Slavery and Partisan Conflict during
the Era of Good Feelings
THE FEDERALISTS' WARTIME campaign and rhetoric influenced partisan politics in both the immediate and long terms. By applying the North's vague, selfinterested brand of antislavery to politics, the Federalists had revealed the true breadth and depth of Northern resentment of slaveholders and their power. They thus showed the way to all who wished to pursue Northern sectionalism in national politics. Their example did not go unheeded for long.
The postwar political context opened a side door for slavery to reenter American politics soon after New England's Federalists showed it the exit in 1815. The receding power of Federalism gave the Era of Good Feelings its name, but it allowed Republicans the luxury of intraparty dissensions. These divisions proved more dangerous than luxurious, however, for schismatic Northern Republicans had seen the effectiveness with which Federalists had exploited sectional antagonisms over slavery. They thus found it useful to revive Federalist rhetoric in their attacks on the Virginia Dynasty in power in Washington, to which they added their own critique of slaveholders as unrepublican. The return of such tactics to national politics appalled Republicans still loyal to the administration, and they in turn resurrected wartime tactics in defense of party and national unity. The whole process once again revealed the political potency of antislavery sectionalism in the North.
In the months and years following the War of 1812, Federalism was moribund nationally. It had almost no hope of reviving as a national power after the debacle of the Hartford Convention combined with the end of the war and the nationalist spree touched off by American victory at New Orleans. Federalists might lay hold on some few loaves and fishes of government patronage, but only if the Republican rulers of the nation saw fit to distribute them in this way.1