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John C. Calhoun: He Started the Civil War

6/12/2006 • Civil War Times, Politics, States Rights

Slavery was the foundation of the antebellum South. More than any other characteristic, it defined Southern social, political, and cultural life. It also unified the South as a section distinct from the rest of the nation.

John C. Calhoun, the South’s recognized intellectual and political leader from the 1820s until his death in 1850, devoted much of his remarkable intellectual energy to defending slavery. He developed a two-point defense. One was a political theory that the rights of a minority section — in particular, the South — needed special protecting in the federal union. The second was an argument that presented slavery as an institution that benefited all involved.

Calhoun’s commitment to those two points and his efforts to develop them to the fullest would assign him a unique role in American history as the moral, political, and spiritual voice of Southern separatism. Despite the fact that he never wanted the South to break away from the United States as it would a decade after his death, his words and life’s work made him the father of secession. In a very real way, he started the American Civil War.

Born in 1782 in upcountry South Carolina, Calhoun grew up during the boom in the area’s cotton economy. The son of a successful farmer who served in public office, Calhoun went to New Haven, Connecticut, in 1801 to attend Yale College. After graduating, he attended the Litchfield Law School, also in Connecticut, and studied under Tapping Reeve, an outspoken supporter of a strong federal government. Seven years after Calhoun’s initial departure from South Carolina, he returned home, where he soon inherited his father’s substantial land and slave holdings and won election to the U.S. Congress in 1810.

Ironically, when Calhoun, the future champion of states’ rights and secession, arrived in Washington, he was an ardent federalist like his former law professor. He aligned himself with the federalist faction of the Republican party led by Speaker of the House Henry Clay of Kentucky. He also became a prominent member of the party’s War Hawk faction, which pushed President James Madison’s administration to fight the War of 1812, the nation’s second war with Great Britain. When the fighting ended in 1815, Calhoun championed a protective national tariff on imports, a measure he hoped would foster both Southern and Northern industrial development. After the War of 1812, Congress began to consider improving the young republic’s infrastructure. Calhoun enthusiastically supported plans to spend federal money, urging Congress to ‘bind the Republic together with a perfect system of roads and canals…. Let us conquer space…. We are under the most imperious obligation to counteract every tendency to disunion.’

Calhoun left the legislature in 1817 to become President James Monroe’s secretary of war and dedicated himself to strengthening the nation’s military. He succeeded, spurring revitalization of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point under the leadership of Superintendent Sylvanus Thayer and improving the army’s administrative structure with reforms that endured into the 20th century. ‘If ever there was perfection carried into any branch of the public service,’ one federal official wrote, ‘it was that which Mr. Calhoun carried into the War Department.’

Calhoun’s success in improving the country’s war-making capabilities came at the price of a stronger, less frugal federal government. Not everyone was pleased. ‘His schemes are too grand and magnificent…,’ a detractor in Congress wrote. ‘If we had a revenue of a hundred million, he would be at no loss how to spend it.’

Calhoun hoped to use his accomplishments as war secretary as a springboard to the presidency. When that dream fell through, however, Calhoun had no problem accepting the vice presidency under staunch federalist John Quincy Adams in 1824. Adams was glad to have Calhoun in his administration, having held him in high esteem since their days together in Monroe’s cabinet. Adams was particularly impressed by Calhoun’s ‘ardent patriotism,’ believing Calhoun was ‘above all sectional and factious prejudices more than any other statesman of the Union with whom I have ever acted.’ This was an image Calhoun cultivated during the 1824 election campaign.

It turned out that Calhoun was late in publicly promoting his commitment to federalism. By this time, Southerners were increasingly taking an anti-federal-government stance. In the North, industry and the economy it created grew in influence and power every day. Meanwhile, the rapidly expanding cultivation of cotton and other cash crops was committing the South to an agrarian economy and culture, which depended on slavery. The country was dividing into two increasingly self-conscious sections with different priorities. And as the issue of slavery came to the fore in American politics, the South found itself on the defensive. Because of the South’s investment in large-scale agriculture, any attack on slavery was an attack on the Southern economy itself.

The issue came to a head in 1819 with the debate over whether to allow the Missouri Territory to become a state. The result was the historic Missouri Compromise of 1820, which permitted the territory to enter the Union as a slave state while Maine entered as a free state, maintaining the balance between free and slave states at 12 each. The compromise also prohibited slavery in the remainder of the Louisiana Purchase north of Missouri’s southern border.

On the surface, the Missouri Compromise seemed to heal the sectional breach that slavery had created. But the fact that the debate had divided along sectional lines awakened the South to the reality that it was a distinct section — a section that was apparently inevitably destined to be a minority in the Union, while the Northern states enjoyed increasing political representation and power born of rapid population growth.

In the 1820s, Southerners grew increasingly anxious about the North controlling the federal government and about how that situation threatened the South and its distinctive institutions. They looked to leaders who would limit federal power. Calhoun unexpectedly found himself the target of sharp criticism from leading South Carolina figures, including Thomas Cooper, the president of the state college. In 1824, Cooper published a widely circulated pamphlet attacking Calhoun. ‘He spends the money of the South to buy up influence in the North,’ Cooper grumbled.

If Calhoun wanted to maintain his status as a Southern leader and reach his political goals, he could not ignore the changing political landscape. He recognized it would be a mistake to maintain his association with Adams, whose ideas to expand the use of federal power to promote national economic, intellectual, and cultural development drew a cold reception in South Carolina. So when Andrew Jackson began preparing to challenge Adams in the 1828 presidential election, Calhoun switched sides. The Democrats rewarded Calhoun by making him their candidate for vice president, and the ticket won.

