John C. Calhoun: Wikis


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John Caldwell Calhoun

In office
March 4, 1825 – December 28, 1832
President John Quincy Adams
Andrew Jackson
Preceded by Daniel D. Tompkins
Succeeded by Martin Van Buren

In office
April 1, 1844 – March 10, 1845
President John Tyler
Preceded by Abel P. Upshur
Succeeded by James Buchanan

In office
October 8, 1817 – March 4, 1825
President James Monroe
Preceded by William H. Crawford
Succeeded by James Barbour

In office
December 29, 1832 – March 3, 1843
Preceded by Robert Y. Hayne
Succeeded by Daniel E. Huger
In office
November 26, 1845 – March 31, 1850
Preceded by Daniel E. Huger
Succeeded by Franklin H. Elmore

In office
Preceded by Levi Woodbury
Succeeded by Dixon Lewis

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from South Carolina's 6th district
In office
March 4, 1811 – November 3, 1817
Preceded by Joseph Calhoun
Succeeded by Eldred Simkins

Born March 18, 1782(1782-03-18)
Abbeville, South Carolina
Died March 31, 1850 (aged 68)
Washington, D.C.
Nationality American
Political party Democratic-Republican, Democratic, Nullifier
Spouse(s) Floride Colhoun Calhoun
Alma mater Yale University
Tapping Reeve Law School
Religion Unitarian

John Caldwell Calhoun (March 18, 1782 – March 31, 1850) was the seventh Vice President of the United States and a leading Southern politician from South Carolina during the first half of the 19th century. Calhoun, a brilliant orator and writer, began his political career as a nationalist and proponent of protective tariffs; later, he was a proponent of free trade, states' rights, limited government, and nullification. Calhoun built his reputation as a political theorist by his redefinition of republicanism to include approval of slavery and minority rights. His redefinition was widely accepted in the South and rejected in the North at the time. His defense of slavery became defunct, but his concept of Concurrent majority, whereby a minority has the right to object to or perhaps even veto hostile legislation directed against it, has been incorportated into the American value system.[1]

A representative leader of the Irish in South Carolina, he served as Vice President under John Quincy Adams and under Andrew Jackson, was the first Vice President to have been born after the American Revolution, and was the first Vice President to resign from office. Calhoun briefly served in the South Carolina legislature. There he wrote legislation making South Carolina the first state to adopt universal suffrage for white men. As a "war hawk" he agitated in Congress for the War of 1812, and as Secretary of War under President James Monroe he reorganized and modernized the war department, building powerful permanent bureaucracies that ran the department, as opposed to patronage appointees.

Although Calhoun died nearly 11 years before the start of the American Civil War, he was an inspiration to the secessionists of 1860–61. Nicknamed the "cast-iron man" for his determination to defend the causes in which he believed, Calhoun supported states' rights and nullification, under which states could declare null and void federal laws which they deemed to be unconstitutional. He was an outspoken proponent of the institution of slavery, which he famously defended as a "positive good" rather than as a "necessary evil".[2] 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 statesmen, along with his Congressional colleagues Daniel Webster and Henry Clay. Calhoun served in the House of Representatives (1810–1817) and the United States Senate (1832–1843; 1845–1850). He was appointed Secretary of War (1817–1824) under James Monroe and Secretary of State (1844–1845) under John Tyler. In 1957, a Senate committee chaired by John F. Kennedy named Calhoun (along with Clay and Webster) as one of the five greatest senators in U.S. history.[3]


Origins and early life

An 1822 portrait of John C. Calhoun, aged 40

Calhoun was born on March 18, 1782, the fourth child of Patrick Calhoun and his wife Martha (née Caldwell). His father was an Ulster-Scot who emigrated from County Donegal to the Thirteen Colonies where he met Martha, daughter of a Protestant Scots-Irish immigrant father.[4]

When his father became ill, the 17-year-old 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,[5] in 1804. After studying law at the Tapping Reeve Law School in Litchfield, Connecticut, Calhoun was admitted to the South Carolina bar in 1807.[6]

