Era of Good Feelings DBQ Sample Essay

Historians have traditionally labeled the period after the War of 1812 the "Era of Good Fellings". Evaluate the accuracy of this label, considering the emergence of nationalism and sectionalism.
Historians have traditionally labeled the period after the War of 1812 the "Era of Good Fellings". Evaluate the accuracy of this label, considering the emergence of nationalism and sectionalism. | Source

2002 AP US History Free Response Questions Form B

After the initial growing pains associated with intense political bipartisanships, America entered what historians (ever since Benjamin Russell of the Boston Newspaper in 1817) have labeled the “Era of Good Feelings”. Beginning with the American victory in the War of 1812, various issues subsided and the aura of America changed for the better. Numerous debates over issues such as foreign diplomacy and policy seemingly dissolved, and the void was filled with positive nationalist fervor and multiple compromises, that, however sectionalist in nature, satisfied both the north and the south—hence the phrase “good feelings”. This state of the country was not merely happened upon, but rather it was the result of hardened diplomatic efforts amongst geniuses. Moreover, America still faced difficulties. Nevertheless, “The Era of Good Feelings” was a drastic step forward in American history and truly did represent a period in which progress flourished and, to that end, Americans united. With economic proliferation, political stabilization, and social prosperity, the time between 1815 and1825 ushered in countless new ideas that highlighted American greatest like never before.

It is doubtless that America faced challenges during that time painted singularly with “good feelings” and that the general undertones and overtones bespeaking prosperity did not comprise in its entirety the American status quo. In spite of this, many instances do speak in accordance with such positivity. Prominent amongst these forces was the nationalist movement that magnified following the American victory in the War of 1812, of which Andrew Jackson played a major role. In actuality, the War of 1812, declared by Madison, was a complete and utter mistake. But the efforts of men such as Andrew Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans and Horseshoe Bend still managed to tug at the American patriotic spirit. And therefore, negating previous Federalist and Republican disagreements on the matter borne out in the Hartford Convention of 1814, Americans united under one idea—patriotism.


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With the advent of a common patriotic mindset, and progressing further into the eighteen-teens, economic stimulation and expansion came with the transportation and subsequent market revolutions that changed the face of American domestic manufacturing. With the advice of such men as John C. Calhoun, whose ideas granting the minority veto power are represented in today’s system of jurisprudence and legislative due process, government procured to a greater degree the creation of transportation venues. As Calhoun disregards the cynical message of his congressional counterparts, namely John Randolph who saw urbanization as the brutalizing force by which the poor are kept poor and “the others run in the ring of pleasure, and fatten upon them” he instead argues that, although disunity is a very real prospect, the message validating economic stagnation has no redeeming qualities and thus the former must be adopted in place of the latter. Essentially, with this, Calhoun argued for the eradication of bitter distrust amongst social superiorities and instead for a united front towards American prosperity. And as the federal government obviously accepted Calhoun’s argument, as evident in such pivotal undertakings as the Erie Canal of 1817, unification and the disregard of dissimilarities was responsibly introduced. In Gibbons vs. Ogden, John Marshal elucidates the role of government and that of the state, showing how the latter is subordinate to the former in all issues regarding the regulation of commerce—which includes transportation efforts. Further analyzing the implications during the time with regards to pecuniary dealings, the Second Bank of America, originating during the Monroe Presidency, foreshadows additional disputes that were put down during the Era of Good Feeling. With the grand decision in the Maryland vs. Madison case, Marshall rejects the idea that “the powers of the general government…are delegated by the states” and establishes by citing Article 2 Section 8, or the “necessary and proper” clause, that the Federal government remains the supreme power preeminent above all state based legislatures and courts. Similarly in Dartmouth College v. Woodward, Marshall ruled in favor of the federal government by denying states the right to interfere with contracts, which, according to Marshall, a college charter qualified as being. With the culmination of these Supreme Court decisions, although controversy ensued, there was no question as to what laws were and by whom laws were rightly enacted—and in this sense the general atmosphere calmed.


Despite the overwhelming progress during the Era of Good Feeling, slavery was still present. However, its presence during the time inaugurated limited friction, as the efforts of Henry Clay in the Missouri Compromise beautifully defused north and south tensions by presenting an option acceptable by both parties. This genius idea, in contrast to the Tallmadge Amendment which merely limited slavery in Missouri, expressed the addition of states in pairs—one free, one slave—so as to maintain the balance of powers and satisfy both sides of the 36°30’, which is the southern border of Missouri that acted (in accordance with Clay’s plan) as the line whereby the southern-slave and northern-free states would be separated. Although the Missouri Compromise would only work to suspend the inevitable confrontation borne out in the civil war and predicted by Thomas Jefferson in his letter to John Randolph in April of 1820 , it successfully instituted a period of “good feeling”—albeit a short period.

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Diplomatic success was not limited to Henry Clay and the Missouri Compromise, however. With John Quincy Adams, a Federalist, but under Monroe’s Republican Presidency, foreign based diplomatic efforts proved hugely successful in the Adams-Onis Treaty whereby Florida was ceded to America. In 1819 after years of debate over Florida’s supposed inclusion in Jefferson’s previous acquisitions outlined in the Louisiana Purchase, Spain relinquished their claims to all of Florida and the land west of the Mississippi. In establishing the new western American border, the Pacific Ocean, a sense of uniformity and accomplishment was shared between both the nearly extinct federalists (Adams) and Republicans (Monroe) as they worked together towards what would prove a diplomatic success.

The American atmosphere during the Era of Good Feelings really portrays, and by contrast, the political arena as working in unison and with a peculiar happiness. Although this era in American history will prove to be just a calm before the storm, it is no less a calm than the storm that is to come is a storm.

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