John C. Calhoun

John C. Calhoun

Overview
John Caldwell Calhoun was a leading politician and political theorist from South Carolina
South Carolina
South Carolina is a state in the Deep South of the United States that borders Georgia to the south, North Carolina to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Originally part of the Province of Carolina, the Province of South Carolina was one of the 13 colonies that declared independence...

 during the first half of the 19th century. Calhoun eloquently spoke out on every issue of his day, but often changed positions. Calhoun began his political career as a nationalist, modernizer, and proponent of a strong national government and protective tariffs
Protectionism
Protectionism is the economic policy of restraining trade between states through methods such as tariffs on imported goods, restrictive quotas, and a variety of other government regulations designed to allow "fair competition" between imports and goods and services produced domestically.This...

. After 1840 he switched to states' rights
States' rights
States' rights in U.S. politics refers to political powers reserved for the U.S. state governments rather than the federal government. It is often considered a loaded term because of its use in opposition to federally mandated racial desegregation...

, limited government
Limited government
Limited government is a government which anything more than minimal governmental intervention in personal liberties and the economy is generally disallowed by law, usually in a written constitution. It is written in the United States Constitution in Article 1, Section 8...

, nullification
Nullification (U.S. Constitution)
Nullification is a legal theory that a State has the right to nullify, or invalidate, any federal law which that state has deemed unconstitutional...

 and free trade
Free trade
Under a free trade policy, prices emerge from supply and demand, and are the sole determinant of resource allocation. 'Free' trade differs from other forms of trade policy where the allocation of goods and services among trading countries are determined by price strategies that may differ from...

. He is best known for his intense and original defense of slavery as something positive, for his inventing the theory of minority rights in a democracy, and for pointing the South toward secession from the Union
Secession in the United States
Secession in the United States can refer to secession of a state from the United States, secession of part of a state from that state to form a new state, or secession of an area from a city or county....

.

Devoted to the principle of liberty (though not for slaves) and fearful of corruption, Calhoun built his reputation as a political theorist by his redefinition of republicanism
Republicanism in the United States
Republicanism is the political value system that has been a major part of American civic thought since the American Revolution. It stresses liberty and inalienable rights as central values, makes the people as a whole sovereign, supports activist government to promote the common good, rejects...

 to include approval of slavery and minority rights—with the white South the minority in question.
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Unanswered Questions
Quotations

Protection and patriotism are reciprocal.

Speech in the House of Representatives (December 12, 1811) .

The very essence of a free government consists in considering offices as public trusts, bestowed for the good of the country, and not for the benefit of an individual or a party.

Speech (February 13, 1835).

A power has risen up in the government greater than the people themselves, consisting of many and various and powerful interests, combined into one mass, and held together by the cohesive power of the vast surplus in the banks.

Speech (May 27, 1836). This is the source of the phrase, "Cohesive power of public plunder".

The surrender of life is nothing to sinking down into acknowledgment of inferiority.

Speech in the Senate (February 19, 1847).

It is harder to preserve than to obtain liberty.

Speech in the Senate (January 1848).
Encyclopedia
John Caldwell Calhoun was a leading politician and political theorist from South Carolina
South Carolina
South Carolina is a state in the Deep South of the United States that borders Georgia to the south, North Carolina to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Originally part of the Province of Carolina, the Province of South Carolina was one of the 13 colonies that declared independence...

 during the first half of the 19th century. Calhoun eloquently spoke out on every issue of his day, but often changed positions. Calhoun began his political career as a nationalist, modernizer, and proponent of a strong national government and protective tariffs
Protectionism
Protectionism is the economic policy of restraining trade between states through methods such as tariffs on imported goods, restrictive quotas, and a variety of other government regulations designed to allow "fair competition" between imports and goods and services produced domestically.This...

. After 1840 he switched to states' rights
States' rights
States' rights in U.S. politics refers to political powers reserved for the U.S. state governments rather than the federal government. It is often considered a loaded term because of its use in opposition to federally mandated racial desegregation...

, limited government
Limited government
Limited government is a government which anything more than minimal governmental intervention in personal liberties and the economy is generally disallowed by law, usually in a written constitution. It is written in the United States Constitution in Article 1, Section 8...

, nullification
Nullification (U.S. Constitution)
Nullification is a legal theory that a State has the right to nullify, or invalidate, any federal law which that state has deemed unconstitutional...

 and free trade
Free trade
Under a free trade policy, prices emerge from supply and demand, and are the sole determinant of resource allocation. 'Free' trade differs from other forms of trade policy where the allocation of goods and services among trading countries are determined by price strategies that may differ from...

. He is best known for his intense and original defense of slavery as something positive, for his inventing the theory of minority rights in a democracy, and for pointing the South toward secession from the Union
Secession in the United States
Secession in the United States can refer to secession of a state from the United States, secession of part of a state from that state to form a new state, or secession of an area from a city or county....

.

Devoted to the principle of liberty (though not for slaves) and fearful of corruption, Calhoun built his reputation as a political theorist by his redefinition of republicanism
Republicanism in the United States
Republicanism is the political value system that has been a major part of American civic thought since the American Revolution. It stresses liberty and inalienable rights as central values, makes the people as a whole sovereign, supports activist government to promote the common good, rejects...

 to include approval of slavery and minority rights—with the white South the minority in question. To protect minority rights against majority rule he called for a "concurrent majority" whereby the minority could sometimes block offensive proposals. Increasingly distrustful of democracy, he minimized the role of the Second Party System
Second Party System
The Second Party System is a term of periodization used by historians and political scientists to name the political party system existing in the United States from about 1828 to 1854...

 in South Carolina. Calhoun's defense of slavery became defunct, but his concept of concurrent majority
Concurrent majority
Concurrent majority refers in general to the concept of preventing majorities from oppressing minorities by allowing various minority groups veto power over laws. The most vocal proponents of the theory have tended to be minority groups, such as farmers in an industrial society or nonwhites in a...

