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The Era of Good Feelings

The Growth of American Nationalism

Period: 1810s

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Early in the summer of 1817, as a conciliatory gesture toward the Federalists who had opposed the War of 1812, James Monroe, the nation's fifth president, embarked on a goodwill tour through the North. Everywhere Monroe went, citizens greeted him warmly, holding parades and banquets in his honor. In Federalist Boston, a crowd of 40,000 welcomed the Republican president. John Quincy Adams expressed amazement at the acclaim with which the president was greeted: "Party spirit has indeed subsided throughout the Union to a degree that I should have thought scarcely possible."

A Federalist newspaper, reflecting on the end of party warfare and the renewal of national unity, called the times the "Era of Good Feelings." The phrase accurately describes the period of James Monroe's presidency, which, at least in its early years, was marked by a relative absence of political strife and opposition. With the collapse of the Federalist Party, the Jeffersonian Republicans dominated national politics. Reflecting a new spirit of political unity, the Republicans adopted many of the nationalistic policies of their former opponents, establishing a second national bank, a protective tariff, and improvements in transportation. The spirit of nationalism was also apparent in a series of landmark Supreme Court decisions that established national supremacy over the states and in a series of foreign policy triumphs that extended the nation's boundaries and protected its shipping and commerce.

To the American people, James Monroe was the popular symbol of the Era of Good Feelings. His life embodied much of the history of the young republic. He had joined the revolutionary army in 1776 and had spent the terrible winter of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge. He had been a member of the Confederation Congress and served as minister to both France and Great Britain. During the War of 1812, he had performed double duty as secretary of state and secretary of war. With the Federalist Party in a state of collapse, he had been easily elected president, carrying all but three states.

A dignified and formal man, Monroe was the last president to don the fashions of the eighteenth century. He wore his hair in a powdered wig tied in a queue and dressed himself in a cocked hat, a black broadcloth tailcoat, knee breeches, long white stockings, and buckled shoes. His political values, too, were those of an earlier day. Like George Washington, Monroe worked to eliminate party and sectional rivalries by his attitudes and behavior. He hoped for a country without political parties, governed by leaders chosen on their merits. Anxious to unite all sections of the country, he tried to appoint a representative of each section to his cabinet and named John Quincy Adams, a former Federalist and son of a Federalist president, as secretary of state. So great was his popularity that he won a second presidential term by an Electoral College vote of 231 to 1. A new era of national unity appeared to have dawned.

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