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Era of Good Feelings

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    In the years following the War of 1812, the “Era of Good Feelings” evolved between the years 1815 and 1825. In the first half of this period, there was a strong sense of nationalism throughout the United States. However, political changes and economic differences between the states warped this nationalism into the sectionalism that divided the country into north, south and west regions. Celebrations of unity within the United States soon turned into disagreements concerning representation within the government and the differences within the national government caused by the emergence of different Republican factions. States distanced themselves from working collectively in a united economy. They were largely concerned with their own financial needs and remained with states that had similar economic demands. The years immediately following the War of 1812, were years of nationalism, caused by political unity and the expansion western American territory. This was seen through the festivities which celebrated the creation of the United States of America. In the image of the Fourth of July Celebration, it is easy to see the glee all the people in this image posses.

    Taking place in Philadelphia, the first capital of the United States, men and women of all ages celebrated the independence gained by the U.S. in 1776. Although women had not gained the right to vote and were considered subordinate to men, they were still included in the occasion, showing the nationalism that these Americans were displaying. On the left side of the picture, there is an image of George Washington. He is famously the only president who gained presidency without any opposition. His portrait, along with the flags displayed show a glorification of the country, and the nationalism that follows it. There is also the physical unification of the United States that created a sense of nationalism. The national government sponsored this by funding the construction of roads, interstates and canals that created a more connective country. John Calhoun was one of the political leaders who supported this. At the time of these construction projects, the United States was expanding its territory both westward into the newly-acquired Louisiana territory and southward into the Florida territory. Afraid that the rapid expansion would cause a sense of disunity, Calhoun supported the idea of these transportation systems in order to “bind the republic together”. This emphasis of the bringing together of the regions of the country advocates nationalism and creates a physical connection throughout the nation that cannot be broken. The nationalism that stemmed from the political unification of the country was both cultural and geographical, brought the United States together as one. Sectionalism began to emerge with the belief that some regions were better represented than others and disagreements regarding the country’s leadership. The population density map depicts the inhabitants per square mile of the United States in 1820. The most densely populated region was the north. This is because the north contained several large cities.

    Many people crowded to work in the large manufacturing companies, including women because they made more money in the factories than they would have worked for on the farm. These large cities included Philadelphia, New York and Boston. The economy in the south was based upon agriculture and slave trade. Plantations were large, and spread apart from one another, creating a low population density in the south. Because the west was only beginning to receive American settlers, it had the lowest density of all three regions. This imbalance of population distribution led to conflicts within the House of Representatives. This is the point in which the sectionalism begins to emerge. Although southern and western states were not as crowded as those in the north, they believed they should be better represented. The north region disagreed. With a higher percentage of politicians representing the north, many decisions made by the House were in favor of the north. For example, there was a high tariff placed on foreign goods. This was beneficial for the north because it increased the chances of Americans purchasing the goods produced in their factories. However, this was disadvantageous for the south. Since slaves were viewed as objects, imported slaves were considered imported goods and were sold with high tariffs attached to them. The three regions were becoming more sectionalist because they were becoming increasing concerned with problems facing their own area, and not the country as a whole. The sectionalism that emerged during this time period did so within a short period of time. This is easy to see in the election maps of 1820 and 1824. Within these four years, the United States went from being uniformly supportive of one candidate (Monroe in 1820), to having support for several candidates. While much of the south was in support of Andrew Jackson, the first president who did not have a formal education and supported the “common man”, much of the north backed John Q. Adams, the eventual winner. These maps illustrate the regional differences that eventually led to the lack of a majority vote. Sectionalism became quite prominent with the emergence of different factions within the Republican Party and eventually the creation of new parties. Each region was sectionalist in that they voted for the candidate who would be the best advocate for their area, rather than leader for their country.

    The unification of the United States was economical as well. Nationalism existed when the government believed they should protect a vital part of the national economy. The letter by Anna Hayes stated the issue of slave revolts. The slave revolt addressed in this letter were concerning that of Charleston, a rebellion which led to hundreds of slaves to be arrested, tried and executed. Most Americans at this time were fearful of future revolts that could be similar the slave revolt in Haiti, which left many dead. During the year this was written, 1822, most states, north and south, still used slaves as the main or prominent source of labor. If enough slaves got together, a rebellion could become extremely violent and, in the eyes of plantation and business owners, detrimental to the economy. Since slaves were not viewed as citizens, but rather property, white Americans believed they had to band together to protect their economy. This nationalism created the widespread knowledge of potential rebellion and increased the actions taken by local officials. The nationalistic views in protecting the national economy soon morphed into sectionalist views of protecting the economy of the region. The differing economies of north, south and west areas created conflicts that separated the already politically-different regions even more. In order to create an economy that was not dependent upon imported goods, Congress passed legislature that put a high tariff on goods that were being imported from foreign countries. This, in effect, promoted the consumer to buy American-made products because they were much cheaper. Northern manufacturers approved of this idea, but southern plantation owners disagreed. Because they were considered imported goods, slaves were purchased with high tariffs.

    This angered many southern business owners and made them feel as if the factories in the north were being favored. Because of the large gap in economic interest, these areas did not scrutinize over the economies of the other regions and became sectionalized towards their own area. Another economic area that divided the nation was that of slavery. Although most states still utilized slavery as a workforce in the early 1820’s, the southern states were more dependent upon it. They were the main people to work the plantations, and were treated extremely poorly because they were seen as property. However, northern states soon began to slowly abolish the practice of slavery. Thomas Jefferson felt that slavery would divide the nation, creating sectionalist views. Southerners believed in the practice of slavery, while northerners were discontent with it. Thomas Jefferson’s thesis proved correct when the Missouri Compromise created a physical, geographic line, splitting the nation in half. States north of the southern border of Missouri were free and those south were enslaved. Jefferson expressed his concern for the growing differences and sectionalism between the north and south, stating that he fears a divided nation.

    Of course this sectionalism soon became so prominent that states began to secede, leading to the Civil War. The “Era of Good Feelings” followed the War of 1812 and developed between the years 1815 and 1825. In the first half of this period, there was a strong sense of nationalism throughout the United States. However, this nationalism changed into the sectionalism because of political changes and economic differences between the states that divided the country into north, south and west regions. Disagreements concerning representation within the government and the differences within the national government caused by the emergence of different Republican factions and the distancing of states economically from each other facilitated the emergence of sectionalism.

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