, whereby a minority has the right to object to or even veto hostile legislation directed against it, has been incorporated into the American value system. Calhoun asserted that Southern whites, outnumbered in the United States by voters of the more densely-populated Northern states were one such "minority" deserving special protection in the legislature.

Calhoun held major political offices, serving terms in the United States House of Representatives
United States House of Representatives
The United States House of Representatives is one of the two Houses of the United States Congress, the bicameral legislature which also includes the Senate.The composition and powers of the House are established in Article One of the Constitution...

, United States Senate
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

 and vice presidency, as well as secretary of war and state. He usually affiliated with the Democrats, but flirted with the Whig Party
Whig Party (United States)
The Whig Party was a political party of the United States during the era of Jacksonian democracy. Considered integral to the Second Party System and operating from the early 1830s to the mid-1850s, the party was formed in opposition to the policies of President Andrew Jackson and his Democratic...

 and considered running for the presidency in 1824
United States presidential election, 1824
In the United States presidential election of 1824, John Quincy Adams was elected President on February 9, 1825, after the election was decided by the House of Representatives. The previous years had seen a one-party government in the United States, as the Federalist Party had dissolved, leaving...

 and 1844
United States presidential election, 1844
In the United States presidential election of 1844, Democrat James K. Polk defeated Whig Henry Clay in a close contest that turned on foreign policy, with Polk favoring the annexation of Texas and Clay opposed....

. As a "war hawk", he agitated in Congress for the War of 1812
War of 1812
The War of 1812 was a military conflict fought between the forces of the United States of America and those of the British Empire. The Americans declared war in 1812 for several reasons, including trade restrictions because of Britain's ongoing war with France, impressment of American merchant...

 to defend American honor against Britain. As Secretary of War under President James Monroe
James Monroe
James Monroe was the fifth President of the United States . Monroe was the last president who was a Founding Father of the United States, and the last president from the Virginia dynasty and the Republican Generation...

, he reorganized and modernized the War Department, building powerful permanent bureaucracies that ran the department, as opposed to patronage appointees.

Calhoun died nearly 10 years before the start of the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

, but he was an inspiration to the secessionists of 1860–61
Secession in the United States
Secession in the United States can refer to secession of a state from the United States, secession of part of a state from that state to form a new state, or secession of an area from a city or county....

. Nicknamed the "cast-iron man" for his ideological rigidity as well as for his determination to defend the causes he believed in, Calhoun supported states' rights and nullification, under which states could declare null and void federal laws which they viewed unconstitutional. He was an outspoken proponent of the institution 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
Great Triumvirate
The Great Triumvirate is a term that refers to the three statesmen who dominated the United States Senate in the 1830s and 1840s: Henry Clay of Kentucky, Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, and John C. Calhoun of South Carolina...

" or the "Immortal Trio" of Congressional leaders, along with his Congressional
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 colleagues Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster was a leading American statesman and senator from Massachusetts during the period leading up to the Civil War. He first rose to regional prominence through his defense of New England shipping interests...

 and Henry Clay
Henry Clay
Henry Clay, Sr. , was a lawyer, politician and skilled orator who represented Kentucky separately in both the Senate and in the House of Representatives...

. In 1957, a Senate Committee selected Calhoun as one of the five greatest U.S. Senators, along with Henry Clay
Henry Clay
Henry Clay, Sr. , was a lawyer, politician and skilled orator who represented Kentucky separately in both the Senate and in the House of Representatives...

, Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster was a leading American statesman and senator from Massachusetts during the period leading up to the Civil War. He first rose to regional prominence through his defense of New England shipping interests...

, Robert La Follette
Robert M. La Follette, Sr.
Robert Marion "Fighting Bob" La Follette, Sr. , was an American Republican politician. He served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, was the Governor of Wisconsin, and was also a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin...

, and Robert Taft
Robert Taft
Robert Alphonso Taft , of the Taft political family of Cincinnati, was a Republican United States Senator and a prominent conservative statesman...

.

Origins and early life



Calhoun was born in 1782, the fourth child of Patrick Calhoun and his wife Martha Caldwell. His father had joined the Scotch Irish immigration from County Donegal
County Donegal
County Donegal is a county in Ireland. It is part of the Border Region and is also located in the province of Ulster. It is named after the town of Donegal. Donegal County Council is the local authority for the county...

 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
Yale University
Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...

, Phi Beta Kappa, in 1804. After studying law at the Tapping Reeve Law School
Litchfield Law School
The Litchfield Law School of Litchfield, Connecticut, was the first formal school offering training for the legal profession in the United States. It was established in 1784 by Tapping Reeve, who would later became the Chief Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court...

 in Litchfield, Connecticut
Litchfield, Connecticut
Litchfield is a town in and former county seat of Litchfield County, Connecticut, United States, and is known as an affluent summer resort. The population was 8,316 at the 2000 census. The boroughs of Bantam and Litchfield are located within the town...

, he was admitted to the South Carolina bar in 1807.

Marriage and family



In January 1811, Calhoun married Floride Bonneau Calhoun, 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. (1823–1855), 8. Martha Cornelia Calhoun (1824–1857), 9. James Edward Calhoun (1826–1861) and 10. William Lowndes Calhoun (1829–1858). During her husband's second term as Vice President, Floride Calhoun
Floride Calhoun
Floride Bonneau Calhoun was the wife of prominent U.S. politician John C. Calhoun.-Background and early life:...

 was a central figure in the Petticoat affair
Petticoat Affair
The Petticoat affair was an 1830–1831 U.S. scandal involving members of President Andrew Jackson's Cabinet and their wives. Although it started over a private matter, it affected the political careers of several men and resulted in the informal "Kitchen Cabinet"...

