Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton
and Company, 1887-1889 and 1999. Virtualology.com warns that these 19th Century
biographies contain errors and bias. We rely on volunteers to edit the historic
biographies on a continual basis. If you would like to edit this biographyplease
submit a rewritten biography in text form.
If acceptable, the new biography will be published above the 19th Century
Appleton's Cyclopedia Biography citing the volunteer editor
Virtual American Biographies
Over 30,000 personalities
with thousands of 19th Century illustrations, signatures, and exceptional life
welcomes editing and additions to the
biographies. To become this site's editor or a contributor
or e-mail Virtualology here.
CALHOUN, John Caldwell, statesman, born in Abbeville district, South Carolina, 18 March, 1782; died in Washington, District of Columbia, 31 March, 1850. His grandfather, James Calhoun, immigrated from Donegal, Ireland, to Pennsylvania in 1733, bringing with him a family of children, of whom Patrick Calhoun was one, a boy six years old. The family removed to western Virginia, again moved farther south, and in 1756 established the "Calhoun settlement" in the upper part of South Carolina. This was near the frontier of the Cherokee Indians; conflicts between them and the whites were frequent and bloody, and the Calhoun family suffered severe loss. Patrick Calhoun was distinguished for his undaunted courage and perseverance in these struggles, and was placed in command of provincial rangers raised for the defense of the frontier. His resolute and active character gave him credit among his people, and he was called to important service during the revolutionary war, in support of American independence. By profession he was a surveyor, and gained success by his skill. He was a man of studious and thoughtful habits, and well versed in English literature. His father was a Presbyterian, and he adhered to the religion of his fathers. In 1770 he married Martha Caldwell, a native of Virginia, daughter of an Irish Presbyterian immigrant, whose family was devoted to the American cause, and some of whom were badly treated by the Tories. By heredity, John Caldwell Calhoun was therefore entitled to manhood from his race, to vigorous convictions in faith, and to patriotic devotion to liberty and right. He was early taught to read the Bible, and trained in Calvinistic doctrines; and it is said that he was also devoted to history and metaphysics, but was compelled to desist from study because of impaired health.
His father was a member for many years, during and after the revolution, of the legislature of his state, and his counsels made a deep impression on his son, though he died when the latter was thirteen years of age. The son remembered hearing the father say that "that government was best which allowed the largest amount of individual liberty compatible with social order," and that the improvements in political science would consist in throwing off many restraints then deemed necessary to all organized society. Until Mr. Calhoun was ready for College, he was under the instruction of his brother-in-law, the Rev. Dr. Waddell, a Presbyterian clergyman, and went to Yale in 1802. He evinced great originality of thought, devotion to study, and a lofty ambition, which won him the honors of his class, and the prophetic approval of President Dwight in the declaration, after an earnest dispute with him on the rightful source of political power, that he would reach the greatest eminence in life, and might attain the presidency. He studied law with H. W. Desaussure, of South Carolina, for a time, but was graduated at Litchfield, Connecticut, and was admitted to the bar in 1807. He took part in a meeting of the people denouncing the British outrage on the frigate "Chesapeake," and was soon elected to the legislature, and entered the house of representatives in November, 1811, in his thirtieth year. Few men were better trained for the career before him. Simple and sincere in his tastes, habits, and manners, strict and pure in his morals, and incorruptible in his integrity, severe and logical in his style, analytic in his studies, and thorough in his investigations, with a genius to perceive and comprehend the Massachusetts of elements that entered into the solution of the problems of our political life, and with a capacity for philosophic generalization of principles unequalled by any contemporary, he began, continued, and ended his life, in the manifestation of the highest qualities for debate, for disquisitions upon constitutional government and free institutions, for discussions on foreign relations, for the investigation of political and social economy, and for the conduct with ability of the general affairs and even for the details of departmental administration.
