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The Era of Good Feelings

As James Madison approached the end of his presidency in 1816, a fellow Virginian and Republican—James Monroe—was elected as his successor. Monroe’s presidency was a continuation of the so-called “Virginia Dynasty,” since all of the presidents between 1801 and 1825 were from Virginia. The fading Federalist Party ran a candidate in the 1816 election for the last time, securing only 34 electoral votes compared to Monroe’s 183 votes. Monroe came to the presidency with a solid political background; he had served as a U.S. senator, he was twice the governor of Virginia, he was President Madison’s Secretary of State, and he had also served a short time as President Madison’s Secretary of War. He fought in the Battle of Trenton during the Revolutionary War at the age of 18.

Monroe was not considered a president with outstanding intellect, nor was he considered a strong leader, but he was regarded as extremely dedicated, levelheaded, and sincere. Jefferson once said that if you turned Monroe’s soul inside out, it would be found spotless. Whatever his limitations, he surrounded himself with promising Republican leaders, including John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State and son of former Federalist President John Adams; William Crawford, Secretary of Treasury; and John C. Calhoun, Secretary of War.

Monroe’s presidency spanned the end of the Revolutionary generation and the emergent age of nationalism. The country was at peace and the economy was thriving when Monroe embarked on a goodwill tour of New England shortly after his inauguration in 1817. He was warmly welcomed everywhere he went—even Boston, which had become a center of wartime dissent for the Federalists during the War of 1812. The Columbian Centinel, a Federalist newspaper in Boston, went so far as to announce that an “Era of Good Feelings” had been ushered in.

This phrase has often been used to describe Monroe’s presidency, but it is, unfortunately, somewhat misleading. The first few years of Monroe’s presidency were blessed with peace, liberty, and progress. However, the prosperity following the War of 1812 collapsed, the Panic of 1819 took hold, and a resurgence of sectionalism erupted.

The Panic of 1819 marked the end of the economic expansion that followed the War of 1812. It featured deflation, depression, bank failures, foreclosures, unemployment, a slump in agriculture and manufacturing, and overcrowded debtors’ prisons. It was the first national economic panic since Washington took office.

Many factors contributed to the Panic of 1819, including a downturn in exports and strong price competition from foreign goods. The falling prices impaired agriculture and manufacturing, triggering widespread unemployment. Another major cause was the risky lending practiced by banks in the west. The Second Bank of the United States tightened their credit lending policies and eventually forced these “wildcat” frontier banks to foreclose mortgages on countless farms and similar high-risk debtors, which resulted in bankruptcies and prisons full of debtors. The Panic of 1819 affected the entire country.

Although the country experienced hard times, little of the blame fell on President Monroe. He was easily elected for a second term in 1820, winning all of the electoral votes but one. Monroe was the only U.S. president to be re-elected after presiding over such a major financial crisis.

Sectional concerns over tariff issues, banking policy, sale of public land, and slavery began to divide the United States into three distinct regions: north, south, and west. While the lines of sectionalism were being drawn, Henry Clay came up with a plan called the “American System” that drew upon the nationalism Americans were still feeling after the War of 1812. Clay’s plan for developing profitable American markets had three main parts: a strong banking system to provide abundant credit, a protective tariff to ensure successful eastern manufacturing, and internal improvements, such as a network of roads and canals. Clay’s American System was meant to build the national economy and bind the country together both economically and politically.

Two parts of Clay’s System were implemented—protective tariffs and the Second Bank of the United States. The third provision, internal improvements such as roads, faced fierce opposition from many within the Republican Party, especially Monroe. They objected on the grounds that the Constitution did not explicitly provide for federal government spending on national developments. President Monroe vetoed any bill that provided funds for roadway- or canal-building projects (the National Road or Cumberland Road being the major exception), leaving it up to the states to provide their own infrastructures.

Before the War of 1812, duties averaged about 12.5 percent, and during the war, Congress doubled all tariffs. In 1816, when the additional revenue from high tariffs was no longer needed to fund the war, a new act kept duties at the same wartime levels. The tariff was a protective measure because the British began dumping cheap goods in the United States, often at a cost far below that of American manufacturers. This protective tariff was the first in United States history—the first of many to come. The British were strangling American industry with their cut-rate goods, and to protect the fledgling industrial sector, Congress kept the tariff rates high.

The tariff issue created clear sectional divisions. Eastern manufacturers, represented by Henry Clay, favored high tariffs that would protect them from foreign competition. Northern constituents, represented by Daniel Webster from New Hampshire, were against the tariff because they feared it would affect their shipping trade and cripple their newly developing manufacturing businesses.

Southerners resented the high prices they had to pay for imports because of the high tariff, and they felt the tariff limited the foreign market for southern goods by inhibiting international exchange. They began a long campaign against the duties, hoping that freer trade would revive the cotton economy. Southerners were represented by John C. Calhoun, who originally supported the tariff but turned against it, claiming that it was enriching New England manufacturers at the cost of the South.

Westerners were split on the tariff issue. The Northwest favored high duties in order to protect its agricultural production, while the Southwest favored low duties for the same reason the Southerners did—they produced cotton.

The national banking policy was another important political issue, although the regional lines were less sharply drawn on this subject than they were on the tariff issue. Northerners voted against a re-charter of the Bank of the United States, while Southerners favored the institution.