. She was an active Episcopalian and Calhoun often accompanied her to church. However he never joined a church and rarely mentioned religion; a Presbyterian in his early life, historians believe he was closest to the informal Unitarianism
Unitarianism
Unitarianism is a Christian theological movement, named for its understanding of God as one person, in direct contrast to Trinitarianism which defines God as three persons coexisting consubstantially as one in being....

 typified by Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

.

War hawk



Calhoun was "a high-strung man of ultra intellectual cast,", and unlike Henry Clay or Andrew Jackson was not noted for charisma or charm (except when dealing with women and children). But he was a brilliant intellectual and orator and strong organizer. Historian Russell Kirk
Russell Kirk
Russell Kirk was an American political theorist, moralist, historian, social critic, literary critic, and fiction author known for his influence on 20th century American conservatism. His 1953 book, The Conservative Mind, gave shape to the amorphous post–World War II conservative movement...

 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), he won his first election to Congress in 1810. Calhoun immediately became a leader of the "War Hawk
War Hawk
War Hawk is a term originally used to describe members of the Twelfth Congress of the United States who advocated waging war against the British in the War of 1812...

s," along with Speaker Henry Clay
Henry Clay
Henry Clay, Sr. , was a lawyer, politician and skilled orator who represented Kentucky separately in both the Senate and in the House of Representatives...

 and South Carolina congressmen William Lowndes
William Lowndes
For other persons named William Lowndes, see William Lowndes.William Jones Lowndes was an American lawyer, planter, and statesman from South Carolina who was the son of Rawlins Lowndes, an American Revolutionary War leader from South Carolina...

 and Langdon Cheves
Langdon Cheves
Langdon Cheves was an American politician and a president of the Second Bank of the United States.Cheves was born at Rocky River, South Carolina and died in Columbia, South Carolina. His father, Alexander, was a native of Scotland; his mother, Mary Langdon, was from Virginia...

. 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
War of 1812
The War of 1812 was a military conflict fought between the forces of the United States of America and those of the British Empire. The Americans declared war in 1812 for several reasons, including trade restrictions because of Britain's ongoing war with France, impressment of American merchant...

—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
John Randolph of Roanoke
John Randolph , known as John Randolph of Roanoke, was a planter and a Congressman from Virginia, serving in the House of Representatives , the Senate , and also as Minister to Russia...

 and Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster was a leading American statesman and senator from Massachusetts during the period leading up to the Civil War. He first rose to regional prominence through his defense of New England shipping interests...

 and other opponents of the war. With Napoleon apparently gone, and the British invasion of New York defeated, peace was achieved on Christmas, 1814. Before that news reached New Orleans, a massive British invasion force was utterly defeated at the Battle of New Orleans
Battle of New Orleans
The Battle of New Orleans took place on January 8, 1815 and was the final major battle of the War of 1812. American forces, commanded by Major General Andrew Jackson, defeated an invading British Army intent on seizing New Orleans and the vast territory the United States had acquired with the...

, which made a national hero out of General Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson was the seventh President of the United States . Based in frontier Tennessee, Jackson was a politician and army general who defeated the Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend , and the British at the Battle of New Orleans...

. The mismanagement of the Army during the war distressed Calhoun, and he resolved to strengthen the War Department so it would never fail again.

Nationalist


After the war, Calhoun and Clay sponsored a Bonus Bill
Bonus Bill
Bonus Bill may refer to:*Bonus Bill of 1817, U.S. proposed legislation vetoed by President Madison*World War Adjusted Compensation Act, 1924 U.S. law*Adjusted Compensation Payment Act, 1936 U.S. law...

 for public works
Public works
Public works are a broad category of projects, financed and constructed by the government, for recreational, employment, and health and safety uses in the greater community...

. With the goal of building a strong nation that could fight future wars, Calhoun aggressively pushed for protective tariff
Tariff
A tariff may be either tax on imports or exports , or a list or schedule of prices for such things as rail service, bus routes, and electrical usage ....

s (to build up industry), a national bank
National bank
In banking, the term national bank carries several meanings:* especially in developing countries, a bank owned by the state* an ordinary private bank which operates nationally...

, internal improvements
Internal improvements
Internal improvements is the term used historically in the United States for public works from the end of the American Revolution through much of the 19th century, mainly for the creation of a transportation infrastructure: roads, turnpikes, canals, harbors and navigation improvements...

 (such as canals and ports), and many other nationalist policies he later repudiated.

Calhoun expressed his nationalism in advising Monroe to approve the Missouri Compromise
Missouri Compromise
The Missouri Compromise was an agreement passed in 1820 between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions in the United States Congress, involving primarily the regulation of slavery in the western territories. It prohibited slavery in the former Louisiana Territory north of the parallel 36°30'...

, which most other Southern politicians saw as a distinctly bad deal. Calhoun believed that continued agitation on the slavery issue threatened the Union, so he wanted the Missouri dispute to be concluded.

John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams was the sixth President of the United States . He served as an American diplomat, Senator, and Congressional representative. He was a member of the Federalist, Democratic-Republican, National Republican, and later Anti-Masonic and Whig parties. Adams was the son of former...

 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."

