In his 1991 introduction to the reprinted “John C. Calhoun, American Portrait” by Margaret Coit (original 1951), Clyde N. Wilson wrote that “Coit restored to our national pantheon this lost figure, surely a constructive and consoling experience. Her book was probably a decisive factor in the United States Senate designating Calhoun as one of its five greats in 1959, on the finding of a committee chaired by John F. Kennedy.” He adds that “a number of economic historians [have] found Calhoun’s grasp of fiscal and monetary policy superior” to his contemporaries, and that he was a Jeffersonian, and thoroughly conservative, Democrat.
The Great, Lost Conservative Principle
“A republic goes to war to defend itself and its vital interests, including possibly its honour. Empires go to war because going to war is one of the things irresponsible rulers do. The point of reference for a republic is its own well-being. An empire has no point of reference except expansion of its authority. Its foreign policy will be abstract, and will reflect on the vagaries of mind of the rulers, who might, for instance, proclaim that it is their subjects’ duty to establish a New World Order, whatever the cost to their own blood and treasure.
An empire contains not free citizens, but subjects, interchangeable persons having no intrinsic value except as taxpayers and cannon fodder. A people’s culture may be changed by imperial edict to reflect a trumped-up multiculturalism (a sure sign of empire), or their religion persecuted.
We know the problems. Where should we look for solutions? Changing the personnel of the White House, Congress, and the Supreme Court has been of little avail. Thomas Jefferson gives us the answer: our most ancient and best tradition, States’ rights. In his first inaugural address, Jefferson remarked that in most ways Americans were very happily situated, and then asked:
“What more is necessary to make us a happy and prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow citizens – a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits . . . and shall not take from the mouth of labour the bread that it has earned. This is the sum of good government.”
John C. Calhoun, speaking of exactly the same tradition a generation later, said:
“The question is in truth between the people and the supreme court. We contend, that the great conservative principle of our system is in the people of the States, as parties to the constitutional compact, and our opponents that it is in the supreme court . . . Without a full practical recognition of the rights and sovereignty of the States, our union and liberty must perish. State rights would be found . . . in all cases of difficulty and danger [to be] the only conservative principle in the system, the only one that could interpose an effectual check to the danger.”
By conservative principle he means not a political position of right as opposed to left – he means that which conserves the Constitution as it was intended. Contrast that with our present position. Forrest McDonald, our greatest living Constitutional scholar, writes:
“Political scientists and historians are in agreement that federalism is the greatest contribution of the Founding Fathers to the science of government. It is also the only feature of the Constitution that has been successfully exported, that can be employed to protect liberty elsewhere in the world. Yet what we invented, and others imitate, no longer exists on its native shores.”
(From Union to Empire, Clyde N. Wilson, Foundation for American Education, 2003, pp. 155-157)