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American Statesman:
 John Quincy Adams

 Henry Clay

 Daniel Webster

 John C. Calhoun

 Abraham Lincoln

 William H. Seward

 Salmon P. Chase

 Charles Summer

 Sir John Alexander Macdonald, G. C. B.

 Conclusion

 Read More Articles About: American Statesman

John C. Calhoun

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

1782-1850

THE ARCH-PROPHET OF SLAVERY

The attention of the reader is here invited to the consideration of a career in which the personality of the statesman entirely vanishes, and by that fact alone we may see that we enter a field of undiminishing intellectual interest. The life of John C. Calhoun was itself the Koran of Slavery; it was a chapter on logic. What is logic? It is a working theory of the truth. A meets B, who convinces him; A meets C, a logician superior to B, who unconvinces him; A meets D, a still better logician, who reconvinces him and so on, ad infinitum. It is vital, in reading of John C. Calhoun, to know that he was, in his own opinion at least, the best logician alive in his time, and that, beginning with the generally-accepted premise of the Caucasian world, that Labor and Capital were two things, he wrought out what he regarded as a perfect theory showing,-(1) that slavery was right and good, and (2) that Abolitionists were wicked and bad; furthermore, slavery was a natural condition, so that he who lamented the servitude of the negro must also deplore the fact that the dog could not speak, nor the horse escape from his captivity. These were Calhoun's views. No other statesman of America, accepting his premise, destroyed his conclusions. A poem or rhyme has recently appeared, to startle the world, describing "the white man's burden," which is the rejuvenation of the logic of John C. Calhoun. To overcome the force raised up by tilt prophecy and teachings of Calhoun required 100 battles; and the ideas of the South Carolinian were then uprooted previous to the making of an ideal basis on which to logically account for the actions of the white race. As a matter of fact, slavery stood in the way of the development of the Caucasian; this was instinctively conceived; its abolition in the New World by war was the sternest and most radical proceeding history has witnessed.

Inasmuch as there is but one aspect to the life of Calhoun, we shall not go far amiss in giving his chief utterance at the beginning. It must be read carefully : "I hold that there never yet has existed a wealthy and civilized society in which one portion of the community did not, in point of fact, live on the labor of the other. I might well challenge a comparison between them (the other methods of distribution) and the more direct, simple, and patriarchal mode by which the labor of the African race is, among us, commanded by the European. I fearlessly assert that the existing relation between the two races in the South, against which these blind fanatics are waging war, forms the most solid and durable foundation on which to rear free and stable institutions. It is useless to disguise the fact. There is, and always 'has been, in an advanced stage of civilization, a conflict between labor and capital. The condition of society in the South exempts us from the disorders and dangers resulting from this conflict; and explains why it is that the condition of the slave holding States has been so much more stable and quiet than that of the North. The advantages of the former in this respect will become more and more manifest if left undisturbed by interference from without, as the country advances in wealth and numbers. We have, in fact, but just entered that condition of society where the strength and durability of our political institutions are to be tested; and I venture nothing in predicting that the experience of the next generation will fully test how vastly more favorable our condition of society is than that of other sections for free and stable institutions, provided we are not disturbed by the interference of others, or shall have sufficient intelligence and spirit to resist promptly and successfully such interference."

It is also proper to say that Calhoun gave his entire life and services to the South; that while he amassed an estate that enabled him to entertain all comers in patriarchal style, he was not sufficiently wealthy to accept an Embassy to London. He despised the accumulation of money as an art, or aim in life. His private life was blameless, and he laid down his chances for Jackson's successorship because he would not command Mrs. Calhoun to visit Mrs. Eaton, while Van Buren, a bachelor, was more than a good Samaritan, and sat daily with publicans and alleged sinners —for a consideration, namely, the Presidency.