That same year, Congress passed a highly protective tariff that Southerners bitterly opposed, viewing the measure as sacrificing Southern agrarian interests to benefit Northern industry. The protest against the so-called Tariff of Abominations grew particularly strong in South Carolina, and in response to a request from the state legislature, Calhoun secretly wrote an essay titled ‘South Carolina Exposition and Protest.’ In it, he asserted that states had a constitutional right to nullify any federal government actions they considered unconstitutional. Calhoun had become the chosen mouthpiece for Southern rights. Confirmation of his new status came when Congress adopted another high tariff in 1832 and South Carolina legislators used the principles Calhoun had voiced in his ‘Exposition and Protest’ to declare the tariff ‘null and void.’

To no one’s surprise, Jackson refused to accept South Carolina’s defiant stance, and the Nullification Crisis of 1832 was born. By now, relations between Jackson and Calhoun were crumbling fast. Problems had been brewing well beforehand, but now, personal conflicts and Jackson’s commitment to the supremacy of the national government made it impossible for the two men to work together. When it became clear that Calhoun’s chief cabinet rival, Martin Van Buren, was Jackson’s choice to succeed him as president, Calhoun quit the administration.

Back in South Carolina, the state legislature chose Calhoun to fill the U.S. Senate seat recently vacated by Robert Y. Hayne. Now, Calhoun had a new and even more influential bully pulpit for his pro-Southern arguments. As a senator, he openly led the fight against the tariff, which he viewed as a zealous attempt by Congress to dictate economic policy. This, Calhoun protested — in repudiation of his earlier views — was an overextension of federal power.

Jackson was no fan of the high tariff, either. But he was furious with Calhoun and considered his behavior treasonous. He loudly threatened to march down to South Carolina and personally hang Calhoun and his fellow nullifiers.

Congress responded to the nullification by drafting the Force Bill, which authorized the president to use military power to compel South Carolina to comply with the tariff. The bill became the target of Calhoun’s first speech upon returning to the Senate. He expressed outrage at the thought of ‘this government, the creature of the States, making war against the power to which it owes its existence.’

A major crisis seemed imminent until Senator Henry Clay fashioned the Compromise Tariff of 1833. The act gradually lowered the offending tariff, but it confirmed Congress’s authority to enact such protective tariffs. South Carolina responded by repealing its nullification of the tariff, but in a final act of defiance, it nullified the Force Bill.

For Calhoun the tariff controversy had two important results. The first was his emergence as the leading political and intellectual defender of the South. The second was his development of a political philosophy to limit the federal government’s power and thus protect the minority agrarian South and its institution of slavery.

Though it was the tariff controversy that brought Calhoun to the forefront as the leading spokesman for Southern interests, slavery was the most important issue to the South. ‘I consider the tariff act as the occasion rather than the real cause of the present unhappy state of things,’ he confided to an associate early in the Nullification Crisis. ‘The truth can no longer be disguised, that the peculiar domestick institution of the Southern States and the consequent direction which that and her soil and climate have given her industry, has placed them…in opposite relation to the majority of the Union….’

There were some pockets in the South that supported a high tariff, but all the slave states were unified on the slavery issue. So it made political sense for Calhoun to devote himself to the cause of slavery. From 1833 to 1850 — as a member of the U.S. Senate, a private citizen, and during a stint as President John Tyler’s secretary of state in 1844-1845 — he worked to insulate the institution from any sort of attack, ranging from abolitionist rhetoric to perceived overextensions of federal power. At stake for him was nothing less that the survival of the South. ‘I have ever had but one opinion on the subject,’ Calhoun wrote. ‘Our fate as a people is bound up in the question.’

Calhoun’s political thinking had taken a complete turnabout from the federalism of his early years. Now, his goal was to insure the power of the local agrarian elite by limiting the power of the federal government. ‘My aim is fixed,’ he proclaimed. ‘It is no less than to turn back the Government to where it commenced its operations in 1789…on the State Rights Republican tack.’ He felt that keeping governmental power as decentralized as possible would allow the planters to maintain power and protect the labor system that made their great wealth and status possible. To do this, Calhoun developed two major ideas that are perhaps his greatest legacy: the concepts of state interposition and concurrent majority.

State interposition was first presented in the 1798 Virginia and Kentucky resolutions, written by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to protest the anti-Republican Alien and Sedition Acts. In these documents Jefferson and Madison applied the social contract theory formulated by 17-century English philosophers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke to the U.S. Constitution. They argued that because representatives of the states had written the Constitution, the power of constitutional interpretation rested with the states. So if a state believed the federal government was violating the terms of the national charter, it had the right to interpose itself between its people and the federal government to provide protection from tyranny. The Fort Hill Address of July 1831 was the first time Calhoun openly and unambiguously identified himself with the nullification cause. In that speech, he proclaimed that the right of state interposition was ‘the fundamental principle of our system’ and that the federal government must accept that right in order to keep the Constitution and the Union secure. ‘The Constitution of the United States is, in fact, a compact, to which each State is a party,’ he argued. Since, in his view, ‘the States…formed the compact, acting as Sovereign and independent communities…, the several States, or parties, have a right to judge of its infractions.’

By embracing state interposition, Calhoun dismissed the 1803 Supreme Court ruling in Marbury v. Madison, a ruling that claimed the power of constitutional interpretation exclusively for the judicial branch. He also contradicted his own earlier distaste for those who dabbled in constitutional interpretation. ‘The Constitution…was not intended as a thesis for the logician to exercise his ingenuity on,’ he proclaimed in 1817. Now, in defending the South’s unique economy and society, Calhoun was exercising away.

Calhoun’s exercise went beyond mere theorizing. He helped develop a procedure for states to use their power of interposition. He suggested a state should first call a convention to consider any federal action in question. If the convention determined that the action violated its understanding of the Constitution, then it could declare the action ‘null and void,’ denying the federal government the power to execute the law within that state. The federal government would then have to either amend the Constitution to legitimize its action or repeal the measure. And if the Constitution was amended in a way the state considered unacceptable, the state had the right to leave the Union.

