m. 02 Jun 1770
Facts and Events
Biography of John Caldwell Calhoun, Vice President of the United States
John Caldwell Calhoun (March 18, 1782March 31, 1850) was a leading American politician and political theorist from South Carolina during the first half of the 19th century. Calhoun spoke out eloquently 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. After 1830, he switched to states' rights, limited government, nullification and free trade. He is best known for his intense and original defense of slavery as something positive, his distrust of majoritarianism, and for pointing the South toward secession from the Union.
Devoted to the principle of liberty and fearful of corruption, Calhoun built his reputation as a political theorist by his redefinition of republicanism 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 in South Carolina. Calhoun's defense of slavery became defunct, but his concept of concurrent majority, whereby a minority has the right to object to or even veto hostile legislation directed against it, has been cited by other advocates of the rights of minorities. 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 Senate and as Vice President of the United States, as well as secretary of war and state. He usually affiliated with the Democrats, but flirted with the Whig Party and considered running for the presidency in 1824 and 1844. As a "war hawk", he agitated in Congress for the War of 1812 to defend American honor against Britain. As Secretary of War under President James Monroe, he reorganized and modernized the War Department, building powerful permanent bureaucracies that ran the department, as opposed to patronage appointees.
Calhoun died 11 years before the start of the American Civil War, but he was an inspiration to the secessionists of 1860–61. Nicknamed the "cast-iron man" for his ideological rigidity 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 as 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" or the "Immortal Trio" of Congressional leaders, along with his Congressional colleagues Daniel Webster and Henry Clay. In 1957, a Senate Committee selected Calhoun as one of the five greatest U.S. Senators, along with Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Robert La Follette, and Robert Taft. Calhoun "was a public intellectual of the highest order...and a uniquely gifted American politician."
Calhoun was born on March 18 (or 19), 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, herself the daughter of a Protestant Irish immigrant father.
When his father became ill, the 17-year-old Calhoun quit school to continue the family farm. With his brothers' financial support, he later returned to his studies, earning a degree from Yale College in 1804. After studying law at the Tapping Reeve Law School in Litchfield, Connecticut, Calhoun was admitted to the South Carolina bar in 1807.
In January 1811 Calhoun married his first cousin once removed, Floride Bonneau Calhoun, whose branch of the family spelled the surname differently than did his. The couple had 10 children over 8 years; three died in infancy. During her husband's second term as Vice President,under Andrew Jackson, starting 4 March 1829, Floride Calhoun, was a very conservative, staunch-in-public morals lady, and a central figure in the Petticoat Affair, which involved the 38-year-old Senator John Eaton.
Early political career
In 1810, Calhoun was elected to Congress, and became one of the War Hawks who, led by Henry Clay, were agitating for what became the War of 1812. Calhoun had made his public debut in calling for war after 1807's Chesapeake-Leopard affair.
After the war, J. C. Calhoun and H. Clay sponsored a Bonus Bill for public works. With the goal of building a strong nation that could fight a future war, he aggressively pushed for high protective tariffs (to build up industry), a national bank, internal improvements, and many other policies he later repudiated.
In 1817, President James Monroe appointed Calhoun to be Secretary of War, where he served until 1825, creating, unilaterally, the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In 1824, Calhoun was a reform-minded executive, who attempted to institute centralization and efficiency in the Indian department, but Congress either failed to respond to his reforms or rejected them.
As Belko (2004) argues, his management of Indian affairs proved his nationalism. His opponents were the "Old Republicans" in Congress, with their Jeffersonian ideology for economy in the federal government; they often attacked the operations and finances of the War department. Calhoun became frustrated with congressional inaction, political rivalries, and ideological differences that dominated the late early republic.
Calhoun's nationalism also manifested itself in his advice to Monroe to sign off on the Missouri Compromise, which most other Southern politicians saw as a distinctly bad deal; Calhoun believed that continued agitation of the slavery issue threatened the Union, so the Missouri dispute had to be concluded.
