John C. Calhoun
|John C. Calhoun|
John Caldwell Calhoun by Mathew Brady, 1849
|7th Vice President of the United States|
March 4, 1825 – December 28, 1832
|President||John Quincy Adams
|Preceded by||Daniel Tompkins|
|Succeeded by||Martin Van Buren|
|16th United States Secretary of State|
April 1, 1844 – March 10, 1845
James K. Polk
|Preceded by||Abel Upshur|
|Succeeded by||James Buchanan|
|10th United States Secretary of War|
December 8, 1817 – March 4, 1825
|Preceded by||William Crawford|
|Succeeded by||James Barbour|
|United States Senator
from South Carolina
November 26, 1845 – March 31, 1850
|Preceded by||Daniel Huger|
|Succeeded by||Franklin Elmore|
December 29, 1832 – March 4, 1843
|Preceded by||Robert Hayne|
|Succeeded by||Daniel Huger|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 6th district
March 4, 1811 – November 3, 1817
|Preceded by||Joseph Calhoun|
|Succeeded by||Eldred Simkins|
|Born||John Caldwell Calhoun
March 18, 1782
Abbeville, South Carolina, U.S.
|Died||March 31, 1850
Washington, D.C., U.S.
|Resting place||St. Philip's Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, U.S.|
|Political party||Democratic (1839–1850)|
|Democratic-Republican (before 1825)
|Alma mater||Yale College
Tapping Reeve Law School
John Caldwell Calhoun (March 18, 1782 – March 31, 1850) was an American politician and political theorist during the first half of the 19th century. Hailing from South Carolina, Calhoun began his political career as a nationalist, modernizer, and proponent of a strong national government and protective tariffs. After 1830, his views evolved and he became a greater proponent of states' rights, limited government, nullification and free trade; as he saw these means as the only way to preserve the Union. He is known for his intense and original defense of slavery as a positive good, his distrust of majoritarianism, and for leading the South toward secession from the Union.
Calhoun served as a member of the House of Representatives and Senate, as the seventh Vice President of the United States, and as secretary of war and state. He usually affiliated with the Democrats, but flirted with the Whig Party. As a "war hawk", he strongly supported the War of 1812 to defend American honor against Britain. As Secretary of War under President James Monroe, he reorganized and modernized the War Department. He ran for president in 1824, but decided to run for vice-president instead early in the election, and won; serving under John Quincy Adams. He also continued his term under Andrew Jackson, who defeated Adams for re-election. However, Calhoun had a difficult relationship with Jackson during his term, which culminated in the Peggy Eaton Affair. Calhoun resigned in 1832, and entered the Senate. Shortly after Martin Van Buren was elected as Jackson's new vice-president. Calhoun was the first of two vice-presidents to resign (the second being Spiro Agnew in 1973), and the second and last vice-president to have served under two presidents, after George Clinton. As John Tyler's Secretary of State, Calhoun sought the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 1844, but lost to surprise nominee James K. Polk.
Calhoun built his reputation as a political theorist. His concept of republicanism included approval of slavery and minority rights, with the Southern states the minority in question. To protect minority rights against majority rule, he called for a concurrent majority whereby the minority could sometimes block proposals that it felt infringed on their liberties. Calhoun died eleven years before the start of the American Civil War, but he was an inspiration to the secessionists of 1860–61. Nicknamed the "cast-iron man" for his ideological rigidity, Calhoun supported states' rights and nullification, under which states could declare null and void federal laws viewed as unconstitutional. He was a strong proponent of slavery, which he defended as a "positive good" rather than as a "necessary evil". His rhetorical defense of slavery was partially responsible for escalating Southern threats of secession in the face of mounting abolitionist sentiment in the North.
Calhoun was one of the "Great Triumvirate" or the "Immortal Trio" of Congressional leaders, along with his Congressional colleagues Daniel Webster and Henry Clay. In 1957, a Senate Committee selected Calhoun as one of the five greatest U.S. Senators of all time. Calhoun has received praise for his intellectual advancements and denunciations for his attitude towards slavery.
- 1 Origins and early life
- 2 Marriage and family
- 3 Member of the House of Representatives and War of 1812
- 4 Secretary of War: 1817–1825
- 5 Vice Presidency
- 6 First stint in the U.S. Senate
- 7 Secretary of State
- 8 Second stint in the Senate
- 9 Death and burial
- 10 Political philosophy
- 11 Film and TV
- 12 Memorials
- 13 References
- 14 Sources
- 15 External links
- 16 See also
Origins and early life
Calhoun was born in 1782, the fourth child of Patrick Calhoun and his wife Martha Caldwell in Abbeville District, South Carolina. His father had joined the Scotch-Irish immigration from County Donegal to the backcountry of South Carolina.
When his father became ill, 17-year-old John Calhoun quit school to work on the family farm. With his brothers' financial support, he later returned to his studies, earning a degree from Yale College, Phi Beta Kappa, in 1804. He was also a noted member of the debating Society of Brothers in Unity at Yale College. After studying law at the Tapping Reeve Law School in Litchfield, Connecticut, he was admitted to the South Carolina bar in 1807.
