Lafayette’s Tour: America In 1824

Bookmark and Share

The year is 2024. Do you remember 2018? If you’re a political junkie, you may recall it was the year Brett Kavanaugh won confirmation to the Supreme Court. If you enjoy reading People Magazine, then you’ll note it was the year Meghan Markle married into the British royal family. If you prefer business, it was the year both Sears and Toys ‘R’ Us declared bankruptcy.

If you’re an adult, each of those stories endure vividly in your memory. They don’t seem that far distant. And if any of those subject areas carry emotional weight with you, those scars remain to this day.

Now imagine the year 1824. What major event happened in the year 1818 that sticks in your memory? For the typical citizen of the young country of America, the feelings of the War of 1812 are still with them. The Treaty of 1818 formally resolved the border dispute and other issues of that Anglo-American conflict.

Mind you, in the broader global context, while big in our country, the War of 1812 for the British represented just a mere skirmish. It stood as just one extended battle in the Sixty Years’ War between Britian and France. Indeed, it was only a small part of the Napoleonic Wars that ended this generations-old conflict. In fact, it wasn’t even the most famous “War of 1812.” That would be France’s invasion of Russia (which led to Tchaikovsky composing the 1812 Overture in 1880).

America’s War of 1812 also led to its own famous composition, although it would take several years for it to be put to music. That would be The Star-Spangled Banner.

It’s appropriate that our national anthem derives from the Era of Good Feelings. Coming out of the War of 1812 ushered in a patriotic and confident America. The war itself proved America could hold its own against Britain. Subsequent treaties all but eliminated the British threat by creating the longest unprotected border in the world (between the United States and Canada).

There’s more. And it was all part of James Monroe’s strategy heading into his first term as presidency.

Politically, for the first and last time since George Washington, America became a one-party government. The opposition Federalist party had lost much of its credibility by acting “disloyal” during the War of 1812.1

The war also opened up westward expansion. Six new states were added to the United States from 1816 to 1820.

Of course, one of the new states—Maine—wasn’t from a new territory but came about as part of the Missouri Compromise. The Compromise revealed the growing national rift over slavery, but for the moment at least it appeased the two sides of the debate.

From an economic standpoint, things started slowly but picked up by the end of Monroe’s term. The 1819 Panic marked the low point of an economic slowdown that began with the cessation of the War of 1812’s hostilities. Despite the economic woes, America clearly felt it could survive on its own. To ensure this, Congress passed the first tariff act in 1816.

Still, financial doldrums didn’t appear to dampen enthusiasm in the country. The nation certainly didn’t take it out on the President. They happily reelected him as he ran unopposed in 1820.

Perhaps cultural changes might provide the ultimate evidence of the state of the United States in 1824. Daniel Webster was putting the finishing touches on his decades-long project, the American Dictionary of the English Language. It would place honor (not honour) in the center (not centre) of American nationalism.

In literature, James Fenimore Cooper published The Pioneers in 1823. It was the first of his five Leatherstocking Tales (the more famous one, The Last of the Mohicans, appeared in 1826). Cooper was part of an eclectic group of writers called the Knickerbocker Group. Among its members, Washington Irving also lent his talents to developing this new American ethos. His Rip Van Winkle (1819) and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820) quickly became American classics.

For those who don’t like to read, art offers a very good clue regarding American feelings. It started with the glorification of battles from the War of 1812. Thomas Birch painted Perry’s Victory on Lake Erie in 1814.

As a painter, however, John Trumbull proved the best example of what was happening in America leading up to 1824. Known for his post-Revolutionary War depictions of the great battles for independence, he repeated the feat and then some in the years immediately after the War of 1812. Again, he focused on the events of the previous generation. Among these works include The Declaration of Independence (painted 1819 and placed in the United States Capitol rotunda in 1826), Surrender of Lord Cornwallis (1820), Surrender of General Burgoyne (1821), and General George Washington Resigning His Commission (1824).

It is this last painting the turns out to be most relevant to our story. It may have reminded both James Monroe and the American people to respect and honor (again, not “honour”) the Father of Our Country. Monroe held true to Washington’s self-imposed two-term limit.

It’s quite possible he could have won a third election. With patriot fever at a high pitch, Monroe’s countrymen idolized Monroe him. How popular was he? One way to measure this is by the number of counties within the states that were named in honor of him. There are seventeen, including Monroe County, New York, established on February 23, 1821, shortly after Monroe’s uncontested reelection in 1820.

Do you know who else has seventeen counties named after him? James Monroe’s good friend Lafayette.

With Lafayette’s Tour of America confirmed to begin in the summer of 1824, people embraced the memory of America’s war for independence. They glowed in the aura of greatness emanating from those who made their freedom possible. What better way to salute those long-gone heroes by praising those that remained?

Word quickly got out that Lafayette accepted the invitation. Ports across the eastern seaboard prepared to receive “America’s Guest,” now truly the last surviving general of the Revolutionary War. They lobbied aggressively for the honor.

But only one would earn that prize.

Next Week: And The Lucky Winner Is…

1 Rubin, Zoe, “The Tories of 1812,” The Yale Historical Review, Volume V Issue II, Spring 2016, p. 120

Trackbacks

  1. […] Did they realize it was coming sooner than they thought? Read this week’s Carosa Commentary “Lafayette’s Tour: America In 1824,” to understand why, in 1824, they were about to see it […]

Speak Your Mind

*

Skip to content