When Calhoun entered congress, war with Great Britain was imminent. He was a member of the committee on foreign affairs. He drew a report which placed before the country the issue of war, or submission to wrong. He urged a declaration of war, and upheld the cause of his country with an eloquence that inspired patriotic enthusiasm, and with a logical force that gave fortitude and zeal to the army and navy as well as to the people. At the close of the war in 1815 the country was confronted with questions of currency, finance, commercial policy, and internal development, which offered to the genius of Calhoun fruitful subjects for his original and patriotic study. He pressed upon congress the bank bill, the tariff of 1816, and a system of roads and canals. On these questions he afterward modified his views very greatly, but defended his real consistency of thought, under the appearance of inconsistency, by saying that the remedies proper for one condition of things were improper for others. A question arose in the discussion of the act to carry into effect the treaty of peace, as to the relation of the treaty-making authority to the powers of congress. He maintained the supremacy of the treaty power: that it prevailed over a law of congress; and that congress was bound to pass a law to carry a treaty into effect. The celebrated William Pinckney, then in the zenith of his fame, declared that Mr. Calhoun had brought into the debate "the strong power of genius from a higher sphere than that of argument." Its power was undoubted, though the truth of his theory may well be questioned.
In 1817 Mr. Monroe called Mr. Calhoun to the war department, which he filled until 1825. In this new field he won real fame; to this day the department, by the testimony of recent secretaries, feels the impress of his genius for organization and for the methodical adjustment of the functions of its various branches to each other and to its head. In his report to congress in 1823 he truly said that in a large disbursement of public money through a great number of disbursing agents, there had been no defalcation nor loss of a cent to the government" that he had reduced the expenses of the army from $451 to $287 per man, with no loss of efficiency or comfort. He organized the department by a bill that he drew for the purpose ; and, under rules prescribed by him, introduced order and accountability in every branch of service, and established a system that has survived, in a large degree, to this day. Mr. Clay, in his eulogy on Mr. Calhoun, said : "Such was the high estimate I formed of his transcendent talents, that if, at the end of his service in the executive department under Mr. Monroe's administration, the duties of which he performed with such signal ability, he had been called to the highest office in the government, I should have felt perfectly assured that, under his auspices, the honor, the prosperity, and the glory of our country would have been safely placed. During his service in the department, contention arose between him and General Jackson as to the conduct of the latter in the Seminole war, which was the chief cause of the breach between them during Jackson's administration.
In 1824 there were four candidates for the presidency, which resulted in the election of John Q. Adams by the house of representatives. A large majority elected Mr. Calhoun vice-president. His vice-presidency marks the beginning of Mr. Calhoun's life as a constitutional statesman. He said in 1837: "The station, from its leisure, gave me a good opportunity to study the genius of the prominent measure of the day, called then the American system, by which I profited." From that time he by profound study mastered the principles of our constitutional system, and may be said to have founded a school of political philosophy, of which the doctrines are maintained in his speeches, reports, and public writings. Mr. Clay's American system, to which Mr. Calhoun referred, was in full success. The bank, the protective policy, the internal improvement system, and the "general welfare" rule for constitutional construction, composed this celebrated policy. In 1828 General Jackson was elected president and Mr. Calhoun re-elected vice-president. The Jackson administration was the period during which the Democratic Party under Jackson and the Whig party under Clay were organized for their great struggle for ascendancy.