As Secretary of State John Quincy Adams wrote in 1821, "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. "
Election Calhoun originally was a candidate for President of the United States in the election of 1824, but after failing to win the endorsement of the legislature in his own state, he decided to set his sights on the Vice Presidency, as no candidate received a majority in the Electoral College and the election was ultimately resolved by the House of Representatives.
Calhoun was elected Vice President in a avalanche. Calhoun served four years under Adams, and then, in 1828, won re-election as Vice President alongside Andrew Jackson.
Calhoun, it is said, resolved to thwart Adams' and Clay's nationalist program, opposing it while holding power with them. In 1828, Calhoun ran for reelection as the running mate of Andrew Jackson, and thus became one of two Vice Presidents to serve under two Presidents (the other being George Clinton).
The Jackson Administration
Under Andrew Jackson, Calhoun's Vice Presidency remained controversial. Once again, a rift developed between Calhoun and the President, this time about hard cash.
The Tariff of 1828 (also known as the Tariff of Abominations) aggravated the rift between Calhoun and the Jacksonians. 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.
He now supported the theory of concurrent majority through the doctrine of nullification—that individual states could override federal legislation they deemed unconstitutional. Nullification traced back to arguments by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in writing the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798, which proposed that states could nullify the Alien and Sedition Acts.
Jackson, who supported states' rights but believed that nullification threatened the Union, opposed it. The difference between Calhoun's arguments and those of Jefferson and Madison is that Calhoun explicitly argued for a state's right to secede from the Union, if necessary, instead of simply nullifying certain federal legislation.
James Madison rebuked the nullificationists and said that no state had the right to nullify federal law.
At the 1830 Jefferson Day dinner at Jesse Brown's Indian Queen Hotel (April 13, 1830), Jackson proposed a toast and proclaimed "Our federal Union, it must be preserved," to which Calhoun replied "the Union, next to our liberty, the most dear.
In May 1830, the relationship between President Jackson and Vice-President Calhoun deteriorated further when Jackson discovered that Calhoun—while serving as James Monroe's Secretary of War (1817-1823)—had requested President Monroe to censure Jackson (at the time a General) for invading Spanish Florida in 1818 during the Seminole War without authorization from either War Secretary Calhoun or President Monroe itself.
Calhoun defended his 1818 request, stating it was the right thing to do. The feud between him and Jackson heated up as Calhoun informed the President that another attack from his opponents was not hard for others to see, and would have a series of argumentative letters sent to each other—fueled by Jackson's opponents—until Jackson stopped the correspondence in July 1830.
By February 1831, the break between Calhoun and Jackson was final after Calhoun—responding to inaccurate press reports about the feud—published the letters in the United States Telegraph.
More damage was done to Jackson and Calhoun's relationship after his wife, staunch and conservative Floride Calhoun, organized a coalition among Cabinet wives against Peggy Eaton, wife of 13th Secretary of War John Eaton. It was 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 allegations allegedly drove Timberlake to suicide, 1828.
The scandal, which became known as the Petticoat Affair or the Peggy Eaton Affair, resulted in the resignation of Jackson's Cabinet except for Postmaster General William T. Barry and Secretary of State, Martin Van Buren (March 9, 1829 – resigned June 18, 1831), but only in order to take an alternative position in Jackson's administration as United States Ambassador to Britain (1831–1832).
In 1832, the 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, and the South Carolina legislature declared them to be unconstitutional. Calhoun had also formed a political party in South Carolina 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, and 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.
The irony in this is that Calhoun (anonymously, making his true opinions unknown to Jackson) argued for the doctrine of nullification, which had gone as far as to suggest secession. Calhoun had written the 1828 essay South Carolina Exposition and Protest, arguing that a state could veto any law it considered unconstitutional.
