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James Monroe's Goodwill Tours

James Monroe served as Secretary of State during the administration of President James Madison for both of Madison's terms. When Madison led the nation into the ill-fated War of 1812, the war went very badly for the Americans at first. When the British burned the U.S. Capitol and the White House on August 24, 1814, Madison removed John Armstrong as Secretary of War. Armstrong had advised against protecting the capitol, and generally he was ineffective in his cabinet position. After firing Armstrong, Madison turned to James Monroe for help. He appointed Monroe Secretary of War on September 27. Monroe resigned as Secretary of State on October 1, 1814, but no successor was ever appointed and thus from October 1, 1814 to February 28, 1815, Monroe effectively held both Cabinet posts. The Treaty of Ghent was ratified in February 1815, and Monroe resigned as Secretary of War on March 15, 1815. Having served in two key cabinet posts, Monroe established himself as Madison's most likely successor.

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One of the results of the War of 1812 was that it ended the political clout of the Federalist Party. Their opposition to the War of 1812 and their talk of secession in some of the New England states during the war, hurt the Federalists chances in the 1816 election, especially after some late victories in the war, like the American victory at the Battle of New Orleans. Monroe won the election easily. The Federalists did not even name a candidate, although though Rufus King of New York ran in as a Federalist. King won only three states: Connecticut, Delaware, and Massachusetts. The final Electoral College vote was 183 for Monroe and 34 for King.

Monroe realized that he was assuming the presidency of a nation recovering from a war that had left the country with deep divisions. There had been a cost not only to the treasury, but also to national esteem and morale. Monroe sought to harmonize the country in a common national vision that was not bound by partisan interests. To do this, he was advised to include a Federalist in his cabinet, but he chose not to do so. He believed that the Federalist Party was opposed to a republican form of government, and he felt that appointing a member of such a party to a top executive position would be feeding this ideology by validating it. Monroe said that his administration would never support any form of Federalist ideology. He was also reluctant to create divisions within his own party by appearing to accommodate Federalists at the expense of his fellow Republicans. Instead he favored the elimination of party associations altogether from national politics. He said that political parties, by their very nature, were incompatible with free government. He wanted a government led by disinterested statesmen who acted exclusively in the national interest and not on behalf of sectional or regional interests or personal ambition. It was a similar message to that espoused by President George Washington in his farewell address in 1796.

Monroe did not give the Federalist Party any political patronage, administrative appointments or federal support of any kind.
In his public statements, Monroe was careful to avoid any comments that could be interpreted as politically partisan. He never directly attacked the Federalist party. In fact, he made no direct reference to them in his speeches whatsoever. In his private encounters with Federalists, he was respectful and polite, but made no promises or commitments to them.

To rebuild national unity, Monroe left the capitol and embarked on two country-wide good-will tours in 1817 and 1819. He went directly to the heart of what had been enemy territory for Republicans, to New England and to the Federalist stronghold of Boston, Massachusetts. It was during his visit to Boston that the phrase "Era of Good Feelings" was first used by a local Federalist journal.

Monroe thought out his strategy very carefully. To ingratiate himself with the population, he appealed to their patriotism and their sentiment for the Revolutionary War. As a young man Monroe had served under George Washington where he had been part of the forces that crossed the Delaware River. He was wounded at the Battle of Trenton. On his tour, Monroe wore a Revolutionary War officer's uniform and tied his long powdered hair in a queue according to the old-fashioned style of the 18th century. He had a very personable manner and made a good impression on his audiences. Historian George Dangerfield wrote of Monroe, "In spite of his formality, he had the unusual ability to put men at their ease by his courtesy, lack of condescension, his frankness, and what his contemporaries looked upon as the essential goodness and kindness of heart which he always radiated."

Monroe was well-received on his 1817 visit to Boston. He generated a huge outpouring of nationalist pride. New England Federalists were especially eager to demonstrate their loyalty. Many Federalists were ashamed and embarrassed over their involvement in the Hartford Convention, an assembly at which New England's secession had been discussed during the war. Monroe was greeted with banquets, parades and receptions. Monroe later wrote that it appeared to him that New Englanders were wanting "to get back into the great family of the union."

In addition to Boston, the president visited Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. He visited key locations that were significant either to the War of Independence or the War of 1812. He honored veterans of those wars at his visits. Monroe visited important Revolutionary War locales, including Bunker Hill. He met with leading political adversaries such as the Federalists John Adams and Timothy Pickering.

It was a brilliant strategy, both politically, and for fostering national unity. In the heart of Federalist territory, Monroe achieved his primary goal, which he described as allowing "the Federalists by solemn public demonstrations to reaffirm their loyalty to the government and their acceptance of Republican control." Monroe was gracious and careful in avoiding any remarks or expressions that might embarrass or humiliate his hosts. He was also careful to present himself strictly as the head of state, and not as the leader of a victorious political party. He was there not as a representative of the Republican party, but as chief executive of the nation.

MonroeStatue.jpg

The tour had political benefits for Monroe and for his party. In the next few years, all of the New England states, with the exception of Massachusetts, were in Republican Party hands. In 1820 Monroe ran for re-election. The collapse of the Federalists left Monroe with no organized opposition. He ran for reelection unopposed, the only president other than Washington to do so. A single elector from New Hampshire, William Plumer, cast a vote for John Quincy Adams, preventing a unanimous vote in the Electoral College.

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