Section 8: Era of Good Feelings
At the end of the War of 1812, Monroe was perfectly positioned to become the next president of the United States. Two of his best friends, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, had directly preceded him in the office. He knew well the inner-workings of government. And while not incredibly popular, Monroe was at least very well respected by his countrymen. He had widespread support within his party. Monroe was ready for the next step.
Early on in the race, he received key endorsements and the Virginia caucus selected delegates sympathetic to Monroe. He overcame what amounted to almost token opposition from William H. Crawford, who had succeeded Monroe as secretary of war. Crawford, a popular and handsome but little-known Congressman, felt that he could wait until after Monroe's term to run for president and so never vigorously campaigned for the post. The Federalists, too, mounted only token opposition. Their party's failure to support the War of 1812 had permanently wounded the party and it dwindled off. What opposition remained rehashed tired scandals and innuendo involving Monroe's first term as minister to France and others whined about the "Virginia influence" in the nation's politics, since every president but John Adams had come from that state. The election of James Monroe to the presidency, by 193 electoral votes to 34 for the Federalist Senator Rufus King, was perhaps the first time since Washington that the presidency had been awarded for honorable public service instead of going to the winner of a drawn-out and bitter political campaign.
Monroe's vice president, for both terms as it would turn out, was Daniel D. Tompkins, the governor of New York. Tompkins had a strong reputation as a reformer and cultivated a popular image as a "farmer's boy." Throughout his career in government, he supported public education and various reform movements, most notably improved government treatment of Indians. While he was governor, New York had passed a law outlawing slavery by 1827.
Monroe chose his cabinet carefully. He wanted to balance the interests of a nation but did not want to unduly aid the dying Federalist party. He selected John Quincy Adams as secretary of state and asked Crawford to remain as secretary of the treasury–for alienating Crawford might give rise to a strong opposition. Adams was a relative unknown in Washington circles, having just completed nearly a decade overseas on diplomatic tours, but was highly qualified and, perhaps more importantly, a New Englander. Adams headed up the moderate remnants of the Federalist Party, and as the son of the Federalist leader John Adams, served to bridge the ideological divide in government. Monroe appeared to have chosen his cabinet masterfully–all but one, Secretary of the Navy Benjamin W. Crowninshield, would remain with him for his entire eight years as president. John C. Calhoun served as secretary of state and William Wirt served as attorney general.
Before the luster and excitement of the new president wore off, Monroe took off on a tour of North and the New England states–hoping that some attention to the northern states would alleviate concerns over the "Virginia influence" and help mend fences with the remaining federalists. At Trenton, the newspapers relished in his address proclaiming that city as a turning point in the Revolution and numerous accounts were given of the wound the "hero" had received in its streets during his "brave" service in the Revolution. He continued on to New York and West Point, and his tour of Boston and New England was unlike just about any presidential visit before or since. Cannons and parades followed him wherever he traveled and there was no sign of the earlier animosity towards the Virginian son. Masterfully, Monroe finished his tour in Boston, a former hotbed of Federalism, on July 4. The glorious Independence Day celebrations were never to be forgotten. At Harvard he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Ending on a very personal note in Vermont, Monroe met the woman who had dressed his wound at Trenton.
The president's tour, however, did more than just gloss over past disputes. In Monroe's fifteen-week tour, more Americans saw him personally than any previous president and the executive visits helped instill in America what a Boston newspaper termed the "Era of Good Feelings," a sense of prosperity and wealth that stemmed from the booming economy, the successful war, and the decline of organized opposition to the president. Monroe had seemingly united the United States. The peace was at best only temporary, but Monroe encouraged the feeling for as long as it would last.
Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!