In developing the concept of nullification, Calhoun did not intend to encourage states to secede. He sought only to give them a way to ensure a strict interpretation of the Constitution and lead the nation away from ‘the dangerous and despotic doctrine of consolidation’ and back to ‘its true confederative character.’ This was especially important for the minority South. ‘The major and dominant party will have no need of these restrictions for their protection,’ Calhoun wrote. The minority, however, required ‘a construction [of the Constitution] which would confine these powers to the narrowest limits.’

The role of nullification in any future debate over slavery was clear: with the ability to define the terms of their membership in the Union, states would be able to deny the federal government any regulatory power over slavery.

Slavery was an essential condition of Calhoun’s second major contribution to American political thought — the concept of the concurrent majority. In a nutshell, requiring concurrent majority would safeguard slavery in a political climate that was increasingly anti-slavery and in which the slaveholding South enjoyed too little representation to defend its interest. From Calhoun’s viewpoint, the purpose of the concurrent majority concept was to prevent the North, with its population majority, from ruling the nation as a tyrant. ‘To govern by the numerical majority alone is to confuse a part of the people with the whole,’ he argued.

To turn the concept of concurrent majority into law, the Constitution needed to be formally amended. The amendment Calhoun envisioned would also include a provision for each region to have a chief executive invested with veto power over any congressional action, and the power to execute any federal law in accordance with the interests of his region.

During the 1830s and 1840s, the growth of the Northern abolition movement and attempts by Northern politicians to push the federal government to act against slavery confirmed for Calhoun that the North intended to exercise its power as a majority to the detriment of Southern interests. He responded to these attacks with the argument that the Constitution gave Congress no regula-tory power over slavery. To Northern politicians who dismissed this argument and continued to push antislavery measures through Congress, he warned that the South ‘cannot remain here in an endless struggle in defense of our character, our property, and institutions.’ He said that if abolitionist agitation did not end, ‘we must become, finally, two peoples…. Abolition and the Union cannot co-exist.’ Even compromise was not possible, in his opinion.

As the antislavery movement continued to build up steam, Calhoun continually found himself having to defend slavery on moral, ethical, and political grounds. By the 1830s it had already become unsatisfactory for Southern politicians to apologize for slavery and excuse it as a necessary evil; to do so would have been to admit that slavery was morally wrong. So a major shift in the Southern defense of slavery occurred, one that Calhoun had a large role in bringing about.

Calhoun endorsed slavery as ‘a good — a great good,’ based on his belief in the inequality inherent in the human race. Calhoun believed that people were motivated primarily by self-interest and that competition among them was a positive expression of human nature. The results of this competition were displayed for all to see in the social order: those with the greatest talent and ability rose to the top, and the rest fell into place beneath them.

The concepts of liberty and equality, idealized during the Revolutionary period, were potentially destructive to this social order, Calhoun believed. With the stratification of society, those at the top were recognized as authority figures and respected for their proven wisdom and ability. If the revolutionary ideal of equality were taken too far, the authority of the elite would not be accepted. Without this authority, Calhoun argued, society would break down and the liberty of all men would be threatened. In his manifesto A Disquisition on Government, he asserted that liberty was not a universal right but should be ‘reserved for the intelligent, the patriotic, the virtuous and deserving.’

Calhoun believed the liberty Southerners enjoyed depended on slavery. Contrary to the writings of those who unabashedly celebrated the North’s free labor system, antebellum Southern society, though definitely stratified, was highly fluid. Fortunes could be and were made in a single generation. Agriculture, specifically cotton, was what made that society so mobile. Cotton was a labor-intensive crop, and as a farmer acquired greater cotton wealth, he required a greater number of field hands to work his expanding fields. So the ownership of slaves became a measure of status and upward mobility. To destroy slavery, according to Calhoun, would be to destroy a powerful symbol of what motivated the Southern man to improve himself.

In the end, Calhoun supported the institution of slavery for many reasons, but at the bottom of all his argument was this: he believed the African race was inferior. He shared the prevailing prejudices of the day — held in both the North and South — that black people were mentally, physically, and morally inferior to whites. This inferiority necessitated that they be slaves. ‘There is no instance of any civilized colored race of any shade being found equal to the establishment and maintenance of free government,’ Calhoun argued. He pointed to the impoverished living conditions of Northern free blacks as proof that black people lacked the ability to exercise their freedom positively.

In Calhoun’s view, slavery benefited black people. ‘Never before has the black race…from the dawn of history to the present day, attained a condition so civilized and so improved, not only physically, but morally and intellectually,’ he asserted in Congress. ‘It came to us in a low, degraded, and savage condition, and in the course of a few generations it has grown up under the fostering care of our institutions.’

Slavery provided black people with a quality of existence Calhoun believed they were incapable of obtaining for themselves. To his mind, despite all the progress the race had supposedly made in America, to free the slaves and place them in situations where they would have to compete with white people on an equal basis would only result in catastrophe. The freed slave’s inherent inferiority would place him at such a disadvantage that he would not be able to achieve the quality of life he enjoyed as a slave, Calhoun insisted.

Calhoun noted that slave-owners provided for their slaves from birth to infirmity. He urged critics of slavery to ‘look at the sick, and the old and infirm slave, on one hand, in the midst of his family and friends, under the kind superintending care of his master and mistress, and compare it with the forlorn and wretched condition of the pauper in the poor house’ in Europe and the North. In support of his argument, he cited census figures indicating that free blacks were much more likely to suffer mental or physical disabilities than were slaves.

In the long run, Calhoun believed, regardless of what happened with slavery, the progress of civilization would in time doom the inferior African race to extinction. Until that time, he asserted, slavery at least gave black people security and made them useful.

When confronted with the argument that slavery was an exploitative labor system, Calhoun replied that in every civilization a propertied class emerged and exploited the labor of the others. This enabled the master class to pursue intellectual and cultural endeavors that advanced the progress of civilization. ‘Slavery is indispensable to a republican government,’ he proclaimed.

