In the aftermath of the War of 1812 the United States entered what’s been coined as the “Era of Good Feelings.” The timeline of the Era of Good Feelings lasted from roughly 1815 to 1824, though some would argue it was much shorter than that.
With the signing of the Treaty of Ghent in 1815 and the stunning American victory at the important Battle of New Orleans, the nation experienced a surge in nationalism. The victory restored national honor, despite an overall disappointing war that resolved little with Great Britain.
The end of the war also coincided with the collapse of the Federalist party. The disastrous Hartford Convention of 1814 aided in the Federalists’ demise and the party largely ceased to exist in national politics after 1816.
The Federalist departure led to the election of James Monroe in 1816 and effectively established what is considered to be the only national one-party situation in American history. This type of situation has never since been seen on a national level and only rivaled in individual states.
Monroe’s policies and demeanor helped bring about this Era of Good Feelings. However, lurking just behind the scenes were bitter conflicts over sectionalism, slavery, tariffs, public land policy, internal improvements, and more.
While the one-party system may have seemingly brought about the appearance of national unity, the cracks were already forming for the eventual split of the Democratic-Republican party and the beginning of the Second party system marked by the contentious “corrupt bargain” election of 1824.
What was the Era of Good Feelings?
The Era of Good Feelings is often taught as a period of harmony that followed the War of 1812, included James Monroe’s presidency, and coincided with the one-party dominance of the Democratic-Republicans. The era is generally considered to end following the “corrupt bargain” in the election of 1824.
James Monroe in particular abhorred political parties and believed them to be a threat to the Constitution and nation. He tried his best to completely eliminate any political party and base federal action on the will of the populace.1
Monroe actively refused to allow any person affiliated with the dwindling Federalist party a position in his cabinet to further alienate them from society. If everyone was a Democratic-Republican, the nation could move forward in unity—or so he thought.
The resulting one-party situation was the most complete in United States history. It also led to some unintended consequences such as voter turnout reaching perhaps its lowest point in history. If the outcome is already known, why bother to participate and vote?2
Despite their one party majority, it’s interesting to note that Democratic-Republicans maintained many policies that had originally been enacted by Federalists, such as renewing the national bank.1
The Era of Good Feelings is largely defined by the post-war euphoria and increased nationalism. James Monroe won two elections virtually unopposed, one of which (in 1820) he won nearly unanimously. His inaugural speech that year called for “order and harmony” and expressed hope for the future of the nation.3
A Boston newspaper coined the term “Era of Good Feelings” in 1817 following Monroe’s visit to the city. The visit was part of a larger good-will tour of the nation that Monroe embarked on in both 1817 and 1819 to help unify the nation and honor veterans from the American Revolution and important War of 1812.
While all was seemingly well for a time, dangerous tensions lingered in the background.
Era of Good Feelings Timeline
Below features a timeline of the Era of Good Feelings.
1814 – The Hartford Convention of 1814 occurs where Federalist delegates meet to discuss grievances on the ongoing War of 1812. The convention is a disaster and often associated with treason. It helps lead to the decline of the Federalist party in national politics.
1815 – The Treaty of Ghent is ratified, ending the war of 1812. The US victory at the Battle of New Orleans sparked national pride at having decisively defeated a major British force. General Andrew Jackson was catapulted to national celebrity status.
1816 – James Monroe decisively wins the election of 1816 over Federalist nominee Rufus King. This election would be the last time a Federalist candidate is nominated for President. The Tariff of 1816 is enacted becoming the first protectionist tariff in US history.
1817 – James Monroe embarks on a good-will tour of the nation. He primarily focuses on visiting Federalist-dominated New England to reconcile differences and drum up future support. A Boston newspaper coined the term “Era of Good Feelings” to describe the national attitude.
1818 – The significant Rush-Bagot Treaty of 1817 and Treaty of 1818 is signed with Great Britain fixing the border at the 49th parallel. An inflationary bubble fueled by land speculators and loose lending practices is popped by contractionary fiscal policy from the national bank, leading to the Panic of 1819.
1819 – The Panic of 1819 grips the nation. It is the first major economic depression since the Constitution and involved economic hardship including bankruptcies and foreclosures. Popular opinion turned against banking and businesses.
The Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 is signed with Spain ceding control of Spanish Florida to the United States.
1820 – James Monroe wins reelection in 1820 running virtually unopposed. He carried all states and all but one electoral vote due to a faithless elector. Monroe himself considered his nearly unanimous election to be a vindication of his policies, though it may rather have come from voter indifference.