Mr. Calhoun took from the beginning the most prominent part in the attitude assumed by South Carolina against the protective system, which had reached its climax in the tariff law of i828. In December, 1828, he drew up the "Exposition," which, with amendments, was adopted by the legislature of South Carolina; also an address, 26 July, 1831, on the relations of the states to the general government; also a report for the legislature in November, 1831; also an address to the people of the state at the close of that session; also a letter to Governor Hamilton oi1 state interposition, 28 August, 1832; also an address to the people of the United States by the convention of South Carolina in November, 1832. In these papers he maintained the doctrine of state interposition, or "nullification." During Jackson's first term9 the influence of Mr. Van Buren became paramount with the president, and the alienation between the latter and Mr. Calhoun became irreconcilable. Mr. Van Buren was elected vice-president in/8320 The South Carolina convention in November, 1832, passed the ordinance nullifying the tariff laws of 1828 and 1832, and Mr. Calhoun was elected to the senate and took his seat in December. having resigned the vice-presidency. He appeared as the champion of his state, and defender of its ordinance of nullification, standing alone, but firm and undaunted. Both parties were opposed to him, and the administration menacingly see A man of less intellect or less courage would have shrunk from the conflict. But he was courageous in conviction, and fearless of personal consequences. He gave up the second and surrendered all hope of the first office in the country, to defend his state in her solitary attitude of opposition to the protective policy. The president's proclamation of November, 1832, was followed by the proposed "force bill." Mr. Calhoun, in February, 1833, made an elaborate speech against it. To this Mr. Webster replied with great fullness upon certain resolutions proposed by Mr. Calhoun on the general question, whereupon Mr. Calhoun called up his resolutions, and made, 26 February, 1833, a speech of extraordinary force, to which Mr. Webster never replied. The issue in this debate of the giants was on the first resolution, as follows:
"That the people of the several states comprising these United States are united as parties to a constitutional compact, to which the people of each state acceded, as a separate and sovereign community, each binding itself by its own particular ratification; and that the union, of which the said compact is the bond, is a union between the states ratifying the same."
Mr. Webster denied the "compact" theory, and is said to have made use of much of the materials gathered by Judge Story in the preparation of the first volume of his commentaries on the constitution, published in 1833. Almost all of the Democratic Party, and many of the Whigs, held that the constitution was a compact, but denied the right of nullification by a state; and some of these denied the right of secession to a state, holding the indissolubility of the union of these states because bound by a perpetual compact. They admitted Mr. Calhoun's premise of "compact," but denied his conclusions. Mr. Webster denied his premise, and therefore his conclusion. Many, also, who believed in the right of secession, denied the right of nullification. Mr. Calhoun stood, therefore, alone in the senate, main-raining the premise of a "constitutional compact." and his conclusion of the right of a state to nullify a law while remaining in the union, or to secede from the union entirely. The true nature of the doctrine of nullification was this : 1. It was claimed as a remedy within the union, reserved to the state according to the constitution ; a remedy for evils in the union; and to save, but not to dissolve, it. 2. It was claimed for the state, as a party to the compact, to declare when it was violated, and to pronounce void an unconstitutional law ; not to annul a valid law, but to declare void an unconstitutional law. 3. Its effect was (as claimed) to make wholly inoperative the law so declared void, because unconstitutional, within the state, and it seems that the United States should, according to the doctrine, thereupon suspend its operation elsewhere, and appeal to the states to amend the constitution by a new grant of power to make valid the law so de-dared void by the state. 4. This declaration of nullity of a law could not be made by the government of a state, but only by a convention of its people; that is, that the people of a state in convention, which had ratified in convention the constitution originally, should have power-to declare unconstitutional an act done by the government created by that constitution. The genius Of Mr. Calhoun was equal to the plausible and powerful support of this theory, which, however inconclusive from his premise of the constitutional compact, can not impair the truth of that premise, which, with transcendent ability and accurate historic research, he established on an impregnable foundation. The discussion had valuable results. Mr. Clay introduced his "compromise tariff" of 1833, which was passed before the session closed, with the support of Mr. Calhoun. It provided for a gradual reduction of duties during ten years, after which duties should be laid on a revenue basis. This issue ended, the re-charter of the bank of the United States, and the removal of the deposits there from by President Jackson, and the general question of currency, became