Marriage and family
In January 1811, Calhoun married Floride Bonneau Colhoun, a first cousin once removed. The couple had 10 children over 18 years; three died in infancy: 1. Andrew Pickens Calhoun (1811–1865); 2. Floride Pure Calhoun (1814–1815); 3. Jane Calhoun (1816–1816); 4. Anna Maria Calhoun (1817–1875); 5. Elizabeth Calhoun (1819–1820); 6. Patrick Calhoun (1821–1858); 7. John Caldwell Calhoun, Jr. (1823–1850); 8. Martha Cornelia Calhoun (1824–1857); 9. James Edward Calhoun (1826–1861); and 10. William Lowndes Calhoun (1829–1858). His fourth child, Anna Maria, married Thomas Green Clemson, founder of Clemson University in South Carolina. During her husband's second term as Vice President, Floride Calhoun was a central figure in the Petticoat affair. She was an active Episcopalian and Calhoun often accompanied her to church. However he was a charter member of All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, D.C., in 1821 signing his name right next to John Quincy Adams and remaining a member for all his life. He rarely mentioned religion; a Presbyterian in his early life, historians believe he was closest to the informal Unitarianism typified by Thomas Jefferson. In Clyde Wilson's collection of Calhoun's papers, Wilson states that his religion is known to himself alone, although he loved to discuss religion. In a letter he wrote to his daughter Anna Maria, Calhoun provided a clue to his religious thought: "Do our best, our duty for our country, and leave the rest to Providence". In John C. Calhoun: American Portrait, Margaret Coit says he was raised Calvinist, went into Unitarianism for a bit, but for most of his life was caught between the two. Before he died, he was touched by the Great Awakening in the South. Historian Merrill Peterson describes Calhoun thus:
Intensely serious and severe, he could never write a love poem, though he often tried, because every line began with “whereas”…
Member of the House of Representatives and War of 1812
Calhoun was "a high-strung man of ultra intellectual cast". Unlike Henry Clay or Andrew Jackson, he was not noted for charisma or charm (except when dealing with women and children). He was often seen as harsh, and aggressive with other representatives. But he was a brilliant intellectual and orator and strong organizer. Historian Russell Kirk says "That zeal which flared like Greek fire in Randolph burned in Calhoun, too; but it was contained in the Cast-iron Man as in a furnace, and Calhoun's passion glowed out only through his eyes. No man was more stately, more reserved."
With a base among the Irish (or Scotch Irish), Calhoun won his first election to Congress in 1810. He immediately became a leader of the "War Hawks," along with Speaker Henry Clay and South Carolina congressmen William Lowndes and Langdon Cheves. They disregarded European complexities in the wars between Napoleon and Britain, and brushed aside the vehement objections of New Englanders; they demanded war against Britain to preserve American honor and republican values. Clay made Calhoun the acting chairman of the powerful committee on foreign affairs. On June 3, 1812, Calhoun's committee called for a declaration of war in ringing phrases. The episode spread Calhoun's fame nationwide. War—the War of 1812—was declared, but it went very badly for the poorly organized Americans, whose ports were immediately blockaded by the British Royal Navy. Several attempted invasions of Canada were fiascos, but the U.S. did seize control of western Canada and broke the power of hostile Indians in battles in Canada and Alabama.
Calhoun labored to raise troops, to provide funds, to speed logistics, to improve the currency, and to regulate commerce to aid the war effort. Disasters on the battlefield made him double his legislative efforts to overcome the obstructionism of John Randolph of Roanoke and Daniel Webster and other opponents of the war. With Napoleon apparently gone, and the British invasion of New York defeated, British and American diplomats (Clay and John Quincy Adams among the American delegation) signed the Treaty of Ghent on Christmas Eve, 1814. Before the treaty reached the Senate for ratification, and even before news of its signing reached New Orleans, a massive British invasion force was utterly defeated at the Battle of New Orleans, making a national hero out of General Andrew Jackson. The mismanagement of the Army during the war distressed Calhoun, and he resolved to strengthen the War Department so it would never fail again.
After the war, Calhoun and Clay sponsored a Bonus Bill for public works. With the goal of building a strong nation that could fight future wars, Calhoun aggressively pushed for protective tariffs (to build up industry), a national bank, internal improvements (such as canals and ports), and other nationalist policies that he later repudiated because the ends had been accomplished. His repudiation of the national bank was tempered, as he suggested a winding down period to avoid economic shock.
Regarding his career in the House of Representatives, an observer commented that Calhoun was "the most elegant speaker that sits in the House... His gestures are easy and graceful, his manner forcible, and language elegant; but above all, he confines himself closely to the subject, which he always understands, and enlightens everyone within hearing; having said all that a statesman should say, he is done." His talent for public speaking required systematic self-discipline and practice. A later critic noted the sharp contrast between his hesitant conversations and his fluent speaking styles, adding that Calhoun "had so carefully cultivated his naturally poor voice as to make his utterance clear, full, and distinct in speaking and while not at all musical it yet fell pleasantly on the ear."
Secretary of War: 1817–1825
In 1817, President James Monroe appointed Calhoun Secretary of War, where he served until 1825. Calhoun continued his role as a leading nationalist during the "Era of Good Feeling". He proposed an elaborate program of national reforms to the infrastructure that would speed economic modernization. His first priority was an effective navy, including steam frigates, and in the second place a standing army of adequate size; and as further preparation for emergency "great permanent roads", "a certain encouragement" to manufactures, and a system of internal taxation which would not be subject to collapse by a war-time shrinkage of maritime trade like customs duties. He spoke for a national bank, for internal improvements (such as harbors, canals and river navigation) and a protective tariff that would help the industrial Northeast and, especially, pay for the expensive new infrastructure. The word "nation" was often on his lips, and his conscious aim was to enhance national unity which he identified with national power.
After the war ended in 1815 the "Old Republicans" in Congress, with their Jeffersonian ideology for economy in the federal government, sought at every turn to reduce the operations and finances of the War Department. In 1817, the deplorable state of the War Department led four men to turn down requests to fill the Secretary of War position before Calhoun finally accepted the task. Political rivalry, namely, Calhoun's political ambitions as well as those of William H. Crawford, the Secretary of the Treasury, over the pursuit of the 1824 presidency also complicated Calhoun's tenure as War Secretary.
