John C. Calhoun – Born March 18, 1782 at Abbeville, South Carolina
The passage below is taken from Dr. Clyde N. Wilson’s Introduction to “John C. Calhoun: American Portrait” by Margaret Coit. (Houghton Mifflin, 1950). Dr. Wilson notes that the outcome of the war of 1861 -1865 “fixed and image of Calhoun as a fanatic” and a defender of African slavery by authors who knew little of the early history of that worldwide institution or the American political system created by the States themselves. In her book, Coit reminds the reader that Calhoun was educated in Connecticut where slavery was still practiced, and Jeffersonian Democracy was still preached by many.
Calhoun the Jeffersonian Democrat
“From 1811 to 1850 – as a representative from South Carolina, secretary of war, vice president, twice a presidential contender, secretary of state, and senator for fifteen years – John C. Calhoun was a central figure in the American experience. He was never predominant in influence, even in the South in his own lifetime, but there was never a time when he was not a major player who had to be taken into account.
Despite the absence of all the hallmarks of political power – large political base and patronage power – Calhoun arrested public attention and influenced public opinion. He had a major if not always decisive influence on every issue of the period – in regard not only to State and federal conflict over authority, but also to free trade and tariff, banking and currency, taxation and expenditures, war and peace, foreign relations, Indian policy, public lands, internal improvements, the two-party system, and the struggle between congressional and presidential power.
Calhoun was part of the Great Triumvirate with Webster and Clay which ‘triangulated the destiny of the nation’ according to Merrill D. Peterson. They were American political life between the time that Jefferson crossed the Potomac going South for the last time, leaving behind a modest federal establishment for a union of the States, and that time when Lincoln, with the help of General Grant and Sherman, forged the modern American state out of blood and fire.”