Marriage and family

In January 1811, Calhoun married Floride Bonneau Colhoun, a first cousin once removed. Her branch of the family spelled the surname differently than did his. The couple had 10 children over 18 years; three died in infancy. During her husband's second term as Vice President, Floride Calhoun was a central figure in the Petticoat affair. She was an active Epsicopalian and Calhoun often accompanied her to church. However he never joined a church and rarely mentioned religion; historians believe he was closest to the informal Unitarianism typified by Thomas Jefferson.[7]

War hawk

Although he had little charisma or charm, Calhoun was a brilliant orator and strong organizer, and after his election to Congress in 1810 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.[8] 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, 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, which made 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.[9]


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 high protective tariffs (to build up industry), a national bank, internal improvements (such as canals and ports), and many other nationalist policies he later repudiated.[10]

Calhoun expressed his nationalism in advising Monroe to approve the Missouri Compromise, 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.[citation needed]

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."[11] 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."[12]

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."[13]

Secretary of War: 1817–25

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 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.[14] 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.[15]

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.[16] He supervised the negotiation and ratification of 38 treaties with Indian tribes.

Vice Presidency



Official vice-presidential portrait of John C. Calhoun.

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. 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.

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. Calhoun resolved to thwart Adams' and Clay's nationalist program. He opposed it even as he held office with them.[citation needed] 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 (the other was George Clinton in the early 19th century).


J. C. Calhoun's wife since 1811, Floride Calhoun, (1792–1866), was the daughter of South Carolina United States Senator and lawyer John E. Colhoun, (1750–1802). She organized Cabinet wives to criticize John Henry Eaton, then Jackson's Secretary of War, for allegedly having been involved with his wife while she was still married to her first husband.

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 the Tariff of 1828 (also known as the Tariff of Abominations.) Calhoun had been assured that Jacksonians would reject the bill, but Northern Jacksonians were primarily responsible for its passage. Frustrated, Calhoun returned to his South Carolina plantation to write "South Carolina Exposition and Protest", an essay rejecting the nationalist philosophy he once advocated.[17]

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."[18] Nullification can be traced back to arguments by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in writing the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798. They had proposed that states could nullify the Alien and Sedition Acts.

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.[19]

At the 1830 Jefferson Day dinner at Jesse Brown's Indian Queen Hotel, Calhoun proposed a toast and proclaimed, "the Union, next to our liberty, the most dear." Jackson replied, "Our federal Union, it must be preserved."[20]

In May 1830, Jackson discovered that Calhoun had asked President Monroe to censure then-General Jackson for his invasion of Spanish Florida in 1818. Calhoun was then serving as James Monroe's Secretary of War (1817–1823). Jackson had invaded Florida during the 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.[21]

More damage was done when conservative Floride Calhoun organized Cabinet wives against Peggy Eaton, wife of 13th 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 John B. Timberlake.

The scandal, which became known as the Petticoat affair or the Peggy Eaton affair, resulted in the resignation of all Jackson's Cabinet except for Postmaster General William T. Barry and Secretary of State Martin Van Buren. Van Buren resigned as Secretary of State but only to take a position as United States Ambassador to Britain (1831–1832).

Nullification crisis

Sketch of John C. Calhoun

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. 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", Calhoun argued that a state could veto any law it considered unconstitutional.[21]

U.S. Senator

John C. Calhoun

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.[21] 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 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.[22] Calhoun was the first vice president in U.S. history to resign from office (Spiro Agnew did so in 1973). He achieved his greatest influence and most lasting fame as a Senator.

Slavery issues

Calhoun led the pro-slavery faction in the Senate in the 1830s and 1840s, opposing both abolitionism and attempts to limit the expansion of slavery into the western territories.[citation needed] 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.[22]

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.

Calhoun's home, Fort Hill, on the grounds that became part of Clemson University, in Clemson, South Carolina.

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.

Democratic politics

To restore his national stature, Calhoun cooperated with Jackson's successor Martin Van Buren, 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.[22]

Foreign policy

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 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.[23]


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.[22]

==The evils of war and political parties==saints are the best 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).