Westerners favored the new Bank before the Panic of 1819, which created open opposition to the institution. The Second Bank of the United States stopped allowing payment of debts in paper and instead demanded payment in specie—metallic gold and silver coins—which were in short supply after the War of 1812 due to a large trade deficit with Britain. The hardest hit sector was Western farmers who could not pay their loans to the Bank because they could not obtain the specie that was demanded. The Second Bank of the United States then forced western branches to foreclose on farms with outstanding loans. Westerners began to call for reform and the end of the Bank of the United States.

Land policy in the early nineteenth century was another reason for sectional differences. In 1818, the government sold nearly 3.5 million acres of public land due to a lenient credit policy, which in turn led to falling land prices. Sectional attitudes were clear—the West wanted cheap land, while the North and South felt the public land should be sold for as much as possible. Northerners were afraid that cheap land in the west would draw laborers, leaving the north with a shortage of workers that would force an increase in wages. Southerners were afraid of the competition that might develop when the western lands were settled and planted.

Slavery was the most problematic sectional issue the young nation faced. The leaders of the Constitutional Convention had made many compromises over what politicians at the time called the “peculiar institution”—slavery—in order to get the United States Constitution passed. In 1808, Congress abolished African slave trade without major incident, and by 1819, there were 11 free states and 11 slave states, maintaining a balance in the Union. Most Northerners opposed the institution. In contrast, Southerners wholeheartedly supported and defended slavery, as did most of the West, since many Westerners came from Virginia, Kentucky, and other southern slave states.

While the lines of sectionalism were beginning to be drawn nationally, there remained a few foreign policy issues for the United States to straighten out with Britain and Spain. From 1817 to 1819, the Monroe administration negotiated various foreign policy issues with these two countries. In the Rush-Bagot Agreement of 1817, the United States and Britain agreed to a limited naval presence on the Great Lakes, eventually resulting in the demilitarization of the entire border. The spirit of this agreement gave rise to the tradition of an unfortified border between the United States and Canada.

At the Convention of 1818, the United States and Britain negotiated three important points. The vague northern limit of the Louisiana Purchase was settled along the 49th parallel, from the Lake of the Woods to the Rocky Mountains. The United States was also granted the right to share the Newfoundland and Labrador fisheries. And the third point of agreement was that the Oregon Country would be open to joint occupation by both the British and Americans for 10 years.

During that same year, the Monroe administration recognized increasing problems with Spanish Florida. Seminole Indians frequently came from Florida into American territory to raid border towns, and American criminals and slaves who escaped across the border into Florida could not be recovered. Secretary of War Calhoun authorized General Andrew Jackson to clear the raiding Seminoles from American soil. His order allowed him to pursue the Indians into Spanish territory but did not authorize him to attack any Spanish posts. Jackson, clearly exceeding his instructions, proceeded to push his way through Florida, destroying Seminole settlements, hanging two Indian chiefs, and capturing two Spanish forts.

Spain demanded the return of its territory, reparations, and punishment of Jackson, but did not have the military might to back up their demands. Much of Monroe’s administration believed that Jackson had gone too far, but Secretary of State John Quincy Adams instead took the offensive in the Adams-Onís Treaty. In 1819, during negotiations with the Spanish Minister to Washington, Luis de Onís, Adams bargained for Spain to cede all of Florida for $5 million—which the United States actually paid to Americans who held claims against Spain—in exchange for America’s abandonment of claims to Texas, thus setting the western boundary of the Louisiana Purchase.

The Missouri Compromise

During the early nineteenth century, the sectional lines between the free north and the slave south were being gradually drawn. Slavery began to gain prominence as a national issue, and the South became solidly united behind the institution of slavery as it became more critical to their economic success. By 1819, the United States was comprised of an equal number of free and slave states—11 of each.

In 1812, Louisiana had entered the Union, and the balance of the Louisiana Purchase was organized into the Missouri Territory. As the population trickled westward, many Southerners and their slaves settled the region north and west of St. Louis. In 1819, the settlers petitioned the House of Representatives for admission of the state of Missouri as a slave state, since the population exceeded the required 60,000. Missouri was the first area west of the Mississippi to apply for statehood that was entirely part of the Louisiana Purchase.

Missouri’s petition became another sectional issue and led to the end of the “Era of Good Feelings.” Northerners opposed adding Missouri as a slave state because it would upset the current balance of free and slave states. During the debate over Missouri’s admission, Congressman James Tallmadge of New York introduced an amendment stating that no more slaves could be brought into Missouri and that all slaves born in Missouri after the territory became a state would be freed at the age of 25.

Southerners were extremely concerned about the Missouri emancipation amendment and felt the future of the slave system might depend on it being vetoed. They were aware that the amendment could set a damaging precedent for all of the Louisiana Purchase and any land west of the Mississippi. They also held concerns that if Congress abolished slavery in Missouri, they could attempt to do likewise in all of the southern states.

Population growth in the north had led to a majority for the northern states in the House of Representatives. However, because the Senate had equal representation from each state and there was an equal number of free and slave states, the Senate was split on the issue. The House of Representatives passed the Tallmadge Amendment on a strictly sectional vote, but the Senate rejected it, with some Northern Federalists joining the South to spite the Republicans.

