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John C. As a young congressman from South Carolina, he helped steer the United States into war with Great Britain and established the Second Bank of the United States. Calhoun went on to serve as U.S. secretary of war, vice president and briefly as secretary of state. As a longtime South Carolina senator, he opposed the Mexican-American War and the admission of California as a free state, and was renowned as a leading voice for those seeking to secure the institution of slavery.
A nationalist at the outset of his political career, Calhoun was one of the leading War Hawks who maneuvered the unprepared United States into war with Great Britain in 1812. After the Treaty of Ghent that ended that conflict, Calhoun was responsible for establishing the Second Bank of the United States, and he wrote the bonus bill that would have laid the foundation for a nationwide network of roads and canals if President James Madison had not vetoed it.
A candidate for the presidency in 1824, Calhoun was the object of bitter partisan attacks from other contenders. Dropping out of the race, he settled for the vice presidency and was twice elected to that position. But after Andrew Jackson’s assumption of the presidency in 1829, Calhoun found himself isolated politically in national affairs.
At first he supported the Tariff of 1828, the so-called Tariff of Abominations, but responding to his constituents’ criticism of the measure and believing that the tariff was being unfairly assessed on the agrarian South for the benefit of an industrializing North, Calhoun drafted for the South Carolina legislature his Exposition and Protest. In this essay he claimed original sovereignty for the people acting through the states and advocated state veto or nullification of any national law that was held to impinge on minority interests. He later developed the argument in his two essays Disquisition on Government and Discourse on the Constitution, presenting the classic case for minority rights within the framework of majority rule. A moderate during the nullification crisis of 1832-1833, Calhoun joined with Henry Clay in working out the Compromise Tariff.
By then he had resigned from the vice presidency and had been elected a senator from South Carolina. For the rest of his life he defended the slave-plantation system against a growing antislavery stance in the free states. He continued his strident defense of slavery even after he joined the Tyler administration as secretary of state. In that position he laid the groundwork for the annexation of Texas and the settlement of the Oregon boundary with Great Britain. Reelected to the Senate in 1845, he opposed the Mexican-American War because he felt American victory would result in territorial concessions that would place the Union at jeopardy. Similarly he opposed the admission of California as a free state, and the free-soil provision in the Oregon territorial bill. In his last address to the Senate, he foretold the disruption of the Union unless the slave states were given adequate and permanent protection for their institutions.
Calhoun, along with Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and Andrew Jackson, dominated American political life from 1815 to 1850. A tall, spare individual, Calhoun was a gifted debater, an original thinker in political theory, and a person of broad learning who was especially well read in philosophy, history, and contemporary economic and social issues. His public appearance as the so-called Cast Iron Man was belied by his personal warmth and affectionate nature in private life.
The Reader’s Companion to American History. Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, Editors. Copyright © 1991 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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Legacy of John C. Calhoun
Certainly the American Civil War was too vast an event to be the responsibility of any one man, but it can be argued that Calhoun contributed as much to its coming as did abolitionist crusader William Lloyd Garrison and Pres. Abraham Lincoln. The man himself was an enigma. A staunch nationalist during the first half of his public life, one who told the son of Alexander Hamilton in 1823 that his father’s attempt to create a strong federal government “as developed by the measures of Washington’s administration is the only true policy for this country,” in the latter part of his career Calhoun became an unwavering champion of states’ rights. Yet he said shortly before his death, “If I am judged by my acts, I trust I shall be found as firm a friend of the Union as any man in it.…If I shall have any place in the memory of posterity it will be in consequence of my deep attachment to it.”
After Calhoun’s death, his protégé, James H. Hammond, said that
pre-eminent as he was intellectually above all the men of this age as I believe, he was so wanting in judgment in the managing of men, was so unyielding and unpersuasive, that he never could consolidate sufficient power to accomplish anything great, of himself and [in] due season…and the jealousy of him—his towering genius and uncompromising temper, has had much effect in preventing the South from uniting to resist [evil].
Calhoun’s two books on government, published posthumously, and his many cogent speeches in Congress have gained him a reputation as one of the country’s foremost original political theorists. He has been credited with preceding Karl Marx in advancing an economic interpretation of history, yet most of his basic ideas, particularly that of nullification, were acquired from James Madison, who was 30 years his senior. Although Calhoun is remembered as the defender of minorities, he had no use for any minority—certainly not labourers or abolitionists—except the Southern one. His solution to the problem of the preservation of the Union was to give the South everything it demanded. He was truly devoted both to the Union and to the South, and death took him before he had to choose between them. But with rare insight, in 1850 he told a friend that the Union was doomed to dissolution: “I fix its probable occurrence within twelve years or three Presidential terms.”