Very little is known of John Caldwell Calhoun's early life, and not much more of his personality in later years. His doctrines swallowed all interest in the man. He was born of Irish Presbyterian parents in the Calhoun settlement, Abbeville District, S. C., March 18, 1782, a third son. His father died when the son was a boy, and he lived on the farm with his mother till he was eighteen. His power to peer into the nature of things was born with him. At eighteen, his brother-in-law, Dr. Waddell, a Presbyterian clergyman, prepared him for Yale College, whence, in 1804, he graduated with high honors. He then attended the Litchfield Law School and was a lawyer in 1807, practicing at Abbeville, S. C. English outrages on the high seas were frequent. He drew up fiery resolutions, supported them with a speech, and was elected to the Legislature. In 1811 he was sent to Congress, and for the rest of his life was rarely out of the public service. He married Floride Calhoun and removed to Bath, on the Savannah River. His wife brought him a small fortune. Under the customs of his region, he was fitted for continuous Congressional life. He was for war, and Henry Clay, the Speaker, appointed him (in effect) Chairman of Foreign Relations. He thus made an entry as remark-able as Clay's. December 12th he delivered his first speech. He was never guilty of the hectoring or bullying tone attributed to Southern leaders; rather, he served as the caisson from which the hectors and bullies obtained all their ammunition, save their boasts. His New England education at this time was reflected in his views, which were essentially those of Clay as to internal improvements and Bank. These were changed afterward.

President Monroe made Calhoun Secretary of War, and he was praised for his efficiency in the department. This created jealousy, and the partisans of both Clay and Crawford, Presidential candidates, united to harm Calhoun by investigations and abuse. John Quincy Adams was charmed with the South Carolinian then chilled. "I anticipated that he would prove an ornament and a blessing to his country," jotted down Mr. Adams. "I have been deeply disappointed in him, and now expect nothing from him but evil." Calhoun had been "selfish," with "cold-blooded heartlessness." Mr. Adams had peered down deep into the great impersonal doctrinaire. Story wrote : "I have great admiration for Mr. Calhoun." He was easily elected Vice-President of the United States, while there was no election between Jackson and Adams, for President. Calhoun favored Jackson's election as President, in the House, and was a bitter opponent of Adams, whose final election he scouted as counterfeit. In 1828 the Vice-President was reelected with Jackson as President. All this time slavery had been on Calhoun's mind. Adams diarizes, as early as 1820: "I had some conversation with Calhoun on the slave question." If the Union were dissolved, the South must go to Great Britain. "I said that would be returning to the colonial state. He said, Yes, pretty much, but it would be forced upon them."

In 1828 came the tariff and the South Carolina Exposition (a manifesto). In that address Calhoun spoke of the "staple States" (the South) as being essentially agricultural. "Our soil, climate, habits, and peculiar labor are adapted to this, our favorite pursuit" these words in effect. Hence, South Carolina ought to "veto" a high tariff. Webster, in 1828, became convinced that a "Southern Confederacy" was hoped for in the South; this was thirty-three years earlier than it was set up at Montgomery, Ala. It was at this time that the breach was made between Jackson and Calhoun over Peggy O'Niel (Mrs. Eaton) ; it was said it was engineered by Van Buren, and that Crawford also told things that made Jackson angry on account of the old Seminole War and summary executions.

When Andrew Jackson denied to Calhoun a further national career, all personal matters went out of the South Carolinian's mind. He became a pro-slavery fanatic, as powerful in conviction as John Brown on the other side. Calhoun believed reason directed him; John Brown believed God sent him. Such are the men whom the ages respect.

It is notable that the first clash between the sections did not come on slavery, but tariff, slavery being the hid-den reason, as when men have fought duels over women, mutually alleging some slighter cause. Calhoun declared that, "so far from the Constitution being the work of the American people collectively, no such political body, either now or ever, did exist." Nullification* went forward in South Carolina. As soon as the convention passed the ordinance of Nullification, which was to apply February 1, 1833, Calhoun resigned the Vice-Presidency, in order to take the Senatorial seat vacated by Hayne, who became Governor of South Carolina. It is said that Jackson threatened to hang Calhoun higher than Haman. Clay entered the breach with a compromise tariff that took off the New England "fat." South Carolina was of a mind to boast, and the manufacturers complained as if Calhoun were actually the victor, which he thought he was as to the tariff. But Jackson's Force Bill (to collect the customs) stung him to the quick. Probably he hated the Union from this time forth, as he had once hated England, for he wrote in August, 1833, to the citizens of Newton County : "I utter it under a painful but a solemn conviction, that we are no longer a free people." "So long, then, as the act of blood ( Jackson's Force Bill) stains our statute book, and the sovereignty of the States is practically denied by the Government, so long will be the duration of our political bondage."

