No political disagreements?
The so-called “Era of Good Feelings” stretched from the election of James Monroe as President in 1816, to the end of his second term in 1825.
The electoral evidence of this era is the 1820 Presidential election, where Monroe got all but one of the 233 electoral college votes. In the 1822 New York Governor’s race, Joseph Yates received 98.8 % of the popular vote.
The larger issues supporting the evolution of this era involved the end of The War of 1812 and Napoleonic Wars. The old Federalist Party of Alexander Hamilton, the military aide to Washington and Secretary of the Treasury, that argued for a strong Federal Government, rather than strong and independent States, had crumbled. Monroe was of the party of the Jeffersonian orientation to State’s rights and loose independence, the Democratic-Republican Party. Monroe was conscious of the larger dynamics, and played to them. Given the visible argument of States’ rights vs. Federal influence we see today, I hope it is not a spoiler to say that the Federalist party may have passed, but its principles and passions, in the end, did not!
Shortly after his inauguration in March,1816, Monroe took a tour of northern states to connect with the people he now represented. Monroe’s choice to celebrate July 4 in the Federalist stronghold of Boston, and dine with Federalist John Adams, prompted the term “Era of Good Feelings” to be penned by a Boston journalist. The expression was widely used from that point on. Monroe was careful to appoint individuals with varying political backgrounds. Some references from that year’s Poughkeepsie Journal are illuminating:
March 12, 1816, commenting on the inauguration of President James Monroe, “He takes occasion to speak of the ‘increased harmony of opinion, which pervades our union,’ and declares that ”...to promote this harmony will be the object of [my] constant and zealous exertions.”
November 19, 1816, “Party rancor was abated by [Monroe’s] presence, and the only contention seemed to be, who should pay him the highest honors.”
In the 1820 Presidential Election, Monroe got all but one of the 233 Electoral College votes.
This was the peak of rural optimism and growth in Dutchess County that included the formation of a number of the towns we know today. Milan, 1818. LaGrange (then Freedom), Hyde Park and Pleasant Valley, 1821. Pine Plains, 1823. The peak was trimmed by the opening of the Erie Canal in October of 1825, opening up western competition to local farming. From that point on, while urban areas like Poughkeepsie and Beacon grew, the rest of the county, the rural areas, went into a near-century decline not reversed until after WW2. So this, too, at the time, would have contributed to “good feelings.”
The 1822 New York Governor’s race, where Joseph Yates received 98.78 % of the vote, aligned nicely to this “good feelings” concept, In Dutchess County Yates got 4,344 votes to his opponent, Solomon Southwick’s 102. However, it was only two years later that the 1824 Presidential election ended up so split that it was decided by the House of Representatives, according to rules under the 12th Amendment. The era was clearly over with the swearing in of John Quincy Adams, March 4, 1825. Andrew Jackson, who technically won a plurality of popular and electoral college votes, would have to try again later.
Underlying cracks had been visible. One of the ways to see them is to look at the town by town votes in the Governor’s races at the time.
The race for New York State Governor had a track record of being contentious. Even deadly, albeit indirectly. It was the 1804 Governor’s race in which Hyde Park’s Morgan Lewis of Staatsburg defeated Aaron Burr. Burr was determined to find, and punish, the cause of his loss. Growing increasingly aware of Alexander Hamilton’s words and works against him in the election, Burr ended up fatally shooting Hamilton in a duel in June of that year (elections were held in the spring).
In the 1820 Governor’s race, the statewide results gave DeWitt Clinton the win with 50.8% of the votes. In Dutchess County, Clinton had a slim majority of 158 votes, in total. But that total masks extremes. Clinton got 82% of Beekman’s votes, and 65% of the town of Washington. By contrast, both Beacon/Fishkill and the town of Milan gave Clinton’s opponent 72% of their votes.
Leaving aside the 1822 anomaly, the 1824 and 1826 elections, both of which were narrowly won by DeWitt Clinton, (54.29% and 50.93% of the vote respectively) showed a continued pattern of Beekman being Gov. Clinton’s strongest town, continuing to get over 80% of the votes. Beacon/Fishkill and Milan remained the most extreme anti-Clinton strongholds, in the mid 60% range of support to Clinton’s opposition.
The anti-Clinton camp grew. The towns of Clinton, North East, Pine Plains and Pleasant Valley became anti-Clinton in both elections. The towns of Poughkeepsie, Rhinebeck and Stanford became anti-Clinton in 1826. All that said, Clinton not only won statewide, but carried Dutchess in both elections, by 401 votes in 1824, and 75 votes in 1826.
It would be wonderful to know how these contrasting dynamics came about. A letter written at the end of the 1826 election, about the election, seems to suggest that Beekman was recognized as a Clinton stronghold. But results in other towns seemed “strange.”
As context for the letter, the reference to “Bucktails” refers to the split in the Democratic-Republican party. Having no single, large external “enemy” like the Federalists, two factions emerged, the “Clintonians” obviously supported Clinton, and the “Bucktails” who were associated with Martin Van Buren.
In 1926, the DCHS Yearbook published what had just become a 100-year old letter about the 1826 Governor’s election. It contains a transcript of a letter written by Dr. Robert Noxon of Market Street, Poughkeepsie. Dated November 9, 1826, in the letter he writes to his son, “I … inform you of the glorious victory the people of Dutchess have obtained over the Bucktails—the contest has been very hard fought by both parties throughout the county. Beekman did well as usual and gave our ticket a majority of 280…. But strange to tell, [Clinton’s opponent] Rochester [took Poughkeepsie with] 30 votes more than Clinton. But the votes in other towns are different so that [Clinton will have a county majority].”
He goes on to say, “I must send you a song, sung the first evening of the election said to be the composition of Richard D. Davis and sung with much glee by Harry Powers…” The headline above the lyrics reads, “A new Republican song from Milan.” I do not know what the reference to Milan indicates. The song is a rallying song that mentions friend and foe, and can be seen in full at www.DCHSNY.org/Noxon-letter