John C. Calhoun (Leaders) – Overview, Biography

John C. Calhoun
Name:John C. Calhoun
Occupation: Leaders
Birth Day: March 18,
Death Date:March 31, 1850(1850-03-31) (aged 68)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Age: Aged 68
Birth Place: Abbeville,
United States
Zodiac Sign:Aries

John C. Calhoun

John C. Calhoun was born on March 18, 1782 in Abbeville, United States (68 years old). John C. Calhoun is a Leaders, zodiac sign: Aries. Nationality: United States. Approx. Net Worth: Undisclosed.

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Family Members

#NameRelationshipNet WorthSalaryAgeOccupation
#1Anna Maria Calhoun Clemson Children N/A N/A N/A
#2James Edward Calhoun Children N/A N/A N/A
#3Floride Calhoun Spouse N/A N/A N/A

Does John C. Calhoun Dead or Alive?

As per our current Database, John C. Calhoun died on March 31, 1850(1850-03-31) (aged 68)
Washington, D.C., U.S..


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Biography Timeline


John Caldwell Calhoun was born in Abbeville District, South Carolina on March 18, 1782, the fourth child of Patrick Calhoun (1727–1796) and his wife Martha (Caldwell). Patrick’s father, also named Patrick Calhoun, had joined the Scotch-Irish immigration movement from County Donegal to southwestern Pennsylvania. After the death of the elder Patrick in 1741, the family moved to southwestern Virginia. Following the defeat of British General Edward Braddock at the Battle of the Monongahela in 1755, the family, fearing Indian attacks, moved to South Carolina in 1756.


Jackson sided with the Eatons. He and his late wife Rachel Donelson had undergone similar political attacks stemming from their marriage in 1791. The two had married in 1791 not knowing that Rachel’s first husband, Lewis Robards, had failed to finalize the expected divorce. Once the divorce was finalized, they married legally in 1794, but the episode caused a major controversy, and was used against him in the 1828 campaign. Jackson saw attacks on Eaton stemming ultimately from the political opposition of Calhoun, who had failed to silence his wife’s criticisms. The Calhouns were widely regarded as the chief instigators. Jackson, who loved to personalize disputes, also saw the Petticoat affair as a direct challenge to his authority, because it involved lower-ranking executive officials and their wives seeming to contest his ability to choose whomever he wanted for his cabinet. Secretary of State Martin Van Buren, a widower, took Jackson’s side and defended the Eatons. Van Buren was a northerner and a supporter of the 1828 tariff (which Calhoun bitterly opposed). Calhoun and Van Buren were the main contenders for the vice presidential nomination in the ensuing election, and the nominee would then presumably be the party’s choice to succeed Jackson. That Van Buren sided with the Eatons, in addition to disagreements between Jackson and Calhoun on other issues, mainly the Nullification Crisis, marked him as Calhoun’s likely vice presidential successor.


With financing from his brothers, he went to Yale College in Connecticut in 1802. For the first time in his life, Calhoun encountered serious, advanced, well-organized intellectual dialogue that could shape his mind. Yale was dominated by President Timothy Dwight, a Federalist who became his mentor. Dwight’s brilliance entranced (and sometimes repelled) Calhoun.


Calhoun made friends easily, read widely, and was a noted member of the debating society of Brothers in Unity. He graduated as valedictorian in 1804. He studied law at the nation’s first independent law school, Tapping Reeve Law School in Litchfield, Connecticut, where he worked with Tapping Reeve and James Gould. He was admitted to the South Carolina bar in 1807.


With a base among the Irish and Scotch Irish, Calhoun won election to South Carolina’s 6th congressional district of the House of Representatives in 1810. He immediately became a leader of the War Hawks, along with Speaker Henry Clay of Kentucky and South Carolina congressmen William Lowndes and Langdon Cheves. Brushing aside the vehement objections of both anti-war New Englanders and arch-conservative Jeffersonians led by John Randolph of Roanoke, they demanded war against Britain to preserve American honor and republican values. They claimed these had been violated by the British refusal to recognize American shipping rights. As a member, and later acting chairman, of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Calhoun played a major role in drafting two key documents in the push for war, the Report on Foreign Relations and the War Report of 1812. Drawing on the linguistic tradition of the Declaration of Independence, Calhoun’s committee called for a declaration of war in ringing phrases, denouncing Britain’s “lust for power”, “unbounded tyranny”, and “mad ambition”. Historian James Roark says, “These were fighting words in a war that was in large measure about insult and honor.”


In January 1811, Calhoun married Floride Bonneau Colhoun, a first cousin once removed. She was the daughter of wealthy United States Senator and lawyer John E. Colhoun, a leader of Charleston high society.


