America: The Era of Good Feelings By Quinn Horak

What Does it Mean to be American?

America is a rather unique place, a cultural melting pot of different cultures, backgrounds, and upbringings all coming together into one place. But what makes all of these people, with completely different lives American? What is the binding force that holds all of these people together? In my presentation, I will try to prove that being an American during the early 1800s meant that even though you and other people came from different backgrounds, you are all united under the fact that you are ruled by the same government, all while being individuals in your own right. It doesn't necessarily mean having pride or a fierce sense of patriotism toward one's government, but the two aren't mutually exclusive. In this presentation, I will try to show you the different aspects of being American or American culture in the early 1800s, and how they contributed to the collective American identity during that time.

Art in America

An Example of an American landscape painting, In the style of the Hudson River School

American art from the 1800s was defined by several styles and artists, among them; folk art, portraits, the artist George Catlin, and the Hudson River School. These all had very distinct styles, and were all uniquely American because even though they were made by many different people, they were all made about American things, whether that be landscapes or birds. Folk art was art made by normal American citizens without formal training, and consisted of everything from decorative to buckets to quilts. It was an uniquely American style of art because it was made by normal people, not artists, and reflected American values like patriotism and the spirit of the individual. The style of the Hudson River School had broad, sweeping landscapes, often pictured from plateaus, and was some of the earliest contact people had with the "wild" and uncivilized frontier. These beautiful and serene pictures helped to inspire people to move out west, and started the push westward that defined the 1800s. The artist George Catlin, known for his paintings of American Indians, said of the frontier and the natives that occupy it;

"I have, for many years past, contemplated the noble races of red men who are now spread over these trackless forests and boundless prairies, melting away at the approach of civilization"

Mr. Catlin was one of the first men to document the lives of Native Americans, and give us a unique perspective into that time.

Modern American folk art

American Literature

Early American literature is defined by several major contributors, including Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, Davy Crockett, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. These four individuals defined early American literature, and their influence is still felt today. This literature is uniquely American because even though the authors draw from personal or foreign sources, they incorporated American themes, with fairy tales adapted onto the frontier, or tall tales spun about the wilds of the Appalachian Mountains. An example of an American spin on European-style tales would be the works of Washington Irving, which include The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle, which were both fairy tales, but incorporated American themes such as escape to rural areas and great and rapid change. Another famous American writer is Davy Crockett, whose wildly exaggerated "Tall Tales" and biography were a massive hit, and lead him to become a senator. These tales focused on the adventure and individual spirit of frontier life, which at the time was a huge part of American culture. Mr. Crockett said himself about life on the frontier;

"You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas."

This shows the fierce, individual spirit that was part of the American psyche during this time, and still persists today.

American Music

American music during the early 1800s was mainly comprised of Classical, folk, Spirituals, Anthems, and Minstrel. American music during the time reflected the combination of strong cultural influences combining into a new, uniquely American type of music. In the North, classical music was played during ballroom dancing, in which mostly the rich upper parts of society took part in. They played mostly European compositions, and had been brought over from there mostly untouched. In contrast to that, slaves in the South had begun mixing southern church hymns with African beats to create spirituals, starting the long tradition of different types of music mixing into new, American types of music. White folks in the South also created a new type of music, but it mocked black people and was played at Minstrel shows, where white people would dress up in blackface and play stereotypes of black people. Here's an example of some minstrel song lyrics;

In old Kentuck in de arternoon, We sweep de floor wid a bran new broom, And dis de song dat we do sing, Oh! Clare de kitchen old folks young folks Clare de kitchen old folks young folks Old Virginny never tire.
An ad for a minstrel show

American Politics

Picture of President Monroe, one of the key Presidents during the Era of Good Feelings

Politics during the early 1800s, or "The Era of Good Feelings", as some people call it, was exactly as the name implies. The political climate after the war of 1812 was one of growing national unity and patriotism, and the leaders in power at the time were focusing on uniting the still new country by strengthening the power of the central government and cutting back on states' rights.They did this while promoting a policy of expansion west, into previously Native American lands. A politician at the time Henry Clay, came up with a list of actions that would help consolidate power which he called the "American System". Mr Clay stated that his system would

"naturalize the arts in our country, and we must naturalize them by the only means which the wisdom of nations has yet discovered to be effectual—by adequate protection against the otherwise overwhelming influence of foreigners.”

This idea of centralizing powers by creating a national bank, spending federal money on roads and bridges, and creating tariffs on foreign goods was the shaping ideals that American policy was based on, and incorporated the ideas of uniting Americans together that I talked about in my thesis.

The Era of Not-So-Good Feelings

Although many people think of this time as a glory age of blossoming patriotism and the beginning of the American identity, there were some groups who thought otherwise. Women and African Americans were treated horribly during this time, with the majority of black people in the country living in slavery or poverty, and were unable to get good jobs, especially in the South. Even in the North, blacks were segregated from white people, even if it wasn't written into law. Women were in a similar situation, with women being expected to work at home their entire life, and being denied an equal education to men at the time. As prominent suffragist, or advocate for women's rights, Susan B. Anthony said

"Organize, agitate, educate, must be our war cry."

Both groups couldn't vote, with women finally getting the right to vote in 1920 and blacks in the south getting the equal right to vote in the 1965 Voting Rights Act.


Alas, we have reached the end of the presentation. To wrap things up, American identity during the early 1800s was based on the principle that even though we all come from different backgrounds, we are united under the fact that we are governed by the same people, while still maintaining a strong sense of individualism and independence. The political ideals during the time also reflected this march towards a unified, capitalist America. The culture during the time also reflected that; whether it was from church hymns and African beats combining to create spirituals, or if it was European-style fairytales being written in the colonies instead of the forests of Germany, the culture of the United States, both then and now, reflects this mixing and intermingling of cultures. It all comes together in one proverbial "melting pot", and creates a uniquely American story.

Works Cited

Anthony, Susan B. "Susan B. Anthony Quotes." BrainyQuote. Xplore, June-July 2010. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

Catlin, George. "George Catlin Quotes." BrainyQuote. Xplore, 2012. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

Hart, Diane, and Bert Bower. History Alive!: The United States through Industrialism. Palo Alto, CA: Teachers' Curriculum Institute, 2011. Print. Staff. "Voting Rights Act." A&E Television Networks, 2009. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

Jameston, Alfred B. "Clare De Kitchen." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 11 Sept. 2015. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

Roy, Meredith E. "Davy Crockett." Davy Crockett - Wikiquote. Wikiquote, 2007. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.


Created with images by tookapic - "stars blue american flag" • Kevin Briody - "Lots of people in a stand" • Ed Bierman - "Headwaters of the American River (1878) William Keith" • krossbow - "national museum of american art and portrait gallery-55" • cdrummbks - "legend of sleepy hollow" • Boston Public Library - "Uproarious skating carnival by Hi Henry's Premium Minstrels (front)" • cliff1066™ - "James Monroe, Fifth President (1817-1825)" • Anosmia - "International Slavery Museum" • - "Can you see?"

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