America's "Era of Good Feelings": A DBQ Sample Essay

Updated on March 13, 2018
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4th of July, 1819, Philadelphia—John Lewis Krimmel
4th of July, 1819, Philadelphia—John Lewis Krimmel | Source

After the initial growing pains associated with intense political partisanship, America entered what historians (ever since Benjamin Russell of the Boston Newspaper in 1817) have labeled the “Era of Good Feelings.” Beginning with the American victory in the War of 1812, various issues subsided and the aura of America changed for the better. Numerous debates over issues such as foreign diplomacy and policy seemingly dissolved and the void was filled with positive nationalist fervor. The era was characterized by multiple compromises that, while sectionalist in nature, satisfied both the north and the south. This state of bipartisan cooperation was the result of hardened diplomatic efforts amongst geniuses. Moreover, America still faced difficulties. Nevertheless, “The Era of Good Feelings” was a drastic step forward in American history. It represented a period in which progress flourished and, to that end, Americans united. With economic proliferation, political stabilization, and social prosperity, the time between 1815 and1825 ushered in countless new ideas that highlighted American greatness like never before.

Although the time was painted singularly with “good feelings,” it is doubtless that America faced challenges during that time, and that the general undertones and overtones bespeaking prosperity did not comprise a majority of the American people. In spite of this, many instances do speak to this positivity. For example, the nationalist movement magnified following the American victory in the War of 1812, of which Andrew Jackson played a major role. In actuality, the War of 1812, declared by Madison, was a complete and utter mistake. Nevertheless, the efforts of men such as Andrew Jackson, in the Battle of New Orleans and Horseshoe Bend, still managed to tug at the American patriotic spirit. This new found patriotism negated previous Federalist and Republican disagreements on the matter borne out in the Hartford Convention of 1814.

John C. Calhoun
John C. Calhoun | Source

With the advent of a common patriotic mindset, and progressing further into the eighteen-teens, economic stimulation and expansion came with the transportation and subsequent market revolutions that changed the face of American domestic manufacturing. With the advice of such men as John C. Calhoun, whose ideas granting the minority veto power are represented in today’s system of jurisprudence and legislative due process, government, to a greater degree, procured the creation of transportation venues. Calhoun disregarded the cynical message of his congressional counterparts, such as John Randolph. Randolph saw urbanization as the brutalizing force by which the poor are kept poor and “the others run in the ring of pleasure, and fatten upon them” he instead argues that, although disunity is a very real prospect, the message validating economic stagnation has no redeeming qualities and thus the former must be adopted in place of the latter. Essentially, Calhoun argued for the eradication of bitter distrust amongst social superiorities and for a united front towards American prosperity. The federal government accepted Calhoun’s argument—as is evident in such pivotal undertakings as the Erie Canal of 1817. At this time, unification and the disregard of dissimilarities were responsibly introduced. In Gibbons vs. Ogden, John Marshal elucidates the role of government and that of the state, showing how the latter is subordinate to the former in all issues regarding the regulation of commerce—which includes transportation efforts. With regards to pecuniary dealings, the Second Bank of America, originating during the Monroe Presidency, foreshadows additional disputes that were put down during the Era of Good Feeling. With the grand decision in Maryland vs. Madison, Marshall rejects the idea that “the powers of the general government…are delegated by the states” and establishes, citing Article 2 Section 8, or the “necessary and proper” clause, that the Federal government remains the supreme power, preeminent above all state-based legislatures and courts. Similarly, in Dartmouth College v. Woodward, Marshall ruled in favor of the federal government by denying states the right to interfere with contracts. According to Marshall, a college charter qualified as a contract. Although controversy ensued, the culmination of these Supreme Court decisions made it so that there was no question as to what the laws were and, by whom, the laws were rightly enacted. In this sense, the general atmosphere calmed.

Henry Clay
Henry Clay | Source

Despite the overwhelming progress during the Era of Good Feeling, slavery was still present. However, its presence during the time caused limited friction amongst other Americans. The efforts of Henry Clay in the Missouri Compromise beautifully defused North and South tensions by presenting an option acceptable to both parties. This compromising idea, in contrast to the Tallmadge Amendment which merely limited slavery in Missouri, expressed the addition of states in pairs—one free, one slave—so as to maintain the balance of powers and satisfy both sides of the 36°30’ (the southern border of Missouri that acted in accordance with Clay’s plan). A clear line had been drawn to show where Southern (slave-states) and Northern (free-states) would be separated. Although the Missouri Compromise would only work to suspend the inevitable confrontation borne out in the civil war (predicted by Thomas Jefferson in his letter to John Randolph in April of 1820) it successfully instituted a period of “good feeling”—albeit a short period.

Diplomatic success was not limited to Henry Clay and the Missouri Compromise. Under Monroe’s Republican presidency, with help from the Federalist John Quincy Adams, foreign-based diplomatic efforts proved hugely successful in the Adams-Onis Treaty, whereby Florida was ceded to America. In 1819, after years of debate over Florida’s supposed inclusion in Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase, Spain relinquished their claims to all of Florida and the land west of the Mississippi. In establishing the new western American border, the Pacific Ocean, a sense of uniformity and accomplishment was shared between both the nearly extinct federalists (Adams) and Republicans (Monroe) as they worked together towards what would prove a diplomatic success.

The American atmosphere during the Era of Good Feelings really portrays the political arena as working in unison, and with a peculiar happiness. However, beneath its calm appearance, a deadly storm was growing.

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