Congress was deadlocked for some time over admission of Missouri as a slave state. The primary issues were political and economic balance. Northerners were concerned that Missouri—and any other new slave states—would be over-represented in Congress based on the Three-Fifths Compromise, which said 60 percent of slaves were counted in determining a state’s delegation to the House of Representatives. A secondary issue that was voiced by Northerner abolitionists was the moral question of slavery. However, the morality of slavery did not influence the solution to the problem at hand.

Henry Clay of Kentucky played a leading role in developing what would be called the “Missouri Compromise.” Missouri was admitted as a slave state, and Maine was separated from Massachusetts and admitted as a free state. This compromise preserved the balance between northern and southern states, as well as free and slave states. In addition, Congress prohibited slavery in all other parts of the Louisianan Purchase north of the line of 36° 30’—the southern boundary of Missouri. This second part of the Compromise was rather ironic, considering Missouri was north of the designated no slavery line.

The Missouri Compromise lasted for 34 years. Both sides had yielded something in the compromise, but both felt they had gained something as well. Northerners were satisfied with the compromise because it kept the balance in the Senate between free and slave states. Southerners felt they won a victory with the Missouri Compromise because at that time most Americans felt it was unlikely that the area north and west of Missouri would ever be settled.

While the controversy had subsided for the time, many Americans were beginning to see the South’s “peculiar institution” as an issue that would eventually have to be confronted. The Missouri Compromise avoided the slavery question, but it did not resolve it.

John Marshall

Despite the growing division over the issue of slavery in America, Chief Justice John Marshall and the Supreme Court worked to reinforce the feelings of nationalism that developed after the War of 1812. Marshall was a Revolutionary War survivor, and his experience led to strong feelings of national loyalty. Although he had six colleagues on the Supreme Court, Marshall’s position as Chief Justice—along with his personality, logic, and forcefulness—resulted in many rulings that reflected his personal view of the Constitution and his belief in a powerful central government.

During Marshall’s 34 years on the bench, many important cases were considered by the Court. Several of the most famous cases involved three major principles: contract rights protection, the supremacy of federal legislation over the laws of the states, and regulation of interstate commerce.

In 1810, the contract rights case of Fletcher v. Peck came before the Supreme Court. Members of the Georgia legislature were bribed in 1795 to sell 35 million acres in Mississippi for a small amount to private speculators. The following year, a new Georgia legislature rescinded the sale. The case was taken to the Supreme Court, and Marshall, speaking for the Court, ruled that the original sale was a legal contract—regardless of whether or not it was fraudulent—and therefore protected by the Constitution. The ruling was historically significant because it protected property rights against popular pressures, and it also clearly asserted the Supreme Court’s right to invalidate state laws that conflicted with the Constitution.

In the case of Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819), the state of New Hampshire tried to alter the college’s charter, which had been granted in 1769 by King George III. A New Hampshire court ruled that Dartmouth was to be changed from a private to a public institution. Dartmouth appealed the case to the Supreme Court, where Marshall ruled that the original charter must stand because it was a contract and could not be altered or canceled without consent of both parties.

The Marshall Court ruled that the Constitution protected contracts against state encroachments. The significance of Marshall’s ruling was far reaching because it effectively safeguarded private corporations from domination by the states’ governments. Unfortunately, the case also set the precedent for giving corporations the ability to skirt governmental controls. Once the states became aware of this dilemma, they generally wrote into charters the ability to make changes so that it was part of the contract.

A case in which the Marshall court upheld the power of the federal court over that of the states was the 1816 case of Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee. The state of Virginia confiscated land owned by a British Loyalist named Denny Martin Fairfax. Virginia granted David Hunter 800 acres of the confiscated lands, and Fairfax brought suit against Hunter for return of the land. The Treaty of Paris (1794) and Jay’s Treaty (1795) seemed to make it clear that Fairfax was the rightful owner of the property, but the Virginia court upheld the grant to Hunter.

The Supreme Court and Justice Marshall overruled the Virginia court, declaring that the land belonged to Fairfax and voided the grant to Hunter. The Court’s ruling rejected “compact theory,” the idea that the states were equally sovereign to the federal government. This ruling was significant because it enforced the rights of the Supreme Court, which held appellate jurisdiction over state courts. Thus, Marshall’s ruling upheld the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.

McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) is often considered John Marshall’s single most important interpretation of the Constitution, because it dealt with the division of power between the federal government and the states. The state of Maryland, in order to protect its local banks, placed an annual tax on the Bank of the United States and other “foreign” banks. The Maryland branch of the Bank of the United States refused to pay, and Maryland brought suit against the chief bank employee, called the “head cashier,” John W. McCulloch.

Marshall upheld the constitutionality of the Bank of the United States, using Hamilton’s bank message of 1791 to support his position. He argued that the Bank’s legality was implied in many of the powers specifically granted to Congress. Since the bank was legal, the Maryland tax was unconstitutional, for “the power to tax involves the power to destroy,” which was exactly what many states had in mind with respect to the Bank. The Marshall Court’s ruling in favor of McCulloch used a “loose” interpretation of the Constitution and, with the ruling, strengthened federal authority and the implied powers of Congress.