prominent. Executive patronage also came into the debates of the last term of President Jackson: On all these questions Mr. Calhoun acted with the Whig party. He preferred the bank of the United States to what was called the "pet bank system" of the executive. He condemned what he deemed executive usurpation, and denounced the influence of patronage as tending to the organization of parties upon the principle "of the cohesive power of public plunder." He claimed to belong to neither party, but to lead the band of "state-rights" men, whose course was directed by principle, and not by the motives of party triumph or personal ambition. He took no part in the presidential election of 1836; but on the accession of Mr. Van Buren to the presidency, and in the extra session called by him in 1837, to consider the financial panic of that year, he took ground for a total separation of the government from a bank or banks, favored the constitutional treasury plan, and acted generally with the Democratic Party. General Harrison was elected president in 1840, but died 4 April, 1841, and was succeeded by Vice-President John Tyler. An extra session of congress was called in the summer of 1841, when the struggle of Mr. Clay for the restoration of his American system--including a bank, protective tariff, internal improvements, and a distribution of the proceeds of the public lands--brought on a memorable discussion, in which Mr. Calhoun was a leader, and facile princeps, of the Democratic Party. If the student of our history will consult the speeches of Mr. Calhoun in the senate, on the bank question generally, and on currency, from 1837 till 1842, he will find how thorough his analysis of these abstruse questions was, and how broad were his generalizations of principles. When the tariff question came up again in 1842, the compromise of 1833 was rudely overthrown, and the protective system placed in the ascendent.
Mr. Calhoun discussed the question in several able speeches, but delivered one 5 August, 1842. of comprehensive force, in which he discriminated with analytic precision between a revenue and a protective duty, holding a tariff for revenue only to be constitutional and right. He discussed the question of wages, and closed his speech with an animation not to be forgotten by one, who heard him utter these sentences: "The great popular party is already rallied almost en masse around the banner which is leading the party to its final triumph. The few that still lag will soon be rallied under its ample folds. On that banner is inscribed: Free trade ; low duties; no debt • separation from banks ; economy ; retrenchment, and strict adherence to the constitution. Victory in such a cause will be great and glorious ; and long will it perpetuate the liberty and prosperity of the country." The hostility of President Tyler to the American system made its restoration during his administration only partial; but questions of deeper import came before the country, from which results of great consequence have followed. Mr. Tyler had frequently resorted to the veto power to defeat Mr. Clay's measures. Mr. Clay proposed an amendment of the constitution for the abrogation of the veto power, and on 28 February, 1842, Mr. Calhoun delivered a speech against this proposition, he vindicated and sustained the veto as an essential part of "the beautiful and profound system established by the constitution." The proposition never came to a vote.
In February, 1844, the unfortunate explosion of a gun on the deck of the "Princeton," near Washington, robbed the country of two members of President Tyler's cabinet. Mr. Calhoun, who had ceased to be senator, in March, 1843, filled the vacancy in the state department occasioned by the death of Judge Upshur. The new secretary considered two questions of great importance. At that time the union had no Pacific population, California had not been acquired, and Oregon was not yet within our grasp. Great Brit-din had an adverse claim to Oregon. Our title rested on discovery and the French treaty of 1803. Access to it there was none but by sea around Cape Horn or across the isthmus. Mr. Calhoun vindicated our rights in a diplomatic correspondence upon grounds on which it was finally adjusted by treaty in 1846. In his speech on the Oregon question, 16 March, 1846, he spoke of the physical elements of civilization--steam and electricity. As to the latter (when the telegraph was in its infancy) with wonderful prevision he said: "Magic wires are stretching themselves in all directions over the earth, and, when their mystic meshes shall have been united and perfected, our globe itself will become endowed with sensitiveness, so that whatever touches on any one point will be instantly felt on every other." Again" "Peace is pre-eminently our policy. Providence has given us an inheritance stretching across the entire continent from ocean to ocean. Our great mission, as a people, is to occupy this vast domain; to replenish it with an intelligent, virtuous, and industrious population" to convert the forests into cultivated fields" to drain the swamps and morasses, and cover them with rich harvests; to build up cities, towns, and villages in every direction, and to unite the whole by the most rapid intercourse between all the parts. Secure peace, and time, under the guidance of a sagacious and cautious policy, 'a wise and masterly inactivity,' will speedily accomplish the whole. War can make us great; but let it never be forgotten that peace only can make us both great and free."