In the South it was inevitable, Calhoun argued, that the African race would be the exploited class. The South merely institutionalized this into a system that benefited both master and servant. The master got his labor and the slave received a standard of living far above what he could achieve on his own.

While Calhoun was defending slavery, he extended his argument to indict the North and industrial capitalism. He asserted that the slave system was actually superior to the ‘wage slavery’ of the North. He believed that slavery, by intertwining the economic interests of master and slave, eliminated the unavoidable conflict that existed between labor and capital under the wage system. The amount of money a master invested in his slaves made it economically unfeasible to mistreat them or ignore their working and living conditions. In the North, the free laborer was as much a slave to his employer as was the black man in the South, Calhoun argued, but he lacked the protection the black slave enjoyed from a paternalistic master.

With or without Calhoun, the Southern institution of slavery would have disappeared, but it will always remain a black mark on the history of the United States and on Calhoun’s reputation. Still, Calhoun deserves a prominent place in the history of American political thought — if only for this irony: while he fought to protect the Southern minority’s rights and interests from the Northern majority, he felt free to subordinate the rights of the African American minority to the interests of the South’s white majority.

After Calhoun’s death on March 31, 1850, one of his greatest foes, U.S. Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, sternly rebuked an associate who suggested that he honor Calhoun with a eulogy in Congress. ‘He is not dead, sir — he is not dead,’ remarked Benton, a staunch Unionist. ‘There may be no vitality in his body, but there is in his doctrines.’ A decade later, a bloody civil war would prove Benton was right.

This article was written by Ethan S. Rafuse and originally published in the October 2002 issue of Civil War Times Magazine.

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60 Responses to John C. Calhoun: He Started the Civil War

  1. Al Barrs says:

    Abraham Lincoln in his speech in Congress in 1846 said when asked, “Why not let the South go in peace?” Lincoln replied: “I can’t let them go. Who would pay for the government?”

    In 1860, the averaged tariff-rate was 18.84%; the Republicans spread the word that they were shooting for 40%–which could bankrupt many Southerners and would make life much harder for most of them.

    The South had to pay twice; first to export their cotton and then to import the goods purchased abroad from the profits made from the cotton sales.

    The Civil War transformed the American regime from a federalist system based on freedom to a centralized state that circumscribed liberty in the name of public order.

    But one issue loomed larger than any other in that year as in the previous three decades: the Northern tariff. It was imposed to benefit Northern industrial interests by subsidizing their production through high prices and public works. But it had the effect of forcing the South to pay more for manufactured goods and disproportionately taxing it to support the central government. It also injured the South’s trading relations with other parts of the world.

    In effect, the South was being looted to pay for the North’s early version of industrial policy. The battle over the tariff began in 1828, with the “tariff of abomination.” Thirty years later, with the South paying 87 percent of federal tariff revenue while having their livelihoods threatened by protectionist legislation, it become impossible for the two regions to be governed under the same regime. The South as a region was being reduced to a slave status, with the federal government as its master.

  2. Dave says:

    John C. Calhoun was not nearly as responsible for the start of the War Between the States as was the radical abolitionist movement in the North. These people financed John Brown’s attempt at a slave rebellion and the murder of whites in the South. John C. Calhoun was a right and honorable man.

    • Jake says:

      The abolotionist movement was trying to liberate a people who was raped, pillaged, murdered, and enslaved by the south, the abolotionists AND John Brown were right, those effing southerners deserved to die by his hand, the South built its strengths on the backs of slaves! The union, abolotionists, and good ol’ Lincoln were right, they were fighting for a raped race’s freedom!

  3. tiana says:

    good job!

  4. MR. Gus says:


  5. rod says:

    I think you must be very cofussed or a ratical white hater . Everyone knows slavery was an easy smokescreen for the industrialist to publish as the cause of the war. They needed the souths product and money to accomplish there agenda and to avoid there own failure.

  6. no one says:

    great website

  7. Dane Volyn says:

    Even though John C. Calhoun defended slavery and states rights was his philosophy & ardent belief, he sincerely wished the Union be preserved. Read his final address to the Senate read before them three weeks before his death in March of 1850. This had to do with the admission of California into the Union as a free state. He never wanted the Union to be dissolved and he did not believe the Union should be held together by “force”. In reading his papers and examining his thinking through his speeches, it seems like he thought of the Federal government as a sort of caretaker working for the states and that true soverignty resides with the states. I see a parallel in this thinking to Ronald Reagens ideas of too much big government being the problem. For what its worth.

  8. Dane Volyn says:

    If someone is to be blamed for “starting” the Civil War, one could argue that it was the founding fathers themselves who are responsible. They allowed slavery to continue since many of the planters would not have even signed the declaration of independence if the authors attempted to abolish slavery in 1776. All men are created equal but slavery was allowed to continue. It was abolished in England just before Queen Victoria ascended the throne but it kept on here wher supposedly all men were created equal. John C. Calhoun did not believe that all men were created equal, neither did Andrew Jackson by the way!

  9. rufus says:

    Anyone who believes that one race is superior to another is a certified racist. All races originated with adam and eve. If all men were converted to christ’s teachings then racial prejudice and hate would not exist. The civil war started because many white americans were racist. They believed that they were intellectually superior to other races. But some white americans believed that the institution of slavery was unchristian and fought a civil war to eventually abolish slavery. The election of President Obama proves that not all white americans are racist. John C. Calhoun was a racist. His thinking was not like Ronald Reagan’s. Calhoun was more like Adolph Hitler (i.e. the superior race argument)

  10. Dane Volyn says:

    I agree with you Rufus up to a point. Adolph Hitler tried to erradicate a race of people by genocide where Calhoun perpetuated the institution of keeping a race in bondage. There is a world of difference. The tragedy of slavery is apparent, it has taken one hundred fifty years for a man like Obama to come along and give creedence to Martin Luther Kings dream of a man being judged by the content of his character instead of the color of his skin. But racists are still out there. A man like Calhoun was dangerous in that he was such an intellect in his time. Arguably one of the brightest men in government during the 19th century.
    He was impeccable in his personal life, never a scandal and he was beloved by his family and the political base of South Carolina but I always keep in the back of my head about him what Andrew Jackson said in 1837 as he was leaving office, “I have two regrets upon leaving the Presidency, the first is that I have not shot Henry Clay nor hanged John C. Calhoun”.

