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John Caldwell Calhoun’s national political career spanned approximately 40 years and included many high offices in the U.S government. John C. Calhoun

March 18, 1782-March 31, 1850

“FREE TRADE; LOW DUTIES; NO DEBT; SEPARATION FROM BANKS; ECONOMY; RETRENCHMENT, AND STRICT ADHERENCE TO THE CONSTITUTION,” read the 1843 campaign slogan of the Honorable John C. Calhoun during his last major bid for the presidency of the United States. These few phrases illustrate principles that Calhoun espoused during his career that continue to be relevant in contemporary America.[1]

John Caldwell Calhoun’s national political career spanned approximately 40 years and included many high offices in the U.S government. Calhoun served in Congress, both in the House of Representatives and Senate, and as a cabinet member, as secretary of war and secretary of state. He was elected as vice president twice, serving two different administrations, and he was the first vice president to resign voluntarily from office. Politics was the essence of his life’s work; however, he established himself as a planter first with Bath Plantation and later Fort Hill. During the antebellum period, his national political career made the South Carolinian one of the most powerful and outspoken statesmen in our nation’s history. Since politics in Washington took precedence over supervising his plantation, he left it to relatives and overseers to manage the day-to-day farming operations of Fort Hill, often to his financial detriment.

The Clemson University campus is built on Calhoun’s Fort Hill Plantation. Calhoun not only owned an antebellum southern agricultural plantation of over 1,000 acres of land, but also some 70-80 enslaved African-Americans.[2]

Ancestry

John Caldwell Calhoun was born March 18, 1782, the youngest of Patrick and Martha Calhoun’s five children. His siblings were William, Catherine, James and Patrick Jr. His father, Patrick Calhoun, was originally from Donegal, Ireland. Like other immigrants of this period, Patrick traveled south from Pennsylvania through western Virginia. In 1743, the Calhouns moved to Wytheville, Virginia, and by 1755 had joined the Waxsaw settlement along the North Carolina and South Carolina border. They settled in the Long Canes community in South Carolina near modern-day Abbeville in 1756. In 1760, Patrick’s mother, Catherine Calhoun, was killed in a raid by Cherokees in Long Canes.

After establishing his farm in Long Canes, Patrick Calhoun purchased an enslaved African-American male in Charleston whom he named Adam. Adam was one of the first slaves brought into the Piedmont of South Carolina. Patrick Calhoun would eventually own 30 more slaves.

Patrick Calhoun was a staunch patriot in the American Revolution, serving in the state’s Provincial Congress in 1775 and for many years in the General Assembly. His niece, Rebecca Calhoun, was married to Andrew Pickens, one of South Carolina’s most important patriot militia officers in the Revolutionary War.

At the time of Patrick Calhoun’s death, John Caldwell Calhoun was 14. He was a precocious child, and his three older brothers, recognizing his potential, helped to pay for his education.[3]

Education

John C. Calhoun received his early formal education from the Rev. Moses Waddel, the husband of his sister Catherine, in Appling, Georgia. Later, Calhoun entered the junior class at Yale College where Yale President Timothy Dwight, a staunch Federalist, recognized his talents. When he graduated in 1804, Calhoun was a member of Phi Beta Kappa honors society. Calhoun’s senior speech was entitled “The Qualifications Necessary to Constitute a Perfect Statesman.”[4]

Calhoun then attended the famous Tapping Reeve’s Litchfield Law School, under the instruction of Judge Reeve and his assistant James Gould, in Connecticut. After he completed this course of study in July 1806, he sought further legal training, first under Judge Henry W. DeSaussure in Charleston and then under George Bowie, a relative, in Abbeville. In December 1807, Calhoun was admitted to the South Carolina bar, joining Bowie’s office as a partner.

Early in his career, Calhoun demonstrated an interest in politics. In June 1807, Americans became outraged over the British warship Leopard’s attack on the American frigate Chesapeake, and a public rally was held on August 3 in Abbeville to denounce the British. On that occasion, Calhoun commanded the attention of Abbeville political leaders when he addressed the audience.

