Monroe and the Era of Good Feelings
Monroe and the Era of Good Feelings
The demise of the Federalist Party was confirmed in the 1816 presidential election, which James Monroe won easily. Monroe was the first clear representative of the one-party system under the Republicans. His term in office became known as the Era of Good Feelings, in part because of the political cooperation stemming from one-party politics, and because of America’s high morale after the War of 1812. This unifying nationalist spirit peaked in the election of 1820, which Monroe won in a landslide: 231 votes to his opponent John Quincy Adams’s one.
Monroe rarely departed from James Madison’s nationalistic program. He supported federal funding for internal improvements, though he hesitated to authorize direct federal involvement, and he raised protective tariffs to spur American manufacturing.
The Transportation Revolution Begins
In 1817, ten years after the invention of the steamboat, New York began construction of the Erie Canal, the first major canal project in the United States. Upon its completion in 1825, the canal stretched 363 miles, from Albany to Buffalo, much farther than any other American or European canal. A system of canals soon developed around the nation, linking waterways from the Northeast to the frontier West. At the same time, the U.S. government invested in the National Road, which by 1818 stretched from Cumberland, Maryland, to Wheeling, Virginia. Added to this were webs of privately owned toll roads around each major U.S. city, which served as the foundation for the growing road system.
Economic Boom and Bust
Postwar economic prosperity enhanced political optimism in the United States. The economy dramatically expanded as a result of a postwar borrowing and buying frenzy. Banks lent money with little or no collateral to businessmen seeking to buy land, build factories, and develop industries.The high protective tariff of 1816 promoted further domestic development. Accompanying this expansion was the steady rise of inflation, the increase of paper money and credit leading to higher prices and less valuable currency.
In 1818, the global demand for American goods declined, in part because Europe had recovered from the devastation of the Napoleonic Wars. As a result of the decline in trade, the U.S. economy began to collapse and banks contracted their lending practices. Many state banks folded and many borrowers declared bankruptcy. In what became known as the Panic of 1819, land values fell 50 to 75 percent, rich land speculators lost fortunes, and homesteaders became mired in debt. The depression lasted roughly three years.
The Transcontinental Treaty
Spain and the U.S. long debated whether or not the Louisiana Purchase included western Florida. In 1819, the matter was settled when Spain agreed to the Adams-Onís Treaty, also known as the Transcontinental Treaty. By the terms of this treaty, Spain ceded eastern Florida to the United States, renounced all claims to western Florida, and agreed to a southern border of the United States west of the Mississippi River extending all the way to the Pacific Ocean, thereby recognizing U.S. claims to the Oregon Territory. This treaty gave the United States its first legitimate claim to the west coast.
The Missouri Compromise
Despite its name, the Era of Good Feelings was not all cooperation and goodwill. The period also saw political controversy between the North and South. Westward expansion spawned sectional conflict, as the North and South feuded about whether western territories should be slave-holding or free.
In 1819 the Union consisted of eleven free states and eleven slave states. But the application for statehood by the territory of Missouri threatened to upset this balance. Congress fell into heated debate, until James Tallmadge, Jr. of New York proposed a resolution. He proposed an amendment to the bill for Missouri’s admission that would prohibit the further introduction of slaves into Missouri and mandate the emancipation at age twenty-five of slaves’ offspring born after the state was admitted to the Union. The House approved the bill with the Tallmadge Amendment, but the Senate struck the amendment from the bill.
The application of Maine for statehood allowed the Senate to escape its deadlock and agree on the terms of the Missouri Compromise. Maine was to be admitted as a free state and Missouri as a slave state, but in the remainder of the Louisiana Territory, slavery would be prohibited north of 36º30' latitude (the southern border of Missouri). However, the compromise rapidly disintegrated when Missouri submitted a draft constitution that prohibited free blacks from entering the state. Northern opposition blocked Missouri from statehood until 1821, when Henry Clay designed a new agreement that prohibited Missouri from discriminating against citizens of other states, including blacks with citizenship. The Compromise cooled tensions between the North and South, but only temporarily. Sectional conflict would only increase in the years to come.