Calhoun proposed an expansible army similar to that of France under Napoleon, whereby a basic cadre of 6,000 officers and men could be expanded into 11,000 without adding additional officers or companies. Congress wanted an army of adequate size in case American interests in Florida or the west led to war with Britain or Spain. However the nation was satisfied by the diplomacy that produced the Convention of 1818 with Britain and the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 with Spain, the need for a large army disappeared, and Calhoun could not prevent cutbacks in 1821.
As secretary, Calhoun had responsibility for management of Indian affairs. A reform-minded modernizer, he attempted to institute centralization and efficiency in the Indian department, but Congress either failed to respond to his reforms or responded with hostility. Calhoun's frustration with congressional inaction, political rivalries, and ideological differences that dominated the late early republic spurred him to unilaterally create the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1824. He supervised the negotiation and ratification of 38 treaties with Indian tribes.
Calhoun originally was a candidate for President of the United States in the election of 1824. After failing to win the endorsement of the South Carolina legislature, he decided to be a candidate for Vice President. Although no presidential candidate received a majority in the Electoral College and the election was ultimately resolved by the House of Representatives, the Electoral College elected Calhoun vice president by a landslide. Calhoun served four years under John Quincy Adams, and then, in 1828, won re-election as Vice President running with Andrew Jackson. He thus became one of two vice presidents to serve under two different presidents.
Under Andrew Jackson, Calhoun's vice presidency was also controversial. In time he developed a rift over policy with President Jackson, this time about hard cash, a policy which he considered to favor Northern financial interests.
Calhoun opposed an increase in the protective tariff. While Vice President in the John Quincy Adams administration (1825–1829), Andrew Jackson's supporters devised a high tariff legislation that placed burdensome duties on selected New England imports. Calhoun had been assured that the northeastern interests would reject the Tariff of 1828, exposing New England (pro- Adams) congressmen to charges that they selfishly opposed legislation popular among Jacksonian Democrats in the west and Mid-Atlantic States. The southern legislators miscalculated and the Tariff of Abominations passed. As Vice President during this time, Calhoun presided over the Senate and took this role very seriously. The vote on the tariff was expected to come down to his tie-breaking vote. He claimed he would have voted against the tariff, but his vote was not necessary. Frustrated, Calhoun returned to his South Carolina plantation to write "South Carolina Exposition and Protest", an essay rejecting the centralization philosophy.
Calhoun proposed the theory of a concurrent majority through the doctrine of nullification—"the right of a State to interpose, in the last resort, in order to arrest an unconstitutional act of the General Government, within its limits." Nullification can be traced back to arguments by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in writing the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798 against the Alien and Sedition Acts. Madison expressed the hope that the states would declare the acts unconstitutional, while Jefferson explicitly endorsed nullification.
Jackson, who supported states' rights but believed that nullification threatened the Union, opposed it. Calhoun differed from Jefferson and Madison in explicitly arguing for a state's right to secede from the Union, as a last resort, in order to protect the liberty and sovereignty. James Madison rebuked supporters of nullification, stating that no state had the right to nullify federal law.
In 1832, states' rights theory was put to the test in the Nullification Crisis, after South Carolina passed an ordinance that nullified federal tariffs. The tariffs favored northern manufacturing interests over southern agricultural concerns. The South Carolina legislature declared them unconstitutional. Calhoun had formed a political party in South Carolina explicitly known as the Nullifier Party.
In response to the South Carolina move, Congress passed the Force Bill, which empowered the President to use military power to force states to obey all federal laws. Jackson sent US Navy warships to Charleston harbor, and even talked of hanging Calhoun. South Carolina then nullified the Force Bill. Tensions cooled after both sides agreed to the Compromise Tariff of 1833, a proposal by Senator Henry Clay to change the tariff law in a manner which satisfied Calhoun, who by then was in the Senate. Calhoun's speech on the Force Bill is perhaps the greatest example of his understanding of the Constitution's structure.
Calhoun had earlier suggested that the doctrine of nullification could lead to secession. In his 1828 essay "South Carolina Exposition and Protest", Calhoun argued that a state could veto any federal law that went beyond the enumerated powers and encroached upon the residual powers of the State. At the 1830 Jefferson Day dinner at Jesse Brown's Indian Queen Hotel, Jackson proposed a toast and proclaimed, "Our federal Union, it must be preserved." Calhoun replied, "the Union, next to our liberty, the most dear."
In May 1830, Jackson discovered that Calhoun had asked President Monroe to censure then-General Jackson for his invasion of Spanish Florida in 1818 while Calhoun was serving as Secretary of War under James Monroe. Jackson had invaded Florida during the First Seminole War without explicit public authorization from Calhoun or Monroe. Calhoun's and Jackson's relationship deteriorated further.
Calhoun defended his 1818 position. The feud between him and Jackson heated up as Calhoun informed the President that he risked another attack from his opponents. They started an argumentative correspondence, fueled by Jackson's opponents, until Jackson stopped the letters in July 1830.
This incident further strained relations between Calhoun and Jackson. Calhoun's wife Floride Calhoun organized Cabinet wives against Peggy Eaton, wife of Secretary of War John Eaton. They alleged that John and Peggy Eaton had engaged in an adulterous affair while Mrs. Eaton was still legally married to her first husband. The scandal, which became known as the "Petticoat affair" or the "Peggy Eaton affair", ripped apart the cabinet and created an intolerable situation for Jackson. Jackson was sympatheic to the Eatons. He himself had undergone controversy stemming from his marriage to Rachel Donelson in 1791, which occurred despite the fact that, unknown to them, Rachel's previous husband had failed to finalize their divorce. He saw attacks on Eaton stemming ultimately from the political opposition of Calhoun. At the suggestion of Secretary of State Martin Van Buren, Jackson replaced most of the Cabinet members, therefore limiting Calhoun's influence. Van Buren had begun the process by resigning his post as Secretary of State, thereby assisting Jackson in facilitating the removal of others. Thus, Van Buren grew in favor before the President, while Calhoun was increasingly alienated.
