Era of Good Feelings

The seemingly placid era masked underlying problems

Engraved portrait of President James Monroe

World History Archive/Getty Images

The Era of Good Feelings was the name applied to the period in the United States corresponding with the term of President James Monroe, from 1817 to 1825. The phrase is believed to have been coined by a Boston newspaper shortly after Monroe took office.

The basis for the phrase is that the United States, following the War of 1812, settled into a period of rule by one party, the Democratic-Republicans of Monroe (which had their roots in the Jeffersonian Republicans). And, following the problems of the administration of James Madison, which included economic problems, protests against the war, and the burning of the White House and Capitol by British troops, the Monroe years seemed relatively placid.

And Monroe's presidency represented stability as it was a continuation of the "Virginia dynasty," as four of the first five presidents, Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, had been Virginians.

Yet in some ways, this period in history was misnamed. There were a number of tensions developing in the United States. For instance, a major crisis over the practice of enslavement in America was averted by the passage of the Missouri Compromise (and that solution was, of course, only temporary).

The very controversial election of 1824, which became known as "The Corrupt Bargain," brought an end to this period, and ushered in the troubled presidency of John Quincy Adams.

Enslavement as an Emerging Issue

The issue of enslavement was not absent in the early years of the United States, of course. Yet it was also somewhat submerged. The importation of African captives had been banned in the first decade of the 19th century, and some Americans expected that enslavement itself would eventually die out. In the North, the practice was being outlawed by the various states.

However, thanks to various factors including the rise of the cotton industry, enslavement in the South was becoming more entrenched. As the United States expanded and new states joined the Union, the balance in the national legislature between free states and states that allowed enslavement emerged as a critical issue.

A problem arose when Missouri sought to enter the Union as a state that allowed enslavement. That would have given such states a majority in the U.S. Senate. In early 1820, as the admission of Missouri was debated in the Capitol, it represented the first sustained debate about enslavement in Congress.

The problem of Missouri's admission was eventually decided by the Missouri Compromise (and the admission of Missouri to the Union as a state that practiced enslavement at the same time Maine was admitted as a free state).

The issue of enslavement was not settled, of course. But the dispute over it, at least in the federal government, was delayed.

Economic Problems

Another major problem during the Monroe administration was the first great financial depression of the 19th century, the Panic of 1819. The crisis was prompted by a fall in cotton prices, and the problems spread throughout the American economy.

The effects of the Panic of 1819 were most deeply felt in the South, which helped exacerbate sectional differences in the United States. Resentments about the economic hardship during the years 1819–1821 were a factor in the rise of Andrew Jackson's political career in the 1820s.

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McNamara, Robert. "Era of Good Feelings." ThoughtCo, Mar. 11, 2021, McNamara, Robert. (2021, March 11). Era of Good Feelings. Retrieved from McNamara, Robert. "Era of Good Feelings." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 24, 2023).