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: 1817–25


In 1817, President James Monroe
James Monroe
James Monroe was the fifth President of the United States . Monroe was the last president who was a Founding Father of the United States, and the last president from the Virginia dynasty and the Republican Generation...

 appointed Calhoun Secretary of War
United States Secretary of War
The Secretary of War was a member of the United States President's Cabinet, beginning with George Washington's administration. A similar position, called either "Secretary at War" or "Secretary of War," was appointed to serve the Congress of the Confederation under the Articles of Confederation...

, 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 like customs duties to collapse by a war-time shrinkage of maritime trade. 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
William H. Crawford
William Harris Crawford was an American politician and judge during the early 19th century. He served as United States Secretary of War from 1815 to 1816 and United States Secretary of the Treasury from 1816 to 1825, and was a candidate for President of the United States in 1824.-Political...

, 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
Adams-Onís Treaty
The Adams–Onís Treaty of 1819, also known as the Transcontinental Treaty or the Purchase of Florida, was a treaty between the United States and Spain in 1819 that gave Florida to the U.S. and set out a boundary between the U.S. and New Spain . It settled a standing border dispute between the two...

 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
Bureau of Indian Affairs
The Bureau of Indian Affairs is an agency of the federal government of the United States within the US Department of the Interior. It is responsible for the administration and management of of land held in trust by the United States for Native Americans in the United States, Native American...

 in 1824. He supervised the negotiation and ratification of 38 treaties with Indian tribes.

Election



Calhoun originally was a candidate for President of the United States
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 in the election of 1824
United States presidential election, 1824
In the United States presidential election of 1824, John Quincy Adams was elected President on February 9, 1825, after the election was decided by the House of Representatives. The previous years had seen a one-party government in the United States, as the Federalist Party had dissolved, leaving...

. After failing to win the endorsement of the South Carolina legislature, he decided to be a candidate for Vice President
Vice President of the United States
The Vice President of the United States is the holder of a public office created by the United States Constitution. The Vice President, together with the President of the United States, is indirectly elected by the people, through the Electoral College, to a four-year term...

. As no presidential candidate received a majority in the Electoral College, the election was ultimately resolved by the House of Representatives. Calhoun was elected Vice President in a landslide. Calhoun served four years under Adams, and then, in 1828, won re-election as Vice President running with Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson was the seventh President of the United States . Based in frontier Tennessee, Jackson was a politician and army general who defeated the Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend , and the British at the Battle of New Orleans...

.

The Adams administration


Calhoun believed that the outcome of the 1824 presidential election, in which the House made Adams President despite the greater popularity of Andrew Jackson, demonstrated that control of the federal government was subject to manipulation by Adams and Henry Clay
Henry Clay
Henry Clay, Sr. , was a lawyer, politician and skilled orator who represented Kentucky separately in both the Senate and in the House of Representatives...

. Calhoun resolved to thwart Adams and Clay's nationalist program. He opposed it even as he held office with them. In 1828, Calhoun ran for reelection as the running mate of Andrew Jackson. He thus became one of two vice presidents to serve under two presidents

Nullification


See the full article on Nullification
Nullification
Nullification may refer to:* Nullification , a legal theory that a U.S. State has the right to nullify, or invalidate, any federal law that a state has deemed unconstitutional....



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), he and other southerners 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
Tariff of 1828
The Tariff of 1828 was a protective tariff passed by the Congress of the United States on May 19, 1828, designed to protect industry in the northern United States...

, 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. Frustrated, Calhoun returned to his South Carolina plantation to write "South Carolina Exposition and Protest
South Carolina Exposition and Protest
The South Carolina Exposition and Protest, also known as Calhoun's Exposition, was written in December 1828 by John C. Calhoun, then vice president under John Quincy Adams and later under Andrew Jackson. Calhoun did not formally state his authorship at the time, though it was known.The document was...

", an essay rejecting the nationalist philosophy he once advocated.

Calhoun proposed the theory of a concurrent majority
Concurrent majority
Concurrent majority refers in general to the concept of preventing majorities from oppressing minorities by allowing various minority groups veto power over laws. The most vocal proponents of the theory have tended to be minority groups, such as farmers in an industrial society or nonwhites in a...

 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
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

 and James Madison
James Madison
James Madison, Jr. was an American statesman and political theorist. He was the fourth President of the United States and is hailed as the “Father of the Constitution” for being the primary author of the United States Constitution and at first an opponent of, and then a key author of the United...

 in writing the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions
Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions
The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions were political statements drafted in 1798 and 1799, in which the Kentucky and Virginia legislatures took the position that the federal Alien and Sedition Acts were unconstitutional...

 of 1798. They had proposed that states could nullify the Alien and Sedition Acts
Alien and Sedition Acts
The Alien and Sedition Acts were four bills passed in 1798 by the Federalists in the 5th United States Congress in the aftermath of the French Revolution's reign of terror and during an undeclared naval war with France, later known as the Quasi-War. They were signed into law by President John Adams...

.

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, if necessary, instead of simply nullifying certain federal legislation. James Madison rebuked supporters of nullification, stating that no state had the right to nullify federal law.

At the 1830 Jefferson Day
Jefferson-Jackson Day
Jefferson-Jackson Day is the most common name given to the annual fundraising celebration held by Democratic Party organizations in the United States. It is named for Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson...

 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
Spanish Florida
Spanish Florida refers to the Spanish territory of Florida, which formed part of the Captaincy General of Cuba, the Viceroyalty of New Spain, and the Spanish Empire. Originally extending over what is now the southeastern United States, but with no defined boundaries, la Florida was a component of...

 in 1818. Calhoun was then serving as James Monroe's
James Monroe
James Monroe was the fifth President of the United States . Monroe was the last president who was a Founding Father of the United States, and the last president from the Virginia dynasty and the Republican Generation...

