CHAPTER XVI. PRESIDENT ADAMS AND THE OPPOSITION (1825-1827)

For eight years President Monroe had administered the executive department of the federal government-years that have been called the "Era of Good Feeling." The reader who has followed the evidences of factional controversy among the rival presidential candidates in the cabinet, and noted the wide-spread distress following the panic of 1819, the growing sectional jealousies, the first skirmishes in the slavery struggle, and the clamor of a democracy eager to assert its control and profoundly distrustful of the reigning political powers, will question the reality of this good feeling. On the other hand, in spite of temporary reverses, the nation as a whole was bounding with vigor in these years of peace after war; and if in truth party was not dead, and a golden age had not yet been given to the American people, at least the heat of formal party contest had been for a time allayed. The bitterness of political warfare in the four years which we are next to consider might well make the administration of the last of the Virginia dynasty seem peaceful and happy by contrast.

Monroe's presidential career descended to a close in a mellow sunset of personal approval, despite the angry clouds that gathered on the horizon. He had grown in wisdom by his experiences, and, although not a genius, he had shown himself able, by patient and dispassionate investigation, to reach judgments of greater value than those of more brilliant but less safe statesmen. Candor, fair- mindedness, and magnanimity were attributed to him even by those who were engaged in bitter rivalry for the office which he now laid down. He was not rapid or inflexible in his decisions between the conflicting views of his official family; but in the last resort he chose between policies, accepted responsibility, and steered the ship of state between the shoals and reefs that underlay the apparently placid sea of the "Era of Good Feeling." How useful were his services in these transitional years appeared as soon as John Quincy Adams grasped, with incautious hands, the helm which Monroe relinquished.[Footnote: On Monroe's personal traits, see Adams, Memoirs, IV., 240 et passim; J. Q. Adams, Eulogy on the Life and Character of James Monroe; Schouler, United States, IV., 201-207.] "Less possessed of your confidence in advance than any of my predecessors," wrote President Adams, in his first annual message, "I am deeply conscious of the prospect that I shall stand more and oftener in need of your indulgence." In his reply to the notification of his election by the House, after adverting to the fact that one of his competitors had received a larger minority of the electoral vote than his own, he declared that, if his refusal of the office would enable the people authoritatively to express their choice, he should not hesitate to decline; [Footnote: Richardson, Messages and Papers, II., 293.] he believed that perhaps two-thirds of the people were adverse to the result of the election.[Footnote: Adams, Memoirs, VII., 98; cf. ibid., VI., 481.] In truth, the position of the new president was a delicate one, and he was destined neither to obtain the indulgence asked nor the popular ratification which he craved. By receiving his office from the hands of the House of Representatives in competition with a candidate who had a larger electoral vote, he fell heir to the popular opposition which had been aroused against congressional intrigue, and especially against the selection of the president by the congressional caucus. More than this, it was charged that Clay's support was the result of a corrupt bargain, by which the Kentucky leader was promised the office of secretary of state. This accusation was first publicly made by an obscure Pennsylvania member, George Kremer, who, in an unsigned communication to a newspaper, when Clay's decision to vote for Adams was first given out, reported that overtures were said to have been made by the friends of Adams to the friends of Clay, offering him the appointment of secretary of state for his aid to elect Adams; and that the friends of Clay gave this information to the friends of Jackson, hinting that for the same price they would close with the Tennesseean. When these overtures, said the writer, were rejected, Clay transferred his interest to Adams. [Footnote: Niles' Register, XXVII., 353.]