Another question, the annexation of Texas, occupied his mind, and gave full scope to his fertile genius. To our internal concerns it was as important as to our foreign relations. It can only be fully comprehended by considering the slavery question, with which it became involved in the act of annexation and in its consequences. In the federal convention of 1787 the diversity of industries growing up in states where slavery did and did not exist was clearly foreseen. This difference was marked by the terms northern and southern, slaveholding and non-slaveholding, commercial and agricultural states. The well-known antipathy of people, among whom slavery does not exist, to that form of labor gave rise to strong feelings in the northern states for its abolition. Among southern people there was much of regret that it had ever been established; but how to deal with it was to them a practical question for their most serious consideration. As has been well said, "We had the wolf by the ears--to hold on, was a great evil. to let go, who could estimate the consequences?" It was important as a question of property, but of far greater moment as a social and political problem. What relations, social and political, should exist between these diverse races, when both were free and equal in citizenship? One thing the south felt most strongly. The solution of this difficult problem should be left to those who were personally interested in the continuance of slavery~ and involved in the consequences of its abolition. Accordingly, the federal constitution left it, for the states to deal with, threw around it interstate guarantees, and put it beyond the reach of the federal government. Without these guarantees, the union could not have been formed. The two sections watched their respective growth in population, and their settlement of our territories, as bearing on their related powers in the federal government. The north had a large majority in the house of representatives, and in the electoral College. In the senate, by a species of common law, an equilibrium was maintained between the sections, one free state being admitted with one slave state for nearly fifty years of our history. In 1820-'1 the Missouri agitation arose, which was quieted for the moment by an agreement that no state should be admitted north of lat. 36° 30' which allowed slavery, while south of that line they might be admitted with or without slavery, as the people of the state should decide.
Many constitutional lawyers always denied the constitutionality of this Missouri compromise, though it is said Mr. Calhoun admitted its constitutionality, when applied to the territories, but not as to a state. With a senate equally divided between the sections, the southern states felt secure against action hostile to slavery by the government. But the equilibrium of the sections in that body being overthrown, they would be subject to the will of a northern majority in both houses, limited only by its interpretation of its constitutional power over slavery. In 1835, Texas, peopled by emigrants from the union, but chiefly from the southern states, carrying their slaves with them, won its independence at San Jacinto, which was acknowledged by the United States in 1836. The territory had once been ours; its people were of our own flesh and blood; emigration pressed into its fields from the south; the government of Great Britain was threatening to keep Texas independent, and, by procuring the abolition of slavery there, to operate to stop slavery extension toward the southwest, and place an abolition frontier upon the borders of Louisiana and Arkansas. Mr. Calhoun was too sagacious not to see the hostile policy of England. In a series of papers he exposed the scheme, and negotiated a treaty with Texas for her incorporation into the union. The treaty failed, but the annexation of Texas became a pivotal question in the presidential election of 1844, and Mr. Polk was elected chiefly upon that issue. Many people looked upon it as an increase of the slave power in the union, but the admission of Texas was made subject, as to any new states to be formed out of it, to the provisions of the Missouri compromise. Mr. Calhoun was elected to the senate on retiring from the state department, and did all he could for the peaceable adjustment of the Oregon question, and also to prevent war with Mexico. He deprecated the war with Mexico, and in strong terms de-elated it was unnecessary. When it was finally determined on, he was greatly disturbed, and pre-dieted evils, which even he could not see. He said : "It has dropped a curtain between the present and the future, which to me is impenetrable; and, for the first time since I have been in public life, I am unable to see the future. It has closed the first volume of our political history under the constitution, and opened the second, and no mortal can tell what will be written in it." In his speech on the "three-million bill "(9 February, 1847) he explained that what constituted this "impenetrable curtain" was the acquisition of territory as the result of the war, and the slavery question, which would be involved in the legislation respecting it. The slavery question, during the administrations of Jackson and Van Buren, had been agitated in many forms. Abolition petitions had poured in upon congress, and the power of congress had been invoked to prevent the transmission through the mails of abolition documents. On this point Mr. Calhoun differed with President Jackson ; the former maintaining in an able report (February, 1836) that the mail could not be the instrument for incendiary purposes against the laws of the states, but that congress had no power to decide what should be transmitted and what not, without state action.
