Not unlike today, after an election, there is a need to try to reunite the country. After taking the oath of office on March 4, 1817, President James Monroe was hungry to repair the political disorder between Democratic-Republicans and Federalists. Though the War of 1812 had ended two years before Monroe’s inauguration, the Capitol in Washington D.C. still showed scars of the traumatic British invasion. The White House, having been severely damaged by fire due to British assault, was still under construction, and Monroe was nervous about America’s ability defend herself against foreign invasion. With the country feeling divided and vulnerable, Monroe was determined to show strength and unity and usher in a new era - an era that would become known as the “Era of Good Feelings.” To do this, however, he would have to see the country and more importantly, let the country see him.
On June 1, 1817, James Monroe ventured on his first procession of the northern states with the mission of both unifying the Republic and inspecting her defenses. Unlike today, with contemporary transportation, twenty-four-hour news coverage, and social media, rarely, if ever, did people in the 1800s get to see the President of the United States. Stopping in places like Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia and Detroit, Monroe was greeted with parades and encountered great fanfare. During this procession, Monroe traveled by horse, carriage, and steamboat while inspecting military forts, reviewing troops, and making speeches to veteran groups.
On June 4, James Monroe visited Fort Mifflin, on Philadelphia’s outskirts, to inspect the structure and ensure it was ready should there be another British incursion. The next day, June 5h, Monroe entered the City and was welcomed by a large and fervent crowd of people hoping to catch a glimpse of the fifth president. Starting at the Market Street Bridge, the first permanent bridge over the Schuylkill River, the President paraded east down Market Street to cheers and jubilation. He ended the parade at the Washington Hall and Renshaw's Hotel where he would stay for the duration of his visit in Philadelphia. Arriving at the hotel, Monroe gave a speech to the Pennsylvania Society of the Cincinnati that was full of gratitude and hope for the future. Over the next two days, he would also visit the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (the first building), the Pennsylvania Hospital, the State House, Peale’s Museum, Carpenter’ Hall, Bank of the United States, The Navy Yard, and the Walnut Street Jail. During his tour, Monroe visited a variety of municipal buildings where he met with the city’s leadership and elected officials.
Leaving Philadelphia on June 7, Monroe traveled north through the neighborhood of Germantown to visit a revolutionary war battlefield that was the scene of fierce fighting between Washington’s Continental Army and British regulars in an attempt to prevent the city from British occupation in 1777. After Monroe’s solemn visit to the battlefield and feeling satisfied with the readiness of the City to defend itself on the chance of another British invasion, Monroe left for New Jersey. He would continue to tour the northern states until finally coming back to Washington D.C. on September 17, 1817.
Curious for more? Want to know what else happened during this historic presidential tour? In 1820, Samual Waldo documented this journey by writing a book called The tour of James Monroe: president of the United States, through the northern and eastern states, in 1817. A copy of this book is in the archives of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and was used as a source of information for this blog. Also, at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, in partnership with the James Monroe Museum and The Papers of James Monroe, is the exhibit called “In the Sprit of the People: James Monroe’s 1817 Presidental Tour.” This traveling exhibit details Monroe’s procession through the northern and western states using primary source material and engaging visuals. It is free and open to the public at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in downtown Philadephia during regular operating hours through July 14.
Pennsylvanian to Pennsylvania,
HSP Education Intern