On December 12, 1832, Calhoun was elected to fill the United States Senate seat vacated by South Carolina senator Robert Hayne when the latter took office as Governor of South Carolina. Sixteen days later, he would become the first Vice President in United States history to resign from office, taking his seat in the Senate the following day.
First stint in the U.S. Senate
With his break with Jackson complete, in 1832, Calhoun ran for the Senate rather than continue as Vice President. Because he had involved himself in controversy during the Nullification Crisis and Petticoat Affair, his chances of becoming President were very low. Calhoun won election. After the Compromise Tariff of 1833 was implemented, the Nullifier Party, along with other anti-Jackson politicians, formed a coalition known as the Whig Party. Calhoun sometimes offiliated with the Whigs, but chose to remain a virtual independent due to Whig leader Daniel Webster's opposition to slavery and the Whig promotion of Federally-subsidized "internal improvements." Many Southern politicians opposed these as benefiting Northern industrial interests at the expense of Southern interests. Whig Party leader Henry Clay sided with Webster on these issues. Calhoun eventually realigned himself with most of the Democrats' policies.
To restore his national stature, Calhoun cooperated with Jackson's chosen successor, Martin Van Buren, who became president in 1837. Democrats were very hostile to national banks, and the country's bankers had joined the Whig Party. The Democratic replacement, meant to help combat the Panic of 1837, was the "Independent Treasury" system, which Calhoun supported and which went into effect. Calhoun, like Jackson and Van Buren, attacked finance capitalism, which he saw as the common enemy of the Northern laborer, the Southern planter, and the small farmer everywhere. Despite being opposed to the concept of political parties, he worked to unite these groups in the Democratic Party, and to dedicate that party to states' rights and agricultural interests as barriers against encroachment by government and big business. Calhoun resigned from the Senate on March 4th, 1843, four years before the expiration of his term, and returned to Fort Hill to prepare an attempt to win the Democratic nomination for the 1844 Presidential Election. However, he gained little support, and decided to quit.
Secretary of State
When Whig president William Henry Harrison died after a month in office in 1841, vice president John Tyler took office. Tyler was a former Democrat and broke bitterly with the Whigs, and named Calhoun Secretary of State on April 10, 1844, following the death of previous Secretary of State Abel P. Upshur in the USS Princeton disaster. Public opinion was inflamed about the Oregon boundary dispute, claimed by both Britain and the U.S. Calhoun compromised by splitting the area down the middle at the 49th parallel, ending the war threat. The British area became British Columbia; the American area became Washington and Oregon.
Tyler and Calhoun were eager to annex the independent Republic of Texas, which wanted to join the Union. Texas was slave country and anti-slavery elements in the North denounced annexation as a plot to enlarge the Slave Power (that is, the excess political power controlled by slave owners). When the Senate could not muster a two-thirds vote to pass a treaty of annexation with Texas, Calhoun devised a joint resolution of the Houses of Congress, requiring only a simple majority; Texas joined the Union. Mexico had warned all along that it would go to war if Texas joined the Union; war broke out in 1846.
Second stint in the Senate
Calhoun was reelected to the Senate in 1845 following the resignation of Daniel Elliott Huger. While there, he opposed the Mexican-American War, believing that it would not be for the benefit of the South. However, he abstained from voting on the war measure. Calhoun also strongly opposed the Wilmot Proviso, which was an 1846 proposal by Pennsylvania Congressman David Wilmot to ban slavery in all newly acquired territories. The bill was overwhelmingly defeated.
Rejection of the Compromise of 1850
The Compromise of 1850, devised by Clay and Democratic leader Stephen Douglas, was designed to solve the controversy over the status of slavery in the vast new territories acquired from Mexico. Calhoun, weeks from death and too feeble to speak, wrote a blistering attack on the compromise that would become most likely his most famous speech. A friend, Senator James Mason of Virginia, read his speech. Calhoun affirmed the right of the South to leave the Union in response to Northern subjugation. He warned that the day "the balance between the two sections" was destroyed would be a day not far removed from disunion, anarchy, and civil war. Calhoun asked the question of how the Union might be preserved in light of subjugation by the "stronger" party against the "weaker" one. He stated his belief that the responsibility of solving the question lay entirely on the North-as the stronger section, to allow the Southern minority an equal share in governance and to cease the agitation. He added:
"If you who represent the stronger portion, cannot agree to settle them on the broad principle of justice and duty, say so; and let the States we both represent agree to separate and part in peace. If you are unwilling we should part in peace, tell us so; and we shall know what to do, when you reduce the question to submission or resistance.
Death and burial
Calhoun died at an Old Brick Capitol boarding house in Washington, D.C. on March 31, 1850 of tuberculosis at the age of 68. He was interred at the St. Philip's Churchyard in Charleston, South Carolina. During the Civil War, a group of Calhoun's friends were concerned about the possible ransacking of his grave and, during the night, removed his coffin to a hiding spot under the stairs of the church. The next night, his coffin was buried in an unmarked grave near the church, where it remained until 1871, when it was again exhumed and returned to its original spot. His brick tomb was replaced with a decorative sarcophagus provided by the South Carolina state government in 1884.
Cheek (2001) distinguishes between two strands of American republicanism—the puritan tradition, based in New England, and the agrarian or South Atlantic tradition. Cheek argues that Calhoun is best understood as a representative of the South Atlantic tradition of agrarian republicanism. While the New England tradition stressed a politically centralized enforcement of moral and religious norms to secure civic virtue, the South Atlantic tradition relied on a decentralized moral and religious order based on the idea of subsidiarity (or localism). Cheek locates the fundamental principles of Calhoun's republicanism in the "Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions" (1798) written by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Calhoun emphasizes the primacy of the idea of subsidiarity: popular rule is best expressed in local communities that are nearly autonomous while serving as units of a larger society.
