The Era of Good Feelings

*The Era of Good Feelings was an age of nationalism, in which sectional loyalties briefly took second place to national interests.  Among these interests was the securing of the nation's borders.


*The Rush-Bagot Treaty of 1817 limited the number of warships the US and Britain could keep on the Great Lakes, and the Treaty of 1818 largely settled the border between the United States and Canada at the 49th Parallel.  In it the United States and Britain also agreed to jointly occupy the Oregon Country, with neither staking an exclusive claim to it. 


*Elsewhere, America's western border was also secure, as New Spain was too sparsely populated and the Spanish Empire was too weak to threaten the frontier in the Great American Desert and the Rocky Mountains.


*To the South, however, things were different as both the Spanish in the Florida and the Indians who lived in that territory were a threat to American security. 


*In the 1700s and 1800s, as European and American settlers pushed into the Deep South, they fought with and displaced many native peoples, many of whom fled to Florida.  Among these were the Yamasee and the Lower Creek (mostly living in Georgia), who sought to escape Europeans, the Cherokee, and the Upper Creek (mostly living in Alabama), but also some Choctaw and others.  Eventually these tribes (who had similar languages) and many runaway slaves merged into one large group that the Spanish called cimarrons (meaning runaways, or wild men), which the Indians came to pronounce Seminole. 


*The War of 1812 and the Creek War forced more Creek to move to Florida, where the British (who had encouraged them to fight the US during the War of 1812) gave them protection at a fort in the Florida Panhandle that local whites called the Negro Fort because so many of their slaves ran away to join the Seminole there.  When the British left Spanish Florida after the War of 1812, they left the Negro Fort in the hands of runaway slaves and Black veterans of the British Corps of Colonial Marines.


*The Black and Indian leaders of the fort encouraged more slaves to run away and join them, and even raided local plantations for supplies and to free more slaves, who in turn were welcomed into the Seminole tribe, for among most Indians, tribal loyalty mattered more than skin colour.  Eventually this was too much for the local planters, who called on the nation’s greatest hero, Andrew Jackson. 


*Old Hickory built a fort called Fort Scott in Georgia that was deliberately re-supplied by ships that passed very near the Negro Fort.  On 17 July, 1816, the Negro Fort fired on an American flotilla and killed four Americans.  Ten days later, Jackson sent the Army (with Creek allies) and the Navy to attack the fort.  Hot shot from one of the gunboats hit the powder magazine, destroying the fort and killing 250-270 of 300-330 occupants.  Jackson’s Creek allies were allowed to scavenge from what was left, and took home over 2,500 muskets.  This began the First Seminole War (1816-1818).


*This increased hatred between local whites and Indians, each of whom made many small raids on the other, mostly to steal livestock, although white attacks often killed Indians as well.  Finally, the Seminole went too far, killing a woman named Mrs Garrett and her two children (one 3 years old and the other 2 months old) in February, 1817.  Not long afterwards another ship sailing to Fort Scott was attacked, and many of the people on board (including women, children, and sick soldiers) were killed in what was called the Fort Scott Massacre.  This was too much for the United States, who also blamed the British for this, saying that they encouraged (or at least did not restrain) Seminole attacks on the United States.


*In March of 1818, Andrew Jackson invaded Florida with 800 regulars, 1,000 Tennessee militiamen, 1,000 Georgia militiamen, and some Creek allies.   On 6 April, 1818 he seized the Spanish fort at St Mark’s.  He soon arrested Alexander George Arbuthnot, a Scottish trader accused of selling guns to the Indians, and Robert Ambrister, an ex-Royal Marine who admitted to being a British agent to the Indians.  Both were sentenced to death.  Although Arbuthnot insisted his trade was legal, he was hanged from the yardarm of his own ship; Ambrister was executed by a firing squad.  Jackson also hanged two Indian leaders who sought refuge on an American ship.


*Jackson then marched on Pensacola, and occupied it on 27 May, 1818.  The Spanish surrendered the fort outside of town (to which they had retreated) the next day.  Jackson then went home, leaving one of his officers in charge of Pensacola.



*The Spanish and the British were outraged, but neither wanted a war with the United States at the time (the US were too important to British trade, and Spain was busy fighting most of its American colonies’ efforts at independence). 


*Many American politicians were outraged, too, that Jackson had sparked an international incident and vastly exceeded the scope of his orders.  Some members of Congress, including a very vocal Henry Clay, and even several members of President Monroe's cabinet (including Secretary of War John C. Calhoun who was furious that Jackson had exceeded his order from the War Department) wanted to censure Jackson, but he was so highly-regarded as a hero that he was later made governor of Florida instead (although he only stayed for three months), plus Secretary of State John Quincy Adams opposed the censure because saw an opportunity in Jackson's adventure.


*In 1819, John Quincy Adams and Luis de Onís Gonzalez Vara negotiated the Adams-Onis treaty, ratified by Spain in 1820 and the US in 1821.  This ceded Florida to the United States in exchange for American payment of Spanish debts to Americans up to $5 million.  It also fixed the border between New Spain and the United States (which left Oregon outside of the Spanish Empire), and when Mexico got its independence, it agreed to the same border.


*As Spain's colonies in the New World (except its Caribbean islands) won their independence in the late eighteen-teens and early 1820s, the United States and Britain worried that Spain might try to reclaim them or that some other European power might try to step in.  The British foreign minister suggested that together the two English-speaking peoples insist that the independent Latin American republics be left alone by everyone (and thus left open to British and American trade).  However, John Quincy Adams and James Monroe felt that such an alliance was inappropriate and unnecessary, particularly after the Second War for American Independence.  Instead, America would make the pledge alone.


*In December, 1823, James Monroe sent his annual message to Congress, and it included a warning to the great powers of Europe written largely by Adams.  In what came to be known as the Monroe Doctrine, Monroe asserted that European powers might not claim any more land in the New World and nor intervene in any independent country in the New World, even to reclaim a lost colony.  In return, the United States would not intervene in any conflicts in Europe. 


*The Monroe Doctrine was both a matter of solidarity with fellow republics who, like America, had won independence from a European empire and an attempt to limit European expansion into unclaimed territories where they might threaten American interests. 


*Monroe may have particularly had Russia in mind, as that empire had declared itself the open foe of democracy and was expanding down the West Coast of North America, with trading posts almost as far south as San Francisco Bay and definite claims well into the Oregon Country.  However, in 1824, the Tsar agreed to the Russo-American Treaty of 1824, which fixed Russian America's border at 54° 40' North Latitude, although Russia retained trading rights below that line.


*In 1824, James Monroe made plans to retire to Virginia.  The Secretary of State (John Quincy Adams), Secretary of the Treasury (William Crawford), Secretary of War (John C. Calhoun), Speaker of the House of Representatives (Henry Clay), and a senator from Tennessee and the Hero of New Orleans, Andrew Jackson all expressed their interest in the Presidency, and the contest between them would be bitter indeed.  With the passing of the Revolutionary generation, the Era of Good Feelings had come to an end and party politics was returning to America.

This page last updated 30 September, 2015.
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