Two years later in the case of Cohens v. Virginia (1821), Marshall once again defended the power of the federal government. The Cohen brothers were illegally selling lottery tickets in the state of Virginia, and the state authorities tried and convicted them. The brothers appealed to the Supreme Court, and Marshall upheld Virginia’s right to forbid the sale of lottery tickets. The case reaffirmed the Supreme Court’s right to review all state court judgements in cases involving the Constitution or powers of the federal government.

In 1824, Marshall handed down his last great decision in Gibbons v. Ogden, the “steamboat case,” which involved the regulation of interstate commerce. In 1808, Robert Fulton and Robert Livingston pioneered commercial use of the steamboat and held a monopoly of steamboat navigation on the Hudson in New York. In 1815, Aaron Ogden purchased exclusive rights to operate a ferry between New York and New Jersey. When Thomas Gibbons, who held a federal trade license, set up a competing line, Ogden sued him.

The case was presented to the Supreme Court, where Marshall decided in favor of Gibbons, destroying Fulton’s and Livingston’s monopoly and reminding New York that Congress alone controlled interstate commerce. Marshall’s decision once again checked the power of the states and upheld the sovereign power of the federal government.

Many of Marshall’s decisions while on the bench aided the economic development of the United States and created a nationally uniform environment for business. Marshall’s landmark decisions also confirmed the Supreme Court’s power of judicial review and firmly established the Judiciary as the most powerful branch of the federal government. In a broader sense, his decisions acknowledged the idea of judicial limitation on legislative powers and made the Supreme Court a vital part of America’s system of government.

The Monroe Doctrine

At the great European conference, the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815), the monarchs of Europe gathered to return the continent to its status before the French Revolution. The European powers banded together to eradicate democratic movements that threatened their thrones. In 1821, the Holy Alliance—Russia, Austria, Prussia, and France—quashed liberal movements in Italy. Then in 1822, at the Congress of Verona, the alliance decided to put down Spanish rebels, and in 1823, France crossed the Spanish border and restored the Spanish king to absolute authority. Rumors spread quickly that the autocratic alliance would next send armies to the revolted colonies of Spanish South America and restore the king to power there as well.

Britain had profited from the breakup of the Spanish monarchy in South America by developing a thriving commerce with the Spanish republics. In 1823, the British foreign minister, George Canning, sought to join with the United States and renounce any interest in acquiring any South American territory and declare opposition to any French interference with the South American colonies. Secretary of State Adams recognized that while the proposal was flattering, it was not in the best interest of the Untied States. He pointed out that the alliance with Britain would mean abandoning the possibility of someday adding part of South America to the United States. He felt the U.S. should proclaim a unilateral policy against the restoration of Spain’s colonies. Adams told Monroe, “It would be more candid, as well as more dignified, to avow our principles explicitly to Russia and France, than to come in as a cockboat in the wake of the British man-of-war.”

Monroe agreed with the arguments Adams made and decided to include a statement of American policy that reflected those arguments in his seventh annual message to Congress in December of 1823. The “Monroe Doctrine,” as it was later called, had two main points. First, Monroe proclaimed that the era of colonization in the Americas had ended: "The American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers." Europe’s political system was different than that of the New World, and he felt the two should not be mixed. He stated that any attempts by European powers to extend their political system to the Western Hemisphere would be seen as a threat to the nation’s “peace and safety.” The second point Monroe made in his policy statement was that the United States would not interfere with existing European colonies in North or South American and would avoid involvement in European affairs.

At the time, since the Monroe Doctrine was not a treaty or a law, it drew little attention either in the United States or abroad. In reality, the U.S. didn’t have the power to enforce this unilateral announcement. However, Monroe and his staff knew that the British Navy, the most powerful in the world, would protect South America so that their markets remained open to British trade. Monroe’s Doctrine gave voice to a spirit of patriotism in the United States and did eventually become one of the cherished principles of American foreign policy.

Aboukhadijeh, Feross. "James Monroe" StudyNotes.org. Study Notes, LLC., 17 Nov. 2012. Web. 14 Mar. 2018. <https://www.apstudynotes.org/us-history/topics/james-monroe/>.

Only at the very end of the AP U.S. History exam do you reach the Long Essay Question (LEQ). As a result, the LEQ is a challenge for even the most prepared test-taker. By this point in the exam, you are mentally exhausted, your hand is tired from writing all the other free response questions, and you just want to go home. That is what makes it so important that you practice for the exam so that even when you’re worn out, you’ll still be able to get the full six points on the AP U.S. History LEQ.

In this post, we will help you prepare for this part of the test by walking through how the LEQ is scored, with specific examples from the 2015 U.S. History LEQ. By the end of the post, we hope you will be more confident in your ability to succeed on this year’s LEQ. So, let’s get started! Before we get into the specifics of the 2015 questions, though, let us review the overall format of the LEQ in the AP U.S. History exam.

Format of the AP US History LEQ

For the 2016 test, the CollegeBoard implemented a new format and rubric for grading the Free Response section of the AP U.S. History Exam (see here). Here we will focus on the revised format and rubric, addressing how the 2015 LEQ questions would have been scored under the new system and how you can succeed on this year’s LEQ. Be careful, though, when using resources from before 2016 that focus on the old AP U.S. History exam format.