Courtship to Floride Bonneau Colhoun: 1808-1811

While Calhoun was a student at Yale University, he began courting his father’s first cousin Floride Bonneau Colhoun, who was also raised in a slave-holding family. The Colhouns had a summer home in Newport, Rhode Island, where Calhoun would visit during school breaks. The couple married in January 1811.

Floride’s father, U.S. Senator John Ewing Colhoun, owned the Keowee Heights or Twelve Mile Plantation in Pendleton District. Although Sen. Colhoun was deceased by the time of his daughter’s marriage, his widow Floride Bonneau Colhoun (who had the same name as her daughter, Calhoun’s wife) would exert a strong influence on her son-in-law.

South Carolina Legislature: 1808-1810

In 1808, Calhoun was elected to his first political office after being nominated for a seat in the state legislature, representing Abbeville. At this time, Calhoun’s area of the state was the “Backcountry;” however, it was receiving greater representation as a result of the Compromise of 1808. The compromise set up what could be referred to as a concurrent majority with a Senate controlled by the “Lowcountry” and a House controlled by the “Upcountry” in the General Assembly in Columbia.

During this time, Calhoun chaired a committee that altered the state constitution of South Carolina, eliminating the property qualification to vote while providing universal white male suffrage. According to historian Walter Edgar, this made South Carolina the first state to do so in American history.[5]

U.S. House of Representatives: 1811-1817

In 1810, 29-year-old John C. Calhoun entered the national political arena. He was elected to represent the Abbeville district, taking the congressional seat of a cousin, Joseph Calhoun. Beginning in the Twelfth Congress, the young Calhoun distinguished himself as one of the brightest of the new generation of congressmen labeled the “War Hawks.” Calhoun’s speech of December 12, 1811, reinforced the Foreign Relations Committee’s call for war with Britain,[6] leading to the War of 1812 or the “Second War of Independence.”

At the same time Calhoun was distinguishing himself as a political force in Washington, he was also establishing himself as a plantation and slave owner with the purchase of Bath Plantation in Abbeville, South Carolina. Since politics kept Calhoun mostly in Washington, the responsibility of managing the plantation fell to his young wife, Floride.

During his seven years in the House of Representatives, Calhoun supported a renewed national bank, internal improvements and the Tariff of 1816. Calhoun was referred to by colleagues in the U.S. House as “the young Hercules who carried the war on his shoulders.”[7]

Secretary of War: 1817-1825

At the age of 35, Calhoun accepted the post of secretary of war in the administration of James Monroe, serving from December 8, 1817, to March 3, 1825. As secretary of war, Calhoun’s major accomplishments included the reorganization of the armed forces and of the United States Military Academy at West Point.

In addition, he oversaw treaty negotiations with Indian nations, and he moved to censure Gen. Andrew Jackson for invading Spanish Florida during the Seminole War in 1818. He also oversaw improvement to the nation’s coastal fortifications, including the building of Fort Monroe and Fort Calhoun, which guarded the Chesapeake Bay. During his tenure as secretary of war, his growing family lived mostly at Oakly, his home in the Georgetown Heights section of Washington, now known as Dumbarton Oaks. Oakly was the first of two properties that the Calhouns would live in that was owned by his mother-in-law.

During the Monroe administration, Calhoun also supported the passage of the Missouri Compromise, which barred slavery north of latitude 36 degrees 30 minutes N (outside the boundary of Missouri), and the Monroe Doctrine, which warned European states that America would view any effort to create colonies in the Western Hemisphere as an act of aggression.

Vice President: 1825-1829

Before leaving Monroe’s cabinet in 1824, John C. Calhoun ran for president of the United States. After seeing his chances for party support dwindle, he withdrew from the presidential campaign and ran for vice president. He believed this office would help him to win the presidency in the future. Calhoun was elected vice president in 1824, serving with President John Quincy Adams from 1825 to 1829.

