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HOLY COW! HISTORY: That Time America Was Happy

Posted on Friday, February 23, 2024
by Outside Contributor
A Depiction of The Celebrations of July 4th 1819
A Depiction of The Celebrations of July 4th 1819

This is hardly a news flash, but here goes anyway. Americans are deeply, bitterly divided.

That’s no surprise. Unless you’ve been living in a cave, in a coma, or shipwrecked on a remote desert island, you know our countrymen can’t seem to agree on anything these days. Congress couldn’t scrape together a majority to pass a resolution praising puppies, ice cream, and rainbows.

For better or worse (and the correct answer is “worse,” by the way), the U.S. is the most divided it’s been since the turbulent days of the 1960s. Some even argue it’s as bad as it was during the Civil War.

Differences are nothing new. Throughout much of our history, Americans faced off on opposite sides. Take the Revolutionary War. We like to think of it as a gang of ragtag rebels banding together to pull off the impossible. A lovely image, to be sure. Unfortunately, it’s far from the fact. The War of Independence was as much a civil war as it was a revolution. Roughly one-third of the colonists were Patriots, another third were Loyalists who thought England’s King George III was A-OK, and the final third didn’t commit either way and tried to keep their heads low until the storm blew over.

There were deep divisions during the War of 1812 (which the North supported and the South opposed) and the Mexican-American War (which the South backed and the North resisted). The country was divided over what to do with all the territory we picked up in the Spanish-American War (Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines). There were even pockets of resistance during World War I. A string of political crises in between those conflicts often had citizens pitted against each other in opposing camps.

Yet, we haven’t always been at each other’s throats, either. There were two glaring exceptions. One was World War II. Rarely in history has the line between good guys and bad guys been more starkly drawn. Americans knew what was at stake in 1941 and were unanimously behind the fight against fascism.

The other is less well-known. Two centuries ago, Americans were dizzily happy and content. Almost like someone had pumped Prozac in the nation’s water supply. That unique slice of time merits a closer look.

Our young country had been through a lot in its first 25 years. We’d survived a long war to win freedom, had tried one form of government (remember the Articles of Confederation from history class?) that spectacularly failed, had a huge debate over what system should replace it, got it up and running (Constitution, yes!), then fought a second war with Britain in which our capital was burned and we came within a whisker of having our clock cleaned.

Somehow, we made it.

Starting around 1815, Americans decided to lighten up. A newspaper editor in Boston dubbed it the Era of Good Feelings. Folks were in such a good national mood the name stuck. While it’s not as snazzy as, say, the Roaring Twenties or the Jazz Age, it accurately captured America’s attitude at the time. People set aside the usual squabbles between Federalists and Republicans, North and South, and cities and rural areas. (Or at least they kept them in check).

To their surprise, they discovered they liked the way that felt.

Much of the credit belongs to President James Monroe. He undertook extensive goodwill tours around the nation in 1817 and 1819. In a time when travel was slow, costly, and cumbersome, Americans enjoyed seeing their chief executive in the flesh in their town. Monroe hammed it up by wearing a Revolutionary War uniform and tying his hair in the ponytail common back then. Add to that schtick Monroe’s personal charm and ability to make people feel at ease, which in turn made them like him. He was kind of “I Like Ike” decades before Dwight Eisenhower was born.

Admittedly, it wasn’t Utopia. For example, a severe economic downturn in 1819 caused widespread financial hardship. But no war loomed on the horizon, patriotism ran high, and politics remained unusually civil. More or less the way the Founding Fathers had envisioned.

People felt so good about things that when Monroe sought reelection in 1820, he faced no opponent—thus joining George Washington as the only other president elected without major opposition.

It’s time for an Era of Good Feelings II. Let’s dial down the rhetoric and see what happens. It feels good to feel good. Let’s give our frayed nerves a rest and treat one another with the respect and dignity we all deserve.

A caveat: While Americans enjoyed roughly nine pleasant years, the Era of Good Feelings abruptly ended with the 1824 presidential election, considered one of the nastiest ever. But don’t worry; we’ve already got that part down.

J. Mark Powell writes Holy Cow! History and is a novelist, former TV journalist and diehard history buff.

Reprinted with Permission from DC Journal – By J. Mark Powell

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of AMAC or AMAC Action.

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David Millikan
David Millikan
3 months ago

Excellent article. The last time most people in the United States were Happy was when President Trump was in Office and we had a Strong Economy, Energy Independence, Number One in Energy Exports, Freedom of Choice, Freedom of Speech, More Jobs than people to fill them, Federal Agencies not Weaponized, NO SPYING on Americans, U.S. Constitutional Rights, Money, Practically Zero Inflation, Actual Full Size Food Portions, Could afford Food, Gasoline at $1.65/gal., Could afford Utilities, Could afford Medicine, Manufacturing Facilities being built and Jobs brought back in the USA, Americans could start Businesses they couldn’t before, Interest Rates low, 401K’s and IRA’s were growing, Lower Taxes, No Global Warming lies (NO Jets SPRAYING TOXIC CHEMICALS on a daily basis especially over small towns before and during when it’s going to rain or snow or on a nice clear day), Secured Borders (Illegal Aliens Deported), Police supported, Low Crime, Strong Military, World SAFER (Not on Brink of WWIII like we are in currently), NO bowing down to Communist China and Ukraine would not have been invaded, and to Top it off we were NUMBER ONE in the World.

3 months ago

I wouldn’t put it past Bozo Biden to take credit for this Era of Good Feelings during his State of Chaos speech tonight. Forget the fact that it was over a century ago, he’ll lie like he always does.

3 months ago

200 years late and we are back to a nasty election. If last night’s SOTU was any indication. Sloppy will be screaming at us from his grave. Obey me or else.

Robert Zuccaro
Robert Zuccaro
3 months ago

Before I’d compare the events of 1776 or 1812, I’d compare America more with 1940-44 Vichy France. And we know who the Vichy are in America, don’t we? Their leader is speaking tonight…

Stephen Russell
Stephen Russell
3 months ago

Good Feelings Eras: Post WW1
Post WW2, Colonial era post Rev War

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