  11. Dane Volyn says:

    I must clarify the final comment of my last post by saying Jackson was referring to the nullification crisis relating to the 1832 tariff. That could have been civil war right there if Calhoun had not backed down and acquiest to Jackson when he threatened to send troops to South Carolina to enforce the tariff. Nullification was the precursor to secession but the actual catalyst which caused secession was the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency in 1860. The south did not want to give up slavery due to its economic dependence on it, the planters of the south knew no other way and could not or did not wish to come up with an alternative nor would they consider a system in which the slaves could ever be free. Lincoln did not want the Union to dissolve this way and thus by in April 1861 the first shots of the Civil war were fired.

  12. Dane Volyn says:

    I find I must correct myself once again. I went back and re-read the 1850 speeches and the commentary on them just to be certain of my facts and discovered that the Hon. Senator John C. Calhoun DID set forth the discourse that secession is a choice open should the North fail to “come to some form of understanding” with South. The Union which once was paramount now took a back seat to the states as regards the slavery question. I was thinking of Calhoun (pre nullification) not post Jackson.

  13. Earl says:

    The South existed on the notion of civil rights for some and not human rights for all. Unless you have both for all, you have no argument that will endure. Those who supported slavery will never be able to rationalize such an inhuman practice.

  14. Rufus says:

    The current day Republican Party does not resemble the party of Abraham Lincoln. Today’s Republican Party is dominated by white males who are anti-Obama, anti-minorities and, in my view, anti-equality for all. When you hear prominent Republican politicians advocating secession from the union, states rights and
    calling the President of The United States (in a joint session of congress) a liar, then I say the south (the racist spirit that consumed John C. Calhoun – southern politician) has not changed. Richard Steele, the current head of the Republican National Committee (RNC), was voted into that position as a counter to the election of Mr. Obama. His appointment, as the head of the RNC, was a political move designed to counter any charges that racist control the party.
    Since George Bush’s departure, the Republican Party has become dominated by closet racist. The spirit of John C. Calhoun is alive and well in the Republican Party. Elements in the Republican Party (mostly southern politicians) are seeking to divide this country along racial and economic lines under the guise of limiting federal authority over the states. They have become the party of “no.” Racial slavery has been replaced by economic slavery. They believe that tax breaks for the rich (Landowners/Businesses) will trickle down to the poor (economic slaves). The federal government has no right, in their opinion,
    the interfere with a capitalist system (Supply Side Economics). They scream that Obama is a socialist and a threat to their profit line (the extreme profits from economic slavery). He must be stopped at all cost. Sounds familiar? I agree with Earl concerning his description of the Old South. But I would argue that the Republican Party exist today on the notion of economic rights for some and not basic human rights /equal rights for all. The Republican Party has become the party of John C. Calhoun.
    Elements within the Republican Party are hoping for another american Civil War (Race War). They are hoping that Obama’s election (like Lincoln’s) will be the catalyst.

    • McQuay says:

      I have attended various right-wing rallies and classes. The most violent thing they ask is to write letters to your representatives so they will actually know what their constituents want from them.

      We protest (by standing on the sidewalk across from whatever and hold signs and sheer), and have floats in parades. But as soon as any one psycho gets out of hand the fellow protestors, or one of the main organizers says something to the effect: “No, don’t do that. This is a more appropriate way of having your voice heard.”

  15. Dane Volyn says:

    God I hope you are wrong Rufus but you speak the truth and I agree with what you have written 100%. When that congressman from South Carolina shouted liar, I realized that deep in their hearts nothing has changed. They( Republicans ) will not even attempt to work with Obama in solving the nations problems. The divisions that existed in Calhouns time are just almost as strong today. The people suffer.

  16. quentin pittman says:

    how did the civl war end

  17. Dane Volyn says:

    With much suffering as we know all too well…

  18. LOL says:

    “The Republican Party has become the party of John C. Calhoun.” – Rufus

    That’s the single most idiotic comment I’ve ever seen posted anywhere… (which is saying alot considering what else Rufus wrote).

  19. Dane Volyn says:

    John C. Calhoun cannot be judged by the laws of the 21st century since his life spanned the years 1782 – 1850. He was not the only man in high office tp perpetuate slavery. Lets run down the list, Washington, Jefferson, Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, John Tyler and Gen. Zachary Taylor were all Presidents of the US who owned slaves throughout their lifetime. Calhoun was a contemporary who voiced the views of his constituency. The people he represented. He was a good and decent man. As were the aforementioned Presidents. Sen. Calhoun was instrumental in resolving the Oregon question and the annexation of Texas under the time of President Polk.

  20. Dane Volyn says:

    I wish some of our present Senators had the good sense to actually represent and voice the needs of the people they say they represent. Calhoun had many good points, so did Webster & Clay. Government officials should take a lesson from all three great men.

  21. Rufus says:

    I must have really upset – LOL. I still maintain that the Republican Party is dominated by the views and attitude of John C. Calhoun. I am not judging Calhoun by “21 century law.” Mr. Calhoun was a racist. Anyone, regardless of whether they are President of the United States or an ordinary citizen, who support or “perpetuates'” slavery, is a racist. Racism is wrong, regardless of the time period in which it occurs. L0L did not provide any arguments or facts to dispute my statements. His response mirrors those of other conservatives who are exposed as closet racist. L0L should support his emotional comments with facts. I am so happy that the majority of American citizens are decent color blind individuals. President Obama’s election indicates that Martin Luther dream is becoming a reality.

