By the early 21st century, pundits expect incumbent presidents to take a beating in second midterm elections. George W. Bush and Barack Obama both faced stinging rebukes in their sixth year. In recent years, only Bill Clinton escaped total fiasco. His predecessor, James Monroe, bucked the trend in spectacular fashion. In 1822, the Democrats won an overwhelming victory in Monroe’s second midterm. By this point, the party had no competition as the Federalists had almost completely disappeared. In the end, the Democrats enjoyed the largest gain by the president’s party in midterm history.
The 1820 census added 26 seats to the House of Representatives. The ruling party held a 123 seat advantage entering the midterms. Although the surviving Federalists attempted to continue their struggle, the Democrats finished the election cycle by adding 34 seats. In the end, they held a 189-24 advantage when the voting finished. The party gained 11 seats in New York, eight in Ohio, five in Pennsylvania, three in Tennessee, two in Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Alabama, and one in Georgia and Maine. Once again, Henry Clay served as Speaker of the House. Two years later, Clay settled the disputed Election of 1824 in John Quincy Adam’s favor. Additionally, Sam Houston won election to the House of Representatives. Eventually, Houston emerged as presidential contender before ruining himself. Later, he moved to Texas and founded a nation.
While the Democrats won the house elections in landslide fashion, the Senate changed little. The Democrats entered the election with 44 seats, defended 14, and finished with 44. Once again, state legislatures chose Senate membership. In 1819, the states sent future vice presidents William King and Richard Mentor Johnson to Washington. This time around, future president Andrew Jackson joined the august body. However, the Senate proved too boring for Jackson who craved action as opposed to blustery debate. In a six short years, Jackson would replace Monroe as the nation’s leader.
By 1824, President Monroe could look back at his presidency as an amazing success. He settled the sectional dispute over Missouri, issued the Monroe Doctrine, weathered an economic depression, oversaw the collapse of the Federalist Party, and spearheaded the Democratic Party to unprecedented dominance. Jacksonian Democracy undermined the Era of Good Feelings. As President Jackson’s personality and politics splintered the nation into Whigs and Democrats. Later, Jackson’s protege James K. Polk’s successful war with Mexico destroyed the Whigs and split the nation into sectional camps.
The Civil War occurred nearly 40 years after Monroe’s successful second midterm. The president’s party retained overwhelming control of the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. To Democrats, this signaled the end of the Federalist apostasy. History records the Monroe period as the Era of Good Feelings. The Democrats unprecedented victory, a 34 seat pickup in the House, has never been repeated.