As the editor of The Papers of John C. Calhoun, Dr. Clyde Wilson has stated, Calhoun was “the only Vice-President in our history who has been elected both overwhelmingly and in his own right rather than as the creature of a political party or Presidential nominee, an event made possible by a temporary hiatus in the two-party system.”[8] Furthermore, “It could be said that Calhoun was Vice-President because of his importance, not important because he was a Vice-President.”[9] Calhoun’s prominence grew in the coalition administration. His supporters, “the Calhounites,” together with the supporters of Andrew Jackson aided in forming a new opposition party, the Democratic Party, an updated version of Jeffersonian-Republicanism.

During his first term as vice president, tariffs emerged as a major issue in American politics. The Tariff of 1824 and the Tariff of 1828, or the so-called Tariff of Abominations, created a great stir throughout South Carolina and the agrarian South. These tariffs with high rates were designed to protect Northern industry, particularly the textile industry, and they were regarded by Southerners as indirect taxation to raise revenue from the cotton producing states.

In 1828, Calhoun anonymously authored the two papers, referred to as the “South Carolina Exposition” and “Protest,” which articulated a philosophical rationale for the concept of nullification. “South Carolina Exposition” discussed “interposition or state veto” by which a state convention should be allowed to declare federal legislation unconstitutional. On the other hand, “Protest” dealt with the procedures for resolving disputes. Calhoun used the terms “state interposition,” “state veto,” and “to null and void” in his writings to specify nullification. As an outgrowth of his understanding of the concept of nullification, Calhoun deemed secession to be a justifiable option if nullification or amendment and compromise were ineffective.

Vice President: 1829-1832

Calhoun was re-elected vice president in 1828, this time serving under President Andrew Jackson. For the next four years, the issue of tariffs and states’ rights remained at the center of American politics.

On April 13, 1829, at the Jefferson Day Dinner, toasts by President Jackson and Vice President Calhoun[10] clearly exposed the divergence of the two statesmen’s views:

The president first said, “Our Federal Union: it must be preserved!” Calhoun responded, Our Federal Union — next to our liberties the most dear! May we all remember that it can only be preserved by respecting the rights of the States and distributing equally the benefits and burdens of the Union!”[11]

The concept of states’ rights, besides being noted in Calhoun’s “South Carolina Exposition,” was seen in the 1830 debate between Sen. Robert Y. Hayne and Sen. Daniel Webster. In the summer of 1831, tensions rose, and, in this year, Mrs. Calhoun moved her and her children’s permanent residence to Fort Hill in Pendleton, South Carolina. On July 26, 1831, Calhoun wrote his famous “Fort Hill Address: On the Relation which the States and General Government Bear to Each Other.” In this open letter, Calhoun’s doctrine of nullification was issued in a lengthy public recapitulation:

The Constitution of the United States is, in fact, a compact, to which each State is a party. ... States, or parties, have a right to judge of its infractions; and in case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of power not delegated, they have the right, in the last resort, to use the language of the Virginia Resolutions, ‘to interpose for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining, within their respective limits, the authorities, rights, and liberties appertaining to them.

This right of interposition ... be it called what it may, — State-right, veto, nullification, or by any other name, — I conceive to be the fundamental principle of our system ... and I firmly believe that on its recognition depend the stability and safely of our political institutions.[12]

In South Carolina on November 24, 1832, the state convention formulated the document “South Carolina Ordinance of Nullification.” On the following Dec. 10, in response to South Carolina’s embrace of nullification, President Jackson called the state’s decision an insurrection, asking Congress for a Force Bill, which would enable federal troops to collect the tariff in South Carolina. In response, Calhoun resigned in late December 1832.

Other tensions leading to Calhoun’s break with Jackson included a Washington social rift called the “Peggy Eaton Affair.” This incident involved Calhoun’s wife, Floride, who refused to repay a social visit to Peggy O’Neal Timberlake Eaton, wife of Jackson’s incoming Secretary of War John Eaton, on the grounds that the recently married widow was a woman of questionable morals. Floride enlisted other fashionable ladies to shun Peggy. Jackson supported Eaton’s wife, his friend from Tennessee, and Calhoun supported his wife’s position. The issue polarized Jackson’s cabinet.[13]

United States Senator: 1833-1843

Following his resignation, Calhoun returned to the U.S. Senate as a newly elected U.S. senator from South Carolina. He worked to develop a compromise that over a period of years would gradually reduce the tariff load from what he called the Tariff of Abominations. He viewed himself as an independent in opposing Jackson and his successors. Though he was sympathetic to the newly organized Whig Party, he would eventually return to the Democratic Party.