Soon after the Mexican war began, the acquisition of territory from Mexico was strongly insisted on; and at once the anti-slavery party proposed what was known as the Wihnot proviso, by which it was declared that slavery should never be allowed in any Mexican territory acquired by treaty. The agitation convulsed the country. On 19 February, 1847, Mr. Calhoun set forth his views in certain resolutions, of which the substance is in the first two: "That the territories of the United States belong to the several states composing the union, and are held by them as their joint and common property; that congress, as the joint agent and representative of the states of the union, has no right to make any law or do any act whatever that shall, directly or by its effects, make any discrimination between the states of this union by which any of them shall be deprived of its full and equal right in any territory of the United States acquired or to be acquired." Chief-Justice Taney, delivering the opinion of the court, held the same doctrine in the Dred Scott decision in 1857, in which six of the nine judges concurred. The agitation continued until the session of 1849-'50, when the compromise measures were proposed and passed. Mr. Calhoun made his last speech (read for him by Senator Mason, of Virginia) upon this subject, March, 1850. With the exception of a few remarks made afterward in reply to Mr. Foote and to Mr. Webster, he never again addressed the senate.
In the last years of his life he prepared two works, the one "A Disquisition on Government," and the other "A Discourse on the Constitution and Government of the United States," both comprehended in a volume of 400 pages. These methodical treatises on the science of government and the federal constitution place him in the highest position among original thinkers upon political philosophy. In estimating Mr. Calhoun's position absolutely and relatively, he is liable to a less favorable verdict than his merits demand. He represented a southern state, defended her slave institutions, belonged to a minority section, and his views have been condemned by the majority section of the country. The newspaper and periodical press, therefore, will deny him the pre-eminence which we claim for him as a broad and philosophic statesman, as a constitutional lawyer, and as a leader of thought in the field of political philosophy. His fame results from the possession of an ardent, sincere, and intense soul which gave impulse and motive to a mind endowed with extraordinary analytic force, acute and subtle in its insight, fertile in suggestion, full of resources, careful, laborious, and profound in research and comprehensive in its deduction of general principles. He had a large imagination, though he displayed little fancy. His vigorous, compact, and clean-cleaving logic put the objects of his creative power into sharply defined shapes, arranged in perspicuous order, with a severe, trenchant, and condensed rhetoric.
