Saturday, May 14, 2016

Why the Era of Good Feelings Wasn't an Era of Good Feelings

As promised, this post is going to highlight the numerous reasons why the Era of Good Feelings wasn't an era of good feelings. In fact, the name for the era was a name given ironically. There were major changes in the US during this period which did help to strengthen the young country; however, this was an era where everything was being questioned and scrutinized...and for good reason, as you will find out.

A political war was brewing during this period, one that would spill over into a later conflict (let's see if you can guess which one after reading the rest of this post).

As mentioned in a previous post, the northern states and the southern states had many differences, which led them to be at odds with one another. Despite being at odds with one another and despite their differences, their economies were very closely tied together--the North needed Southern cotton and tobacco and the South needed Northern industry to take the raw materials and produce goods for them.

During the Era of Good Feelings, slavery was still very prominent, and so was the issue about what to do with states as they entered the Union. The Northwest Ordinance of 1789 stated that slavery would not exist in the Western territories (what we call the Mid-West today) above the 36*30' line. The Ordinance was very controversial, as many people believed that slavery shouldn't be limited to the South. Many people believed that Congress had no constitutional warrant to abolish slavery in the territories. President Monroe took the issue to his cabinet, many of whom were pro-slavery but also strict constitutionalists, who believed that Congress did have the power to prohibit slavery in the territories.

Despite the Northwest Ordinance, issues still arose.

Missouri Compromise: The Missouri Compromise was an effort by Congress in late 1819 to defuse the sectional and political rivalries caused by Missouri wanting to enter the Union as a slave state, which would produce 10 free states and 11 slave states, causing an imbalance. In 1820, the Missouri Compromise was ratified, allowing Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state and Maine entered the Union as a free state, keeping the balance.


As you can see from the picture above, the state of Missouri is above the 36*30' line, going against the Northwest Ordinance (which used the Mississippi River as a border).


North-South tensions weren't all that made the Era of Good Feelings an era of not-so-good feelings. Politics, and the attempted breaking down of political parties, is another example.

In his 1796 farewell address, George Washington urged against political parties, saying they will divide the Union. Monroe, a Republican, sought to merge the Federalist party with his own party, creating a unified party. However, the method Monroe used to do so was that of neglect: they weren't given any political patronage or appointments of any kind. Basically, he used elementary school logic-- "If we ignore them, they'll go away".

In 1817 and 1819, Monroe went on a "Goodwill Tour". This was similar to how Presidents in the present travel across the country and around the world. Through his physical appearance and demeanor, Monroe spread good tidings as he toured Boston, Massachusetts--a Federalist stronghold--and Monroe's visit elicited a huge outpouring of nationalist pride.

In 1820 Monroe was reelected as President in a near-unanimous victory. It seemed as though the process of de-Federalization was complete.

Now, however, Monroe had to worry about intraparty rivalries. Just because you "get rid of" your opposing political party doesn't mean those differences which caused the opposing party to form aren't still there. Monroe had a cabinet comprised of political rivalries, and tensions were high. After "uniting" the political parties, Monroe was deprived of appealing to Republican solidarity to clear the way for his numerous programs in Congress.


The economy plays a huge role in any era, and the Era of Good Feelings was no exception.

In 1819 the first major peacetime financial crisis to hit the US erupted. The Panic of 1819 caused a general collapse of the US economy which lasted through 1821, and full economic recovery not having been reached until 1824. Prior to the Panic, banks throughout the country failed, and falling prices and an influx of foreign goods impaired agriculture and manufacturing. Widespread unemployment occurred and many people were kicked out of their homes and off of their farms. All regions of the country were effected.

Reactions to the Panic 1819 varied from region to region. People in the North wanted to enact high tariffs to protect them from foreign competitors; people in the South hated the high tariffs and believed freer trade would help revive the economy; people from the West blamed the bankers and land speculators for buying and selling land they couldn't afford.

The Era of Good Feelings was not an era of good feelings for many, but you have to take the bad with the good and times keeps going by.

My next post will lead us to the age of reform--the antebellum era. We'll learn about revivalism and the reforms that came about from it, such as abolitionism, prison reform, education reform, temperance movement, prostitution prohibition, and the early women's suffrage movement. Join me next time here on The Half-Pint Historian!  

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