John C. Calhoun (1782-1850) of South Carolina was one of the most influential politicians in the United States and a leading voice for the South during the prewar era. He served as United States Representative, Secretary of War, Vice President, and Secretary of State, and had a long career in the United States Senate, during which he became a staunch advocate for the rights of states and l institution of slavery.
Youth and career
John Caldwell Calhoun was born to a large Scottish-Irish family on a plantation in rural South Carolina on March 18, 1782. His father, Patrick Calhoun, fought in the War of Independence and was elected to the Carolina Legislature. South after its end. Patrick died when John was 13 and his three older brothers helped pay for his education. Calhoun eventually attended Yale University in Connecticut, where he graduated in 1804. He studied briefly at Litchfield Law School in Connecticut before returning to South Carolina, where he settled in Abbeville.
In 1808, shortly after passing the bar exam, Calhoun was elected to the South Carolina legislature in his new district. He won the United States House of Representatives election two years later and took his place among a group of members of Congress known as the “War Hawks”, who denounce the British aggression against American ships and support the steps that would lead to the War of 1812. With his 1811 marriage to Florida Bonneau Colhoun, a cousin of his father and a member of one of South Carolina’s most prominent families, Calhoun joined the planter class of elite of the state.
From nationalist to defender of state rights
After the Treaty of Ghent in 1815, Calhoun played an important role in the ambitious nation-building efforts led by his fellow Congressman Henry Clay. These included the creation of the second largest bank in the United States, internal improvements funded by the federal government, and high protective tariffs to encourage the growth of American manufacturing.
Calhoun left Congress in 1817 to become US Secretary of War in the administration of James Monroe. In this role, he strengthened the country’s military, reorganizing the armed forces as well as the new US Military Academy at West Point. One of the first presidential candidates in 1824, he easily won the election for vice-president after supporters of Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams backed him. (At the time, presidential and vice-presidential candidates did not run on a single ticket.) The presidential race was decided in the House of Representatives, which controversially voted in favor of Adams. despite Jackson’s popular vote victory.
Indignant at this “corrupt market,” Calhoun increasingly opposed Adams’ fierce federalist policies. With Jackson’s presidential victory at the head of the New Democratic Party in 1828, Calhoun was again elected vice-president. That same year, the passage of a high protective tariff, known in the South as the Tariff of Abominations, sparked fierce resistance in South Carolina. At the urging of the state legislature, Calhoun wrote an anonymously published pamphlet titled “Exposure and Protest” which argued that states had the right to overturn any federal government action they considered unconstitutional, and even to separate from the Union if necessary.
At the start of Jackson’s first term, a social scandal rocked Washington and created a wedge between Calhoun and Jackson. Florida Calhoun (Calhoun’s wife) was instrumental in the ostracism of Peggy O’Neal Timberlake Eaton, the new wife of Jackson’s new Secretary of War John Eaton, over rumors about his morality questionable and shady past. While Jackson, whose late wife Rachel had been the victim of similar attacks, supported the Eatons, Calhoun supported his wife, sparking growing tensions within the cabinet.
The Crisis of Cancellation and the Defense of Slavery
After Congress passed another high tariff in 1832, the South Carolina legislature used Calhoun’s arguments to declare the tariff null and void. Jackson refused to accept this threat to Union sovereignty, asking Congress to pass a force bill to allow federal troops to collect tariffs in South Carolina. Calhoun’s relationship with Jackson – already strained due to the Peggy Eaton scandal, also known as the “Petticoat Affair” – deteriorated completely during this cancellation crisis, and Calhoun resigned in late December 1832 to sit on the board. United States Senate, where he would serve. for the next nine years.
Calhoun officially remained a Democrat, but he strongly opposed party policies under Jackson and his successors. He argued that he was not doing enough to protect the rights of states or slavery, which he both defended in the Senate. Calhoun himself was a slaveholder and a staunch supporter of the institution against abolitionist attacks, calling it a “positive good” during a Senate debate in 1837. In 1843 Calhoun resigned his seat in the Senate and returned to South Carolina to ride one final run for The Presidency. But his campaign never gained momentum, and in early 1844 he accepted the post of secretary of state in John Tyler’s cabinet.
Later career in the Senate and died in 1850
In 1845 Calhoun was again elected to the Senate, where he became a member of the influential “Grand Triumvirate”, along with Clay and Daniel Webster. As sectoral tensions continued to escalate in the pre-war era, Calhoun led efforts to maintain the balance of power between free and slave states and to protect the rights of slave owners in the South. Calhoun opposed the United States’ war with Mexico in 1846, as well as the Wilmot Proviso, the unsuccessful effort to outlaw slavery in lands acquired during the American-Mexican War.
In January 1850, when Clay introduced compromise measures designed to settle the sectoral slavery dispute, Calhoun was seriously ill with tuberculosis. In his last Senate speech, which another senator had to read aloud, Calhoun attacked the compromise measures, arguing that the nation was heading towards disunity due to the continued dominance of northern interests over northern interests. South.
Before the compromise of 1850 was concluded, Calhoun died on March 31, 1850 at the age of 68. Barely a decade before the Civil War, a growing group of radical Southern politicians known as “fire-eaters” continued to embrace and rely on Calhoun’s views on annulment, state rights and slavery, pushing the South closer and closer to secession.
Biography: John C. Calhoun. American Battlefield Trust.
John C. Calhoun (March 18, 1782 – March 31, 1850). Clemson University.
Robert Elder. Calhoun: American heretic. (Basic Books, 2021)
HW brands. Heirs to the Founders: The Epic Rivalry of Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Daniel Webster. (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2018)