    • McQuay says:

      I would argue that Obama’s election was racist, in a different sense. If a white man didn’t show his birth certificate, or had that much voter fraud he would have been disqualified from the presidential race.

      It really is a shame that our first black president was elected on unequal terms, and turned out to be what he is: an advocate of the entitlement society.

      Herman Cain… now that would be an incredible President. I hope that man does get some political nomination in 2012. The only problem is that he has little name recognition. I heard him speak for some 3 hours on his positions on issues and I agree with everything he stands for. Go Herman Cain!

  22. Bishop says:

    @ Rufus… you really have no idea what you’re talking about. The racists really showing themselves for what and who they are are Obama and his cronies. The right rarely brings up race, it is the left that tries to use it as a trump card when they need to just get over it already. To be free is not to be equal, but to be given an equal opportunity. Every man woman and child in America legally has received this opportunity. If you don’t believe me look at some of this nation’s best names and minds that started out with close to nothing and grew to be powerful, rich, and influential. Only those too lazy to take the opportunity given to them are left out. It’s the beauty of the country we live in. You get what you give. Your hero Obama, he is strongly against this idea. He believes that everyone should be provided for (by the government that can’t come up with a budget for themselves let alone millions upon millions of Americans.) He is wrong, and so are you. I suggest you read this article again, because Democrats, the “Liberal left progressive society, has been the down come of this fine country since it’s humble beginnings.

    “I do think that at a certain point you’ve made enough money” ~Heir Obama

  23. amber says:

    that is just plain stupid Calhoun might have been honorable but the way he perceived slavery was ignorant and idiotic. I don’t believe he started the Civil War because we would have gotten there anyway but he did help to speed the process along maybe not a lot but he did. and its a good thing someone started the Civil War or my grandparents and myself might be working in some field right now. Im not happy about all the death and destruction caused by the civil war but it was virtually inevitable considering how our country began.

  24. Rufus says:

    @Bishop…I have no idea what you are talking about. If you watch the news or live in the south then you would know that racism still exist.
    When conservative organizations (such as the TEA PARTY ) harbors individuals who compare our president to Hitler or suggest that he be lynched then something is wrong. There are two things that racist like you hate Bishop. No. 1 – you hate being called a RACIST. and No. 2 you hate LIBERAL BLACK PEOPLE. I am so happy that the majority of people in the United States are not like you. Your hate for PRESIDENT OBAMA is a waste of time and energy. I still maintain that JOHN C. CALHOUN was a RACIST. His states rights doctrine was a factor which lead to the Civil War. RACISM is well and alive in the so-called conservative movement in the United States. Your statements prove it.

    • McQuay says:

      John C. Calhoun was a racist. I agree. But what’s all this about Bishop being angry? He wasn’t angry, he was showing his position. That accusation is slightly hypocritical… :)

      • WILD_Drama_Queen says:

        yes Rufus, Bishop was only expressing his point in the matter. please calm your hormones. XD

    • McQuay says:

      In response to: “RACISM is well and alive in the so-called conservative movement of the Untied States.”

      I attended a highly conservative political rally earlier this August, and they had invited a BLACK man (Herman Cain) who is running for president as a conservative. You should have seen the crowds reaction, they stood and applauded when and while he spoke, and there were plenty of “amen”s and “that’s rights.” They loved him, and everybody wanted his autograph.

      There were people there much more radically right wing than me and they adored him.

      Conservatives are racists? I don’t think so.

    • WILD_Drama_Queen says:

      @Rufus.. Many people are racist. just because the war was fought and done with it does not mean that racisim does not exist any more. People hate Obama because he is black. Others hate him because he is considered to be wrong in his dicision making. but i do not agree with your statement saying,”…hate for PRESIDENT OBAMA is a waste of time and energy”. i feel this is wrong because for 1. his actions can cause people to vote him out of office since they dont like him. and 2. it is not a waste of energy b/c when people express their opinion, the government would maybe realize what is happening and do what is good for the country and the citizens. but on one term i do agree… if people hate him only b/c of his ethnicity then it is a waste of time and energy.

  25. Fog_Horn says:

    I thought this was a discussion of the article, not a Political Tirade on the Republicans, ie. the Republican Party. It sounds like you have no love for ‘white people’ and all you want is to spew hate toward a ‘people’ you do not know or understand. And Please? Don’t ever compare Barrack Hussein Obama to our Right Honorable the Reverend Martin Luther King, that’s like comparing a potato to a Saint. This discussion is suppose to be about whether or not John C. Calhoun is responsible for the Civil War, and the answer to that is a resounding No!
    War is a child of Envy, and Greed, and a cousin to Famine, Plague, and Pestilence, all to often we honor that which has no honor to cover our Greed. The North was fixed on subjugating the South, one way or another, and the ‘Fight for Freedom, of Slaves” was a smoke screen. There is no money in Freeing Slaves, but it makes a great campaign slogan. There is money in Taxes! Tax till you squeal like a pig! and then they tax you some more! Whose gonna start a fight with the Federal Government? A bully can push you just so far… then you clobber Him!

  26. Alisson says:

    I don’t believe he started the civil war. i do believe that this is an oppinion not a fact. i want to know the facts!

  27. McQuay says:

    The title of this article was to engage the reader, and make you think. John C. Calhoun did not start the war, but he did play an important role in moving it along.

  28. Adam Reece says:

    After reading the 1st couple of lines I knew what this person wrote wasn’t worth a look at.

    “Slavery was the foundation of the antebellum South. More than any other characteristic, it defined Southern social, political, and cultural life. It also unified the South as a section distinct from the rest of the nation”

    LMFAO what kind of drug are you on? Really the one thing that united the south more than anything was slavery? No, Not even close on that one. Sorry, but the fact of the matter is a very small percent of the south owned slaves. Slavery was for the rich and super rich. Slavery wise they were about as unified as hobos on the street and people like bill gates.