The United States declared war on Britain on June 18, inaugurating the War of 1812. The opening phase involved multiple disasters for American arms, as well as a financial crisis when the Treasury could barely pay the bills. The conflict caused economic hardship for Americans, as the Royal Navy blockaded the ports and cut off imports, exports and the coastal trade. Several attempted invasions of Canada were fiascos, but the U.S. in 1813 seized control of Lake Erie and broke the power of hostile Indians in battles such as the Battle of the Thames in Canada in 1813 and the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in Alabama in 1814. These Indians had, in many cases, cooperated with the British or Spanish in opposing American interests.


Calhoun labored to raise troops, provide funds, speed logistics, rescue the currency, and regulate commerce to aid the war effort. One colleague hailed him as “the young Hercules who carried the war on his shoulders.” Disasters on the battlefield made him double his legislative efforts to overcome the obstructionism of John Randolph, Daniel Webster, and other opponents of the war. In December 1814, with the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte apparently defeated, and the British invasions of New York and Baltimore thwarted, British and American diplomats signed the Treaty of Ghent. It called for a return to the borders of 1812 with no gains or losses. Before the treaty reached the Senate for ratification, and even before news of its signing reached New Orleans, a massive British invasion force was decisively defeated in January 1815 at the Battle of New Orleans, making a national hero of General Andrew Jackson. Americans celebrated what they called a “second war of independence” against Britain. This led to the beginning of the “Era of Good Feelings”, an era marked by the formal demise of the Federalist Party and increased nationalism.


After the war ended in 1815 the “Old Republicans” in Congress, with their Jeffersonian ideology for economy in the federal government, sought to reduce the operations and finances of the War Department. Calhoun’s political rivalry with William H. Crawford, the Secretary of the Treasury, over the pursuit of the presidency in the 1824 election, complicated Calhoun’s tenure as War Secretary. The general lack of military action following the war meant that a large army, such as that preferred by Calhoun, was no longer considered necessary. The “Radicals”, a group of strong states’ rights supporters who mostly favored Crawford for president in the coming election, were inherently suspicious of large armies. Some allegedly also wanted to hinder Calhoun’s own presidential aspirations for that election. Thus, on March 2, 1821, Congress passed the Reduction Act, which reduced the number of enlisted men of the army by half, from 11,709 to 5,586, and the number of the officer corps by a fifth, from 680 to 540. Calhoun, though concerned, offered little protest. Later, to provide the army with a more organized command structure, which had been severely lacking during the War of 1812, he appointed Major General Jacob Brown to a position that would later become known as “Commanding General of the United States Army”.


Despite American successes, the mismanagement of the Army during the war distressed Calhoun, and he resolved to strengthen and centralize the War Department. The militia had proven itself quite unreliable during the war and Calhoun saw the need for a permanent and professional military force. In 1816 he called for building an effective navy, including steam frigates, as well as a standing army of adequate size. The British blockade of the coast had underscored the necessity of rapid means of internal transportation; Calhoun proposed a system of “great permanent roads”. The blockade had cut off the import of manufactured items, so he emphasized the need to encourage more domestic manufacture, fully realizing that industry was based in the Northeast. The dependence of the old financial system on import duties was devastated when the blockade cut off imports. Calhoun called for a system of internal taxation that would not collapse from a war-time shrinkage of maritime trade, as the tariffs had done. The expiration of the charter of the First Bank of the United States had also distressed the Treasury, so to reinvigorate and modernize the economy Calhoun called for a new national bank. A new bank was chartered as the Second Bank of the United States by Congress and approved by President James Madison in 1816. Through his proposals, Calhoun emphasized a national footing and downplayed sectionalism and states rights. Historian Ulrich B. Phillips says that at this stage of Calhoun’s career, “The word nation was often on his lips, and his conviction was to enhance national unity which he identified with national power.”


In 1817, the deplorable state of the War Department led four men to decline offers from President James Monroe to accept the office of Secretary of War before Calhoun finally assumed the role. Calhoun took office on December 8 and served until 1825. He continued his role as a leading nationalist during the Era of Good Feelings. He proposed an elaborate program of national reforms to the infrastructure that he believed would speed economic modernization. His first priority was an effective navy, including steam frigates, and in the second place a standing army of adequate size—and as further preparation for emergency, “great permanent roads”, “a certain encouragement” to manufactures, and a system of internal taxation that would not collapse from a war-time shrinkage of maritime trade, like customs duties.