As a senator, Calhoun continued to defend the institution of slavery. On Feb. 6, 1837, during a senate debate on abolition, Calhoun declared that slavery was not an “evil,” but rather a “positive good”:

But let me not be understood as admitting, even by implication, that the existing relations between the two races in the slaveholding States is an evil:–[CB1] 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. I appeal to facts. Never before has the black race of Central Africa, from the dawn of history to the present day, attained a condition so civilized and so improved, not only physically, but morally and intellectually.

I hold that in the present state of civilization, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color, and other physical differences, as well as intellectual, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slaveholding States between the two, is, instead of an evil, a good — a positive good.[14]

Calhoun, in his later years, became concerned with maintaining a balance between free and slave-holding states as the nation’s border’s expanded. Calhoun sought to protect the rights of Southern slave-owners by supporting the idea of a “concurrent majority,” which would allow Southern states to veto legislation supported by the more populous, increasingly industrialized states of the Northeast. Later, Calhoun would even suggest a dual presidency to keep the proposed concurrent majority and the Union alive.

On March 3, 1843, at the age of 60, four years short of the completion of his term in office, Calhoun resigned his seat in the U.S. Senate after serving continually in national office for nearly 32 years. Upon returning to Fort Hill in the spring of 1843, he began in earnest what would be his last major bid to become the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee.

Calhoun said of campaigning for the presidency, “To me it seems to be the highest and most responsible office in the world — far too much so to be the object of personal solicitation, or sought by a personal canvass, or ever to be accepted on any other ground than that of duty.”[15]

However, Calhoun’s campaign never gained momentum, and he withdrew his candidacy in the summer of 1843, retiring at Fort Hill.

Secretary of State: 1844-1845

On Feb. 28, 1844, following the untimely death of Secretary of State Abel P. Upshur, who was killed in an explosion aboard a Navy warship, President John Tyler selected Calhoun to complete Upshur’s unexpired term. Calhoun addressed key issues during the administration, including the question of Oregon’s northern border and the annexation of Texas, which was finalized in Tyler’s administration.

U.S. Senate: 1845-1850

In 1845, Calhoun was elected again to serve in the U.S. Senate. In his final years in the senate, he served alongside Daniel Webster and Henry Clay. These three influential statesmen were referred to collectively as “The Great Triumvirate.” Calhoun opposed the war with Mexico in 1846, as well as the subsequent Wilmot Proviso Act, which forbade slavery in the lands newly acquired from Mexico.

Calhoun’s later speeches defended the agrarian South and the economic labor structure based on the “peculiar institution” of African-American slavery. Calhoun’s support of slavery cost him support nationally, while South Carolina politicians called “fire-eaters” criticized his conciliatory attitude toward the North.

On March 4, 1850, Calhoun’s last senate speech was delivered by Senator James Mason of Virginia. Calhoun, dying of consumption (tuberculosis), was too ill to read his own speech. He had to be helped into the Senate chamber to listen to his friend Mason.

Calhoun’s last speech included these words:

The Union cannot ... be saved by eulogies on the Union, however splendid or numerous. 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 lying dangerously ill. ...

How can the Union be saved? There is but one way by which it can with any certainty; and that is, by a full and final settlement, on the principle of justice, of all the questions at issue between the two sections. ...

If you who represent the stronger portion, cannot agree to settle them on the broad principle of justice and duty, say so; and let the States we both represent agree to separate and part in peace. If you are unwilling we should part in peace, tell us so; and we shall know what to do, when you reduce the question to submission or resistance.[16]

On March 31, 1850, Calhoun died in Washington at the age of 68. Months after Calhoun’s death, Congress enacted the Compromise of 1850 that prevented civil war for another 11 years.