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 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.[17]

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.[24]


Calhoun was shaped by his own father, Patrick Calhoun, a prosperous backcountry slaveholder who supported the Revolutionary War but opposed ratification of federal Constitution. The father was a model of republican virtue 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 had seen in his own state how the spread of slavery into the back country improved public morals by ridding the countryside of the shiftless poor whites who had once terrorized the law abiding middle class. Calhoun 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.[25]

On February 6, 1837, John C. Calhoun took the floor of the Senate to declare that slavery was a "positive good." Senator William Rives of Virginia 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 moderates 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.[26]

Rejects 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, 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.[22]


Calhoun died in in Washington, D.C. in March 1850 of tuberculosis, at the age of 68. He was buried in St. Philip's Church yard in Charleston, South Carolina.

Calhoun's fierce defense of states' rights and support for the Slave Power 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 to back slave state demands.

Political philosophy

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" (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.[27]

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.[28]

Calhoun was promoting the interests of the slave holders, but the idea of a concurrent majority as a protection for minority rights has gained wide acceptance in American political thought.[29][30]

Disquisition on Government

The Disquisition on Government was a book that incorporated Calhoun's reasoned views on government as seen from the point of view of the permanent minority (the South). Begun in 1843, and virtually finished in 1848, it elaborates the doctrine of his South Carolina Exposition and Protest. Its keynote is the idea of a concurrent majority. Simple majority government always results in despotism over the minority unless some way is devised to secure the assent of all classes, sections, and interests. The argument is close-knit and convincing if one accepts the belief of Calhoun that the states retain absolute sovereignty over the Constitution and can do with it as they wish. This doctrine could be made effective by nullification. But Calhoun believed that the clear recognition of rights on the part of the states on the one hand and of the national majority on the other would prevent matters ever coming to a crisis. 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. This was done in conscious acceptance of the doctrine of the Disquisition.[31]

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. He 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.[32]


A photograph of John C. Calhoun in his final years.

During the Civil War, the Confederate government honored Calhoun on a one-cent postage stamp, which was printed but never officially released.

Calhoun was also honored by his alma mater, Yale University, which named one of its undergraduate residence halls "Calhoun College" and erected a statue of Calhoun in Harkness Tower, a prominent campus landmark.

Clemson University campus, 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 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."

Further reading


  • 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
  • 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

  • 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)
  • 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., "Paul to Jeremiah: Calhoun's Abandonment of Nationalism," The Journal of Libertarian Studies 16 (2002), 3–33.
  • 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
  • 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

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; 28 volumes, University of South Carolina Press, 1959–2003. [1]; 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


  1. ^ Safford, John C. Calhoun, Lani Guinier, and Minority Rights," (1995)
  2. ^ Ford (1998)
  3. ^ "The "Famous Five"". Retrieved 2010-03-11. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Historical Figures: John C. Calhoun,, accessed Oct 9, 2009
  6. ^ Wiltse (1944) vol 1.
  7. ^ Clyde Wilson, ed. The papers of John C. Calhoun (2003) vol. 27 pp 254-5
  8. ^ Margaret Kinard Latimer, "South Carolina – a Protagonist of the War of 1812." American Historical Review 1956 61(4): 914–929. in Jstor emphasizes protection of the growing cotton industry.
  9. ^ Wiltse (1944)
  10. ^ Wiltse (1944), vol, 1, ch, 8–11,
  11. ^ Adams, Diary, V, 361
  12. ^ Wiltse, John C. Calhoun: Nationalist, p. 234
  13. ^ William Meigs, The life of John Caldwell Calhoun (1917) p. 221 (online)
  14. ^ Norris W. Preyer, "Southern Support of the Tariff of 1816 – a Reappraisal." Journal of Southern History 1959 25(3): 306–322. in Jstor
  15. ^ Michael S. Fitzgerald, "Rejecting Calhoun's Expansible Army Plan: the Army Reduction Act of 1821." War in History 1996 3(2): 161–185. Issn: 0968-3445
  16. ^ William S. Belko, "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
  17. ^ a b Bartlett (1994)
  18. ^ "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.
  19. ^ Robert Allen Rutland, James Madison: The Founding Father (1997), pp. 248–249.
  20. ^ Niven 173
  21. ^ a b c John C. Calhoun, 7th Vice President 1825–1832,, accessed Oct 9, 2009
  22. ^ a b c d e Bartlett, (1994)
  23. ^ The British area became British Columbia; the American area became Washington and Oregon.
  24. ^ Freehling (1965)
  25. ^ Irving Bartlett, John C. Calhoun (1994), p. 228.
  26. ^ Ford (1988)
  27. ^ Cheek (2001)
  28. ^ Ford (1994)
  29. ^ Darryl Baskin, "The Pluralist Vision of John C. Calhoun," Polity 1969 2(1): 49–65 in JSTOR
  30. ^ George Kateb, "The Majority Principle: Calhoun and His Antecedents," Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 84, No. 4 (Dec., 1969), pp. 583–605 in JSTOR
  31. ^ Brown (2000)
  32. ^ Robert R. Russell, "Constitutional Doctrines with Regard to Slavery in Territories," Journal of Southern History 1966 32(4): 466–486 in JSTOR
Political offices
Preceded by
Abel P. Upshur
United States Secretary of State
Served under: John Tyler, James K. Polk

