The
Man

Back to Main

The Philosophy:
His Political views
and their effects
on America

The Legend:
The Legacy of
one of America's
greatest Senators


In 1733, a five-year-old boy traveled with his family from Donegal, Ireland to America. In America he experienced hardships, but he was strong. He patrolled the frontier and wasn't adverse to battle. He was a leader, and this allowed him to establish a following. In 1769, he and his following forcibly stole the ballot and he was elected to the South Carolina State Legislature. On March 18, 1782, this fighting politician, Patrick Calhoun, had a son.

Young John C. Calhoun grew up in an environment of battle stories and politics. He heard stories of Indians and British soldiers. His father disliked the United States Constitution, and Patrick would say that government was best, which governed least. Young John was enthralled by this document his father spoke of. At age 14, John was diligent in his studies, but his father was dying and so he had to return to manage the family farm. He wouldn't let farm work, however, keep him away from the books he loved so much. When he was eighteen, Calhoun was seen plowing the fields with a book on the plow, so he could work his mind while he worked his body. John loved the land also, and it would be the basis for much of his political motivation. Not wanting just half of an education, John was sent to Moses Waddell's "log college," where he studied to make up for the missed education. Two years later he entered the Junior class of Yale University. Calhoun was very brilliant and he graduated with honors. While at Yale, this "backwoods farmer" became involved in a heated debate over the principle of popular sovereignty with the President of Yale, Timothy Dwight. At the end of their debate, with neither backing down, Dwight remarked about Calhoun's talent, and told him that he could one day be President of the United States .

In 1807, Calhoun began his law practice in Abbeville, South Carolina. He immediately earned a deep respect from society and quickly became a leader of the community. In October of 1807, Calhoun was first elected to the South Carolina General Assembly. This was the beginning of the public life of John Calhoun that would develop into a life that has been and will continue to be studied throughout history. While he was in state legislature, Calhoun attempted to unify the states' northern, piedmont section and its "king-cotton" lowcountry. In 1811, Calhoun married his wealth cousin, Floride Bonneau Calhoun, and they moved to Fort Hill plantation near what is now Pendleton, SC. This plantation would later become the site of Clemson University. Even today, the Calhoun Mansion still stands on the campus of Clemson University.

John C. Calhoun began his career of national service in 1811 when he began his first of three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. He soon emerged as a leader of the "War Hawks" which was a group of young legislators who supported war against England to save America's national pride and rights on the high seas. After the war was over, Calhoun supported Henry's Clay's "American System" which focused on a national bank, internal transportation, and a protective tariff. In 1817, Calhoun was appointed to Secretary of War under Monroe.

John C. Calhoun has the extraordinary recognition of being Vice-President under two different presidents. In 1824, Calhoun was elected Vice-President under John Q. Adams and then again in 1828 under Andrew Jackson. Calhoun resigned from the latter vice-presidency in 1832 to be the Senator from South Carolina.

As a Senator, Calhoun fought for state's rights and for the interests of the South. In 1828, Calhoun anonymously wrote South Carolina Exposition and Protest in which he stated his ideas of nullification. This was based on the idea that the constitution was a contract between the states and that if the Federal Government broke this contract, the states had the self-evident right to withdraw from the contract. In the latter days of his life, Calhoun realized the instability of the Union. He fought to have the tariff removed and the power in the federal government balanced between Northern and Southern states. His last speech was on Henry Clay's Compromise of 1850 and was read to the Senate by a fellow senator because Calhoun was in too poor of health to deliver his final statement himself.

John C. Calhoun's effect on American politics cannot be measured. This was recognized by the U.S. Senate in 1957 by naming him one of history's five greatest senators. In the words of Abraham Veneable Calhoun was the "Ardent Friend of the Union and the Constitution" and he will be remembered in history for this.


Calhoun's life: a Timeline
"I hold the duties of life to be greater than life itself, and that in performing them, even against hope, our labor is not lost. I regard this life very much as a struggle against evil, and that to him who acts on proer principle, the reward is in the struggle more than in victory itself.
-John C. Calhoun