John C. Calhoun’s published writings:

John C. Calhoun was a major force on the body politic, a man of independent ideas and independent philosophies. Two of Calhoun’s most important works were published posthumously, “A Disquisition on Government” and “A Discourse on the Constitution and Government of the United States.” Both illustrated Calhoun’s mature philosophical interpretations in fully developed books on American politics. The Disquisition illuminates the doctrine of concurrent majority, while the Discourse is a culmination of Calhoun’s philosophy in regard to the Constitution and the compact theory of states’ rights. Calhoun, in a letter to his daughter Anna Calhoun Clemson two years before his death, summed up his life work and career.

I hold, the duties of life, to be greater than life itself ... no appreciation of my efforts, either by the present, or after times, is necessary to sustain me in struggling to do my duty in resisting wrong, especially where our country is concerned. [17]

John C. Calhoun was a product of his time, as were other politicians and slaveholders, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who had similar complex relationships with enslaved African-Americans. Calhoun’s metamorphosis from nationalist to nullifier to sectionalist parallels the political thinking that prevailed in the antebellum South.

John C. Calhoun’s defense of slavery

One cannot understand the life of John C. Calhoun completely without an examination of his writing and political theory of slavery.

In order to support his positions, Calhoun compared the condition of the enslaved African-Americans on plantations to the condition created during the industrial revolution when white workers were categorized as “wage slaves.” When the two groups were examined against each other, Calhoun believed that these “wage slaves” were at times treated worse than African-American slaves. In his perspective, Calhoun’s defense of slavery took a paternalistic bent, although this did not preclude violence against enslaved African-Americans at Fort Hill or other plantations.

In defense of slavery, Calhoun would quote both biblical references and examples from Classical Greek and Roman texts. Undeniably, Calhoun was an ardent believer in white supremacy.

John C. Calhoun’s practice of slavery at Fort Hill

John C. Calhoun, like many landed southerners, was a slave owner who firmly believed in the institution of slavery and all the benefits derived from it. Calhoun was born and reared in a society where slavery was taken as a given, and the moral issues surrounding slavery were rarely seriously debated or questioned. Calhoun owned a plantation at Fort Hill, where most of his slaves were inherited directly or were the children of African-American slaves from his and his wife’s family. Like most slave owners, Calhoun expressed a paternalistic view toward his slaves. He provided what he deemed was proper housing, medical care, work days, holidays, clothing and marriage rites to his slaves so that he could procure the necessary labor from them. Because of Calhoun’s political activities, he spent much of his time in Washington, away from Fort Hill.

As a slaveholder, Calhoun was expected to follow the racial etiquette practiced throughout the South. He could not develop any relationship with a slave that challenged the established order. However, the constant contact of plantation life led to familiar bonds being formed. One such bond was the relationship between Calhoun and Sawney Calhoun Sr., who was Calhoun’s childhood companion. The two hunted and fished together. In an interview with William Pinckney Starke, Sawney recalled, “Many’s the times in the boilin’ sun, me and Marse John has plowed together.”[18] Sawney was the son of Patrick Calhoun’s slave Adam, and he was born in the Long Canes community. He and his wife, Tiller, had several children who were mentioned in the Calhoun family correspondence, including Sawney Jr., who once ran away.

On one occasion Sawney’s daughter Issey, the slave companion of Cornelia Calhoun, was accused of lighting a pillow on fire in Willy Calhoun’s room. Though the facts are sketchy, this incident resulted in Issey being verbally reprimanded and sent to Andrew Pickens Calhoun’s plantation in Alabama for two years. Eventually, Floride Calhoun gave in to her daughter Cornelia’s unrelenting requests and brought Issey back. Floride viewed Sawney Sr. as “dangerous” because of his influence in the slave community. However, Calhoun dismissed her suspicions and spoke in defense of Sawney.[19]

Sawney’s childhood bond with Calhoun gave him a unique position at Fort Hill, where, even though he remained an enslaved person, he was given special privileges. Other slaves were less fortunate at Fort Hill. One slave, Alec, (sic Alick), offended Floride Calhoun, and she threatened him with a “severe whipping.” In correspondence from 1831, Calhoun stated that Alick “ran away for no other reason but to avoid a correction for some misconduct.” Calhoun had his relatives on the lookout for Alick, who he figured was heading toward Abbeville, asking them “to have him lodged in jail for a week, to be fed on bread & water and to employ someone for me to give him 30 lashes well laid on at the end of the time.”[20]

This treatment matched what would be expected from a slave owner when dealing with a runaway. It is the most severe punishment recorded for any of the Calhoun slaves. Alick returned to Fort Hill and was listed on the 1865 appraisal of Andrew Pickens Calhoun’s estate as the only male household slave valued at over $1,000, along with five female household slaves.