Calhoun led the pro-slavery faction in the Senate, opposing both abolitionism and attempts like the Wilmot Proviso to limit the expansion of slavery into the western territories. He was a major advocate of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, which required the co-operation of local law enforcement officials in free states to return escaped slaves.
Calhoun was shaped by his father, Patrick Calhoun, a prosperous upstate planter who supported independence during the American Revolutionary War but opposed ratification of the federal Constitution. The father was a staunch slaveholder who taught his son that one's standing in society depended not merely on one's commitment to the ideal of popular self-government but also on the ownership of a substantial number of slaves. Flourishing in a world in which slaveholding was a badge of civilization, Calhoun saw little reason to question its morality as an adult. He believed that the spread of slavery into the back country of his own state improved public morals by ridding the countryside of the shiftless poor whites who had once held the region back. He further believed that slavery instilled in the whites who remained a code of honor that blunted the disruptive potential of private gain and fostered the civic-mindedness that lay near the core of the republican creed. From such a standpoint, the expansion of slavery into the backcountry decreased the likelihood for social conflict and postponed the declension when money would become the only measure of self-worth, as had happened in New England. Calhoun was thus firmly convinced that slavery was the key to the success of the American dream.
Whereas other Southern politicians had excused slavery as a "necessary evil," in a famous speech on the Senate floor on February 6, 1837, Calhoun asserted that slavery was a "positive good." He rooted this claim on two grounds: white supremacy and paternalism. All societies, Calhoun claimed, are ruled by an elite group which enjoys the fruits of the labor of a less-exceptional group. Senator William Rives of Virginia earlier had referred to slavery as an evil that might become a "lesser evil" in some circumstances. Calhoun believed that conceded too much to the abolitionists: "I take higher ground. I hold that in the present state of civilization, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color, and other physical differences, as well as intellectual, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slaveholding States between the two, is, instead of an evil, a good—a positive good... I may say with truth, that in few countries so much is left to the share of the laborer, and so little exacted from him, or where there is more kind attention paid to him in sickness or infirmities of age. Compare his condition with the tenants of the poor houses in the more civilized portions of Europe—look at the sick, and the old and infirm slave, on one hand, in the midst of his family and friends, under the kind superintending care of his master and mistress, and compare it with the forlorn and wretched condition of the pauper in the poorhouse... I hold then, that there never has yet existed a wealthy and civilized society in which one portion of the community did not, in point of fact, live on the labor of the other." A year later in the Senate (January 10, 1838), Calhoun repeated this defense of slavery as a "positive good": "Many in the South once believed that it was a moral and political evil; that folly and delusion are gone; we see it now in its true light, and regard it as the most safe and stable basis for free institutions in the world." Calhoun rejected the belief of Southern Whigs such as Henry Clay that all Americans could agree on the "opinion and feeling" that slavery was wrong, although they might disagree on the most practicable way to respond to that great wrong. Calhoun's constitutional ideas acted as a viable conservative alternative to Northern appeals to democracy, majority rule, and natural rights.
The evils of war and political parties
Calhoun was consistently opposed to the war with Mexico from its very beginning, arguing that an enlarged military effort would only feed the alarming and growing lust of the public for empire regardless of its constitutional dangers, bloat executive powers and patronage, and saddle the republic with a soaring debt that would disrupt finances and encourage speculation. Calhoun feared, moreover, that Southern slave owners would be shut out of any conquered Mexican territories, as nearly happened with the Wilmot Proviso.
Anti-slavery Northerners denounced the war as a Southern conspiracy to expand slavery; Calhoun saw a conspiracy of Yankees to destroy the South. By 1847 he decided the Union was threatened by a totally corrupt party system. He believed that in their lust for office, patronage and spoils, politicians in the North pandered to the anti-slavery vote, especially during presidential campaigns, and politicians in the slave states sacrificed Southern rights in an effort to placate the Northern wings of their parties. Thus, the essential first step in any successful assertion of Southern rights had to be the jettisoning of all party ties. In 1848–49, Calhoun tried to give substance to his call for Southern unity. He was the driving force behind the drafting and publication of the "Address of the Southern Delegates in Congress, to Their Constituents." It listed the alleged Northern violations of the constitutional rights of the South, then warned southern voters to expect forced emancipation of slaves in the near future, followed by their complete subjugation by an unholy alliance of unprincipled Northerners and blacks, and a South forever reduced to "disorder, anarchy, poverty, misery, and wretchedness." Only the immediate and unflinching unity of Southern whites could prevent such a disaster. Such unity would either bring the North to its senses or lay the foundation for an independent South. But the spirit of union was still strong in the region and fewer than 40% of the southern congressmen signed the address, and only one Whig.
Southerners believed his warnings and read every political news story from the North as further evidence of the planned destruction of the southern way of life. The climax was the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln in 1860, which led immediately to the secession of South Carolina, followed by six other cotton states. They formed the new Confederate States of America, which, in accord with Calhoun's theory, did not have any political parties.
Calhoun's basic concern for protecting the diverse interests of minority interests is expressed in his chief contribution to political science—the idea of a concurrent majority across different groups as distinguished from a numerical majority. According to the principle of a numerical majority, the will of the more numerous citizens should always rule, regardless of the burdens on the minority. Such a principle tends toward a consolidation of power in which the interests of the absolute majority always prevail over those of the minority. Calhoun believed that the great achievement of the American constitution was in checking the tyranny of a numerical majority through institutional procedures that required a concurrent majority, such that each important interest in the community must consent to the actions of government. To secure a concurrent majority, those interests that have a numerical majority must compromise with the interests that are in the minority. A concurrent majority requires a unanimous consent of all the major interests in a community, which is the only sure way of preventing tyranny of the majority. This idea supported Calhoun's doctrine of interposition or nullification, in which the state governments could refuse to enforce or comply with a policy of the Federal government that threatened the vital interests of the states.