The LEQ occurs in the last half of the second section of the exam. It is the final part the exam and lasts for a total of 35 minutes. You will be asked to pick one of two questions to answer, and your response will count for a total of 15% of the overall exam score (see here). Ideally, you should probably spend about five minutes outlining and the remaining thirty minutes writing the actual response.

The CollegeBoard grades you based on four general categories (with points indicated in parentheses), for a total of six points overall:

  1. Thesis (1)
  2. Argument Development Using Targeted Historical Thinking Skill (2)
  3. Argument Development Using Evidence (2)
  4. Synthesis (1)

Note that you earn each point in the rubric independently and you will need to show unique evidence for each point (see here). Thus, you can’t get both a Thesis and Argument Development point from the same sentence.

For the remainder of the piece, let us dive deeper into what each one of these point categories mean and how you can be sure to get all of the points for each one. We will use the 2015 questions and student responses as our examples. Let’s briefly look at the questions and then we will address what students did well and what they did poorly in answering the questions in 2015.

The 2015 LEQ Questions

For the 2015 AP U.S. History exam, the CollegeBoard asked students to respond to either of the following two LEQs (see here):

“Evaluate the extent to which the Seven Years’ War (French and Indian War, 1754-1763) marked a turning point in American relations with Great Britain.

In the development of your argument, analyze what changed and what stayed the same from the period before the war to the period after it. (Historical thinking skill: Periodization)”


“Evaluate the extent to which the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) marked a turning point in the debate over slavery in the United States.

In the development of your argument, analyze what changed and what stayed the same from the period before the war to the period after it. (Historical thinking skill: Periodization)”

The 4 Keys to LEQ Success

The key to LEQ success is to follow the rubric closely. The CollegeBoard looks for concrete evidence that you have completed each element of the rubric. If you have them, you’ll earn points. If you don’t, you will not. There is no partial credit on the AP exam. Let’s take a look at the general rubric categories you need to touch upon to earn credit on the AP U.S. History LEQ.

1. Write a Strong Thesis

For the first point in the rubric, the CollegeBoard demands a strong thesis: a historically defensible claim or argument that addresses all parts of the question (see here). Your thesis should be a relatively easy point for you to achieve because your entire essay depends on having an argument you wish to make—a stand you take on the question. It is simply a matter of stating that overarching argument clearly, either in the introduction or the conclusion. Let us take a look at what made a successful LEQ thesis statement for students taking the 2015 AP U.S. History exam.


For the first LEQ question about the French and Indian War, you must address the entire question: evaluating the extent to which the Seven Years’ War marked a turning point in American relations with Great Britain. Thus, if you choose to answer this one, you must make a historically defensible claim about the period. For instance, one student argues (see here):

“The French and Indian War marked a major turning point in American relations with Great Britain, with changes such as increased British control and anti-British sentiment in the colonies, but also continuities such as loyalty to Britain that remained largely untouched by the war”.

Note that the student provides specific historical examples of things that changed with the French and Indian War (that they will follow up on in their essay with evidence) and clearly states their argument that the war marked a major turning point in American relations with Great Britain. A good example of a thesis from the second 2015 LEQ option might be as follows (see here):

“The Mexican-American War marked a huge turning point in the debate over slavery because it brought to light the controversy of territorial self- determination and asked the question that would define America on a fundamental level: is this country one of slavery or one of freedom?”

This student argues that the Mexican-American war was a turning point and also specifically discusses its relationship to slavery, which they will address for the remainder of the essay. Note, however, that one answer is not necessarily the only answer. For instance, this student earned a thesis point for arguing that the war was not a turning point in the debate over slavery (see here):

“The Mexican-American War was not a significant turning point in the debate over slavery because sectional divisions over the Mexican Cession did not increase until after the Compromise of 1850, a much more significant turning point.”

You will want to make sure that you can support your thesis statement to get the remaining points for the LEQ, but there is a bit of flexibility in how you can get the “Thesis” point of the rubric.


One way not to get “Thesis” credit on the U.S. History LEQ is to provide only a vague restatement of the question. For instance, this student’s thesis for the Seven Years’ War prompt fails to fully address the question (see here):

“The Seven Years’ War was a major event in the world’s history, and it played an important role in shaping many nations.”

While the student does make an assertion, they do not evaluate the extent to which the war was a turning point in American relations with Great Britain, nor do they link the war to changes in relations with Great Britain. By not addressing the entirety of the question, the student did not receive credit for the “Thesis” portion of the grading rubric. Similarly, this student address only part of the second LEQ prompt about the Mexican-American War (see here):

“The Mexican-American War marked a turning point in the debate over slavery in the U.S.”

To receive credit for this thesis, the student should have responded to the entire question, specifically evaluating the extent to which the war was a turning point. If your reader couldn’t read anything from your essay but your thesis, they should still be able to capture your entire argument from the thesis statement alone. When you practice writing theses, be sure to look at them and ask yourself whether or not you can do this: does your thesis completely address the question? If so, you’re ready to further develop your thesis argument with your historical thinking skills and specific historical evidence.

