The Era of Good Feelings

– Portrait of James Monroe by John Vanderlyn, 1816

“During the late Presidential Jubilee many persons have met at festive boards, in pleasant converse, whom party politics had long severed. We recur with pleasure to all the circumstances which attended the demonstrations of good feelings.”

Columbian Centinel, July 12, 1817.

No president since George Washington travelled as extensively as James Monroe did during his 1817 tour of the northern United States. Beginning in Baltimore, Monroe visited over a hundred cities across eleven states, along with the Michigan Territory. Monroe intended to inspect post-war fortifications, but his presence North, a traditional cradle of federalism, also demonstrated his commitment to national unity. Boston’s Columbian Centinel recognized the sense of nationalism surrounding his tour and christened his first presidential term the “Era of Good Feelings.” Former political rivals greeted him in Boston, illustrating their support for the new administration. Likewise, the journey to Detroit solidified his approval among frontiersmen who now believed they were part of the burgeoning nation.

The organized factions George Washington warned about in his farewell address certainly impeded the United States’ success during the War of 1812. Monroe wrote about these political divisions in The People The Sovereigns, considering them a cause of many ancient republic’s decline. Therefore, at the onset of his presidency, Monroe appointed only Democratic-Republicans with the aim of eliminating party conflicts for good. Democratic-Republicans, however, adopted many of the Federalist Party’s objectives after the war, which naturally produced a one party system within the United States. Baltimore’s Federal Republican commented on this merger, noting that “the nearer the Democratic administration and party come up to the old federal principles and measures, the better they act and the more we prosper…” But as the Era of Good Feelings progressed, political infighting and sectional disputes replaced old party lines. Though only one electoral vote went against Monroe in the 1820 election, the Democratic-Republican party experienced significant disunity during his second term based on sectional disagreements, particularly over slavery.

The different document types introduce varying interpretations of Monroe’s presidency and northern tour. The Columbian Centinel coined the era’s monicker, and the Detroit Gazette elaborated on the feelings Monroe’s tour brought to the territory. Abigail Adams praised the President’s visit to Boston, describing the way he impressed the citizenry and embodied nationalism in post-war America, supporting the notion that this was indeed the Era of Good Feelings.

Document Based Questions

 Columbian Centinel, July 12, 1817 (Courtesy of the James Monroe Museum) View

  1. What happened to party politics in the United States?
  2. How did the editor describe the dinner reception hosted by former President John Adams?
  3. What political parties did the guests belong to, and how did this acknowledgment support the unifying themes of the Era of Good Feelings?
  4. Why would the editor include a list of guests in attendance, along with their titles?

Abigail Adams to Richard Rush July 14, 1817 (Courtesy of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania) View

  1. What impression did James Monroe’s tour have on the people of New England?
  2. Which places did James Monroe visit and review while in New England?
  3. How did Abigail Adams hope James Monroe would be upon his return from the tour?
  4. What does Abigail Adams’ authorship of this letter, and her description of James Monroe, reveal about the attitudes of Federalist Party members during this time?

Detroit Gazette, August 16, 1817 (Digitized by Google Newspapers) View

  1. How did the people of Detroit react upon hearing of the President’s arrival?
  2. What impact did the War of 1812 have on the changing character and attitudes of Americans?
  3. How did Major Charles Larned contrast James Monroe from his predecessors?
  4. What changes did Major Charles Larned hope Congress would make to benefit the Michigan Territory?

John Quincy Adams Diary, January 8, 1820 (Courtesy of the Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society) View

  1. Why would Congress do nothing over the issues with Spain regarding the Florida Treaty?
  2. What replaced “the old line of demarcation between [political] parties?”
  3. How did John Quincy Adams describe the two presidential terms of James Monroe differently?
  4. Why were South American countries unhappy with the United States and its foreign policy?
  5. Why was President James Monroe not concerned about the “Missouri slave question?”
  6. What were some reasons John Quincy Adams believed the Era of Good Feelings was ending?

Essential Questions

  1.  Why is the period following the War of 1812 considered the Era of Good Feelings?
  2. How much did James Monroe’s presidency contribute to the Era of Good Feelings?
  3. How impactful was James Monroe’s national tour in achieving national unity?
  4. Was the Era of Good Feelings really an era of national unity and political harmony?

Virginia Standards of Learning

CE.1    The student will demonstrate skills for historical thinking, geographical analysis, economic decision making, and responsible citizenship by

d) determining the accuracy and validity of information by separating fact and opinion and recognizing bias.

USI.7  The student will apply social science skills to understand the challenges faced by the new nation by

c) describing the major accomplishments of the first five presidents of the United States.

National Standards for Social Studies

Era 3: Revolution and the New Nation

Standard 3D

Grades ​​5-12     Compare the leaders and social and economic composition of each party. [Compare and contrast differing sets of ideas]

Era 4: Expansion and Reform

Standard 3B

Grades 7-12     Explain how tariff policy and issues of states’ rights influenced party development and promoted sectional differences. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]

Bibliography & Suggested Readings

 Ammon, Harry. “The Era of Good Feelings: Ideal” and Era of Good Feelings: Reality,” in James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1990. pp. 366-395.

Cooper, Kaitlyn. “Frontier Nationalism: President Monroe Visits Detroit,” in Border Crossings: The Detroit River Region in the War of 1812, ed. Denver Brunsman, Joel Stone, and Douglas D. Fisher. Detroit: Detroit Historical Society, 2012. pp. 244-254.

Marrone, Daniel S. “Promoting the Era of Good Feelings: James Monroe and Elizabeth Monroe’s Supportive Partnership.” American Spirit 150, no. 2 (March/April 2016): pp. 22-27.

McGrath, Tim. “‘The Happy Situation of the United States,’” in James Monroe: A Life. New York: Dutton, 2020. pp. 379-402.

McManus, Michael J. “President James Monroe’s Domestic Policies, 1817–1825: ‘To Advance the Best Interests of Our Union,’” in A Companion to James Madison and James Monroe, ed. Stuart Leibiger. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, 2013. pp. 438–455.

Moore, Glover. “Monroe’s Re-Election in 1820.” Mississippi Quarterly 11 (Summer 1958): pp. 131-140.