The Missouri Compromise of 1820 is signed after a contentious debate in Congress. The compromise allows Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state alongside Maine as a free state but excludes slavery in the future from territories north of the 36° 30’ parallel.
1822 – Denmark Vesey is captured and executed over an alleged planned slave uprising. The event helps contribute to stronger pro-slavery attitudes in the south.
1823 – Monroe issues the historic Monroe Doctrine, dictating American foreign policy for years to come. The doctrine issues a warning against European colonization in the Americas and held that intervention would be considered a threat to the United States.
1824 – The election of 1824 leads to the fracturing of the Democratic-Repubican party when four separate candidates run for office and receive electoral votes. John Quincy Adams eventually wins in what is called the “corrupt bargain,” which spells an end to the Era of Good Feelings.
A Period of Harmony?
A question often considered by historians is whether the Era of Good Feelings deserves its name or not. Most would agree that the label is an ironic misnomer.
It is a popular myth in American history that the one-party system led to a political vacuum where everyone got along and all was harmonious.4
At the national political level, there indeed was little competition and Monroe enjoyed wide support. However, Monroe turned a blind eye towards seemingly minor squabbles over slavery and tariffs and would later watch as they engulfed the nation into disarray and disunion.1
The mishandling of the Panic of 1819 as well as the fiery debates over the Missouri Compromise foreshadowed the primary national issues of the coming decades. These events certainly did not show national unity and these took place right in the middle of the “Era of Good Feelings.”
The issue of sectionalism also was slowly beginning to show its divisiveness in American politics, especially as the US continued to expand westward. Monroe misinterpreted his near-unanimous reelection in 1820 as unity, rather than indifference.
Even within the Democratic-Republican party, relationships crumbled. The lack of a unified opponent led to a breakdown in party principles as the sole political party became synonymous with many different political opinions.5
Without Federalists to oppose, Democratic-Republicans squabbled over other issues, eventually driving a wedge in the party.
By 1824, four separate candidates were introduced under the Democratic-Republican party, largely split along sectional lines.
How did the Era of Good Feelings End?
The Era of Good Feelings formally ended with the contentious election of 1824 and fracturing of the Democratic-Republican party. It can also be argued that the era ended as early as 1820 with the bitter debates over slavery in the Missouri Compromise.
Even as James Monroe gave his inaugural address in 1820 some politicians were already formulating plans for the 1824 election along the lines of factionalism that would doom the Democratic-Republican party.3
In the key states of New York and Pennsylvania, voters already began splitting apart following charismatic leaders. In New York it was the “Clintonians” behind Governor DeWitt Clinton, and the “Bucktails” following Senator and future President Martin Van Buren.
Pennsylvanians were split more along economic grounds with varying sections of the populace favoring protectionist tariffs, while others opposed them based on their regional economy.1
In addition, the west increasingly had a stronger voice in national politics whose interests often differed greatly from the northeast and south. Henry Clay of Kentucky was a strong voice in pursuing an “American System” and was often critical of Monroe’s policies.4
By 1822, the legislature in Tennessee already nominated former military hero Andrew Jackson as a presidential candidate. The nation was moving on from the Monroe administration.
Jackson’s ascent helped spell the end of the Democratic-Republican party with the rise of the modern Democratic party under Jacksonian principles.
While Monroe’s presidency certainly saw one party dominate national politics, the underlying conflict begs the question of whether there truly ever was an “Era of Good Feelings.”
To learn more about US history, check out this timeline of the history of the United States.
1) Klein, Philip S. “THE ERA OF GOOD FEELING IN PENNSYLVANIA.” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies, vol. 25, no. 4, Penn State University Press, 1958, pp. 410–17, http://www.jstor.org/stable/27769839.
2) Sydnor, Charles S. “The One-Party Period of American History.” The American Historical Review, vol. 51, no. 3, [Oxford University Press, American Historical Association], 1946, pp. 439–51, https://doi.org/10.2307/1840108.
3) SPANN, EDWARD K. “THE SOURING OF GOOD FEELINGS: JOHN W. TAYLOR AND THE SPEAKERSHIP ELECTION OF 1821.” New York History, vol. 41, no. 4, New York State Historical Association, 1960, pp. 379–99, http://www.jstor.org/stable/23153651.
4) Lerche, Charles O. The William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 9, no. 3, Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1952, pp. 456–58, https://doi.org/10.2307/1917006.
5) Phillips, Kim T. “Democrats of the Old School in the Era of Good Feelings.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 95, no. 3, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1971, pp. 363–82, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20090571.