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What is the Era of Good Feelings?

By Matt Brady
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Era of Good Feelings was a period in United States (U.S.) history marked by widespread nationalism and a decreased level of bitter, partisan politics. Most historians contend that the period began in 1815, when the War of 1812 ended. The period ended around 1825, when political disputes once again began to ratchet up over slavery, territory and presidential contenders for the 1828 election.

Prior to the Era of Good Feelings, the U.S. was politically divided over fierce bickering between the Federalist and the Democratic-Republican parties. The Federalist Party grew up around the ideals of Alexander Hamilton, who advocated implementing a national bank as well as a system for regulating the nations finances and debt. The party enjoyed a near-decade of power in the 1790s, but was knocked out of the majority in 1800 by the Democratic-Republican Party, which favored a smaller government with less regulation.

During the early 1800s, the Federalist Party and the Democratic-Republican Party became even more opposed to one another. Supporters of the Democratic-Republican Party were generally suspicious of Hamilton's views, which they considered to be too much in favor of big government. Tensions mounted to such extremes that the parties began to lobby demeaning accusations at opponents in a terrible bout of mudslinging. Second U.S. President and Federalist Party member John Adams was derided as a secret monarchist, while Thomas Jefferson, the third president and a Democratic-Republican, was accused of being an atheist and sympathetic to France during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars.

The War of 1812 further aggravated the political fighting. James Madison, the fourth U.S. president and a Democratic-Republican, faced severe criticism from Federalists for the war. This stance would prove fateful for the Federalist Party: when the War of 1812 ended with what most Americans felt was a victory over the British, the Federalist Party's anti-war stance seemed out of place and irrelevant to many. As a result, during the 1816 presidential election, the Federalist Party experienced a crushing defeat and faced the threat of political extinction. These events diminished the ugly rhetoric that had previously suffocated the U.S., and helped to usher in the Era of Good Feelings.

With new President James Monroe in office, the War of 1812 a memory, and the Federalist Party reduced to a whimper, the U.S. began to feel a sense of optimism and national pride. Political fighting and nail-biting over the war didn't dominate headlines. The new mood prompted journalist Benjamin Russell to describe the period of time as the "Era of Good Feelings" in the Columbian Centinel, a Boston newspaper. Russell wrote those words in response to a visit to Boston by Monroe in 1817, during which both parties expressed a sense of unity under the president.

This era continued to surge, with nationalistic sentiment aided by the U.S. acquisition of Florida in 1819 under the terms of the Adams-Onís Treaty. The Monroe Doctrine, issued in 1823, further helped to boost America's sense of national pride. The doctrine issued a proclamation to Europe to stop colonizing new land in the Americas and warned against interfering with the states. If Europe didn't heed these warnings, the doctrine stated that U.S. intervention would be necessary. The doctrine did promise, however, that the U.S. would not interfere with Europe's existing colonies.

The era had some setbacks with the financial Panic of 1819. This, however, didn't ruin national optimism, which rebounded some with the Missouri Compromise of 1820. The compromise temporarily quelled feuding between pro- and anti-slavery factions in the U.S.

The hotly-contested and controversial presidential election of 1824 did much to erode the optimism and political restraint that had marked the Era of Good Feelings. Andrew Jackson won the popular vote, but none of the four presidential contenders had received a majority vote within the Electoral College. The decision was thus handed over to the House of Representatives, where Speaker of the House Henry Clay chose John Quincy Adams as the new president. Adams then chose Clay to be his secretary of state.

Jackson believed that Clay had promised Adams the presidency in exchange for being secretary of state. The election came to be known as the "corrupt bargain," and was considered a stolen presidency by Jackson, who vowed to win the election in 1828, and succeeded. When the election of 1828 came around, the political fervor and controversy effectively put an end to the Era of Good Feelings.

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Discussion Comments
By croydon — On Nov 04, 2013

@Mor - Well, even this period of good feelings was very brief. I think it's just the nature of democracy, unfortunately, that it is always going to be somewhat clunky. When you are trying to give an equal vote to everyone in the country, that's just what happens.

Not that I think there is a better way to do things. I've never seen a better system, but the one we've got certainly isn't perfect.

By Mor — On Nov 03, 2013

@pleonasm - I wish that something like that would happen now. It seems like most polls that ask people what they want come back with a majority of people wanting the same results on the same issues, but they still think their party should be the one to deliver them.

It also kind of drives me nuts that we always seem to veer from one party to another like clockwork. It makes it seem like there really is no difference between them, it's just a matter of being the flavor of the month because everyone is blaming the other party for the problems of the country.

By pleonasm — On Nov 02, 2013

It's interesting that they actually recognized what was happening during the era, rather than just after the fact. It seems like most of the time it's difficult to define a period until you can see it from the outside.

Although it sounds like it was such an extreme difference from the normal bickering that goes on in politics that it was very noticeable.

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