Calhoun viewed himself as a model slave owner, taking an active interest in the construction of the Fort Hill slave quarters and giving his son-in-law Thomas Green Clemson guidance on how best to preserve the value of his own slaves. When Clemson was considering hiring out some of his slaves because of financial problems, Calhoun warned him, “The object of him who hires is generally to make the most he can out of them, without regard to the comfort of health, and usually to the entire neglect of the children and sick.”[21] Calhoun even offered to purchase the African-American slaves from his son-in-law as another option to putting them out for rent.

John C. Calhoun and Floride Colhoun Calhoun’s Children

Over 18 years, John C. Calhoun and Floride Colhoun Calhoun had 10 children:

  • Andrew Pickens (“A. P.”) Calhoun (1811–1865),
  • Floride Pure Calhoun (1814–1815),
  • Jane Calhoun (1816–1816),
  • Anna Maria Calhoun (1817–1875),
  • Elizabeth Calhoun (1819–1820),
  • Patrick Calhoun (1821–1858),
  • John Caldwell Calhoun Jr. (1823–1850),
  • Martha Cornelia Calhoun (1824–1857),
  • James Edward Calhoun (1826–1861) and
  • William Lowndes Calhoun (1829–1858).

Three of their daughters died in infancy: Floride Pure, Jane and Elizabeth. During the decade following Calhoun’s death, five of his children also succumbed to consumption prior to the Civil War.

The two children who lived through the Civil War were Andrew Pickens Calhoun and Anna Maria Calhoun Clemson. The last inventory of the Fort Hill Plantation was the estate of A.P. Calhoun in 1865.[22]

Assessments of the Career and Life of John C. Calhoun

President John F. Kennedy, during his service as a U.S. senator, was called upon to chair a commission to recognize the most famous senators in American history. He provided one of the most thoughtful and poignant appraisals of Calhoun’s career and life:

Forceful logician of state sovereignty, masterful defender of the rights of a political minority against the dangers of an unchecked majority, his profoundly penetrating and original understanding of the social bases of government has significantly influenced American political theory and practice. Sincerely devoted to the public good as he saw it, the ultimate tragedy of his final cause neither detracts from the greatness of his leadership nor tarnishes his efforts to avert bloodshed.

Outspoken, yet respected, intellectual yet loved, his leadership on every major issue in the critical era of transition significantly shaped the role of the Senate and the destiny of the nation.[23]

Calhoun biographer Dr. Irving Bartlett provided this assessment of Calhoun’s relationship with his slaves:

Calhoun insisted time after time that he was bound to do his duty in the role Providence had given him. As a man who owned slaves, he probably lived up to the just master’s ideal as well as anyone. Nowhere in his letters does . . . he say anything to ridicule or degrade his slaves. And nowhere does he express the slightest guilt or regret that he lived at Fort Hill in a house of privilege built on the forced labor of black men and women.[24]

Professor Bartlett elaborated further on how history might evaluate Calhoun’s career:

In the United States, as the realities of a multicultural, multiracial, multilingual society force us to find new ways to combine civility with cultural diversity, we may find Calhoun’s ideas more relevant at home. Surely we have not outlived the wisdom of the leaders who framed the Constitution, and Calhoun was one of the last in that distinguished line[CB3] age.

