The War of 1812 resulted in a national spirit of unity, enabling Americans to grow commercially during the era of good feelings under President Monroe.
The ending of the War of 1812 resulted in significant changes in the United States. The events of the war had encouraged American unity, characterizing a post-war period aimed toward building a nation. The government under President James Monroe, who became the chief executive in 1816, undertook efforts to vastly improve infrastructure, re-charter the National Bank, and pass legislation designed to protect fledgling American industries from cheaper European imports that were flooding the Northeastern port cities. Despite high unemployment and a frenzied financial structure following the dissolution of the first National Bank, the Boston Centinel called the post-war years the beginning of an “era of good feeling.”
The Development of National Unity during the War of 1812 and the Coming of the American System
The War of 1812 demonstrated that the United States had the resolve and the ability as a nation to defend itself. Although grossly unprepared at the start of the war, Americans rallied, fighting Great Britain to a virtual stalemate position as evidenced by the terms of the Treaty of Ghent which ended the war. The war ended with status quo ante bellum.
Although the mighty British navy blockaded American Atlantic ports (Boston remained open until 1814), the British suffered unprecedented losses on the Great Lakes. The British managed to burn Washington City in 1814, but could not take Baltimore. Significantly, the American defense of New Orleans under Andrew Jackson resulted in the destruction of a veteran British army commanded by the brother-in-law of the Duke of Wellington.
American determination not only proved that a national spirit existed, but showed Britain and Europe that the United States was a viable power. Even in Federalist New England any lingering thoughts of secession were eradicated.
Relations with Great Britain after the War of 1812
Americans never stopped buying goods imported from Britain. During the war years, these goods were missed even though American infant industries were in the process of manufacturing similar products such as textiles. Import/export figures for the post-war years demonstrate that Americans were exporting far less than they were importing in dollar amounts. This prompted new tariffs measures designed to stabilize the imbalance.
In matters of foreign policy during the Monroe administration, the United States aligned its goals with those of Britain, as evidenced by the Monroe Doctrine. Additionally, British banks invested in American enterprises and loaned money to American organizations, businesses, and even state governments.
The Absence of Political Parties after the War of 1812
The Republican-Democrats of Jefferson’s day absorbed many of the views of the waning New England Federalists. Where once the followers of Jefferson had been strict constructionists of the Constitution, they now advocated an expanded role of government. Congressional and national leaders like Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun advocated for the “American System,” a national program to fund highways, canals, and other infrastructure improvements.
These same men saw the need for a new national bank in order to bring order to the disorganized banking system in which over 200 banks were issuing paper currency. By 1824, presidential candidates in the national election represented not parties but sections of the United States. The recognizable two-party system would not fully re-develop until the Andrew Jackson years.
National Unity Preserved the Nation until 1860
The greatest issue threatening to divide the North from the South was slavery. Yet the spirit of unity following the end of the War of 1812 might have contributed to a national understanding that would defer the issue to future years. Historian Page Smith, for example, suggests that this unity “paved the way” for the successful Compromise of 1820 which kept the peace over slavery until the decade of the 1850s and was viewed, at least in New England, as a sacred “covenant.”
A Deeper Understanding of American Unity in the Post-1814 Years
Some historians point to tariff discrepancies as a growing source of disunity, yet others cite evidence that tariffs were not a cause of eventual Civil War. The initial tariffs enacted after the War of 1812 were actually opposed by New England and Daniel Webster spoke against these measures in the Congress. New England importers were benefiting handsomely from the profits of imported goods.
The War of 1812 demonstrated that American independence was real. It legitimized all earlier attempts to draw distinctions between Britain and a people that called themselves “Americans.” Smith writes that the war “ratified” the revolution. In the process, Americans reinvented their identities as a unique and separate people, called by providential forces to create an egalitarian Utopia. This was the most significant change brought about by the War of 1812 and the start of the so-called era of good feeling.