April 1, 1844 – March 10, 1845
Succeeded by
James Buchanan
Preceded by
Daniel D. Tompkins
Vice President of the United States
March 4, 1825 – December 28, 1832
Title next held by
Martin Van Buren
Preceded by
William H. Crawford
United States Secretary of War
Served under: James Monroe

October 8, 1817 – March 4, 1825
Succeeded by
James Barbour
United States Senate
Preceded by
Daniel E. Huger
United States Senator (Class 2) from South Carolina
November 26, 1845 – March 31, 1850
Served alongside: George McDuffie, Andrew P. Butler
Succeeded by
Franklin H. Elmore
Preceded by
Robert Y. Hayne
United States Senator (Class 2) from South Carolina
December 29, 1832 – March 3, 1843
Served alongside: Stephen D. Miller,
William C. Preston, George McDuffie
Succeeded by
Daniel E. Huger
Preceded by
Levi Woodbury
New Hampshire
Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance
Succeeded by
Dixon Lewis
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Joseph Calhoun
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 6th congressional district

March 4, 1811 – November 3, 1817
Succeeded by
Eldred Simkins
Party political offices
Preceded by
Daniel D. Tompkins
Democratic Party vice presidential candidate
1824, 1828(1)
Succeeded by
Martin Van Buren
Notes and references
1. The Democratic Party vice-presidential nominee split this year between Calhoun and William Smith.


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

It is harder to preserve than to obtain liberty.

John Caldwell Calhoun (March 18, 1782March 31, 1850) was a prominent United States politician from South Carolina during the first half of the 19th century. He served as the seventh Vice President of the United States, first under John Quincy Adams (1825-1829) and then under Andrew Jackson (1829-1832), but resigned the Vice Presidency to enter the United States Senate, where he had more power. He also served in the United States House of Representatives (1810-1817) and was both Secretary of War (1817-1824) and Secretary of State (1844-1845).


  • The Government of the absolute majority instead of the Government of the people is but the Government of the strongest interests; and when not efficiently checked, it is the most tyrannical and oppressive that can be devised.
    • Speech to the U.S. Senate (February 15, 1833).
  • 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".
  • Our well-founded claim, grounded on continuity, has greatly strengthened, during the same period, by the rapid advance of our population toward the territory—its great increase, especially in the valley of the Mississippi—as well as the greatly increased facility of passing to the territory by more accessible routes, and the far stronger and rapidly-swelling tide of population that has recently commenced flowing into it.
    • Letter to Richard Pakenham, British minister to the United States, concerning the boundary dispute between the two countries (September 3, 1844).
  • 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).


  • Beware the wrath of a patient adversary.
  • Our Federal Union, next to our liberty most dear.
  • In looking back, I see nothing to regret and little to correct.
  • Learn from your mistakes and build on your successes.
  • The interval between the decay of the old and the formation and establishment of the new constitutes a period of transition which must always necessarily be one of uncertainty, confusion, error, and wild and fierce fanaticism.

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