2. Apply Historical Thinking Skills

You will notice at the bottom of each LEQ option, the CollegeBoard prints a “Targeted Historical Thinking Skill”. For the 2015 exam, both of these historical thinking skills were “Periodization,” meaning the graders want you to describe and explain the extent to which the historical development specified in the prompt was different from and similar to developments that preceded and followed it (see here). Specifically, you will receive one point for successfully describing this period change and a separate point for explaining the extent to which the historical development was similar to or different from developments that preceded and followed it.

Other examples of Historical Thinking Skills you might see on this year’s exam include Causation, Comparison, and Change and Continuity over Time (see here). For each one of these, you will also be asked to describe the elements involved the causation, comparison, or change/continuity for one point and then explain how they played a role in causation, comparison, or change/continuity.

In the 2015 exam, both questions were “Periodization” questions, however, so let us get to the bottom of how “Periodization” questions are scored:


Your first point for using the Targeted Historical Thinking skill demands that you describe the ways in which the historical development in the prompt differed from or was similar to developments that preceded and followed it. One student writing on the French and Indian War, for instance, focused on similarities between the periods before and after the war as a means of developing their overall thesis that the war was not a turning point in American relations with Great Britain (see here):

“Both before and after the war, officials attempted to place taxes on colonial goods to finance the empire.”

For this statement, the student earned a point for describing a similarity that carried on before and after the war in support of their thesis. Another student working on the second prompt about the Mexican-American War successfully emphasized the differences between pre- and post-war periods (see here):

“The Mexican War did exacerbate sectionalism significantly. Before the war, the debate over the expansion of slavery and the balance of free and slave states had been somewhat settled by the Missouri Compromise. However, in the Treaty of Guadalupe – Hidalgo, the U.S. was granted vast new lands, including California and New Mexico. Debate immediately ensued over the state of slavery in the new lands.”

Once you have earned a point for either describing differences and similarities between periods before and after the time frame described in the prompt, you must explain the extent of these differences and similarities for the second point. For instance, differences or similarities that are limited to a particular city or medium have a very different pragmatic impact than do those that occur across the country in a variety of mediums. For instance, one student explains the extent of discontent before and after the French and Indian war, as follows (see here):

“Discontent became a major change in Anglo-American relations with one another as protest grew to British involvement in American affairs and duties. Before the war, Americans were okay with some taxes and controlled trade restrictions, but the sudden and seemingly illegal tax actions forced protests and traitorous talks, none of which had been prominent before the war.”

The student goes beyond simply describing differences between periods (as required for the first point) and addresses the extent to which they occur (via protests and traitorous talks, for instance). Another student (who had already addressed the level of debate before the war), explains the differences after the Mexican-American War in the second prompt as (see here):

“After the Mexican- American War, the debate became over what to do with the newly acquired territory and ultimately led to the creation of new parties. … Though the United States was unwilling to admit it, the political aspect of the country was turning into one all about slavery. The demographic of political parties changed and foreshadowed the civil war.”

This student addresses the extent of differences in the demographic composition of the political parties themselves. The key is to tie in an explanation of this extent to a description of the differences and similarities between previous and later periods. If you provide both a description and an explanation of the extent to which these differences and similarities were true, you will receive two points for this section of the rubric.


If on the other hand, you are unable to describe and explain the differences between events before and after the prompt’s period of interest, you will not receive the two points for this section of the rubric. For instance, this student confused the period under question (see here):

“The U.S. and Great Britain had been on bad terms ever since the American Revolution.”

Since the American Revolution occurred after the French and Indian War, this cannot be an adequate description of the period before the war. Thus, they would not receive a point for their description. Even if you have a factually correct description, however, you may not receive a point if that description is off-topic. For instance, this student’s response to the Mexican-American War prompt does not tie directly into the slavery debate—an essential part of the question (see here):

“After the Mexican-American War, U.S. gained land in the southwest. Because this would upset the balance of slave and free states too much, the government decided to implement popular sovereignty.”

While the student mentions slavery, they do not complete their thought on why (or if) this relates to the slavery debate itself. As such, they did not earn a point for their description.

Similarly, you will not receive the second point for your explanation of the extent of differences and similarities if you provide only a vague statement or do not clearly tie your writing in to answer the question provided in the prompt. For instance, this student does not move beyond the description of differences phase, providing only a vague statement about the extent (see here):

“When the war began, colonists did take up arms to assist the British and protect their land, but it wasn’t until the war ended that relations began to change between the colonies and the motherland.”

Likewise, this student writing the from the Mexican-American war prompt provides only a vague description of the differences between periods, without clearly addressing the extent to which the difference was true (see here):

“When the war ended, the acquisition of new land led to debates over the status of slavery in those territories.”

The key for this point is to be clear. For a periodization question like the ones in 2015, you want to make sure your graders know that you can effectively describe the periods before and after the period in question. Once you have described the periods, then you want to be able to explain the extent to which your description holds. If you do both of these things, you will receive two points for the section.

3. Support Your Argument with Specific Evidence

Up to this point, we have covered three out of five points you can earn through the LEQ rubric. You earn an additional two points by developing your argument by “Using Evidence”. On the exam, you should be able to provide specific, relevant historical examples that address the topic of the question (for one point) and (for a second point) support or substantiate your thesis (see here).