In his reply on 10 March, 1838, to Mr. Clay's personal attack he seems to have defined his own characteristics while he denied them to his great opponent. He said: " I cannot retort on the senator the charge of being metaphysical. I cannot accuse him of possessing the powers of analysis and generalization, those higher faculties of the mind (called metaphysical by those who do not possess them) which decompose and resolve into their elements the complex masses of ideas that exist in the world of mind, as chemistry does the bodies that surround us in the material world, and without which these deep and hidden causes which are in constant action and producing such mighty changes in the condition of society would operate unseen and undetected .... Throughout the whole of my service I have never followed events, but have taken my stand in advance, openly and freely avowing my opinions on all questions, and leaving it to time and experience to condemn or approve my course." He believed the constitution to be a "beautiful and profound system," and the union under it an inestimable blessing. His " Disquisition " and "Discourse" were devoted to showing how the true philosophy of government was realized in that constitution. An epitome of his philosophy may be attempted, though it will fail to do it justice. He believed in the rights of the individual man, for whose benefit society and government exist--" society being primary, to preserve and perfect our race; and government secondary and subordinate, to preserve and perfect society. Both are, however, necessary to the existence and well-being of our race and equally of divine ordination." But government ordained to protect.may, if not guarded, be made a means of oppression. " That by which this is prevented, by whatever name called, is what is meant by constitution .... Constitution stands to government as government stands to society .... Constitution is the contrivance of man, while government is of divine ordination. Man is left to perfect what the wisdom of the Infinite ordained as necessary to preserve the race." He then takes up the question, How shall government be constituted so as by its own organism to resist the tendency to abuse of power ? The first device is the responsibility of rulers through suffrage to the ruled under proper guards and with sufficient enlightenment of the voters to understand their rights and their duty. This secures those who elect against abuse by those who are elected. But this is far from all that is needed. When society is homogeneous in interests this may suffice, for it insures a control of no man's right by any other than himself and those who have common interest with him. But where, as is generally the case, society has diverse and inimical interests, then suffrage is no security, for each representative speaks the will of each constituency, and constituencies, through representation, may war on each other, and the majority interests may devour those of the minority through their representatives. Suffrage thus only transfers the propensity to abuse power from constituencies to representatives, and despotism is secured through that suffrage which was devised to prevent it. The remedy for this evil is to be found in such an organism as will give to each of the diverse interests a separate voice and permit the majority of each to speak in a separate branch of the organism, and not take the voice of the majority of the whole community as the only expression of the people's will. To do the last bases government on the numerical or absolute majority" to do the first is to base it on the "concurrent constitutional majority." The latter is a government of the whole people; the former only of a majority of them. This principle is illustrated by all the so-called checks and balances in all constitutional governments, and by the concurrent majority of numbers in the house of representatives and of states in the senate in our own federal system. This principle, established with scientific precision, is the fruitful source of all of Mr. Calhoun's doctrines. His vindication of the veto power was against the claim for the numerical majority. His nullification was the requirement of the concurrent majority of the several states to a law of doubtful constitutionality. His proposed amendment of the constitution by a dual executive, through which each section would have a distinct representation, was an application of the same principle ; and his intense opposition to the admission of California, by which the senate was to be controlled by a northern majority, was his protest against the overthrow of the concurrent consent of the south, through an equipoised senate, to the legislative action of congress. Mr. Calhoun saw the south in a minority in all branches of the government, and he desired, by giving to the south a concurrent and distinct voice in the organism of our system to secure her against invasion of her rights by a hostile majority, and thus to make her safe in the union. When the abolition party was small in numbers and weak in organization, and public men treated its menaces with contempt, Mr. Calhoun saw the cloud like a man's hand which was to overspread our political heavens. His prophetic eye saw the danger and his voice proclaimed it. In looking at the growth of the abolition feeling in 1836, he predicted that Mr. Webster "would, however reluctant, be compelled to yield to that doctrine or be driven into obscurity." He said, further: "Be assured that emancipation itself would not satisfy these fanatics. That gained, the next step would be to raise the Negroes to a social and political equality with the whites." In 1849 he wrote the "Address to the People of the South," and, with a precision that is startling, drew the following picture of the results of abolition: " If it [emancipation] ever should be effected, it will be through the agency of the federal government, controlled by the dominant power of the northern states of the confederacy against the resistance and struggle of the southern. It can then only be ef-fected by the prostration of the white race, and that would necessarily engender the bitterest feelings of hostility between them and the north; but the reverse would be the case between the blacks of the south and the people of the north. Owing their emancipation to them, they would regard them as friends, guardians, and patrons, and centre accordingly all their sympathy in them. The people of the north would not fail to reciprocate, and to favor them instead of the whites. Under the influence of such feelings, and impelled by fanaticism and love of power, they would not; stop at emancipation. Another step would be taken, to raise them to a political and social equality with their former owners by giving them the right of voting and holding public offices under the federal government .... But when once raised to an equality they would become the fast political associates of the north, acting and voting with them on all questions, and by this political union between them holding the south in complete subjection. The blacks and the profligate whites that might unite with them would become the principal recipients of federal offices and patronage, and would in consequence be raised above the whites in the south in the political and social scale. We would, in a word, change conditions with them--a degradation greater than has ever yet fallen to the lot of a free and enlightened people, and one from which we could not escape but by fleeing the homes of ourselves and ancestors, and by abandoning our country to our former slaves, to become the permanent abode of disorder, anarchy, poverty, misery, and wretchedness."
