"The Era of Good Feeling"
The "Era of Good Feelings" was a time of
increased nationalism and prosperity for the nation; however, debates over several
important issues created a crack in the outward appearance of harmony during President
Monroe's terms. Since the country had entered into a state of extreme nationalism, it was
difficult for the people to recognize the many problems that were slowly surfacing. Some
of these problems included heated debates over internal improvements, the growing
sectional discord, foreign policy issues and the National Bank.
One of the conflicts seen during this time was the argument over internal improvements. Many bills pertaining to the infrastructure of the nation were proposed by Congress during this time, but not as many were passed. These bills, which would have provided for the building of roads and such, were denied by many who were supporters of states' rights. States' righters, as some called them, were against the government involving itself in the building of infrastructure which they felt each state should oversee itself. "I am constrained by the insuperable difficulty I feel in reconciling the bill with the Constitution of the United States to return it with that objection." (B.) Many bills were either vetoed or did not pass Congress due to the fear of potential monopolistic activity of the government. The states felt that if there were any improvements that were to be made, then they should be the ones to propose and ultimately make these improvements. This was not the case, however. Internal improvements were too large to be left to the states alone. It was thought that these improvements would promote growth in much of the country, but states' righters still felt it was an overreaching of the power of the federal government. Monroe, who was president during much of the "Era of Good Feelings", felt that Congress did not "possess the power under the Constitution to pass such a law." (G.) Although some may have argued that these were implied powers granted to Congress, others felt that the branches only had powers which were enumerated specifically in the Constitution.
Another argument of the time was the sectional tensions between the North, South, and West. One of these debates was that of slavery, a topic of contention since the beginning of the United States. Since the invention of the cotton gin, cotton had become an easy and profitable crop to work with, making the need for slaves even more imperative to the plantation owners of the South. Almost overnight, the cotton industry skyrocketed, and all hopes for a slow and quiet end to slavery were crushed. New hopes, however, were created with the Missouri Compromise. "That the further introduction of slavery or involuntary servitude be prohibited...and that all children of slaves, born within the said state, after the admission thereof into the Union, shall be free but may be held to service until the age of twenty-five years." (E.) Also, all territories entering into the Union, which were located above the 36°30' line on the map, (with the exception of Missouri,) were to be closed to slavery, and all those territories below the line left open to slavery. The territories below the line would use a method known as popular sovereignty, in which the citizens of that territory would vote on the issue: slave or free. At first, this was reluctantly accepted, until an imbalance was created between the number of slave and free states. This imbalance of states meant an imbalance in Congressional representation, which could lead to the passing of laws that benefited either the South or the North, in ways that the other did not approve. This solution, however, was only a temporary mask to mask the ugly head of slavery, which was slowly splitting the country.
Another topic which was a problem between states was the Tariff of 1816. This tariff was proposed to increase American manufacturing and to raise federal money to aid in internal improvements. Although many saw this as a needed expense in order to secure the economy of the United States, the South saw otherwise. This "protective tariff" was no more than an extra, unneeded expense that did more harm than actual good. Every section of the United States voted for this Tariff in the House of Representatives, except for the South. (34 of the 57 representatives from the South voted against the Tariff of 1816.) At this point in time, the South was prospering from their cotton crops and exporting cotton to various parts of the globe. By introducing this tariff, they would have to pay an additional fee to the federal government in order to import luxury goods from foreign countries, such as England and France. This increase in price was one that the Southern plantation owners could no longer afford. The North, Middle and Western states, however, were for this tariff, because it provided for an increase in revenue which would provide for the building of roads to ship goods across the nation. This debate only deepened the tensions between the sections of the United States.
Another problem which reared its head during this period, was the debate over the National Bank. In 1811, the charter for the National Bank was allowed to run out, and in 1816, the government set up a twenty year charter that would provide 20% of the start up money required to reopen the National Bank. In 1817, the Bank reopened. In 1819, the state of Maryland tried to tax the federal bank, and won in the Maryland court system. The case was then brought before the Supreme Court, in McCulloch v. Maryland, and it was found that a state did not have the right to tax a federal institution because a state could not set out to destroy the National Bank. Also decided in this case, was the idea that government did possess the right to create a National Bank, even though it is not one of the enumerated powers in the Constitution; it is an implied power. In the middle of 1818, the economy slowed down, and people started to panic. The National Bank tightened its money supply and raised interest rates. Also, the amount of Greenbacks in circulation was too high, and therefore, caused deflation. As a result, another Panic occurred in 1819, and the American people blamed the National Bank.
One last debate during the Era of Good Feeling, was over foreign policy. In 1823, the Monroe Doctrine was issued, stating, " we should consider any attempt on their [European powers'] part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety." (A.) This was not written because the United States was trying to better the world for those countries who were just given independence from their mother countries, but it was a move made for the benefit of the United States. The Monroe Doctrine established that the newly independent Latin American countries were not open to recolonization by their former European masters. Mainly, it was written to protect the Americas from foreign aggression.
The Era of Good Feeling was a time of increased nationalism and prosperity for the nation; however, debates over several important issues created a crack in the outward appearance of harmony at the time. Although there was prosperity, Americans could not see past their extreme nationalism to the regional issues that they really faced. These problems led to the eventual split of the nation in 1861. As one journalist wrote, in 1824, "I see nothing but men and factions without caring whether government shall be well or badly administered...and they call this an abatement of party spirits, a reconciliation of parties, a species of political millennium." (H.)
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