Some acceptable evidential references that relate to the Seven Years’ War topic might be, for instance (see here):

  • British debt from the Seven Years’ War
  • Colonial attitudes toward autonomy before the war
  • Similar intellectual and religious attitudes between the colonies and Britain before the war
  • Imperial policies in the wake of the Seven Years’ War
  • Colonial resentments over treatment of colonial forces by British regulars
  • British efforts to pacify and negotiate with American Indians
  • Albany Plan of Union

Likewise, if you chose the Mexican-American War LEQ, you might choose to use some of the following acceptable evidence (see the complete list of acceptable evidence here):

  • Manifest Destiny
  • Missouri Compromise (1820)
  • Increasing fear of slave power
  • William Lloyd Garrison, The Liberator (1830)
  • Gag rule
  • Frederick Douglass
  • Annexation of Texas (1845)
  • Opposition to Mexican–American War among northern Whigs
  • Abraham Lincoln’s Spot Resolutions (1846)
  • Wilmot Proviso

The key is that you provide some evidence that is relevant to the topic at hand. As long as you do, you will earn a point for this first part of the “Using Evidence” portion of the rubric. This point should be a relatively easy one for you to get if you review your course notes before the exam. To earn this first evidence point, you do not even need to have a stated thesis or a relevant argument—only reference to a relevant piece of historical information (see here). So, even if you know nothing about the question but a single relevant fact, you will be able to get at least one point for it.

To receive the second point in the “Using Evidence” section of the rubric, however, you need to provide evidence that substantiates your thesis or a related argument. For instance, the CollegeBoards states that acceptable evidence for arguing that the Seven Years’ War was less important as a turning point in different areas might include (see here):

  • The attitudes of everyday colonists
  • Trans-Atlantic exchanges throughout the period
  • Longstanding trans-Atlantic belief systems including republicanism, natural rights, the Enlightenment, and the Great Awakening
  • Unchanged labor systems, including slavery
  • The Zenger trial or other events illustrating a growth of distinct colonial identity well before the war
  • Previous British policies of mercantilism.

On the other hand, for the same question, evidence that could be used to argue the Seven Years’ War was a major turning point in different areas might include (see here):

  • Taxation and efforts of Britain to assert greater control over colonial affairs
  • The fact that British troops remained in the American colonies, there was a standing army, and the Quartering Act of 1765
  • The passage of the Proclamation of 1763 to prevent movement of settlers across the Appalachians
  • The passage of the Sugar Act (Revenue Act)

For each of these pieces of evidence, you need to make specific reference back to your thesis or relevant argument, demonstrating how this piece of evidence develops the overall argument of your essay to answer the exam prompt.

In the same way, examples of acceptable evidence that could be used to argue the Mexican–American War was not a turning point might include (see here):

  • Ongoing debates over slavery that continued before and after the war with William Lloyd Garrison, as well as The Liberator (1830), and the passage of the Gag Rule before the war
  • Prior expansion of slavery into the Texas territories and debates over this expansion, including debates over Texas annexation
  • Possibly more significant turning points, such as The Compromise of 1850 or the Kansas–Nebraska Act.

In contrast, evidence that could be used to argue the Mexican–American War was, in fact, a turning point might include (see here):

  • The increased debate over “free soil” and expansion of slavery
  • The debates surrounding the Wilmot Proviso
  • The need for addressing the influx of new territories and the effect that had on increasing sectional debates over slavery
  • The changes to the political party system, including the death of the Whigs and the rise of the Republican Party, much of it centered on issues of expansion of slavery into the territories acquired by through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

If you successfully use a piece of evidence like those listed to substantiate your thesis, you will receive a point for the “Using Evidence” section of the LEQ. The key point here is to make sure you support your arguments with evidence. The CollegeBoard does not want you to be tossing around statements without providing clear evidence to support them.


The first point in the “Using Evidence” section gives you a lot of leeway regarding how you earn it. You simply need to mention a relevant piece of evidence to the prompt and you can earn points for your response. However, even if you provide a piece of evidence, you will not necessarily get points for it if it is not relevant to the question or true. For instance, this student confuses the chronology of events when trying to answer the Seven Years’ War LEQ (see here):

“Some examples of the harsher rules and taxes that were enacted after the war were the Navigation Acts …”

The Navigation Acts were first enacted long before the start of the Seven Years’ War. As a result, even though they the acts did exist, the student did not receive a point because they incorrectly identified how the facts relate to the prompt.

Besides providing chronologically incorrect evidence, however, you can also lose the first point in the “Using Evidence” section by failing to connect it to all aspects of the question. For instance, a student writing about the Mexican-American War failed to clearly connect their evidence to the debate over slavery (see here):

“The Missouri Compromise was an act that banned slavery in states above a certain parallel. The Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed for popular sovereignty in those new states west of the Mississippi.”

You earn a second point in the “Using Evidence” section of the rubric by substantiating your thesis or relevant argument with evidence. However, if you do not fully explain how the evidence supports your thesis, you will not receive credit for your answer. For instance, this student provides evidence, but does not explain how their evidence supports the argument that the Seven Years’ War was a turning point in American relations with Great Britain (see here):

“The Seven Years’ War marks a turning point because the colonists refused to agree to British demands.”