In 1817, surveyors sent by Secretary of War Calhoun to map the area around Fort Snelling named the largest lake in what became Minneapolis, Minnesota, for him. Two centuries later, the city of Minneapolis renamed the lake with the Dakota language name Bde Maka Ska, meaning “White Earth Lake” or “White Banks Lake”. The Calhoun-Isles Community Band in the Uptown district of Minneapolis changed its name to City of Lakes Community Band in November 2018, to distance itself from Calhoun’s pro-slavery legacy, following the renaming of the lake.Calhoun Square and Calhoun Beach Club both in Minneapolis announced name changes, and the road around the lake was renamed Bde Maka Ska Parkway.


Calhoun’s tenure as Secretary of War witnessed the outbreak of the Missouri crisis in December 1818, when a petition arrived from Missouri settlers seeking admission into the Union as a slave state. In response, Representative James Tallmadge Jr. of New York proposed two amendments to the bill designed to restrict the spread of slavery into what would become the new state. These amendments touched off an intense debate between North and South that had some talking openly of disunion. In February 1820, Calhoun predicted to Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, a New Englander, that the Missouri issue “would not produce a dissolution” of the Union. “But if it should,” Calhoun went on, “the South would of necessity be compelled to form an alliance with…Great Britain.” “I said that would be returning to the colonial state,” Adams recalled saying afterwards. According to Adams, “He said, yes, pretty much, but it would be forced upon them.”


Calhoun was not openly religious. He was raised as an orthodox Presbyterian, but he was attracted to Southern varieties of Unitarianism of the sort that attracted Jefferson. Southern Unitarianism was generally less organized than the variety popular in New England. He was generally not outspoken about his religious beliefs. After his marriage, Calhoun and his wife attended the Episcopal Church, of which she was a member. In 1821 he became a founding member of All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, D.C.

John Quincy Adams concluded in 1821 that “Calhoun is a man of fair and candid mind, of honorable principles, of clear and quick understanding, of cool self-possession, of enlarged philosophical views, and of ardent patriotism. He is above all sectional and factious prejudices more than any other statesman of this Union with whom I have ever acted.” Historian Charles Wiltse noted Calhoun’s evolution, “Though he is known today primarily for his sectionalism, Calhoun was the last of the great political leaders of his time to take a sectional position—later than Daniel Webster, later than Henry Clay, later than Adams himself.”


A reform-minded modernizer, Calhoun attempted to institute centralization and efficiency in the Indian Department and in the Army by establishing new coastal and frontier fortifications and building military roads, but Congress either failed to respond to his reforms or responded with hostility. Calhoun’s frustration with congressional inaction, political rivalries, and ideological differences spurred him to create the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1824. The responsibilities of the bureau were to manage treaty negotiations, schools, and trade with Indians, in addition to handling all expenditures and correspondence concerning Indian affairs. Thomas McKenney was appointed as the first head of the bureau.

Calhoun was initially a candidate for President of the United States in the election of 1824. Four other men also sought the presidency: Andrew Jackson, Adams, Crawford, and Henry Clay. Calhoun failed to win the endorsement of the South Carolina legislature, and his supporters in Pennsylvania decided to abandon his candidacy in favor of Jackson’s, and instead supported him for vice president. Other states soon followed, and Calhoun therefore allowed himself to become a candidate for vice president rather than president. The Electoral College elected Calhoun vice president by a landslide on 1 December 1824. He won 182 of 261 electoral votes, while five other men received the remaining votes. No presidential candidate received a majority in the Electoral College, and the election was ultimately resolved by the House of Representatives, where Adams was declared the winner over Crawford and Jackson, who in the election had led Adams in both popular vote and electoral vote. After Clay, the Speaker of the House, was appointed Secretary of State by Adams, Jackson’s supporters denounced what they considered a “corrupt bargain” between Adams and Clay to give Adams the presidency in exchange for Clay receiving the office of Secretary of State, the holder of which had traditionally become the next president. Calhoun also expressed some concerns, which caused friction between him and Adams.


As secretary, Calhoun had responsibility for management of Indian affairs. He promoted a plan, adopted by Monroe in 1825, to preserve the sovereignty of eastern Indians by relocating them to western reservations they could control without interference from state governments. In over seven years Calhoun supervised the negotiation and ratification of 40 treaties with Indian tribes. Calhoun opposed the invasion of Spanish Florida launched in 1818 by General Jackson during the First Seminole War, which was done without direct authorization from Calhoun or President Monroe, and in private with other cabinet members, advocated censuring of Jackson as punishment. Calhoun claimed that Jackson had begun a war against Spain in violation of the Constitution and, falsely, that he had contradicted Calhoun’s explicit orders in doing so. No official instructions not to invade Florida or attack the Spanish were ever issued by the administration. However, Calhoun supported the execution of Alexander Arbuthnot and Robert Ambrister, two British soldiers living in Florida who were accused of inciting the Seminole to make war against the United States. Calhoun accused the British of being involved in “wickedness, corruption, and barbarity at which the heart sickens and which in this enlightened age it ought not scarcely to be believed that a Christian nation would have participated.” He added that he hoped the executions of Arbuthnot and Ambrister would deter the British and any other nations “who by false promises delude and excite an Indian tribe to all the deeds of savage war.” The United States annexed Florida from Spain in 1819 through the Adams–Onís Treaty.