 Secretary of War
United States Secretary of War
The Secretary of War was a member of the United States President's Cabinet, beginning with George Washington's administration. A similar position, called either "Secretary at War" or "Secretary of War," was appointed to serve the Congress of the Confederation under the Articles of Confederation...

 (1817–1823). 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.

By February 1831, the break between Calhoun and Jackson was final. Responding to inaccurate press reports about the feud, Calhoun had published the letters in the United States Telegraph.

More upheaval came when his wife Floride Calhoun
Floride Calhoun
Floride Bonneau Calhoun was the wife of prominent U.S. politician John C. Calhoun.-Background and early life:...

 organized Cabinet wives against Peggy Eaton, wife of Secretary of War John Eaton. The scandal, which became known as the "Petticoat affair
Petticoat Affair
The Petticoat affair was an 1830–1831 U.S. scandal involving members of President Andrew Jackson's Cabinet and their wives. Although it started over a private matter, it affected the political careers of several men and resulted in the informal "Kitchen Cabinet"...

" or the "Peggy Eaton affair", ripped apart the cabinet and created an intolerable situation for Jackson. Jackson saw attacks on Eaton stemming ultimately from the political opposition of Calhoun, and he used the affair to consolidate control over his cabinet, forcing the resignation of several members and ending Calhoun's influence in the cabinet.

Nullification crisis


In 1832, states' rights theory was put to the test in the Nullification Crisis
Nullification Crisis
The Nullification Crisis was a sectional crisis during the presidency of Andrew Jackson created by South Carolina's 1832 Ordinance of Nullification. This ordinance declared by the power of the State that the federal Tariff of 1828 and 1832 were unconstitutional and therefore null and void within...

, after South Carolina
South Carolina
South Carolina is a state in the Deep South of the United States that borders Georgia to the south, North Carolina to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Originally part of the Province of Carolina, the Province of South Carolina was one of the 13 colonies that declared independence...

 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
Nullifier Party
The Nullifier Party was a short-lived political party based in South Carolina in the 1830s. Started by John C. Calhoun, it was a states' rights party that supported the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, holding that States could nullify federal laws within their borders...

.

In response to the South Carolina move, Congress passed the Force Bill
Force Bill
The United States Force Bill, formally titled "An Act further to provide for the collection of duties on imports", 4 Stat. 632 , enacted by the 22nd U.S. Congress, consists of eight sections expanding Presidential power...

, which empowered the President to use military power to force states to obey all federal laws. Jackson sent US Navy warships to Charleston
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston is the second largest city in the U.S. state of South Carolina. It was made the county seat of Charleston County in 1901 when Charleston County was founded. The city's original name was Charles Towne in 1670, and it moved to its present location from a location on the west bank of the...

 harbor. 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 had earlier suggested that the doctrine of nullification could lead to secession. In his 1828 essay "South Carolina Exposition and Protest
South Carolina Exposition and Protest
The South Carolina Exposition and Protest, also known as Calhoun's Exposition, was written in December 1828 by John C. Calhoun, then vice president under John Quincy Adams and later under Andrew Jackson. Calhoun did not formally state his authorship at the time, though it was known.The document was...

", Calhoun argued that a state could veto any law it considered unconstitutional.

U.S. Senator



With his break with Jackson complete, in 1832, Calhoun ran for the Senate rather than continue as Vice President. Because he had expressed nullification beliefs during the crisis, his chances of becoming President were very low. 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
Whig Party (United States)
The Whig Party was a political party of the United States during the era of Jacksonian democracy. Considered integral to the Second Party System and operating from the early 1830s to the mid-1850s, the party was formed in opposition to the policies of President Andrew Jackson and his Democratic...

. Calhoun sided with the Whigs until he broke with key Whig Senator Daniel Webster over slavery, as well as the Whigs' program of "internal improvements". Many Southern politicians opposed these as improving Northern industrial interests at the expense of Southern interests. Whig Party leader Henry Clay sided with Daniel Webster on these issues.
Calhoun was the first vice president in U.S. history to resign from office (Spiro Agnew
Spiro Agnew
Spiro Theodore Agnew was the 39th Vice President of the United States , serving under President Richard Nixon, and the 55th Governor of Maryland...

 did so in 1973). He achieved his greatest influence and most lasting fame as a Senator.

Slavery


Calhoun led the pro-slavery faction in the Senate in the 1830s and 1840s, opposing both abolitionism
Abolitionism
Abolitionism is a movement to end slavery.In western Europe and the Americas abolitionism was a movement to end the slave trade and set slaves free. At the behest of Dominican priest Bartolomé de las Casas who was shocked at the treatment of natives in the New World, Spain enacted the first...

 and attempts to limit the expansion of slavery into the western territories; actively anti-Wilmot Proviso
Wilmot Proviso
The Wilmot Proviso, one of the major events leading to the Civil War, would have banned slavery in any territory to be acquired from Mexico in the Mexican War or in the future, including the area later known as the Mexican Cession, but which some proponents construed to also include the disputed...

. 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.

Whereas other Southern politicians had excused slavery as a necessary evil, in a famous February 1837 speech on the Senate floor, 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-privileged group.


In that speech, he stated: "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."

After a one-year service as Secretary of State (April 1, 1844 – March 10, 1845), Calhoun returned to the Senate in 1845. He participated in the epic political struggle over the expansion of slavery in the Western states. Regions were divided as to whether slavery should be allowed in the formerly Imperial Spanish and Mexican lands. The debate over this issue culminated in the Compromise of 1850
Compromise of 1850
The Compromise of 1850 was a package of five bills, passed in September 1850, which defused a four-year confrontation between the slave states of the South and the free states of the North regarding the status of territories acquired during the Mexican-American War...

.