Historian Richard Hofstadter (1948) emphasizes that Calhoun’s conception of "minority" was very different from the minorities of a century later:
Not in the slightest was [Calhoun] concerned with minority rights as they are chiefly of interest to the modern liberal mind – the rights of dissenters to express unorthodox opinions, of the individual conscience against the State, least of all of ethnic minorities. At bottom he was not interested in any minority that was not a propertied minority. The concurrent majority itself was a device without relevance to the protection of dissent, designed to protect a vested interest of considerable power ... it was minority privileges rather than [minority] rights that he really proposed to protect.
Calhoun was chiefly concerned with protecting the interests of the Southern States (which he largely identified with the interests of their slaveholding elites), as a distinct and beleaguered minority among the members of the federal Union. However the idea of a concurrent majority as a protection for minority rights has gained wide acceptance in American political thought.
Unlike Jefferson, Calhoun rejected attempts at economic, social, or political leveling, claiming that true equality could not be achieved if all classes were given equal rights and responsibilities. Rather, to ensure true prosperity, it was necessary for a stronger group to care for and protect a weaker group to the best of its ability. This meant that the two groups should not be equal before the law. For Calhoun, "protection" (order) was more important than freedom. Individual rights were something to be earned, not something bestowed by nature or God.
John C. Calhoun on the “concurrent majority” from his Disquisition (1850)
- "If the whole community had the same interests, so that the interests of each and every portion would be so affected by the action of the government, that the laws which oppressed or impoverished one portion, would necessarily oppress and impoverish all others — or the reverse — then the right of suffrage, of itself, would be all-sufficient to counteract the tendency of the government to oppression and abuse of its powers. ... But such is not the case. On the contrary, nothing is more difficult than to equalize the action of the government, in reference to the various and diversified interests of the community; and nothing more easy than to pervert its powers into instruments to aggrandize and enrich one or more interests by oppressing and impoverishing the others; and this too, under the operation of laws, couched in general terms — and which, on their face, appear fair and equal. ... Such being the case, it necessarily results, that the right of suffrage, by placing the control of the government in the community must ... lead to conflict among its different interests — each striving to obtain possession of its powers, as the means of protecting itself against the others — or of advancing its respective interests, regardless of the interests of others. For this purpose, a struggle will take place between the various interests to obtain a majority, in order to control the government. If no one interest be strong enough, of itself, to obtain it, a combination will be formed. ... [and] the community will be divided into two great parties — a major and minor — between which there will be incessant struggles on the one side to retain, and on the other to obtain the majority — and, thereby, the control of the government and the advantages it confers."
Disquisition on Government
The Disquisition on Government is a 100-page abstract treatise that comprises Calhoun's definitive and fully elaborated ideas on government; he worked on it intermittently for six years before it was finished in 1849. It systematically presents his arguments that (1) a numerical majority in any government will typically impose a despotism over a minority unless some way is devised to secure the assent of all classes, sections, and interests and (2) that innate human depravity would debase government in a democracy.
Calhoun offered the concurrent majority as the key to achieving consensus, a formula by which a minority interest had the option to nullify objectionable legislation passed by a majority interest. The doctrine would be made effective by this tactic of nullification, a veto that would suspend the law within the boundaries of the state.
Veto power was linked to the right of secession; with secession came the threat of anarchy and social chaos. Constituencies would call for compromise to prevent this outcome. With a concurrent majority in place, the US Constitution as interpreted by the Federal Judiciary would no longer exert collective authority over the various states. According to the (Article 4, Clause 2), laws made by the federal government are the "supreme law of the land" only when they are made "in pursuance" of the U.S. Constitution.
The mechanisms for his system are convincing if one shares Calhoun’s conviction that a functioning concurrent majority never leads to stalemate in the legislature; rather, talented statesmen, practiced in the arts of conciliation and compromise would pursue "the common good", however explosive the issue. His formula promised to produce laws satisfactory to all interests. The ultimate goal of these mechanisms were to facilitate the authentic will of the white populace. Calhoun explicitly rejected the founding principles of equality in the Declaration of Independence, denying that humanity is born free and equal in shared human nature and basic needs. He regarded this precept as "the most false and dangerous of all political errors". States could constitutionally take action to free themselves from an overweening government, but slaves as individuals or interest groups could not do so.
Calhoun’s stance assumed that with the establishment of a concurrent majority, interest groups would influence their own representatives sufficiently to have a voice in public affairs; the representatives would perform strictly as high-minded public servants. Under this scenario, the political leadership would improve and persist; corruption and demagoguery would subside; and the interests of the people would be honored. This introduces the second theme in the Disquisition and a counterpoint to his concept of the concurrent majority: political corruption.
Calhoun considered the concurrent majority essential to provide structural restraints to counter his belief that "a vast majority of mankind is entirely biased by motives of self-interest and that by this interest must be governed." This innate selfishness, which he viewed as axiomatic, would inevitably emerge when government revenue became available to political parties for distribution as patronage.
Politicians and bureaucrats would succumb to the lure of government lucre accumulated through taxation, tariff duties and public land sales. Even a diminishment of massive revenue effected through nullification by the permanent minority would not eliminate these temptations. A robust national defense – acknowledged by all interests as essential to national security– would require significant military expenditures. These funds alone would be sufficient to entice political leaders into abandoning the interests of their constituents in favor of serving personal and party interests.