Like Calhoun, many of them owned slaves at the same time that they crafted ideas and institutions that were to advance the cause of liberty around the world. A flawed heritage, no doubt, but if history tells us anything, it is that those ideas and institutions which later generations pronounce good do not come unalloyed from the past. Calhoun once wrote “[T]o love the people is to promote their lasting interest and notto flatter them, and on this posterity will decide[GB5]


Bibliography for John C. Calhoun

The papers of John C. Calhoun are located in the Library of Congress, South Carolina Library, Duke University, Yale University, and Clemson University. A prominent source about the ideas of Calhoun is The Papers of John C. Calhoun, which were edited by Robert Meriwether, W. Edwin Hemphill, and Clyde N. Wilson. Various historians have described the life of Calhoun throughout many books, which include: Irving H. Bartlett’s John C. Calhoun: a Biography, Margaret L. Coit’s John C. Calhoun: American Portrait and John C. Calhoun: Great Lives Observed, Charles Wiltse’s John C. Calhoun (three volume series including Nationalist, Nullifier, and Sectionalist), John Niven’s John C. Calhoun and the Price of Union: A Biography, and Harriet Cook’s John C. Calhoun, the Man. For more information about Calhoun’s political ideas sources include: H. Lee Cheek’s John C. Calhoun: Selected Writings and Speeches, Clyde N. Wilson’s Essential Calhoun: Selections from Writings, Speeches, and Letters and John C. Calhoun: A Bibliography, and Merrill D. Peterson’s The Great Triumvirate. As a politician, Calhoun supported the institution of slavery and owned slaves at his plantation in South Carolina, Fort Hill. To better understand slavery in South Carolina and Fort Hill, W. J. Megginson’s African-American Life in South Carolina’s Upper Piedmont describes the lives of the slaves who lived in South Carolina and some of those who worked at Fort Hill.

Bartlett, Irving H. John C. Calhoun: A Biography. New York: W.W. Norton Co., 1993.

Benton, Thomas H. Thirty Years’ View: or A History of the Working of the American Government for Thirty Years, from 1820-1850. Vol. 1. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1893.

Calhoun, John C. Life of John C. Calhoun: Presenting a Condensed History of Political Events from 1811 to 1843. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1843. Online https://archive.org/details/calhounpolievents00calhrich

Calhoun, John C. The Papers of John C. Calhoun. Edited by Robert Meriwether, W. Edwin Hemphill, and Clyde N. Wilson. 28 vols. to date. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1959

Calhoun, John C. The Essential Calhoun: Selections from Writings, Speeches, and Letters. Edited by Clyde N. Wilson. New Brunswick, U.S.A.: Transaction Publishers, 1992.

Capers, Gerald M. John C. Calhoun — Opportunist: A Reappraisal. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1960.

Cheek, H. Lee, Jr., ed. John C. Calhoun: Selected Writings and Speeches. Lanham, Md.: National Book Network, 2003.

Cheek, H. Lee, Jr. Calhoun and Popular Rule: The Political Theory of the Disquisition and Discourse. Columbia: University of Missouri P, 2001. 62. Print.

Coit, Margaret L. John C. Calhoun: American Portrait. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1950.

Coit, Margaret L. John C. Calhoun: Great Lives Observed. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1970.

Cook, Harriet Hefner. John C. Calhoun, the Man. Columbia, S.C: R. L. Bryan Company, 1965.

Edgar, Walter B. South Carolina: A History. Columbia, S.C: University of South Carolina Press, 1998.

Fitzpatrick, John C., ed. The Autobiography of Martin Van Buren. 1920. New York: Augustus M. Kelley, 1969. . 413-417.

James, Marquis. Andrew Jackson: Portrait of a President. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1937. 234-236.

Lander, Ernest McPherson. The Calhoun Family and Thomas Green Clemson: The Decline of a Southern Patriarchy. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1983.

Megginson, Jim. African American Life in South Carolina’s Upper Piedmont 1780-1900. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 2006.

Niven, John. John C. Calhoun and the Price of Union: A Biography. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988.

Parton, James. Life of Andrew Jackson. Vol. 3. New York: Mason Brothers, 1860.

Peterson, Merrill D. The Great Triumvirate: Webster, Clay, and Calhoun. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Wilson, Clyde N. John C. Calhoun: A Bibliography. John C. Calhoun: A Bibliography, Bibliographies of American Notables, Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1990.

