A Spirit of Nationalism

Monroe's presidency brought one‐party rule to the United States, but the unanimity was more apparent than real. Although the Republicans controlled the presidency and Congress, some Republican leaders were developing their own political program. Henry Clay endorsed what he called an American System, which included tariff protection for new industries, federal support for internal improvements such as roads and bridges, and renewal of the national bank, ideas not far removed from what Federalists advocated. Many Republicans agreed with Clay. Congress approved the Second Bank of the United States in 1816 for a twenty‐year period and passed a moderate tariff in the same year.

Internal improvements were another matter. Federal spending on roads began under Jefferson when Congress agreed to fund the construction of the National Road from the Atlantic coast into Ohio, but Republicans were never comfortable with the idea. Although roads and canals could be justified as “necessary and proper” to carry out such legitimate functions of the federal government as the promotion of commerce, they believed these programs really were the responsibility of the states, absent a constitutional amendment. Madison used this argument in vetoing a bill that would have appropriated money for internal improvements.

The Era of Good Feelings. With the embargo in the past and the country at peace, a Boston newspaper editor called the postwar period the “Era of Good Feelings.” Monroe sought reconciliation of political differences, so the nickname of the era also applied to his administration. In 1820, Monroe won reelection handily by 231 votes to 1; the sole dissenting elector voted for John Quincy Adams, who ran as an Independent Republican.

Even as political leaders spoke in nationalist terms, new issues surfaced to create new political divisions. John Marshall's Supreme Court handed down decisions that clearly favored a strong national government, even though the party representing that view, the Federalist, was defunct. In the Dartmouth College case (1819), the Court ruled that charters granted by the states to private organizations were contracts protected under the contract clause of the Constitution, and state legislatures had no right to impair these contracts. The decision in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), which denied the states the power to tax a federal agency (in this case the Second Bank of the United States), recognized that while the powers of the federal government were limited, the government was “supreme within its sphere of action.”

New states and a new crisis. Since 1812, five states had been added to the Union, bringing the total to twenty‐two: Louisiana (1812), Indiana (1816), Mississippi (1817), Illinois (1818), and Alabama (1819). In February 1819, Missouri Territory applied for statehood, but its proposed constitution permitted slavery, and at this point, eleven of the twenty‐two states were “free” and eleven were “slave” states. Admitting Missouri would thus upset the existing balance. After considerable debate, a compromise credited to Henry Clay's efforts was reached. Maine, which was cleaved from Massachusetts, was admitted as a free state, followed by Missouri's admission as a slave state; the balance between free and slave states was thus preserved by the Missouri Compromise. Southerners agreed that slavery would not be permitted north of the 36°30′ line in the Louisiana Purchase. The next six territories to become states would continue the fragile balancing act.

Monroe's foreign policy. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams successfully concluded the Transcontinental Treaty (also called the Adams‐Onís Treaty) with Spain, in which Spain gave up its unprofitable and troublesome Florida colony in return for $5 million and a clear boundary line running from the Sabine River between Spanish Texas and Louisiana across to the Pacific Ocean.

Adams followed this successful negotiation with a policy statement regarding the new Latin American republics. Approached by the British to join an alliance supporting Latin American independence, Adams proposed instead to create a policy that would inform Europe that the Western Hemisphere was no longer open to colonization and that any such attempt would be viewed by the United States as an unfriendly act. In return, the United States pledged not to get involved in European problems. Because these ideas were written into Monroe's annual message to Congress, the policy eventually became known as the Monroe Doctrine.

The Era of Good Feelings did not survive Monroe's two terms as president. By 1824, nationalism was being replaced by the growth of sectionalism, or the sense of one's place being in a portion of the nation rather than in the nation as a whole. Thus, even as developments in transportation and communication worked to unite the nation, political differences threatened to pull it apart.