Democratic politics


To restore his national stature, Calhoun cooperated with Jackson's successor Martin Van Buren
Martin Van Buren
Martin Van Buren was the eighth President of the United States . Before his presidency, he was the eighth Vice President and the tenth Secretary of State, under Andrew Jackson ....

, who became president in 1837. Democrats were very hostile to national banks, and the country's bankers had joined the opposition Whig Party. The Democratic replacement 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. His goal, therefore, was 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.

Foreign policy


When Whig president William Henry Harrison died after a month in office in 1841, vice president John Tyler
John Tyler
John Tyler was the tenth President of the United States . A native of Virginia, Tyler served as a state legislator, governor, U.S. representative, and U.S. senator before being elected Vice President . He was the first to succeed to the office of President following the death of a predecessor...

 took office. Tyler was a former Democrat and broke bitterly with the Whigs, and named Calhoun Secretary of State in 1844. Public opinion was inflamed about the Oregon country, 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.

Texas


Tyler and Calhoun were eager to annex the independent Republic of Texas
Republic of Texas
The Republic of Texas was an independent nation in North America, bordering the United States and Mexico, that existed from 1836 to 1846.Formed as a break-away republic from Mexico by the Texas Revolution, the state claimed borders that encompassed an area that included all of the present U.S...

, 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
Slave power
The Slave Power was a term used in the Northern United States to characterize the political power of the slaveholding class of the South....

 (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.

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 almost happened with the Wilmot Proviso
Wilmot Proviso
The Wilmot Proviso, one of the major events leading to the Civil War, would have banned slavery in any territory to be acquired from Mexico in the Mexican War or in the future, including the area later known as the Mexican Cession, but which some proponents construed to also include the disputed...

).

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
Second Party System
The Second Party System is a term of periodization used by historians and political scientists to name the political party system existing in the United States from about 1828 to 1854...

. He believed that in their lust for office, patronage and spoils, politicians in the North pandered to the antislavery 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
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

 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
Confederate States of America
The Confederate States of America was a government set up from 1861 to 1865 by 11 Southern slave states of the United States of America that had declared their secession from the U.S...

, which, in accord with Calhoun's theory, did not have any political parties.

Slavery


Calhoun was shaped by his father, Patrick Calhoun, a prosperous upstate planter who supported the 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 never visited Europe. Calhoun 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 white 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.

On February 6, 1837, Calhoun took the floor of the Senate to declare that slavery was a "positive good." 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 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.

Rejects Compromise of 1850


The Compromise of 1850
Compromise of 1850
The Compromise of 1850 was a package of five bills, passed in September 1850, which defused a four-year confrontation between the slave states of the South and the free states of the North regarding the status of territories acquired during the Mexican-American War...

, 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, back in the Senate but too feeble to speak, wrote a blistering attack on the compromise. A friend read his speech, calling upon the Constitution, which upheld the South's right to hold slaves; warning that the day "the balance between the two sections" was destroyed would be a day not far removed from disunion, anarchy, and civil war. Could the Union be preserved? Yes, easily; the North had only to will it to accomplish it; to agree to a restoration of the lost equilibrium of equal North–South representation in the Senate; and to cease "agitating" the slavery question. Calhoun had precedent and law on his side of the debate. But the North had time and rapid population growth due to industrialization, and the Compromise was passed.

Death



Calhoun died in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 in March 1850 of tuberculosis
Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis, MTB, or TB is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body...

, at the age of 68. He was buried in St. Philip's Church
St. Philip's Episcopal Church (Charleston, South Carolina)
St. Philip's Episcopal Church is an historic Episcopal church in the French Quarter neighborhood of Charleston, South Carolina. Its National Historic Landmark description states: "Built in 1836 , this stuccoed brick church features an imposing tower designed in the Wren-Gibbs tradition...

 yard in Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston is the second largest city in the U.S. state of South Carolina. It was made the county seat of Charleston County in 1901 when Charleston County was founded. The city's original name was Charles Towne in 1670, and it moved to its present location from a location on the west bank of the...

.

Calhoun's fierce defense of states' rights and support for the Slave Power
Slave power
The Slave Power was a term used in the Northern United States to characterize the political power of the slaveholding class of the South....

 had influence beyond his death. Southern supporters drew from his thought in the growing divide between Northern and Southern states on this issue. They wielded the threat of Southern secession
Secession
Secession is the act of withdrawing from an organization, union, or especially a political entity. Threats of secession also can be a strategy for achieving more limited goals.-Secession theory:...

 to back slave state
Slave state
In the United States of America prior to the American Civil War, a slave state was a U.S. state in which slavery was legal, whereas a free state was one in which slavery was either prohibited from its entry into the Union or eliminated over time...

 demands.

Agrarian republicanism



Cheek (2001) distinguishes between two strands of American republican thought—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
Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions
The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions were political statements drafted in 1798 and 1799, in which the Kentucky and Virginia legislatures took the position that the federal Alien and Sedition Acts were unconstitutional...

" (1798) written by Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

 and James Madison
James Madison
James Madison, Jr. was an American statesman and political theorist. He was the fourth President of the United States and is hailed as the “Father of the Constitution” for being the primary author of the United States Constitution and at first an opponent of, and then a key author of the United...

. 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.

Concurrent majority



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 majority tyranny. 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
Richard Hofstadter
Richard Hofstadter was an American public intellectual of the 1950s, a historian and DeWitt Clinton Professor of American History at Columbia University...

 (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.

Disquisition on Government


The Disquisition on Government is Calhoun's definitive and fully elaborated view on government as seen from the point of view of the permanent minority; specifically, the slaveholding gentry of South Carolina.

