The Era of Good Feelings and the Origins of the Modern Two-Party System

At the beginning of the 19th century, America was a deeply divided state. The most notable division was between Federalist and Republican parties, but there were others, similar damaging ones, like the North and South split, or the antagonism between large East Coast cities and settlers on the Western frontier. It fell on James Monroe’s shoulders to reconcile these divisions. Despite them, after the victory in a war against Great Britain in 1812, the wave of optimism swept across the nation, later to be dubbed the Era of Good Feelings. The period was in large part marked by the presidency of James Monroe (1816-1825) and his efforts to reunite the nation.

Federalist party, favoring good relationships with Great Britain, was in disarray after the War of 1812. The pray was accused of secretly plotting to install a king and ring down the republic, something a vast majority of Americans loathed. Federalist tried to consolidate by calling Hartford Convention in 1814, but the convention, marred with secret meetings and closed-door sessions, only served to further dissolve the party. Presidential elections in 1816, which saw James Monroe defeat Federalist candidate Rufus King overwhelmingly, were the final nail in the coffin.

The new president considered all political parties incompatible with democracy and took active measures to reduce their influence, not only of the Federalist Party but also of his own Democratic-Republicans as well. He was so successful in his attempts that in 1820 he ran for president again, and this time almost without a real opponent. In an effort to reconcile the country, he went on good-will tours in 1817 and 1819. In 1817 he visited New England, focusing on Federalists’ strongpoints Massachusetts and Boston. It was in Boston, and by a Federalists newspaper, that the term “Era of Good Feelings” was coined. President Monroe’s dignified, yet easy-going style won over many Federalist, ushering the nation in a new age of unity and patriotism.

Monroe realized that rivalry within his own party could easily jeopardize everything he worked for, so he always tried to include his political rivals in his administration by granting them high political offices. Three of his four competitors for the 1824 elections served in his administration: John Quincy Adams, John C. Calhoun, and William H. Crawford. The fourth one, Andrew Jackson, was a commander of the Army on the southeastern border of the United States. Despite Monroe’s intentions, his efforts eroded the party unity.

Harry Ammon in his book “James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity” said: “From the moment that Monroe adopted as his guiding principle the maxim that he was head of a nation, not the leader of a party, he repudiated for all practical purposes the party unity that would have served to establish his policies. The result was a loss of party discipline.”

Old Republicans, a faction within Democrats-Republican, raised issues over the new nationalism and a new conflict over state and federal rights emerged. A question of Southern supremacy within the Union was another issue that led to the creation of the Whig Party in 1830 and the end of Era of Good Feelings.


As one of the founders of Knjaz Milos tries to bring all the latest news regarding politics. He loves history and is passionate about writing.
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