The estimate we have placed upon the genius of this remarkable man is confirmed by the touching tributes of his great rivals at the time of his death. Henry Clay, after paying a tribute to his private character and to his patriotism and public honor, said: "He possessed an elevated genius of the highest order. In felicity of generalization of the subjects of which his mind treated I have seen him surpassed by no one, and the charm and captivat-ing influence of his colloquial powers have been felt by all who have conversed with him." Daniel Webster, his chief competitor in constitutional debate, said: " He was a man of undoubted genius and of commanding talent. All the country and all the world admit that .... I think there is not one of us but felt, when he last addressed us 1"rom his seat in the senate, his form still erect, with clear tones, and an impressive and, I may say, an imposing manner, who did not feel that he might imagine that we saw before us a senator of Rome when Rome survived .... He had the basis, the indispensable basis of all high character, and that was unspotted integrity, unimpeached honor, and character. If he had aspirations, they were high and honorable and noble Firm in his pur- pose, perfectly patriotic and honest, aside from that large regard for that species of distinction that conducted him to eminent stations for the benefit of the republic, I do not believe he had a selfish motive or selfish feeling." Mr. Everett once said: " Calhoun, Clay, Webster! I name them in alphabetical order. What other precedence can be assigned them?" Clay the great leader, Webster the great orator, Calhoun the great thinker. John Stuart Mill speaks of the great ability of his posthumous work, and of its author as "a man who has displayed powers as a speculative political thinker superior to any who has appeared in American polities since the authors of ' The Federalist.'" It has been said that Calhoun labored to destroy the Union, that he might be the chief of a southern confederacy because he could not be president of the Union. The writer remembers an interview that he witnessed between Calhoun and a friend within a month of his death, when the hopes and strifes of his ambition were soon, as he knew, to be laid in the grave. The friend asked him if nothing could be done to save the Union. "Will not the Missouri compromise do it?" He replied, the light in his great eyes expressing an intense solemnity of feeling that can never be forgotten, "With my constitutional objections I could not vote for it, but I would acquiesce in it to save this Union!"
Mr. Calhoun in his private life as husband, father, friend, neighbor, and citizen, was pure, upright, sincere, honest, and beyond reproach. He was simple and unpretending in manners, rigid and strict in his morals, temperate and discreet in his habits; genial, earnest, and fascinating in conversation, and magnanimous in his public and private relations. He was beloved by his family and friends, honored and almost idolized by his state, and died as he had lived, respected and revered for his genius and his honorable life by his contemporaries of all parties. He was stainless in private and public life, as a man. a patriot, and a philosopher, and his fame is a noble heritage to his country and to mankind. The view on page 500 represents the summer residence and office of Mr. Calhoun at Fort Hill, to which during his career many men of distinction repaired to enjoy his society and his liberal hospitality. Calhoun's works were collected and edited by Richard K. Cralle (6 vols., New York, 1853-'4).
This site and its contents are not affiliated, connected,
associated with or authorized by the individual, family,
friends, or trademarked entities utilizing any part or
the subject's entire name. Any official or affiliated
sites that are related to this subject will be hyper
linked below upon submission
and Evisum, Inc. review.
Please join us in our mission to incorporate The Congressional Evolution of the United States of America discovery-based curriculum into the classroom of every primary and secondary school in the United States of America by July 2, 2026, the nation’s 250th birthday. , the United States of America: We The
People. Click Here