Calhoun also opposed President Adams’ plan to send a delegation to observe a meeting of South and Central American leaders in Panama, believing that the United States should stay out of foreign affairs. Calhoun became disillusioned with Adams’ high tariff policies and increased centralization of government through a network of “internal improvements”, which he now saw as a threat to the rights of the states. Calhoun wrote to Jackson on June 4, 1826, informing him that he would support Jackson’s second campaign for the presidency in 1828. The two were never particularly close friends. Calhoun never fully trusted Jackson, a frontiersman and popular war hero, but hoped that his election would bring some reprieve from Adams’s anti-states’ rights policies. Jackson selected Calhoun as his running mate, and together they defeated Adams and his running mate Richard Rush. Calhoun thus became the second of two vice presidents to serve under two different presidents. The only other man who accomplished this feat was George Clinton, who served as Vice President from 1805 to 1812 under Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.


In 1830, reports had emerged accurately stating that Calhoun, as Secretary of War, had favored censuring Jackson for his 1818 invasion of Florida. These infuriated Jackson. Eventually, Lewis decided to reveal the existence of Forsyth’s letter, and on April 30, Crawford wrote a second letter, this time to Forsyth, repeating the charge Forsyth represented him as having previously made. Jackson received the letter on May 12, which confirmed his suspicions. He claimed that Calhoun had “betrayed” him. Eaton took his revenge on Calhoun. For reasons unclear, Calhoun asked Eaton to approach Jackson about the possibility of Calhoun publishing his correspondence with Jackson at the time of the Seminole War. Eaton did nothing, leading Calhoun to believe that Jackson had approved the publication of the letters. Calhoun published them in the United States Telegraph, a newspaper edited by a Calhoun protégé, Duff Green. This gave the appearance of Calhoun trying to justify himself against a conspiracy to damage him, and further enraged the President.


Calhoun’s treatment of his own slaves includes an incident in 1831, when his slave Alick ran away when threatened with a severe whipping. Calhoun wrote to his second cousin and brother-in-law, asking him to keep a lookout for Alick, and if he was taken, to have him “severely whipped” and sent back. When Alick was captured, Calhoun wrote to the captor:


Finally in the spring of 1831, at the suggestion of Van Buren, who, like Jackson, supported the Eatons, Jackson replaced all but one of his Cabinet members, thereby limiting Calhoun’s influence. Van Buren began the process by resigning as Secretary of State, facilitating Jackson’s removal of others. Van Buren thereby grew in favor with Jackson, while the rift between the President and Calhoun was widened. Later, in 1832, Calhoun, as vice president, cast a tie-breaking vote against Jackson’s nomination of Van Buren as Minister to Great Britain in a failed attempt to end Van Buren’s political career. Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton, a staunch supporter of Jackson, then stated that Calhoun had “elected a Vice President”, as Van Buren was able to move past his failed nomination as Minister to Great Britain and instead gain the Democratic Party’s vice presidential nomination in the 1832 election, in which he and Jackson were victorious.

On July 14, 1832, Jackson signed into law the Tariff of 1832. It was designed to placate the nullifiers by lowering tariff rates, but the nullifiers in South Carolina remained unsatisfied. On November 24, the South Carolina legislature officially nullified both the Tariff of 1832 and the Tariff of 1828, to be null and void as of February 1, 1833. In response, Jackson sent U.S. Navy warships to Charleston harbor, and threatened to hang Calhoun or any man who worked to support nullification or secession. After joining the Senate, Calhoun began to work with Clay on a new compromise tariff. A bill sponsored by the administration had been introduced by Representative Gulian C. Verplanck of New York, but it lowered rates more sharply than Clay and other protectionists desired. Clay managed to get Calhoun to agree to a bill with higher rates in exchange for Clay’s opposition to Jackson’s military threats and, perhaps, with the hope that he could win some Southern votes in his next bid for the presidency. On the same day, Congress passed the Force Bill, which empowered the President of the United States to use military force to ensure state compliance with federal law. South Carolina accepted the tariff, but in a final show of defiance, nullified the Force Bill. In Calhoun’s speech against the Force Bill, delivered on February 5, 1833, no longer as vice president, he strongly endorsed nullification, at one point saying:

