Unit 4 - Period Review (Part A)
Part A - The Jeffersonian Era
Thomas Jefferson’s election over John Adams was the first transition from one political party to another. Unlike the Federalists, the Democratic Republicans supported a limited, frugal government. Jefferson’s primary goals were reductions in the central government, the national debt, the excise tax, and the military. He also tried to reign in the Federalist-dominated judiciary. He encouraged the repeal of the Judiciary Act of 1801, denounced the Supreme Court’s decision in Marbury v. Madison, and supported the impeachment of two Federalist judges. Despite the triumph of John Marshall in strengthening the Supreme Court, Jefferson fought to restrain its influence. The overall thrust of his governance was reducing the power of the central government and increasing the agrarian, states’ rights influence of his constituents.
Jefferson’s Successes and Failures
Among Jefferson’s greatest achievements was his extension of the “empire of liberty” in 1803 with the purchase of Louisiana. This 828,000-square-mile deal was not only a great bargain at $15 million, it also secured navigation on the Mississippi River, doubled the size of the nation, and eliminated France as a potentially dangerous neighbor. Despite his strict-constructionist views, Jefferson simply could not pass up such an opportunity.
He failed, however, to protect the national interest when war resumed between Great Britain and France in 1803, and both nations again interfered with American commerce. In addition, Britain began the impressment of American sailors into its navy. This practice reached a crisis in 1807 during the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair when British forces killed or wounded more than twenty U.S. Navy sailors and impressed several others. To dampen war fever, Jefferson asked Congress to pass the Embargo Act, which withheld trade from the world until America’s rights as a neutral nation were recognized. The embargo backfired, however, because it throttled American trade and pitted the commercial Northeast against the agrarian South. Jefferson retreated to the less restrictive Non-Intercourse Act as he left office, but impressment continued, with six thousand Americans seized between 1808 and 1811.
The War of 1812
The maritime problems carried over to the presidency of James Madison, as the British continued to seize ships, impress sailors, and encourage Indian resistance in the Old Northwest. Despite Madison’s modification of the embargo with Macon’s Bill No. 2 and the victory over Native Americans at the Battle of Tippecanoe, war pressures mounted. Finally in June 1812, Madison asked for a declaration of war against Britain. The War Hawks in his party were delighted, but the Federalists had grave doubts. Rejecting the argument that an armed force would advance America’s maritime rights, the Federalists opposed the war in Congress. For many New Englanders, this was “Mr. Madison’s War“ and not their fight.
The War of 1812 was a military disappointment for the United States. Despite some American success on the Great Lakes and several more victories over Native Americans, the British army and navy outclassed U.S. forces. Poorly prepared, equipped, and led, the American military failed to invade Canada and suffered the grievous humiliation of seeing Washington, D.C., burned in August 1814. Opposition in New England prevented a truly national effort in the conflict. Only defensive victories in 1814 and 1815 at Baltimore, Plattsburg, and New Orleans maintained American morale and prevented major American concessions at the peace conference in Ghent, Belgium, in 1814.
The war ended with the Treaty of Ghent restoring the status quo. Neither side achieved its objectives, and each accepted the draw. The war did produce unintended consequences, however. Saddled with its wartime behavior, the Federalist Party collapsed. The Federalists’ seeming lack of patriotism and the Hartford Convention sealed the party’s political fate. The conflict also ignited political and economic nationalism, with Congress proposing a new National Bank, protective tariffs, and internal improvements. With the demise of the opposing political party, the “Era of Good Feelings” was at hand.
The Era of Good Feelings
The early postwar years were a time of peace, political tranquility, and economic consensus. Without effective partisan opposition, President Monroe and the Democratic Republicans (by now known merely as “Republicans“) dominated the political agenda. The nation embarked on a nationalistic celebration marked by the chartering of the Second National Bank and partial implementation of the American System of internal improvements. John Marshall and the Supreme Court contributed to the nationalistic spirit with a series of decisions that buttressed the power of the national government over the states and created a favorable business environment. In cases such as McCulloch v. Maryland, Dartmouth College v. Woodward, and Gibbons v. Ogden, nationalistic, mercantile principles were promoted and upheld.
The United States also strengthened its position in foreign relations. America warned Europe against future colonization in the western hemisphere with the Monroe Doctrine. The country repaired its relationship with Britain, as the two nations reached agreements on Great Lakes disarmament and on parts of the Canadian boundary. In 1819, the United States and Spain agreed to the Adams-Onís Treaty, by which America purchased Florida, defined the western boundary of the Louisiana Purchase, and gained a tenuous claim to the Pacific Northwest.
The Good Feelings End
The nationalism and unity did not last, however, as the Panic of 1819 and Missouri’s statehood divided the nation. The panic hit western farmers particularly hard, and many blamed the newly chartered Second National Bank for their hardships. Resentment over the Bank’s political and economic power divided mercantile easterners and agrarian westerners. More ominously, slavery reemerged as a political issue in 1819 when the Missouri territory sought admission to the Union as a slave state. Although Henry Clay cobbled together the Missouri Compromise and the crisis subsided, neither northerners nor the southerners were completely satisfied with Clay’s solution. By the early 1820s, the Era of Good Feelings was a rapidly fading memory.