Written in the 1840s , it systematically presents his reasoned view that a numerical majority in government always results in despotism over the minority unless some way is devised to secure the assent of all classes, sections, and interests. Calhoun offered the concurrent majority
Concurrent majority
Concurrent majority refers in general to the concept of preventing majorities from oppressing minorities by allowing various minority groups veto power over laws. The most vocal proponents of the theory have tended to be minority groups, such as farmers in an industrial society or nonwhites in a...

 as the key to achieving this consensus, a formula by which a minoritiy 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.

The argument is convincing if one accepts Calhoun’s conviction that the establishment of a concurrent majority would not lead to stalemate in the legislature; rather, that it would encourage the arts of compromise and conciliation among the most talented statesmen in pursuit of "the common good". Ultimately, the formula promised to produce law satisfactory to all interests.

Calhoun’s logic required 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 demogogury would subside; and the interests of the people would be honored.

Calhoun considered the concurrent majority essential to provide structural restraints to counter his conviction 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 Calhoun viewed as axiomatic, would inevitably emerge when government revenue became available to political parties for distribution as patronage.

Politicians and bureauocrats would succumb to the lure of government lucre accumulated through taxation, tariff duties and public land sales, and so on. 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 a essential to national security– would require significant military expenditures. These funds alone would lead to statesmen abandoning the interests of their constiuents in favor of serving personal and party interests, all driven by government lucre.

Calhoun predicted that electioneering, political conspiracies and outright fraud would be employed to mislead and betray the public; inevitably, demogogues would come to rule the political scene: a decline in the authority among the principal statesmen would follow, and ultimately the eclipse of the concurrent majority.

Calhoun countered that however confused and misled the masses were by political opportunists, any efforts to impose their will on a minority would be derailed by a minority veto. What Calhoun fails to address, according to historian William W. Freehling, is how a compromise would be achieved in the aftermath of a minority veto, when the ubiquitous demogogues betray their constituencies and abandon the concurrent majority. Calhoun’s two key concepts – the concurrent majority on the one hand and the inevitible rise of demogogues on the other – are not reconciled 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. William W. Freehling commented on the nature of the democracy that existed in Eighteen Century South Carolina:
[T]he apportionment of [state] legislative seats gave the small majority of lowcountry 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 adnimister 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 “plebians” 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.

The Calhoun Doctrine


Southerners challenged the doctrine of congressional authority to regulate or prohibit slavery in the territories. Calhoun claimed the Federal Government in the territories was only the trustee or agent of the several sovereign states, obliged not to discriminate among the states and hence incapable of forbidding the bringing into any territory of anything that was legal property in any state. Thus 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. If the Northern majority continued to ride roughshod over the rights of the Southern minority, the Southern states would have little option but to secede.

Memorials


During the Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

, the Confederate
Confederate States of America
The Confederate States of America was a government set up from 1861 to 1865 by 11 Southern slave states of the United States of America that had declared their secession from the U.S...

 government honored Calhoun on a one-cent postage stamp
Postage stamps and postal history of the Confederate States
The postage stamps and postal system of the Confederate States of America carried the mail of the Confederacy for a brief period in American history. Early in 1861 when South Carolina territory no longer considered itself part of the Union and demanded that the U.S. Army abandon Fort Sumter, plans...

, which was printed in 1862 but was never officially released.

Calhoun was honored by Minneapolis
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Minneapolis , nicknamed "City of Lakes" and the "Mill City," is the county seat of Hennepin County, the largest city in the U.S. state of Minnesota, and the 48th largest in the United States...

, naming one of its Chain of Lakes
Chain of Lakes (Minneapolis)
The Chain of Lakes is a district in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It is one of seven districts that make up the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway, a greenspace circling through the city...

, Lake Calhoun
Lake Calhoun
Lake Calhoun is the biggest lake in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and part of the city's Chain of Lakes. Surrounded by city park land and circled by bike and walking trails, it is popular for many outdoor activities...

, after him.

Calhoun was also honored by his alma mater, Yale University
Yale University
Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...

, which named one of its undergraduate residence halls "Calhoun College
Calhoun College
Calhoun College is a residential college of Yale University.-Early history:In 1641, John Brockston established a farm on the plot of land that is now Calhoun College...

". A sculpture of Calhoun appears on the exterior of Harkness Tower
Harkness Tower
Harkness Tower is a prominent Collegiate Gothic structure at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, United States.The tower was constructed between 1917 and 1921 as part of the Memorial Quadrangle donated to Yale by Anna M. Harkness in honor of her recently deceased son, Charles William...

, a prominent campus landmark.

The Clemson University
Clemson University
Clemson University is an American public, coeducational, land-grant, sea-grant, research university located in Clemson, South Carolina, United States....

 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, for which they received $15,000 for the 1100 acres (445.2 ha) and $29,000 for the slaves. (They were valued at about 600 USD apiece.) When that owner died, Thomas Green Clemson
Thomas Green Clemson
Thomas Green Clemson, was an American politician and statesman, serving as an ambassador and the United States Superintendent of Agriculture. He served in the Confederate States Army...

 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
Santee-Cooper River
Refers to the combined river systems of the Santee and Cooper River in South Carolina, United States....

 in Santee, South Carolina
Santee, South Carolina
Santee is a town in Orangeburg County along the Santee River Valley in central South Carolina of the United States. It has become a resort town of note located centrally north-south along the Atlantic Seaboard of South Carolina...

, was named after him. The Calhoun Monument was erected in Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston is the second largest city in the U.S. state of South Carolina. It was made the county seat of Charleston County in 1901 when Charleston County was founded. The city's original name was Charles Towne in 1670, and it moved to its present location from a location on the west bank of the...

. 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."