  29. Rufus says:

    Herman Cain? Give me a break. A majority of conservatives would not have voted for him even if he had not cheated on his wife. Most of you responders make my point, when you attempt to defend Calhoun and slavery. Not all conservatives are racist, but large percentages of racist are conservatives. As I stated before, the majority of white people in this country are not racist. White people fought in the civil war to end slavery. They voted to pass the Voting Right Act. They marched with Martin Luther King. They voted to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1991. Obama would not be president if a large percentage of white people had not voted for him. These fair minded white people saw racism and work against it. They were and are great Americans. I got 99 problems but anger isn’t one. However, I do hate racism. Remember Obama got Osama. Good always defeats evil. Liberal America Let’s Stay Together. The civil war was a direct product of racism and slavery. Calhoun believed in slavery and was a racist. He was partially responsible for the civil war. This position is a historical fact.

  30. Larry Gabbard says:

    I find it funny that when you disagree with President Obama’s policies and you voice your dislike of his policies you are called a racist. It offends me that people have that view. I and people like me that dislike his policies should never have to put up with being called a racist. That being said I am sure there are racist out there that do hate the man because he is black. But you have to remember the fact he is half white also. Racism destroys everything it touches, but do not tell me I am a racist because I disagree with his policies. Most people on here are looking for equality. You then need to start by putting yourself on equal ground with the other person’s outlook on the issues that are killing this country in today’s political realm of ideas.
    Icame here looking for information on John C. Calhoun but did read some of these post and I had to respond.

  31. Student says:

    i used this for school and it had some good facts while other things were purely opinion. you have to pick out the facts and really carefully think over the opinions. i do not agree with some of the opinions but i used them saying some people think this…and i got a very good grade so thank you for making this website. people only see the negative and they dont see that sometimes you can use the negative things to your advantage.[:

  32. Truth says:

    What a hack job on Calhoun’s letter to Virgil Maxcy. The author changed the meaning of the letter by cherry picking certain parts of it to mean something it didn’t. Here is the quote unedited. Notice he’s stating that slavery, the soil and climate, and an agricultural export economy have placed the South in opposite relations with the rest of the Union IN REGARDS TO TAXATION AND APPROPRIATIONS.

    Dishonest historians!

    I consider the Tariff but as the occasion, rather than the real cause of the present unhappy state of things. The truth can no longer be disguised, that the peculiar domestick institution of the Southern States, and the consequent direction, which that and her soil and climate have given to her industry, has placed them in regard to taxation and appropriations in opposite relation to the majority of the Union, against the danger of which, if there be no protective power in the reserved rights of the States, they must in the end be forced to rebel, or submit to have their paramount interests sacrificed, their domestick institutions subordinated by Colonization and other schemes, and themselves & children reduced to wretchedness. Thus situated, the denial of the right of the State to interfere constitutionally in the last resort, more alarms the thinking, than all other causes; and however strange it may appear, the more universally the State is condemned, and her right denied, the more resolute she is to assert her constitutional powers lest the neglect to assert should be considered a practical abandonment of them, under such circumstances.

  33. […] but there is in his doctrines.' A decade later, a bloody civil war would prove Benton was right. John C. Calhoun: He Started the Civil War | Civil War Times Magazine __________________ What are Mitt's tax returns […]

  34. PostElectionNow says:

    There was quite a bit of discourse here on analogies between the ideologies of 1850 – 1860 and now. For me, as a Southerner, my distinction from most Americans lays in the fact that I would rather be dead than lose my freedom. Because of a $16 trillion national debt that is still climbing, I am now enslaved to a Federal government that wants to ignore my constitutional rights in order to pay for their greediness and irresponsibilities in the form of higher taxes, higher living costs, socialized medicine and an increasing welfare state. As my taxes increase with ferocity in 2013, how is that different than the cotton tariffs of the 1800s which hammered the profitability of the plantations? How is it morally proper for a Northerner of the 1850s to be profiting from those tariffs and the cotton goods, and then turn around and say that the slave labor that produced it was against Northern, anti-slave ideals. I wish I could go back to 1870 and ask one of those slaves freed after the war how his new found freedom felt after the war ended. Maybe he would tell me, “We got nothing; we are hungry and sick because everything was pillaged or burned in the South and disease is rampant.” I expect to be called a racist, biggot, idiotic man because I am a Southerner and most people think I am still fighting the Civil War. But maybe, just maybe, you need to consider that the history you learned in school was written by a biased author from the “winning” side. I would suggest to you that the current war is not being fought at Antietam, Ft. Sumter, or Gettysburg, but rather economically between nations, and we have a totally incompetent commander-in-chief to lead us. He reminds me so much of General McClellan of the Army of the Potomac? Maybe if so many Americans were not so insular and lived in other countries for awhile, we would not be so short-sighted in our thinking here at home. As a Southerner, I learned one thing about losing something big, and that was to be prepared the next time around. We started preparing by never fully disarming at Appomattox.

  35. Jonathan says:

    Thanks a lot, really helped for my project regarding Calhoun!

  36. tom says:

    Martin Luther King, not Martin Luther, the white guy who is recognized for his contributions to the protestant religion and for whom MLK’s daddy named him,btw. But let’s drop the King off MLK’s name, forget about the white Martin Luther, and call MLK Martin Luther instead. Now that, my man, is ethnic-centric, if not a tad umm
    acist. (Yeah, I made up ethnic-centric)John C Calhoun was using what he saw, the pitiful state of many free blacks as well as white laborers, to defend the survival of the monied agrarian Southerner, whereas the monied industrialists of the North fought to monetarily enslave the laborer. This was what the war was really fought over. The Emancipation Proclamation was an afterthought: after the New York riots. Interestingly, after the war was won, the Northern industrialist came down and monetarially enslaved the southern white poor while former plantation owners enslaved their former slaves in sharecropper contracts. That some plantations had their own hospitals, that plantation owner’s wives provided medical needs for slaves, and that it was not in yhe best interest of slaveowners to mistreat their slaves is all true. On the other hand, someslaveowners were known to be cruel, and no one should have that kind of power over another human being. But tell that to some of the black slave owners who owned black people…is that really
    acism or is it just the product of an economic structure which was way beyond its moral time? Also, was what was happening to newly off the boat Irishmen living in typhus ghettos with no medical plan working for stinking wages in dangerous conditions with no government safety regulations make the Northern politicians a bunch of saints?