He was now at the head of a South Carolina party. As to isolation, he was where Adams was in the House, but there was about Calhoun in the Senate a moral power and influence that a Nation still feared. Even Jackson was glad not to have to try to hang him. Adams would stay all alone; where Calhoun stood would always be the citadel of attack, and it would rapidly fill with the besieged, going to the relief of their natural chief. William Lloyd Garrison was now publishing the Liberator at Boston, and the doctrinaire of South Carolina solemnly fixed his attention on "the fanatics and madmen of the North who were waging war against the domestic institutions of the South under the plea of promoting the general welfare."

Before the perfection of Calhoun's doctrine of slavery, in 1836, it had been the Southern policy to treat slavery as a private matter, not under discussion. But at that session of Congress, to the discomfort of his followers, Calhoun came forward with his revelation that slavery was right, and asked the passage by the Senate of resolutions refusing to receive petitions for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia this being the constitutional door through which Garrison could enter on the discussion. These were "incendiary petitions" in Calhoun's language. They would compel him to sit in silence to witness the assault on his character and institutions. Thus he sounded the alarm that awoke the South, and finally in-spired its people to fire on Fort Sumter. "The work (of the Abolitionists) is going on daily and hourly. The war is waged not only in the most dangerous manner, but in the only manner that it can be waged. Do they expect that the Abolitionists will resort to arms, and commence a crusade to liberate our slaves by force? The war which the Abolitionists wage against us is of a very different character, and far more effective. It is a war of religious and political fanaticism, mingled, on the part of the leaders, with ambition and the love of notoriety, and waged not against our lives, but our character. The object is to humble and debase us in our own estimation and that of the world in general; to blast our reputation while they overthrow our domestic institutions." The front portal of the Capitol was the Thermopylae. There was no middle ground that was tenable. Mr. Calhoun could not discuss his honor or his humanity. He begged his fellow slaveholders not to permit a discussion of theirs. He would have had two Presidents elected, one from the free, the other from the slave States, who must both consent to a bill of Congress in order to make it law. Garrison was pouring hot shot into slavery, and of course, had singled Calhoun as the heart of the cause. The slave-breeding, the slave-auctions, the overseer's bloody raw-hide, the tears of heartbroken mothers, parting from their young all these aspects of "the peculiar institution" were served daily and hourly for the attention of Mr. Calhoun, who had not the slightest desire to retreat under fire. "Slavery involves our liberty, our existence," he said. "The relation is two centuries old. It has grown with our growth, and strengthened with our strength. It has entered into and modified all our institutions, civil and political. None other can be substituted. We will not, cannot, permit it to be destroyed. Come what will, should it cost every drop of blood and every cent of property, we must defend ourselves; and, if compelled, we would stand justified by all laws, human and divine; we would act under an imperious necessity. There would be to us but one alternative to triumph, or perish as a people. I ask neither sympathy nor compassion for the slaveholding States. We can take care of ourselves. It is not we, but the Union which is in danger. We cannot remain here in an endless struggle in defense of our chararacter, our property, and institutions." He repeatedly averred that the North was not careful enough about the Union; slavery was a paramount question; why, then, did the North push the conflict ? Why did it not silence Garrison? The South would not yield, because it could not; nature and history had fixed its course. "Calhoun," jots Adams in the diary, "looks like a man racked with furious passions, and stung with disappointed ambition, as he is." Calhoun kept saying: "Abolition and the Union cannot coexist. As the friend of the Union, I openly proclaim it." "But let me be not understood as admitting, even by implication, that the existing relation between the two races in the slaveholding States is an evil; far otherwise, I hold it to be a good, as it has thus far proved itself to be to both, and will continue to prove so, if not disturbed by the fell spirit of Abolition." The blacks had improved; the whites had not degenerated.

