in a shift in the American economy towards further industrialization and expansion both internally and globally. Clay’s American system revolved around three major components; First, tariffs to help protect emerging American industries from global competition. Second, internal improvements including the construction of roads and canals to connect geographic regions and encourage economic activity. Third, re-charter the Bank of the United States as a stabilizing force for state banks and to promote economic investment. Disagreement occurred between the North and South over the effectiveness and unfairness of the tariffs (they hit the South harder than the North and eventually contributed to the Nullification Crisis) as well as the constitutionality of the Bank of the United States as seen in Andrew Jacksons Bank War in the 1830’s. Yet, despite these differences, the American economy flourished as internal improvements and global trade increased.
- Expanding Immigration– Following the War of 1812 and for the next several decades, an emphasis was placed on economic growth in the country. As the Market Revolution and industrialization began to take hold in urban centers so did too the transfer of population from rural to urban cities. Specifically, cities with major ports like New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and later New Orleans. Along with this internal migration came external immigration from countries struggling with political strife, poverty, and food shortages. Countries like Ireland, China, and Germany provided unskilled and skilled workers who came in search of a better life. American response to the increase in immigration was two-fold. First, industrialists were happy to have access to a growing source of cheap labor to work in factories and to help construct railway lines. Second, a rise in nativism and increased discrimination against Catholics, the Irish, and Chinese as they tried to make their way in these new urban centers.
- Western Expansion– By 1819, nine new states had been added to the original 13 states including vast expanses of farmland covering the new states of Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana. In order to accommodate and encourage the growing interest in western territories the government encouraged increased land sales to people willing to move west and settle territory. Internal improvement projects like the construction of the National Road helped to connect economic markets. The completion of the Eerie Canal in 1825, dramatically changed the relationship between the agricultural product producing western states with the economic and shipping center of New York. The construction of an expansive railway network created vast amounts of economic wealth and opened up the West to new markets and the establishment of new western cities. The emergence of the West as a viable population center paved the way for Andrew Jackson in 1828 and the Second Party System as the “common man” became more involved in the political process.
- Foreign Policy– In an effort to limit European imperialism in the Americas (Central/South), President Monroe worked to echo the sentiments of George Washington’s Farewell Address of avoiding entangling alliances with European nations. Monroe issued what would become known as the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 and declared that the United States would avoid European political issues. The United States further expected European powers to limit imperialist ventures in the America’s so that the United States would be the dominant power in the Western Hemisphere. The Era of Good Feelings promoted a sense of national unity and support for the Monroe Doctrine as the United States began to take its place on the global stage.
Monroe and Boston
In an effort to unify the nation following his election in 1816, Monroe embarked on goodwill tours of the nation in 1817 and 1819. It was on these trips that Monroe encouraged the country to develop a national identity and forego the divisiveness of party politics. Monroe purposely went to Boston as it represented the epicenter of Federalist political thought. His ability to win over the people of the city effectively ended any hopes of the Federalist party from regaining national power. His appeal to national unity and patriotism won over people all around the country and ushered in the Era of Good Feelings.