  37. […] easily South Carolina’s most important politician ever. (For more on Calhoun’s role, read “John C. Calhoun: He Started the Civil War” by Ethan S. Rafuse in the October 2002 issue of Civil War […]

  38. Andrew says:

    Francis, you clearly haven’t read that wikipedia page yourself. Go back, read it, then apologise for being ignorant. Even a complete idiot knows that the first slave owner could not have been a black man and no where on that wiki page (wiki being unreliable anyway) does it state that Anthony Johnson was the first slave owner, perhaps first black slave owner but not the first overall.

  39. me says:

    So, who are the white hero’s for black history? I know the kennedys, Abraham Lincoln, ect. But, who all else are and why? I mean, what did they do for black america? Im black and even tho for about 20 years I’ve stood for unity, its only been around 5 to 10 that my understanding is letting me see the that the war on racism is not just white on black but white against white too. So, do you have names that I can research? Thanks!

  40. Joshua says:

    This is a good and interesting article with respect to John C. Calhoun; much of it is correct based on what I’ve found in my family research while looking at this particular ancestor. There’s just one minor mistake in this article, it says that the whites were the minority in the south, while this was and is true in the mountainous regions of the south, where there were few slaves and the few that did own slaves actually worked beside them; the majority of the people in the slave owning states was actually black. Even though the top 1% owned and could afford black slaves, which was the most expensive slave, costing at least $1,400 normally, blacks were encouraged to have kids so much and were so sought after by the elite land owners that they actually outnumbered white people 10 to 1 in south eventually, this was partially due to people actually buying slaves just to breed, like people do with dogs or other animals today. Let’s face it, the sad truth is that blacks were viewed as animals back then by all white people. Calhoun’s papers on minority rights actually bring up an interesting concept of giving the minority the power to counteract and sometimes outright reject what was voted in by the majority and the concept of ‘minorities’ being determined on a regional, state, county, and even city and town basis. Based on this concept any area would be ruled by it’s minority population as opposed to it’s majority population based on race, this would have given more power to the minority white population in the south and more power to the minority black population everywhere else in the country as well as throughout the country as a whole if it was ever applied to the country as a whole and also give the maximum amount of power to the smallest minority, the minority would have the power to veto any law with their vote if the majority tried to vote it in and abolish any laws they deemed unfair to them. It would also give people in rural areas and communities more power in state and county issues than people living in cities or areas with the greatest populations because they would be regarded as a minority. I don’t think he really thought that one through all the way honestly if he was trying to protect the slave owners from losing their slaves if it was applied to a nation wide vote of course because this law would have basically allowed black people to overturn the laws allowing slavery and outright reject it legally technically; although back then it wouldn’t have worked out that way. It would also allow the LGBT communities to vote down unfair laws today and veto any laws banning homosexual marriage. It works out well or minorities, as long as you’re a minority where you live as opposed to simply across the country because you’ve just gotten more voting powers and rights than whatever the majority population in your area is If one white family moved into a black area for example they could in theory run the area and the same thing with one black family in a white area; of course hate groups like the black panthers and KKK would prevent that by attacking said families. Tension between minorities and majorities in any given area would have also been heightened, still the idea is a fascinating concept that I’ve toyed with at times wondering how a law that give the minorities more power then majorities and basing minorities off of regions, states, counties, cities, and towns might affect law and policy today. It would also give Atheists the ability to abolish all laws protecting religion theoretically if it also applied to religious and spiritual minorities and eliminate the laws keeping churches from being taxed.

  41. Fighting Conservative says:

    I think it is hilarious that we blame Calhoun for a war that was started and enforced by Abraham Lincoln. John Calhoun was a supporter of states rights first and foremost. Like our Founding Fathers Calhoun believed that to maintain freedom some state sovereignty must remain intact. If a state does not have the right to secede then the federal government can and will start to take away all other rights. Please read the tenth amendment and the three fifths clause and see that the South did nothing unconstitutional or unlawful in the acts of secession. Slavery is inherently wrong which is something that the Catholic Church has understood for thousands of years before the civil war. The south was doing nothing different than their fathers before them and what many of the northerners were doing. The fact is that almost every western country at the point of the civil war had abolished slavery peacefully. Only Abraham Lincoln and his cronies could even conceive an idea that the only way to end slavery was to beat the South into submission to their federal power. Abraham Lincoln unleashed all out war on the south not to end slavery but to preserve the union. Read Lincolns inaugural speech and his letter to Horace Greeley. Lincoln was more racist than Calhoun. The emancipation proclamation was only meant to free slaves in the south not the north. Also, Lincoln had planned to send all African Americans to Liberia. Lincoln started the war that ultimately took our main freedoms away and showed a nation what the consequences of disobeying the union is, namely complete destruction.

  42. […] “Mr. Calhoun, after finding that the South could not be brought into sufficient unanimity by a clamor about the tariff, selected slavery as the better subject for agitation.” […]

  43. Southerngent1555 says:

    he simply believed in the Constitution, unlike the Northern politicians…..the difference between crass politicians and a statesman. He’s considered the preeminent political theorist produced by the United States

  44. Ed Lowery says:

    Ironically, in his essay, The Concurrent Majority, Calhoun argues that when the majority always wins, the minority has no voice. He was writing about state’s rights, but the essay, now looked at in another light, adds credence to arguments for making exceptions to a stand-up vote on all matters. Those who rail against his “racist” legacy are unaware of how much his views on majority vs minority actually bolster their cause in today’s society.

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