The break between Jackson and Calhoun was complete, and in 1832, Calhoun ran for the Senate rather than remain as Vice President; because he exposed his nullification beliefs during the nullification crisis, his chances of becoming President were very low. After the Compromise Tariff of 1833 went into effect, 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", which many Southern politicians believe improved Northern industrial interests at the expense of Southern interests. Whig party leader, Henry Clay, sided with Daniel Webster on these issues.
On December 28, 1832, Calhoun accepted election to the United States Senate from his native South Carolina, becoming the first Vice President in U.S. history to resign from office, and the third Vice President to relinquish the office prior to its full term (Vice Presidents George Clinton and Elbridge Gerry both died in office). He would achieve his greatest influence and most lasting fame as a Senator.
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. He was also a major advocate of the Fugitive Slave Law, which enforced the co-operation of free states in returning escaping slaves. Calhoun couched his defense of Southern states' right to preserve the institution of slavery in terms of liberty and self-determination.
Whereas other Southern politicians had excused slavery as a necessary evil, in a famous February 1837 speech on the Senate floor, Calhoun went further, asserting 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.
"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." The everlasting influence of Calhoun´s policies on his fierce defense of states' rights and support for the Slave Power, even in the 21st Century, proves that he played, even dead, a major role in deepening the growing divide between Northern and Southern states on this issue, wielding the threat of Southern secession to back slave state demands.
After a one year break as the 16th United States Secretary of State, (April 1, 1844 – March 10, 1845) under President John Tyler, being preceded by Abel P. Upshur and succeeded by James Buchanan, Calhoun returned to the Senate in 1845, participating in the epic Senate struggle over the expansion of slavery in the Western states, formerly Imperial Spanish - Mexican lands till as late as 1848, that produced the so called Compromise of 1850.
He died in March 1850, of tuberculosis in Washington, D.C., at the age of 68, and was buried in St. Philips Churchyard in Charleston, South Carolina.
Southerners challenged the doctrine of congressional authority to regulate or prohibit slavery in the territories. In 1847 Calhoun claimed 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.
During the Civil War, the Confederate government honored Calhoun on a one-cent postage stamp, which was printed but never officially released (as seen below).
Calhoun was also honored by his alma mater, Yale University, naming one of its undergraduate residence halls "Calhoun College" and erecting 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, who promptly sold it to a relative along with 50 slaves, receiving $15,000 for the 1,100 acres (450 ha) and $29,000 for the slaves, some 600 USD apiece. When that owner died, Thomas Green Clemson foreclosed the mortgage as administrator of his mother-in-law's estate, thus regaining the property from his in-laws' widow.
Clemson's had served as U. S. Ambassador to Belgium—a post he obtained through the influence of his father-in-law, who was Secretary of State at the time. In 1888, after Calhoun's daughter died, Clemson wrote a will bequeathing his father-in-law's former estate to South Carolina on the condition that it be used for an agricultural university to be named "Clemson." A nearby town named for Calhoun was renamed Clemson in 1943.
There is also a Calhoun Community College in Decatur, Alabama, and Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Many streets in the South, such as John C. Calhoun Drive in Orangeburg, South Carolina and the John C. Calhoun Expressway in Augusta, GA, are named in his memory. Calhoun County, South Carolina, Calhoun County, Georgia, Calhoun County, Illinois, Calhoun County, Iowa , Calhoun County, Mississippi, and Calhoun County, Michigan are also named in his honor.
In 1957, United States Senators honored Calhoun as one of the "five greatest senators of all time."
Calhoun Middle School in Denton, Texas, too, is named after John C. Calhoun.
Calhoun also has a landing on the Santee-Cooper River in Santee, South Carolina, named after him. Calhoun Monument stands in Charleston, South Carolina. Calhoun Street, a large thoroughfare in Charleston was also named after Calhoun and the USS John C. Calhoun was a Fleet Ballistic Missile nuclear submarine, in commission from 1963 to 1994.
(As cited on Wikipedia)