There is little interest attaching to Calhoun's career outside of slavery. Briefly, he wanted more State's rights; retrenchment and economy; he thought Money-and-State worse than Church-and-State, and therefore was against the Bank; free trade; no bond-selling; no "spoils." It was not this part of his career that brought on the Civil War, and fuller information may be found in the six volumes of his works published by R. K. Cralle, his secretary, in 1853-4.

December 27, 1837, Calhoun, in the Senate, offered his resolutions beginning, that the Union was purely a confederation of sovereign States; that the intermeddling of States, or of "a combination of their citizens with the domestic institutions or policy of the others, on any ground, or under any pretext whatever, political, moral, or religious, with a view to their alteration or subversion," vas unconstitutional. He was requested to strike out the word "religious." He answered that "the whole spirit of the resolution hinged on that word." The word 'moral" also stood the test of a separate vote. The fourth resolution declared attacks on slavery manifest breaches of faith "a violation of the most solemn obligations, moral and religious." The fifth resolution declared Garrison's petitions, and all of that order, to be dangerous attacks, inasmuch as those petitions recited that slavery was "immoral or sinful." The sixth resolution held that slavery must be extended, or the rights of the States would be denied.

"Many in the South," said Calhoun, "once believed that slavery was a moral and political evil, but that folly and delusion are gone. We see it now in its true light, and regard it as the most safe and stable basis for free institutions in the world. The blessing of this state of things extends beyond the limits of the South. It makes that section the balance of the system; the great conservative power, which prevents other portions, less fortunately constituted, from rushing into conflict." The Senate passed his resolutions, yet he lamented the time wasted on "banks, loans, stocks, tariffs, distribution, and supplies."

England was beginning to cast reflections on our "free institutions." She was setting our slaves at liberty when she could. Adams notes : "Calhoun crows about his success in imposing his own bastard law of Nations on the Senate (resolutions of March 4, 1840) by his preposterous resolutions, and chuckles at Webster's appealing to those resolutions now, after dodging from the duty of refuting and confounding them then." Calhoun was ready to fight the world. When the United States arid England joined to prevent the African slave trade, Calhoun, in voting for the treaty, swallowed a bitter dose, because he thought it reflected on his moral nature. Adams' entry in his diary here, is one of his bitterest sayings : "There is a temperance in Calhoun's manner, obviously aiming to conciliate the Northern political sopranos who abhor slavery and help to forge fetters for the slave." The reader must keep in mind that Adams, an ex-President, was making himself a pariah in the House by acting as the sole agent or Consul of the Abolitionists.

Nullification was forgotten, and South Carolina nominated Calhoun for President in the campaign of 1844.

He resigned his seat in the Senate, to be ready, if called; but he was not called. A Southern man was chosen in Polk, but the country would not support a Senator who, like Calhoun, put the Union second in all his calculations. As Tyler neared the end of his ad interim term, a curious thing happened. In a word, Calhoun entered the Cabinet as Secretary of State, in order to secure the annexation of Texas as another slave State, with two Senators in time, if need be, six States with twenty-four Senators. On such a procedure he looked with joy. It offered a counter-irritant to the Westward-ho and star-of-empire movement that was daily diminishing the importance of the South. It was called "an intrigue to obtain Texas." The Senate revolted at the treaty of annexation, but it was ingeniously carried by joint resolution of Congress. It caused war with Mexico, which was a sorrow to Calhoun, because that war brought also free California, and the admission of every new free State gave him almost death-like pangs of sorrow. He could not stop his followers; they rushed on past him. They declared he had "federalized" slavery, and began to vaunt their strength, where he had forever lamented their weakness. So little did the Northern Democrats catch the drift of Calhoun's plans, that they made Polk's nomination depend on his promise "to discard Calhoun," from an office that Calhoun ever regarded as a clerkship which he took only to obtain Texas. When Polk became President, there was no South Carolinian who would sit in the United States Senate while his Prophet had no seat, and Calhoun, equally loyal to the situation, accepted the seat which his fellow citizen had resigned. Without Calhoun, it seems, we should not have had Texas or California.