Biographies

  • Bartlett, Irving H. John C. Calhoun: A Biography (1994), 413pp, the best one-volume scholarly biography; Bartlett, while hostile to slavery, portrays Calhoun as a principled, consistent, and often admirable champion of slavery and the South.
  • Capers, Gerald M. John C. Calhoun, Opportunist: A Reappraisal (1960) online edition
  • Coit, Margaret, L John C. Calhoun: American Portrait 620pp; prize winning popular history excerpt and text search
  • Current, Richard N. John C. Calhoun (1966), short biography by a scholar
  • Hofstadter, Richard. "The Marx of the Master Class" in The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It, (1948), influential essay on Calhoun. online in ACLS E-Book
  • Meigs, William Montgomery. The Life of John Caldwell Calhoun, (2 vol 1917), old but solid scholarship; complete text online
  • Niven, John. John C. Calhoun and the Price of Union: A Biography (1993) excerpt and text search
  • Niven, John. "Calhoun, John C."; American National Biography Online Feb. 2000
  • Peterson, Merrill D. Great Triumvirate: Webster, Clay, and Calhoun (1987), comparison of three key leaders excerpt and text search
  • Wiltse, Charles M. John C. Calhoun, Nationalist, 1782–1828 (1944) ISBN 0-8462-1041-X; John C. Calhoun, Nullifier, 1829–1839 (1948); John C. Calhoun, Sectionalist, 1840–1859 (1951); the standard scholarly biography

Specialized studies

  • Bailey, Thomas. The American Pageant, A History of the Republic. 4th Edition. Lexington, Massachusetts: D.C. Heath and Company, 1971.
  • 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
  • Brown, Guy Story. "Calhoun's Philosophy of Politics: A Study of A Disquisition on Government" (2000)
  • Capers Gerald M., "A Reconsideration of Calhoun's Transition from Nationalism to Nullification," Journal of Southern History, 14 (Feb., 1948), 34–48. online in JSTOR
  • Cheek, Jr., H. Lee. Calhoun And Popular Rule: The Political Theory of the Disquisition and Discourse. (2004) online edition
  • Ford Jr., Lacy K. Origins of Southern Radicalism: The South Carolina Upcountry, 1800–1860 (1988)
  • Coit, Margaret L. (Editor). 1970. John C. Calhoun: Great Lives Observed. Prentice-Hall, New Jersey
  • Ford Jr., Lacy K. "Inventing the Concurrent Majority: Madison, Calhoun, and the Problem of Majoritarianism in American Political Thought," The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 60, No. 1 (Feb., 1994), pp. 19–58 in JSTOR
  • Ford, Lacy K. Jr. "Republican Ideology in a Slave Society: The Political Economy of John C. Calhoun," Journal of Southern History 54 (1988): 405–24; in JSTOR
  • Freehling, William W. "Spoilsmen and Interests in the Thought and Career of John C. Calhoun," Journal of American History 52 (1965): 25–42. in JSTOR
  • Gutzman, Kevin R. C.
    Kevin Gutzman
    Kevin R. Constantine Gutzman is an American historian, Constitutional scholar notable for having written The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution. He is a professor of the Department of History and Non-Western Cultures at Western Connecticut State University. He is an outspoken critic of...

    , "Paul to Jeremiah: Calhoun's Abandonment of Nationalism," The Journal of Libertarian Studies 16 (2002), 3–33.
  • Hofstadter, Richard. 1948. The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It. New York: A. A. Knopf.
  • Lerner, Ralph. "Calhoun's New Science of Politics," American Political Science Review, Vol. 57, No. 4 (Dec., 1963), pp. 918–932 in JSTOR
  • Merriam, Charles E. "The Political Theory of Calhoun," American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 7, No. 5 (Mar., 1902), pp. 577–594 in JSTOR
  • Miller, William Lee. 1996. Arguing About Slavery. John Quincy Adams and the Great Battle in the United States Congress. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 0-3945-6922-9
  • Rayback Joseph G., "The Presidential Ambitions of John C. Calhoun, 1844–1848," Journal of Southern History, XIV (Aug., 1948), 331–56. online in JSTOR
  • Safford, John C. Calhoun, "Lani Guinier, and Minority Rights," PS: Political Science and Politics, Vol. 28, No. 2 (Jun., 1995), pp. 211–216 in JSTOR
  • Wiltse, Charles. "Calhoun's Democracy," Journal of Politics, Vol. 3, No. 2 (May, 1941), pp. 210–223 in JSTOR
  • Wood, W. Kirk, “History and Recovery of the Past: John C. Calhoun and the Origins of Nullification in South Carolina, 1819–1828,” Southern Studies, 16 (Spring–Summer 2009), 46–68.

Primary sources

  • Calhoun, John C. John C. Calhoun: Selected Writings and Speeches edited by H. Lee Cheek, (2003) excerpt and text search
  • The Papers of John C. Calhoun Edited by Clyde N. Wilson
    Clyde N. Wilson
    Clyde N. Wilson is a professor of history at the University of South Carolina, U.S., a paleoconservative political commentator, a long-time contributing editor for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture and Southern Partisan magazine, and an occasional contributor to National Review...

    ; 28 volumes, University of South Carolina Press, 1959–2003. http://www.sc.edu/uscpress/1993older/calhoun.html; 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.
  • Calhoun, John C. Ed. Union and Liberty: The Political Philosophy of John C. Calhoun, 1992. ISBN 0-86597-102-1. ed by Ross M. Lence
  • "Correspondence Addressed to John C. Calhoun, 1837–1849," Chauncey S. Boucher and Robert P. Brooks, eds., Annual Report of the American Historical Association, 1929. 1931

External links




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