Wilson, Clyde N., The Essential Calhoun: Selections from Writings, Speeches, and Letters (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 1992), 429.

Wiltse, Charles. John C. Calhoun Sectionalist, 1840–1850. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1944. John C. Calhoun.


[1] Clyde N. Wilson, ed. The Essential Calhoun: Selections from Writings, Speeches, and Letters, (New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1992), 213.

[2] Joseph A Scoville, “A Visit to Fort Hill,” New York Herald, 1849. Perhaps one of the best accounts of the Fort Hill Plantation was this newspaper account.

[3] According to the 1843 memoir of Calhoun as a statesman, Calhoun’s brother James was instrumental in Calhoun continuing his education for a “learned profession” and provided financial support for seven years (Life of John C. Calhoun 6).

[4] Due to sickness, Calhoun did not read his thesis at graduation, and no copy exists among his papers (Cheek 62).

[5] Walter Edgar specifics on S.C. as first state to eliminate property qualifications and provide white male suffrage.

[6] Calhoun’s speech was the response to Mr. Randolph’s speech opposed to war with England and his first full speech in Congress. The Richmond Enquirer described: “Mr. Calhoun is clear and precise in his reasoning, marching up directly to the object of his attack, and felling down the errors of his opponent with the club of Hercules; not eloquent in his tropes and figures, but, like Fox, in the moral elevation of his sentiments; free from personality, yet full of those fine touches of indignation, which are the severest cut to the man of feeling. His speech, like a fine drawing, abounds in those lights and shades which set off each other: the cause of his country is robed in light, while her opponents are wrapped in darkness” (Life 9-10).

[7] Capers 34. Congressman Alexander J. Dallas of Pennsylvania is credited with coining this phrase about Calhoun.

[8] Clyde N. Wilson, ed. The Papers of John C. Calhoun. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1978), Vol. X, 1825-1829, xiii.

[9] Clyde N. Wilson, ed. The Papers of John C. Calhoun. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1978), Vol. X, 1925-1829, xiii.

[10] Marquis James, biographer of President Andrew Jackson, clarified that Calhoun’s rebuttal expressed his acknowledgement of Jackson’s rejection of the Southern cause of nullification, Calhoun was championing.

[11] Multiple sources give both context and interpretation of the toasts from Jefferson Dinner of 1829. See Benton 148-149, Fitzpatrick 413-417, James 234-236, and Parton 282-285.

[12] Ross M. Lence, Union and Liberty: The Political Philosophy of John C. Calhoun (Indianapolis, Indiana: Liberty Fund, 1992), 371.

[13] John F. Marszalek, The Petticoat Affair: Manners, Mutiny, and Six in Andrew Jackson’s White House, (New York: The Free Press, 1997), The most scholarly treatment of the subject to date.

[14] Pense, 474.

[15] Wilson, Clyde N., The Essential Calhoun: Selections from Writings, Speeches, and Letters, (New Brunswick: Transactions Press), 324.

[16] Pense, 589

[17] Wilson, Clyde N., The Essential Calhoun: Selections from Writings, Speeches, and Letters, (New Brunswick: Transactions Press), 429.

[18] Margaret L. Coit, John C. Calhoun: American Portrait. (Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1950.), 9.

[19] Ernest Lander, The Calhoun Family and Thomas Green Clemson, (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1983), 69

[20]Clyde N. Wilson, ed. The Papers of John C. Calhoun. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1978), Vol. XI, 1929-1932, 462-464.

[21] Ernest Lander, The Calhoun Family and Thomas Green Clemson, (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1983), 91.

[22] Ernest Lander, The Calhoun Family and Thomas Green Clemson, (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1983), 224. Inventory of A. P. Calhoun, Pickens probate records, Box 82, No. 875.

[23] Harriet Hefner Cook, John C. Calhoun: The Man, (Columbia, S.C.: R.L. Bryan Company, 1965), 3-4.

Irving H. Bartlett, John C. Calhoun: A Biography. New York: W.W. Norton Co., 1993

[24] Bartlett, 383.