As the final Virginia Dynasty president, James Monroe assured his predecessors their place in history. His administration marked a moment of tremendous national unity and pride. From the recent experience of war and depression, the nation rebounded with a growing commercial economy, rapid westward expansion, and increasing confidence on the world stage. Monroe’s two terms were so popular, in fact, that the years became known as “The Era of Good Feelings.” He won his first term handily and his second without opposition at all. If the Virginia Dynasty had to end, it ended on a high note.
Monroe began his presidency with a nearly sixteen-week tour of the United States, including the former Federalist stronghold of New England. During this journey he also became the first president to visit the West; his presence on the other side of the mountains seemed to reassure and encourage settlers that they, too, were members of the Union. He cultivated the nationalism that had grown with the Louisiana Purchase and fanned the flames of manifest destiny.
For all the newness he symbolized—new western lands, new commercialism, new national power—the understated Monroe also invoked the past. As the last president to have served in the War of Independence, Monroe wore simple knee-buckled breeches and three-pointed, Revolution-era hats. He traveled simply and recalled the Washingtonian image of the executive as simply another citizen among citizens. Some critics argued that he lacked the mental capacity of a Jefferson or a Madison, which was hardly a fair comparison considering their luminary