North of Louisiana was Oregon; where did Oregon begin and end? It was Calhoun's advice that we should maintain "a wise and masterly inactivity" let our country grow up till we could push out the British. This "masterly inactivity" was the prod with which many of the commanding Generals were afterward harrassed by editors in the Civil War. Calhoun had no desire to obtain more free territory. He was in an odd position during the Mexican war; he had stirred it up; he, with grief, saw it entered on, because he had secured all he wished, in Texas; the rest of the Mexican booty would ruin his cause. When the Senators would remind him of the fruit his policy had borne, they seemed to strike under his armor for the only time. But when the new territories came on, he again addressed Slaveland, imploring its satesmen to follow him. The South could make it politically dangerous to court Abolition votes. Note the word "sound," in an address where Calhoun raises the banner of slavery to carry it into the territories : If the South would stand solid, "that large portion of the non-slaveholding States who, although they consider slavery as an evil, are not disposed to violate the Constitution, and much less to endanger its overthrow, and with it, the Union itself, would take sides with us against our assailants; while the sound portion, who are already with us, would rally to the rescue."

"Calhoun," says Dr. Von Holst,* "shares with the Abolitionists, the merit of having always probed the wound to the bottom, without heeding in the least the pro-testing shrieks of the patient."

As the territories which had been pillaged from Mexico began to show free-State proclivities, Calhoun, in December, 1848, held a Slave caucus of sixty-nine Southern Senators and Representatives in the Senate Chamber. From this caucus issued an "Address of the Southern Delegates in Congress to their Constituents." With that, Calhoun's work was done. He had erected a Solid South. Yet so few (forty) signed the Address that Calhoun was sorely distressed.

The Solid South came to Washington at the opening of Congress in December, 1849, expecting that session would be the last. California was to come into the Union free, because it was "full of black Abolitionists." The North was running an underground railroad with a thou-sand tracks. There was a political party of black Abolitionists, all out of jail, and seemingly likely to stay there. It was in Southern opinion, full time for war, and only the genius of Henry Clay stayed it. Massachusetts wished war; Calhoun thought every day made the South relatively weaker. There has never been but one other parliamentary crisis so sharp that has passed without immediate conflict.

Calhoun was dying. He entered the Senate, leaning on friendly arms. His speech of March 4, 1850, was read by Mr. Mason. He spoke against Clay's compromise, and thus was to die revered in the South. Daniel Webster, three days later, spoke for the Compromise, and Massachusetts indignantly repudiated his love of Union-with-Slavery. The three great Senators Clay, Webster, Calhoun stood together at the brink of the grave. Their difference was again settled for the nonce. They sank to their eternal sleep, and there arose their heirs, who inherited one hundred battle-fields—Shiloh, Stone River, Chickamauga, Manassas, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Antietam, Gettysburg Grant slaying Lee all the way from the Rapidan to Petersburg and Fort Hell.

And only one of the three saw it clearly. All the rest of the seers were as yet humble and almost-hated men outside of Congress. As Calhoun spoke to the Senate, through Mason's aid, on the Compromise of 1850, he said :

"The cry of 'Union ! Union ! the glorious Union!' can no more prevent disunion than the cry of 'Health ! Health ! —glorious Health!' on the part of the physician, can save a patient dangerously ill." He did not live until the end of the great debate, but spoke, says Webster, as late as March 13, "and in a manner by no means indicating such a degree of physical weakness as did in fact possess him." He died March 31, 1850. One of his last speeches was in these words, uttered feebly : "The South ! The poor South ! God knows what will become of her !" It would seem that with clairvoyant eyes the dying man beheld rising into the empyrean, the tornado-like genie which he, with his own once-resolute hand, had let loose when he uncorked the little vial of War.

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