Elements of the Missouri Compromise, in its final form: Maine admitted as a free state; Missouri admitted as a slave state; slavery prohibited in the Louisiana Territory north of 36º30'; Missouri prohibited from discriminating against black citizens of other states.
The Monroe Doctrine
During James Monroe’s presidency, several revolutions against Spanish rule flared up in South and Central America and ousted the colonial governments. New leaders such as Simon Bolivar established independent regimes. The U.S., having itself broken away from colonial rule, officially recognized these new countries, and established lucrative trading relations with many of them. Fearing that European governments would intervene and try to reassert colonial dominance, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams composed the Monroe Doctrine, which Monroe revealed in 1823. This doctrine declared American dominance in the Western Hemisphere and warned against European interference in the Americas. It consisted of three principles:
  • Unless American interests were involved, the United States would stay out of European wars.
  • The “American continents”, including both North and South America, were not subject to any further colonization by European powers.
  • The United States would construe any attempt at European colonization in the New World as an “unfriendly act.”
Although the U.S. had little military power to back up its claims, the declaration nonetheless had immense symbolic importance, announcing the United States as a world power equal to the great European nations.
The Monroe Doctrine asserted U.S. preeminence in the affairs of the Americas, a position that has informed American foreign relations ever since.
The Marshall Court
John Marshall was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1801, and remained in office until he died in 1835. Under his leadership, the court became as powerful a government force as Congress and the president. A staunch Federalist, Marshall delivered decisions that strengthened the central government at the expense of states’ rights, and he upheld a broad reading of the Constitution. Despite the death of the Federalist Party in the early 1800s, Marshall continued to exert a strong Federalist influence on government. His rulings elicited resistance from the Republican leadership and sparked political controversy in an age otherwise known for its spirit of cooperation. The Supreme Court rulings exposed latent dissent within the American government concerning issues of government authority, state versus federal rights, and the regulation of trade.
Marshall’s first significant decision came in the 1803 case of Marbury v. Madison, discussed earlier. This ruling established the principle of judicial review, the Supreme Court’s power to rule an act of Congress unconstitutional. The Court did not again invoke this power until the Dred Scott case, 54 years later.
In 1819, the Supreme Court delivered two controversial decisions on the issue of state versus federal rights. In Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819), Marshall ruled that New Hampshire could not convert Dartmouth College into a state university because the college’s charter, issued by Britain before the American Revolution, qualified as a contract, and the Constitution forbids states to interfere with contracts. A month later, Marshall delivered an even more momentous decision in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), which questioned whether Maryland could tax the Second Bank of the United States. Marshall argued that the federal government’s power must be considered supreme within its sphere, and that states did not have the power to interfere with the exercise of federal powers. He therefore deemed the Maryland tax unconstitutional. Republicans, long-standing advocates of states’ rights, were outraged by these two rulings, since they stripped state governments of the necessary power to impose the will of their people on corporations operating within their borders.
The case of Gibbons v. Ogden (1824) concerned the issue of interstate commerce. The case involved a New York state steamboat franchise that had been granted a monopoly by the state legislature to run passenger ships between New York and New Jersey. This state license conflicted with a federal license, granted to another boat operator, to run the same steamboat route. Marshall ruled in favor of the federal license, arguing that a state cannot interfere with Congress’s right to regulate interstate commerce. Marshall thus interpreted “commerce” broadly to include all forms of business, not just the exchange of goods—an interpretation that would prove crucial to the drafting and constitutional defense of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, with which Congress prohibited discrimination in public accommodations. As they had with Marshall’s earlier rulings, Republicans condemned this ruling as too antagonistic toward states’ rights.
Chief Justice Marshall issued significant rulings on judicial review, federal versus state power, the sanctity of contracts, and congressional control of interstate commerce. He transformed the Court into a formidable government force, equal to Congress and the president.
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