What was the Era of Good Feelings, and what was its impact on the rise of sectionalism in the United States?

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The Era of Good Feelings is a term closely associated with the presidency of James Monroe. First used by a popular newspaper, the phrase signified the lack of political infighting due to the dominance of only one party, the Democratic-Republicans. This was a time just after the War of 1812...

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The Era of Good Feelings is a term closely associated with the presidency of James Monroe. First used by a popular newspaper, the phrase signified the lack of political infighting due to the dominance of only one party, the Democratic-Republicans. This was a time just after the War of 1812 when new opportunities were opening up for America and its citizens. The Louisiana Purchase, which Monroe had helped negotiate, had opened up vast new territories to settlers. During Monroe's first term, the United States also purchased Florida, which further expanded its territory. During his second term, Monroe instituted the Monroe Doctrine, under which the United States opposed European colonization and which forbade European power in North and South America.

Despite all this progress and the relative lack of political rivalries due to the preponderance of one party, sectionalism between the northern and southern portions of the United States was a growing problem. The northern states had already banned slavery, while the southern states were still dependent upon it. When Missouri wanted to join the Union, intense debate arose as to whether it should be a slave state or a free state. To prevent civil war, Monroe approved the Missouri Compromise, which stipulated that Missouri would join the United States as a slave state, while Maine would join as a free state.

Sectionalism was also manifest in the different lifestyles of the north and the south, with the north becoming more urbanized and industrialized and the south remaining dependent upon plantation agriculture. Despite the political unity brought on by the Era of Good Feelings, these differences became more and more acute throughout the first half of the 19th century, eventually culminating in the Civil War.

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After the War of 1812, a new sense of nationalism was felt across the United States. The country had held its own against the military might of Great Britain and was establishing itself as the major power in the hemisphere. Since they had not supported the war, the Federalist Party lost so much support that it dissolved entirely. This put an end to the political bickering that had defined much of the country's politics up to this point. As a result, a newspaper in Boston dubbed this period "the Era of Good Feelings." Under James Monroe, the entire federal government consisted of just one united party, the Democratic-Republicans. Since squabbles between political parties were no longer a problem, the government was able to move more efficiently than ever before.

However, the Era of Good Feelings did not last very long. New technologies fueled the growth of industry in the early 1800s. The ability to grow and process cotton in the South was aided by the invention of the cotton gin and the increased use of slaves. In the North, particularly in New England, new factories to process the cotton into cloth were built around growing mill towns. Meanwhile, more and more American settlers were heading west to settle and farm new territories. As a result, the various regions of the United States began developing starker contrasts as their societies and economies began differing even more.

With an agricultural slave-based economy in the South, a rapidly industrializing North, and an expanding West, the needs of the people in the different regions began to quickly differentiate. This all gave rise to the sectionalism that would greatly divide the country. The issue of slavery was a leading factor of sectionalism, but so was the economic, political, and social make-up of the regions. By the end of Monroe's presidency, the Era of Good Feeling was clearly at an end. Political parties began to dominate the political landscape of the country again. Deep divisions within the United States were present that would ultimately lead to civil war.

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