Calhoun predicted that electioneering, political conspiracies and outright fraud would be employed to mislead and distract a gullible public; inevitably, perfidious demagogues would come to rule the political scene. A decline in authority among the principal statesmen would follow, and, ultimately, the eclipse of the concurrent majority.
Calhoun contended that however confused and misled the masses were by political opportunists, any efforts to impose majority rule upon a minority would be thwarted by a minority veto. What Calhoun fails to explain, according to historian William W. Freehling, is how a compromise would be achieved in the aftermath of a minority veto, when the ubiquitous demagogues betray their constituencies and abandon the concurrent majority altogether. Calhoun's two key concepts – the maintenance of the concurrent majority by high-minded statesmen on the one hand; and the inevitable rise of demagogues who undermine consensus on the other – are never reconciled or resolved in the Disquisition.
South Carolina and other Southern states, in the three decades preceding the Civil War, had provided legislatures in which the vested interests of land and slaves dominated in the upper houses, while the popular will of the numerical majority prevailed in the lower houses. There was little opportunity for demagogues to establish themselves in this political milieu – the democratic component among the people was too weak to sustain a plebeian politician. The conservative statesmen – the slaveholding gentry – retained control over the political apparatus. William W. Freehling described the state's political system of the era thus:
[T]he apportionment of [state] legislative seats gave the small majority of low country aristocrats control of the senate and a disproportionate influence in the house. Political power in South Carolina was uniquely concentrated in a legislature of large property holders who set state policy and selected the men to administer it. The characteristics of South Carolina politics cemented the control of upper class planters. Elections to the state legislature – the one control the masses could exert over the government – were often uncontested and rarely allowed the "plebeian" a clear choice between two parties or policies…
This was done in conscious acceptance of the doctrine of the Disquisition.
The Disquisition was published shortly after his death as was his other book, Discourse on the Constitution and Government of the United States.
State Sovereignty and the "Calhoun Doctrine"
In the 1840s three interpretations of the Constitutional powers of Congress to deal with slavery in territories emerged: the "free-soil doctrine," the "Calhoun doctrine," and "popular sovereignty". The Free Soilers said Congress had the power to outlaw slavery in the territories. The Popular Sovereignty position said the voters living there should decide. The Calhoun doctrine said Congress could never outlaw slavery in the territories.
In what historian Robert R. Russell calls the "Calhoun Doctrine," Calhoun argued that the Federal Government's role in the territories was only that of the trustee or agent of the several sovereign states: it was obliged not to discriminate among the states and hence was incapable of forbidding the bringing into any territory of anything that was legal property in any state. Calhoun argued that citizens from every state had the right to take their property to any territory. Congress, he asserted, had no authority to place restrictions on slavery in the territories. As Constitutional historian Hermann von Holst noted, "Calhoun's doctrine made it a solemn constitutional duty of the United States government and of the American people to act as if the existence or non-existence of slavery in the Territories did not concern them in the least." The Calhoun Doctrine was vehemently opposed by the Free Soil forces, who merged into the new Republican Party around 1854. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney based his decision in the 1857 Supreme Court case Dred Scott v. Sandford, in which he ruled that the federal government could not prohibit slavery in the territories, upon Calhoun's arguments.
John Quincy Adams concluded in 1821 that: "Calhoun is a man of fair and candid mind, of honorable principles, of clear and quick understanding, of cool self-possession, of enlarged philosophical views, and of ardent patriotism. He is above all sectional and factious prejudices more than any other statesman of this Union with whom I have ever acted." Historian Charles Wiltse agrees, noting, "Though he is known today primarily for his sectionalism, Calhoun was the last of the great political leaders of his time to take a sectional position—later than Daniel Webster, later than Henry Clay, later than Adams himself."
Film and TV
In the 2015 film The Gettysburg Address, Calhoun is voiced by actor Gary Busey.
- During the Civil War, the Confederate government honored Calhoun on a one-cent postage stamp, which was printed in 1862 but was never officially released.
- Lake Calhoun, one lake of the Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis, was named after Calhoun by surveyors sent by Calhoun as Secretary of War to map the area around Fort Snelling in 1817.
- Calhoun was also honored by his alma mater, Yale University, which named one of its undergraduate residential colleges "Calhoun College". A sculpture of Calhoun appears on the exterior of Harkness Tower, a prominent campus landmark.
- The Clemson University campus in South Carolina occupies the site of Calhoun's Fort Hill plantation, which he bequeathed to his wife and daughter. They sold it and its 50 slaves to a relative. They received $15,000 for the 1,100 acres (450 ha) and $29,000 for the slaves (they were valued at about 600 USD apiece). When that owner died, Thomas Green Clemson foreclosed the mortgage. He later bequeathed the property to the state for use as an agricultural college to be named after him.
- A wide range of places, streets and schools were named after Calhoun, as may be seen on the above list. The "Immortal Trio" were memorialized with streets in Uptown New Orleans. Calhoun Landing, on the Santee-Cooper River in Santee, South Carolina, was named after him. The Calhoun Monument was erected in Charleston, South Carolina. The USS John C. Calhoun was a Fleet Ballistic Missile nuclear submarine, in commission from 1963 to 1994.
- In 1957, United States Senators honored Calhoun as one of the "five greatest senators of all time".
"The whole South is the grave of Calhoun"— Yankee Soldier (1865) from the title page of Margaret Coit's John C. Calhoun: Great Lives Observed (1970) 
- Coit (1970), pp. 70–71
- Miller, pp. 115–116
- Ford (1988)
- "The "Famous Five"". US Senate. March 12, 1959.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
- The Colquhoun surname is Scottish. It is the name of the Clan Colquhoun. The Calhoun surname appears to be mostly Irish. Scottish Colquhouns were transported to Ireland at some time in history (probably at the time of Sir William Wallace) and their name changed to Calhoun, Calhoon, Cahoon, Colhoun, Colhoon, Hoon, and variants. Note that Calhoun County in Kentucky was named after John Calhoon. Researchers of Calhoun should also be on the lookout for references to the traditional spelling of Colquhoun.
