The General's invasion outraged Congress and the King of Spain, but the Secretary of State turned the scandal into a diplomatic coup The Congress knew nothing of the operation. The President later denied that he had ever given it a green light. But the brash American officer who did the deed in the name of American national security claimed he had the full backing of the executive branch of his government. The escapade caused an international furor, indeed an international crisis, and outraged members of both the Senate and the House of Representatives called for investigations. Many congressmen demanded public disavowal by the President and punishment of the officer in question. Just at the moment when such consequences seemed unavoidable, the Secretary of State stepped boldly forward to salvage the officer's name, silencing criticism at home and abroad.
It was the troubled winter of 1817-18. The United States had still not recovered from the War of 1812 with Great Britain, which had bitterly divided the nation and seen the near-secession of the New England states, whose livelihood depended on shipping. Because the British had burned the White House, the Capitol and many public buildings (SMITHSONIAN, September 1987), James Monroe, a forthright if sometimes indecisive Virginian, became the first American President to take the oath of office out-of-doors. The wrangling Congress, meanwhile, was obliged to carry on its often-raucous proceedings in the Patent Office. New England's leaders had been prevented from shattering the American Union during the war only by the eleventh-hour negotiation of the Treaty of Ghent in December 1814, and by the astonishing American victory won at New Orleans under the command of Andrew Jackson a month later.
President Monroe was eager to put his energy and talent to the task of avoiding any new international crises, hoping to mend not only the American capital but also the divided national spirit. Soon after his Inauguration, he embarked on a personal tour of New England prompting at least one observer to predict the start of an "era of good feelings."