The student needs to address more fully how and why colonists’ refusal marks a change from previous periods for this evidence to constitute any substantiation. For this point, the CollegeBoard wants you to engage with the evidence and not just list it out in a rote, memorized fashion. An additional example of unacceptable evidence to substantiate a thesis or relevant argument from a student who chose to answer the Mexican-American War LEQ is as follows (see here):

“The Compromise of 1850 was drafted that made more of the newly acquired states free, and to appease the South it created the fugitive slave law, which returned ‘escaped’ slave to their owners, but this was abused since many slaves captured and returned were free.”

While this example features a more detailed example than the last one, the student still does not explain how their evidence supports the argument that the war was or was not a turning point in the slavery debate. To earn the second point in the “Using Evidence” portion of the grading rubric, you must use the evidence in service of your argument. In other words, you need to clearly explain how it fits into the larger argument of your thesis.

4. Synthesize Your Argument with Another Historical Development or Course Theme

In the previous sections, we have covered five of the six total points you can earn on the U.S. History LEQ. The final point you can earn is the “Synthesis” point. To earn this final point, the CollegeBoard wants you to extend your argument by explaining a connection between the argument and a development in a different historical period, geographic area, or historical theme (see here). To get the point, you need to not just mention, but to explain why there is a connection between your argument and an outside theme or development. If you do so, you will earn the final point for the LEQ.


One student, for instance, tied together the results of the French and Indian War with those of the later French Revolution (see here):

“The French and Indian War’s results were similar to what took place in the French Revolution later on, in that debt from the war helped cause colonial independence from Great Britain, while the debt from involvement in the American Revolution helped inspire the French Revolution.”

They used a completely different period and context to build on their existing argument for why the French and Indian War was a turning point for Americans. As a result, this excerpt earned a point for “Synthesis.”

Similarly, another student compared changing attitudes towards slavery during the Mexican-American War to President Johnson’s later War on Poverty and its effects on the Civil Rights Movement (see here):

“The increased tensions over the debate over slavery that resulted from the Mexican-American War continued to show themselves in racial tensions in the Civil War and beyond. These tensions boiled up again in the 1960’s as Southerners fought the expansion of rights to African Americans. While the Mexican-American War amounted to a great turning point in the debate over slavery, Johnson’s War on Poverty amounted to a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement.”

Note, however, that you do not need to compare your argument to another historical development to earn the “Synthesis” point. You can also receive the point by addressing how your question might be interpreted from an alternative historical theme. For instance, one student spent their entire essay analyzing the Seven Years’ War from the perspective of political policy and attitude, but compared how an economic perspective might shed light on the question (see here):

“While the Seven Years’ War changed political policies and attitudes, it also affected economic and commercial ties, as British taxation began to enforce mercantilist policies.”

Likewise, in a political essay about the Mexican-American War, another student discusses other social factors that also played a role in the differences the war created (see here):

In an otherwise political essay: “The Mexican War created political imbalance because the balance between slave and free states from the Missouri Compromise ended. This loss of power in Congress resulted in an increase in the slave owners’ oppression of their slaves. They were afraid of also losing control of the social class structure seen in the South and the risk of losing their social and economic status. So the political crisis caused by the Mexican War also had a social element as well.”

The key is that all of these successful “Synthesis” points draw upon something external to their central argument or period of inquiry to extend their argument and demonstrate how it fits into the bigger scheme of history.


On the other hand, if you do not explain the connection between two contexts as they relate to the question, you will not receive a point. For instance, this student makes comparisons to the Seven Years’ War but does not explain how each of these conflicts served to foster revolutions in the external contexts (see here):

“The anger caused by Britain’s strong handed actions left the land of the colonies fertile for the seeds of Revolution to grow in the same way they were in France, Haiti, and other soon to revolt countries of the time.”

To earn the “Synthesis” point, the student would need to expand more on how these other conflicts unfolded and how those processes correspond with the process of history in prompt’s period of interest more generally.

Similarly, another student compares the Mexican-American War to the Spanish-American War regarding land acquisition and imperialism, but does not address the central issue of the exam prompt—slavery (see here):

“This era is very similar to that of the very late 1800’s in which the U.S. instigated a war with Spain to attain land, as done in Mexico during this period.”

It is not enough to simply state a similarity between the periods. The comparison must be relevant to the overall thesis of your essay and the LEQ itself.

Regarding thematic comparisons, the CollegeBoard emphasizes that students might similarly fail to adequately connect the alternate theme to the primary one used in their argument (see here). However, one of the main problems for students attempting thematic comparisons is that they fail to address the thesis from an alternative theme at all. For instance, this student spent the majority of the essay discussing political reasons that the French and Indian War was a turning point and said (see here):

“The war caused changes to political beliefs for both colonists and British officials.”

While this statement may be true, it does not represent an alternative theme from the dominant theme they used throughout their essay. Therefore, the student could not receive points for bringing up the “political” historical theme. They would need to bring up related Economic or Social thematic issues for instance.

Moving Forward

Now that you have seen examples of 2015 students who have succeeded on the AP U.S. History LEQ and those who have not, it’s time for you try your hand at practice LEQs.

Try and write an answer to both of the questions described in this post with a 35-minute timer. Then, check and see how well you did at earning each one of the six points described in this post.

If you practice enough, writing LEQs will become automatic, and however tired you are by the time you reach the LEQ section of the exam, you will at least have confidence that you can succeed.

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