- Coit (1950)
- Her branch of the family spelled the surname differently from his. See A. S. Salley, The Calhoun Family of South Carolina, p. 19. The name appears in various records as "Colhoon", "Cohoon", "Calhoun", "Cahoun", "Cohoun", "Calhoon", and "Colhoun". Ibid., pp. 1, 2, 5, 6, 18, 19. In Scotland it is spelt "Colquhoun". Ellen R. Johnson, Colquhoun/Calhoun and Their Ancestral Homelands (Heritage Books, 1993), passim.
- Clyde Wilson, ed. (2003) The papers of John C. Calhoun vol. 27 pp. 254–5
- Peterson, p. 27
- Meigs, Vol. 2 p. 8
- Peterson, pp. 280, 408
- Hofstadter, p. 96
- Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind (2001) p 168
- Glazier, Michael ed. (1999) The Encyclopedia of the Irish in America. p. 96
- Perkins, Bradford (1961) Prologue to war: England and the United States, 1805–1812 p. 359
- Wiltse (1944)
- Wiltse (1944), vol. 1, ch. 8–11
- Meigs, Vol. 1, p. 221
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- The other was George Clinton, vice president from 1805–1812 under Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
- "Report Prepared for the Committee on Federal Relations of the Legislature of South Carolina, at its Session in November, 1831," in Calhoun, Works, Vol. VI (Crallé, ed., New York, 1888), p. 96.
- Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions (1798) Bill of Rights Institute. Retrieved 6 January 2016.
- Rutland, Robert Allen (1997) James Madison: The Founding Father. University of Missouri. ISBN 0826211410. pp. 248–249.
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- "Removed the Body of Calhoun". News & Courier. Charleston, South Carolina. August 21, 1904. p. 16. Retrieved April 28, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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- John Caldwell Calhoun, The Works of John C. Calhoun: Speeches ... delivered in the House ed. by Richard Kenner Crallé (1853) p 180
- Ford (1994)
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- Smith, Walter J.The Tyranny of the Concurrent Majority Reader Supported News. 16 April 2013. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
- Stolyarov II, G. John C. Calhoun's False Arguments in Defense of Slavery The Rational Argumentator." 26 May 2007. Retrieved 6 6 January 2016.
- Constance Polin and Raymond Polin, eds., Foundations of American political thought (2006) p 380
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- Coit (1950), p. 149
- Freehling, pp. 219–220
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- Varon, pp. 91–92
- Calhoun, John Caldwell (1851). Cralle, Richard K., ed. A Disquisition on Government and A Discourse on the Constitution and Government of the United States (1 ed.). Charleston, S.C.: Steam Power Press of Walker & James.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
- Fehrenbacher, Don E. (1981) Slavery, law, and politics: the Dred Scott case in historical perspective. Oxford University Press. ISBN 019502883X. pp. 64–65
- von Holst, Hermann E. (1883) John C. Calhoun. p. 312
- Foner, Eric (1970) Free soil, free labor, free men: the ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War. p. 178
- Let Us Go Back and Stand Upon the Constitution: Federal-State Relations in Scott v. Sanford, 90 Colum. L. Rev. 192–225 (1990).
- Adams, Diary, V, 361
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- Bartlett, Irving H. (1994). John C. Calhoun: A Biography.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>. Bartlett, while hostile to slavery, portrays Calhoun as a principled, consistent, and often admirable champion of slavery and the South.
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- Niven, John. John C. Calhoun and the Price of Union: A Biography (1993)
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- Belko, William S. "'John C. Calhoun and the Creation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs: An Essay on Political Rivalry, Ideology, and Policymaking in the Early Republic," South Carolina Historical Magazine 2004 105(3): 170–197. ISSN 0038-3082
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- Jarvis, Douglas Edward. "The Southern Conservative Thought of John C. Calhoun and the Cultural Foundations of the Canadian Identity," American Review of Canadian Studies, 43 (Sept. 2013), 297–314
- Krannawitter, Thomas L. "John C. Calhoun and the New Science of Race and Politics," in Ronald J. Pestritto and Thomas G. West, eds. Challenges to the American founding: slavery, historicism, and progressivism in the nineteenth century (2004) ch 2 pp 43+
- Lerner, Ralph. "Calhoun's New Science of Politics," American Political Science Review, Vol. 57, No. 4 (Dec. 1963), pp. 918–932 JSTOR 1952609
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- Rayback Joseph G., "The Presidential Ambitions of John C. Calhoun, 1844–1848," Journal of Southern History, XIV (Aug. 1948), 331–56. JSTOR 2197879
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- The Papers of John C. Calhoun Edited by Clyde N. Wilson; 28 volumes, University of South Carolina Press, 1959–2003. Contains all letters, pamphlets and speeches by Calhoun and most letters written to him.
- Calhoun, John C. Slavery a Positive Good, speech on the Senate floor, February 6, 1837.
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- Works by John C. Calhoun at Project Gutenberg
- John C. Calhoun: A Resource Guide from the Library of Congress
- University of Virginia: John C. Calhoun – Timeline, quotes, & contemporaries, via University of Virginia
- Other images via The College of New Jersey: , , 
- Birthplace of Calhoun Historical Marker
- The Law Offices of John C. Calhoun Monument
- Disquisition on Government and other papers by John Calhoun.
- John C. Calhoun at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
- Booknotes interview with Irving Bartlett on John C. Calhoun: A Biography, September 18, 1994.
- John C. Calhoun Papers at Clemson University's Special Collections Library
- John C. Calhoun at Find a Grave
- 2015 petition to Charleston City Council to change the name of Calhoun Street
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