In his thinking Calhoun worked backward, as if from the answer at the end of a mathematics primer. With his objective in mind, he chose a seemingly innocuous premise and then proceeded with hard logic to the desired conclusion. The historian William P. Trent said in the 1890s that he “started with the conclusion he wanted and reasoned back to the premises. Calhoun led thought rather than men, and lacking imagination, he led thought badly.”
Calhoun’s life was a tragedy in both the Greek and the Shakespearean senses. The gods thirsted after him, but he helped them along. Almost his last words were “The South! The poor South!” The poet Walt Whitman heard a Union soldier say shortly after the surrender of Confederate forces at Appomattox Court House that the true monuments to Calhoun were the wasted farms and the gaunt chimneys scattered over the South.
Calhoun was elected to the South Carolina Legislature in 1808 and 2 years later won election to the U.S. House of Representatives. Henry Clay made him chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and Calhoun and other "War Hawks" moved the country to the unsuccessful War of 1812 against Great Britain. Calhoun led the effort in the House to supply and strengthen the Army, and after the war he continued to work for a stronger military establishment. He advocated measures which he would later denounce as unconstitutional: Federal encouragement of manufactures by means of a protective tariff, and internal improvements to "bind the republic together with a perfect system of roads and canals." To objections that the Constitution did not authorize such Federal expenditures, Calhoun replied that "the instrument was not intended as a thesis for the logician to exercise his ingenuity on. It ought to be construed with plain, good sense…"
Calhoun was secretary of war in James Monroe's Cabinet (1817-1825). He became less and less militaristic through his life. In 1812 he had said that "a war, just and necessary in its origin, wisely and vigorously carried on, and honorably terminated," would establish "the integrity and prosperity of our country for centuries." But in 1846 he refused to vote for the declaration of war against Mexico he asserted that the grounds for war given by the President were false and said simply, "I regard peace as a positive good, and war as a positive evil."
In Monroe's Cabinet, Calhoun was a nationalist. In 1821 John Quincy Adams appraised Calhoun as "a man of fair and candid mind … of enlarged philosophic views, and of ardent patriotism. He is above all sectional and factional prejudices more than any other statesman of this Union…. " Calhoun was Adams's vice president (1825-1829) and was elected to the office again in 1828 under Andrew Jackson. He had expectations of becoming president following Jackson's tenure, but there was a rupture between them during Jackson's first term. The social contretemps over Peggy Eaton was involved, but more important was Jackson's discovery that Calhoun had criticized his invasion of Florida in 1818. Even without these irritants the clash would have come. Calhoun had anonymously written the "South Carolina Exposition" in response to the so-called Tariff of Abominations of 1828. He argued the right of a state to "nullify" a Federal enactment injurious to its interests if the state believed the law to be unconstitutional. By 1830 Calhoun was known as the author of the doctrine, and at a Jefferson's birthday dinner that year Jackson glared at Calhoun and proposed the toast, "Our Federal Union—it must be preserved!" Calhoun replied, "The Union—next to our liberty, the most dear!"
Jackson threatened military force to collect the duties in South Carolina, and in 1832 Calhoun in an unprecedented action resigned from the vice presidency and was elected by South Carolina to the Senate to defend its cause. Henry Clay brought forth a compromise, which Calhoun supported, to lower the tariff gradually over a decade the crisis subsided for a time.
In the Senate in the 1830s, Calhoun attacked the abolitionists, demanding that their publications be excluded from the mails, that their petitions not be received by Congress, and finally that a stop be put to agitation against slavery in the North as had been done in the South. By 1837 he was defending slavery as "a positive good" and had become an advocate for the suppression of open discussion and a free press.
Calhoun's shift from a national to a sectional position had virtually destroyed his chances for the presidency, but he continued to aspire to that office. He declared his candidacy in 1843 but withdrew to accept appointment as secretary of state for the last year of John Tyler's term. In his efforts for the annexation of Texas, Calhoun wrote a famous letter to the British minister in Washington, arguing that annexation was necessary to protect slavery in the United States and asserting (against the position of the British government, which was urging the emancipation of slaves throughout the world) that freed African Americans tended to be deaf, blind, and insane in far higher proportions than those in slavery. The letter did not help his cause in Congress. The treaty of annexation which he negotiated with the Republic of Texas was rejected by the Senate, where it was impossible to muster the required two-thirds vote in its favor. Calhoun then supported the device, of doubtful constitutionality, of admitting Texas by a joint resolution of Congress.
