1902 Encyclopedia > John Caldwell Calhoun

John Caldwell Calhoun
American politician
(1782-1850)




JOHN CALDWELL CALHOUN, (1782-1850), a leading politician of the United States, was grandson of an Irish Presbyterian, who founded Calhoun settlement, in the district of Abbeville, South Carolina. It was there that John Calhoun was born in 1782. For some years he assisted his widowed mother in the management of her farm, but at the age of eighteen he commenced to study for the bar. He graduated with honours at Yale College, and spent eighteen months at Litchfield, at that time the only law school in the country. He then returned to practise in his native district of Abbeville. While there, in June 1807, the searching of the Chesapeake having aroused strong feeling in America, Calhoun drew up for a public meeting a resolution expressive of indignation against Great Britain, and supported it in a speech of such power that he was soon after elected a member of the legislature, and in November 1811, became member of Congress, where he continued to be an enthusiastic and prominent adherent of the war party. For seven years (commencing with 1817) he acted with credit as secretary of war under Monroe; in 1825 he became Vice-President of the United States under J. Quincy Adams; and in 1829 he was re-elected under General Jackson. He now began to be looked upon as champion of the South; and, though he had supported the protective tariff of 1816, he became an eager advocate of free-trade,—that policy being, even popularly, recognized as specially advantageous to the cotton-growing States. He is, however, best known as a strenuous defender of slavery, and as the author of a doctrine to which the Civil War may be traced,—the doctrine of " nullification," according to which each State has the right to reject any act of Congress which it considers unconstitutional. This view was in 1829 adopted by the legislature of his native State, and drawn up in a document, mainly prepared by Calhoun, which was known as the " South Carolina Exposition," and which was approved by Virginia, Georgia, and Alabama. In 1832 the legislature of South Carolina carried the theory into practice by passing laws nullifying the obnoxious tariff of that year; but its opposition was crushed by the firmness of General Jackson, who declared that he would resort to force, if necessary. The most important of the other political acts of Calhoun are his defence of the right of veto which belongs to the president, his advocacy of the annexation of Texas, and his maintenance of the cause of peace, when war with Great Britain was threatened by the claims of the United States to Oregon. He died at Washington on the 31st March 1850. His works, with memoir, were published posthumously in 6 vols, in 1853-4. by Bichard K. Cralle, who had been his amanuensis. They include a dissertation On the Constitution and Government of the United States ; and from this book we learn that he advocated the election of two presidents, one by the free and another by the slave States, the consent of both of whom should be essential to the passing of any law. Calhoun's speeches were always directly to the point, clear, and forcible, while he seldom indulged in the imaginative or purely rhetorical. The integrity and worth of his chai^aeter have been spoken of in the highest terms even by political opponents.







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