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Throughout his lifetime, John Caldwell Calhoun achieved many different titles. He had experience as a statesman, a political philosopher, a secretary of war, a secretary of state, a member of the Senate, a member of Congress, the leading champion of Southern rights, and even Vice President of the United States (USGenWeb 1). No matter what position he held, his views and dreams for the South stayed consistent. During his career as vice president, he constantly pushed Jackson to help keep the South alive (Bartlett 26). Calhoun spent much of his life promoting growth of the South.
John Calhoun was born on a South Carolina farm in 1782. His father, Patrick Calhoun, was a very religious man who treated his son very badly. He was a judge, owned countless slaves, and had also served in the South Carolina legislature (Capers 4). John, however, graduated from Yale in 1804 and studied law at Tapping Reeves in Litchfield, CN (Capers 9-11). In 1811, John married a distant cousin and had 9 children. Calhoun’s marriage brought him great fortune. As a result, Calhoun built a plantation called Fort Hill in 1825 (Bartlett 39). As time went by, Calhoun began involving himself with political philosophy, ideas, and business more often. He was later referred to as a “thinking machine,” always speaking in a very fast, serious manner (Niven 49).
In 1808, John Calhoun was elected to the State legislature of South Carolina, beginning his career in politics. Two years later, he was elected to the Unites States House of Representatives. Henry Clay selected Calhoun to be the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. He, among others, strongly encouraged the War of 1812. Calhoun urged the House to build a strong army. Even after the war, his efforts towards achieving a stronger military continued (Niven 98).
Over time, however, it seems as though the level of importance of a strong military in Calhoun’s mind decreased significantly. In 1846, John Calhoun refused to vote in favor of the declaration of war against Mexico. Eventually, the idea of peace entered Calhoun’s mind as right and therefore determined war as, in his words, “a positive evil” (Cralle 277).
In 1817, Calhoun went into James Monroe’s Cabinet as a nationalist. In Monroe’s Cabinet, he was the secretary of state until 1825 (Capers 61). Calhoun later served as vice president to John Quinsy Adams from 1825 to 1829. He was later elected vice president again under Andrew Jackson (USGenWeb 1). Both of his terms as vice president to the Unites States is what he is best known as.
During the time of Calhoun’s term as vice president to Andrew Jackson, the Nullification Crisis surfaced. This time period is directly linked to the Tariff of Abominations along with the resulting chaos that that followed (Bartlett 102). Calhoun wished to run for president after Jackson’s term was over, but during Jackson’s first term, he and Calhoun had many conflicts. Jackson was furious when he discovered that Calhoun had criticized his invasion of Florida in 1818. Also, John C. Calhoun had his thoughts and beliefs concerning the Tariff of Abominations expressed in The South Carolina Exposition and Protest. This was later referred to as Calhoun’s Exposition. Although Calhoun had written this document anonymously, the author of the document was still clear to many. In this document, Calhoun warned that if the Tariff of Abominations was not rejected, South Carolina would break away. It was also stated by Calhoun that if it was decided that a Federal document was unconstitutional, any state held the right to nullify the document. This idea was later named Calhoun’s Doctrine of nullification. Calhoun made a clear attempt to convince others that the Tariff of Abominations was a direct attack on the South (Niven 180-181).
In 1832, Calhoun resigned as vice president and soon after got elected into the senate. He used this opportunity to defend South Carolina. In that same year, South Carolina announced that the Tariff of Abominations was null in void in that state. When the other Southern states did not follow South Carolina’s example as originally planned, Henry Clay proposed a compromise designed to lower the tariffs over a long period of time (USGenWeb 1).
While in the Senate during the 1830s, Calhoun began attacking abolitionists and demanding that revolts against slavery in the North be stopped. He also did not want abolitionist petitions to be acknowledged by Congress (Bartlett 210). John Calhoun defended both slavery and the South with all of his might. Calhoun was soon after known to be the most popular slavery defender by many people (Bartlett 235).
Although he made his plans of being chosen to run in the presidential election in the letters he had written to his friends, few people expected Calhoun to carry out the attitude of a candidate (Bartlett 237). The closer it got to the presidential race, the more Calhoun would go out of his way to not only impress the people, but also to gain their respect. In one of his attempts, he became a member of the Irish Immigrant Society of New York. He did this as a way of expressing the pride that he felt for his heritage and his father who had been an Irish immigrant himself (Bartlett 238). This proved to win the attention of many working class citizens of New York. Calhoun declared his candidacy in 1843 but later withdrew from the race. Instead, he took on the role as secretary of state under John Tyler who only had one year before his term was completed (Niven 264).
Congress had adopted Texas into the Union by 1844. As a direct result, the slavery area of the United States grew. This helped maintain the sectional balance within the Union (USGenWeb 1). By the following year, Calhoun had rejoined the Senate. During his time in the Senate, Calhoun had opposed the Wilmot Proviso after first opposing the war versus Mexico. The Wilmot Proviso had been created to prevent slavery from occurring within any territory taken from Mexico during the war. Calhoun knew that a war between America and Mexico was a bad idea. He feared that if a war was declared with Mexico, America would enter under the wrong circumstances (Bartlett 341).
While in the Senate, Calhoun was successful in limiting the frequency of discussions held in Congress regarding slavery. Maintaining the same attitude towards slavery, when the Compromise of 1850 idea was introduced, Calhoun not only voted against it, but made it publicly known that he saw it as disgraceful (Niven 293). The Compromise of 1850 stated that Southerners’ rights to bring their slaves into other Union territories were not guaranteed. When the Compromise of 1850 was adopted, Calhoun was no longer alive.
Calhoun appeared in Congress for the last time on the seventh of March. On that particular day, he listened to the sectional peace appeal made by Daniel Webster and approved. In the last month of his life, Calhoun had countless discussions with his fellow Southerners. He made his growing fear for the future of the South very clear. “Nothing short of the terms I propose can settle it finally and permanently. Indeed, it is difficult to see how two peoples so different and hostile can exist together” (Capers 252).
On the night before his death, Calhoun said to his friends, “If I had my health and strength to devote one more hour to my country in the Senate, I could do no more than in my whole life” (Capers 253). Calhoun’s dedication to the Union was undeniably sincere. The countless efforts put forward, and the measures taken by Calhoun to support and protect the South are without a doubt deserving of respect. In Washington D.C, John Caldwell Calhoun was pronounced dead on March 31, 1850.
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