Calhoun returned to the Senate in 1845, where he first opposed the war against Mexico and then the Wilmot Proviso, which would have prohibited slavery in all the territories acquired from Mexico by that war. He denounced the Compromise of 1850, which did not guarantee the right of Southerners to take their slaves into all territories of the Union. He did not live to see that compromise adopted, dying on March 31, 1850. His last words were, "The South! The poor South!"
John C. Calhoun - Biography, Facts and Significance - HISTORY
John C. Calhoun loved his country. But he also loved his home state of South Carolina, and he supported its institution of slavery. He believed in states' rightsthat if a state didn't believe a federal law was constitutional, it didn't have to obey it.
In the decades leading up to the Civil War, people had strong feelings about slaveryon both sides. Calhoun defended slavery and states rights as a congressman, senator, secretary of war, secretary of state, and vice-president.
Calhoun was born in 1782 on a small cotton farm. Growing up, he saw how wealthy slave-holding plantation owners became. Calhoun received his early education at home, graduated from Yale, and earned a law degree by 1807. He married his wealthy cousin, Floride Bonneau.
Some people called Calhoun a war hawk because he encouraged the nation to go to war against England in 1812. He became vice-president of the United States under both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. But he never became president, and this disappointed him.
After Congress imposed a big tax in 1828, Calhoun become a champion of states' rights. Because his belief in states' rights led to a constitutional crisis, he resigned as vice president. He returned to the Senate, where he created a gag rule that prevented discussions of slavery. He pushed for the annexation of Texas so that the area would be open to slavery, and he argued passionately that slaveholders could take their enslaved people into free states and still own them. This debate over states' rights and slavery would eventually lead to the Civil War.
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John Caldwell Calhoun (1782-1850) was an American politician from South Carolina. He was known for his pro slavery stance and as the defender of the South. The “cast-iron man” served as a Congressman, Secretary of War, Secretary of State, and Vice President. For more information on the John C. Calhoun read the fact file below or download our comprehensive worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
- John C. Calhoun was born on March 18, 1782, in Abbeville District, South Carolina. He was the fourth child of Patrick Calhoun of Scotch-Irish lineage.
- At the age of 14, young John took over the management of their farm after the death of his father.
- In 1802, his brothers financed his education at Yale College in Connecticut. Yale’s president, Timothy Dwight, became his mentor after series of debates regarding the Jeffersonian democratic belief and republicanism. Two years later, he graduated valedictorian and continued his studies at the Law School in Litchfield, Connecticut.
- On January 11, John married Floride Bonneau Colhoun, with whom he had 10 children. They attended the Episcopal Church.
- In 1810, Calhoun’s political career began after being elected at the House of Representatives. Along with Henry Clay from Kentucky, he became one of the leaders of the War Hawks.
- As a nationalist seeking to preserve American honor, Calhoun’s committee demanded the War of 1812 against Britain.
- He became President James Monroe’s Secretary of War until 1825. One of his priorities was the advancement of the navy.
- In 1824, Calhoun sought the presidential post along with Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and William Crawford. The outcome was that John Quincy Adams won the presidency, while Calhoun was elected by the College as vice president. In 1828, John was re-elected as the Vice President after supporting Andrew Jackson’s presidential bid.
- Vice President Calhoun composed the “South Carolina Exposition and Protest”, rejecting the tariff system favoring the North. Specifically, it promoted the principle of nullification. After the Nullification Crisis, he resigned as vice president to become a senator. He became one of Jackson’s critics.
“…That, in a contest between the State and the General Government, if the resistance be limited on both sides to the civil process, the State, by its inherent sovereignty, standing upon its reserved powers, will prove too powerful in such a controversy, and must triumph over the Federal Government, sustained by its delegates and limited authority…”
An excerpt from Calhoun’s “The South Carolina Exposition and Protest”
- On December 29, 1832, Calhoun took his seat in the Senate. He was sometimes affiliated with the Whig Party, composed of anti-Jackson politicians. By 1837, Calhoun supported Jackson’s successor, Van Buren. He supported the combat efforts against the Panic of 1837 and promoted the establishment of the Independent Treasury.
- By April 10, 1844, Calhoun was appointed as Secretary of State by John Tyler, who succeeded after President William Harrison’s death.
- He opposed the Mexican-American War during his second term in the Senate.
- In Calhoun’s political career, he led the proslavery faction. Like his father, he believed one’s social standing depended on the ownership of slaves. For Calhoun, the system of slavery was regarded as positive.
- John C. Calhoun died on March 31, 1850, at the age of 68, in Washington D.C. His cause of death was tuberculosis.
John C. Calhoun Worksheets
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- John C. Calhoun Facts
- The Cast-iron Man
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- In the Name of Calhoun
- Out of the Box
- Issue on Slavery
- Speech Analysis
- J.F.K’s Greatest Senators
- Picture Me
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Over the next few years, Clay served out the unexpired terms in the U.S. Senate. In 1811, Clay was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he eventually served as Speaker of the House. In all, Clay would come to serve multiple terms in the U.S. House (1811, 1815, 1823) and Senate (1806, 1810, 1831, 1849).
Clay had come to the House as a War Hawk, a leader who vocally pushed his government to confront the British over its conscription of American seamen. In part due to Clay&aposs political pressure, the United States went to war with Britain in the War of 1812. The conflict proved crucial in forging a lasting American independence from England.
But while he pushed for war, Clay also showed himself to be crucial in the peacemaking process. When the battles ceased, President James Madison appointed Clay as one of five delegates to negotiate a peace treaty with Britain in Ghent, Belgium.
On other fronts, Clay took some of the biggest issues of the day head-on. He pushed for independence for several Latin American republics, advocated for a national bank and, perhaps most significantly, argued strongly and successfully for a negotiated settlement between enslaved people-owning states and the rest of the country over its western policy. The resulting Missouri Compromise, which passed in 1820, found a necessary balance that allowed for America&aposs continued western expansion while simultaneously holding off any bloodshed over the white-hot topic of slavery.
John C. Calhoun
John Caldwell Calhoun was born on March 18, 1782, in Abbeville, South Carolina, the son of a farmer. He received little formal education early in life, but was able to graduate with honors from Yale, in 1804. He remained in Connecticut to study law in Litchfield, but returned to his home state and was admitted to the bar in 1807. Calhoun served briefly in the state assembly from 1809 to 1811, where he helped establish a balance of power between the tidewater planters and the piedmont farmers. In 1811, his economic and social future was secured by his marriage to his wealthy cousin Floride Bonneau Calhoun. After first settling in Abbeville, they moved in 1825 to the Fort Hill plantation near Pendleton, the eventual site of Clemson University. In 1811, John C. Calhoun was elected to Congress, and from that date until his death he served in the federal government. In Congress, he quickly aligned himself with the War Hawks. At this stage of his career he was an ardent nationalist, supporting Henry Clay's American System. In 1817, Calhoun offered a bill to make improvement in roads and waterways through a subsidy to be derived from the Second Bank of the United States. In a speech on February 4, 1817, he said:
Calhoun began his national political career when he was elected to the Twelfth Congress as the representative from the Sixth Congressional District of South Carolina. In these early years Calhoun quickly gained a reputation for favoring aggressive national action. Along with Henry Clay and other politicians dubbed the “War Hawks,” Calhoun helped convince President James Madison to declare war on Britain, sparking the War of 1812. Calhoun would serve in Congress from 1811 to 1817. Among his career highlights during this period were arguing in favor of increasing government power through consolidation of the banking system and increasing the federal government’s ability to levy taxes.
In 1817 Calhoun left the House of Representatives to serve as secretary of war in James Monroe’s cabinet. In this post, which he held until 1825, Calhoun continued to advocate nationalist legislation. He strengthened national defense by centralizing the military administration in Washington and increasing funding for military infrastructure and troop necessities. Calhoun made a brief run for the presidency in 1824, before accepting the post of vice president under John Quincy Adams. He served as vice president to John Quincy Adams in 1824 and again under Andrew Jackson in 1828, making him the only person in U.S. history to serve as vice president for two different administrations.
Calhoun’s two tenures as vice president marked a turning point in his career. The Tariff of 1828 (called the Tariff of Abominations) called for a tax on British goods imported into the United States. This tariff benefited northern manufacturing interests at the expense of southern raw material exporters. The South Carolina legislature passed a nullification bill in retaliation, revoking the federal tariff. The U.S. government passed the Force Bill in return, which authorized the use of the military to enforce federal tariffs. This standoff, called the Nullification Crisis, marked the turning point in Calhoun’s political thinking. Calhoun changed his political ideology from pro-federal government to pro-states rights, and sided with the state of South Carolina.
Calhoun resigned as vice president in 1832 to return to the Senate. He would take one other cabinet post in his lifetime, as secretary of state in John Tyler’s cabinet from 1844 to 1845—but it was as a senator (1832–1843, and 1845–1850) that he made his most indelible mark on the American political landscape.
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University of South Carolina Department of History The Papers of John C. Calhoun
John C. Calhoun
Theodore Mills was the son of the noted sculptor Clark Mills, who was renowned for his bronze equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C. Completed in 1853, it was the first equestrian statue erected in the United States, as well as the first bronze sculpture made in this country. Clark Mills established his foundry in Maryland, where he later cast Thomas Crawford&rsquos Statue of Freedom for the U.S. Capitol dome. Both Theodore and his brother, Theophilus, assisted their father in his projects, and both became sculptors in their own right.
In the 1840s in South Carolina, Clark Mills developed a method of using life casts from the faces of his sitters in order to simplify the production of portrait busts. His 1846 bust of John C. Calhoun, purchased by the city of Charleston and at that time considered the best likeness of Calhoun, was made from such a life mask. That mask was used 40 years later by his son Theodore, who actively petitioned the Joint Committee on the Library for the commission of the Senate&rsquos official vice presidential bust of Calhoun. That Theodore Mills had been born in South Carolina was in his favor, because attempts were traditionally made to choose a sculptor from each vice president&rsquos native state. Mills submitted a plaster model and earned the commission in 1895.
Theodore Mills&rsquos likeness of Calhoun shows him as slightly gaunt, but there is no sign of the tuberculosis that ravaged the statesman in his last years. The face is most memorable for the deeply drilled eyes, which seem to express somber preoccupation. The resolute head, strongly symmetrical, appears almost to sit on the luxuriant roll of whiskers that lies beneath the jaw. The costume of shirt, cravat, waistcoat, and topcoat is encircled and partly overlaid by a cloak whose heavy folds lend an air of classical gravitas to the bust. Beyond the verifiable likeness and brooding quality, however, Mills adds little to suggest the powerfully conflicting characteristics of this controversial figure who played such a central role in 19th-century American history.
Theodore Mills and his father also modeled a life mask of Abraham Lincoln just 60 days before the president was assassinated in 1865. That mask was eventually donated to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh by Theodore Mills, then a preparator in the museum&rsquos exhibits department. Already known for his Native American groups, the artist was hired in 1898 to create similar figures for the Pittsburgh museum. Mills died in Pittsburgh 18 years later.
John Caldwell Calhoun served as both a U.S. representative and senator from South Carolina, and as the seventh vice president of the United States. Calhoun was born near Calhoun Mills, Abbeville District (now Mount Carmel, McCormick County), South Carolina. After practicing law, and serving in the state house of representatives from 1808 to 1809, Calhoun was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1810. There he became one of Speaker Henry Clay's principal lieutenants and a leader of the warhawks, a group of young congressmen who advocated war with Great Britain. As chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Calhoun introduced the declaration of war against Britain in June 1812. He served as secretary of war under President James Monroe from 1817 to 1825, was elected vice president with John Quincy Adams in 1824, and was reelected vice president on a ticket with Andrew Jackson in 1828.
To further his opposition to high protective tariffs, Calhoun devised a doctrine of nullification whereby states could declare federal laws null and void within their borders. When President Jackson threatened to use military power to enforce a federal law nullified by South Carolina, Calhoun broke with Jackson. Calhoun resigned the vice presidency in December 1832 in order to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate. A powerful advocate for the Southern position, Calhoun supported the institution of slavery and the right of slaveholders to extend the practice into the western territories.
Calhoun resigned from the Senate in 1843 planning to run for president, but instead he served briefly as secretary of state in the cabinet of President John Tyler. He was reelected to the Senate in 1845 and remained there until his death in 1850. Calhoun&ndash-along with Daniel Webster and Henry Clay&ndash-was part of the "Great Triumvirate" of the Senate's Golden Age.