As tensions over nullification escalated, South Carolina Senator Robert Y. Hayne was considered less capable than Calhoun to represent South Carolina in the Senate debates, so in late 1832 Hayne resigned to become governor; the South Carolina legislature elected Calhoun as his replacement. On December 28, Calhoun resigned as vice president to become a senator, with a voice in the debates. Van Buren had already been elected as Jackson’s new vice president, meaning that Calhoun had less than three months left on his term anyway. The South Carolina newspaper City Gazette commented on the change:

When Calhoun took his seat in the Senate on December 29, 1832, his chances of becoming President were considered poor due to his involvement in the Nullification Crisis, which left him without connections to a major national party. After implementation of the Compromise Tariff of 1833, which helped solve the Nullification Crisis, the Nullifier Party, along with other anti-Jackson politicians, formed a coalition known as the Whig Party. Calhoun sometimes affiliated with the Whigs, but chose to remain a virtual independent due to the Whig promotion of federally subsidized “internal improvements.”


From 1833 to 1834, Jackson was engaged in removing federal funds from the Second Bank of the United States during the Bank War. Calhoun opposed this action, considering it a dangerous expansion of executive power. He called the men of the Jackson administration “artful, cunning, and corrupt politicians, and not fearless warriors.” He accused Jackson of being ignorant on financial matters. As evidence, he cited the economic panic caused by Nicholas Biddle as a means to stop Jackson from destroying the Bank. On March 28, 1834, Calhoun voted with the Whig senators on a successful motion to censure Jackson for his removal of the funds. In 1837, he refused to attend the inauguration of Jackson’s chosen successor, Van Buren, even as other powerful senators who opposed the administration, such as Webster and Clay, did witness the inauguration. However, by 1837 Calhoun generally had realigned himself with most of the Democrats’ policies.


Whereas other Southern politicians had excused slavery as a “necessary evil,” in a famous speech on the Senate floor on February 6, 1837, Calhoun asserted that slavery was a “positive good.” He rooted this claim on two grounds: white supremacy and paternalism. All societies, Calhoun claimed, are ruled by an elite group that enjoys the fruits of the labor of a less-exceptional group. Senator William Cabell Rives of Virginia earlier had referred to slavery as an evil that might become a “lesser evil” in some circumstances. Calhoun believed that conceded too much to the abolitionists:


To restore his national stature, Calhoun cooperated with Van Buren. Democrats were hostile to national banks, and the country’s bankers had joined the Whig Party. The Democratic replacement, meant to help combat the Panic of 1837, was the Independent Treasury system, which Calhoun supported and which went into effect. Calhoun, like Jackson and Van Buren, attacked finance capitalism and opposed what he saw as encroachment by government and big business. For this reason, he opposed the candidacy of Whig William Henry Harrison in the 1840 presidential election, believing that Harrison would institute high tariffs and therefore place an undue burden on the Southern economy. Calhoun resigned from the Senate on March 3, 1843, four years before the expiration of his term, and returned to Fort Hill to prepare an attempt to win the Democratic nomination for the 1844 presidential election. He gained little support, even from the South, and quit.


When Harrison died in 1841 after a month in office, Vice President John Tyler succeeded him. Tyler, a former Democrat, was expelled from the Whig Party after vetoing bills passed by the Whig congressional majority to reestablish a national bank and raise tariffs. He named Calhoun Secretary of State on April 10, 1844, following the death of Abel P. Upshur in the USS Princeton disaster.


On April 22, 1844, Secretary Calhoun signed the treaty of annexation and ten days later delivered it to the Senate for consideration in secret session. The details of the treaty negotiations and supporting documents were leaked to the press by Senator Benjamin Tappan of Ohio. Tappan, a Democrat, was an opponent of annexation and of slavery. The terms of the Tyler–Texas treaty and the release of Calhoun’s letter to British ambassador Richard Pakenham exposed the annexation campaign as a program to expand and preserve slavery. In the Pakenham letter, Calhoun alleged that the institution of slavery contributed to the physical and mental well-being of Southern slaves. The U.S. Senate was compelled to open its debates on ratification to public scrutiny, and hopes for its passage by the two-thirds majority required by the Constitution were abandoned by administration supporters. In linking Texas annexation to the expansion of slavery, Calhoun had alienated many who might previously have supported the treaty.

On June 8, 1844, after fierce partisan struggles, the Senate rejected the Tyler–Texas treaty by a vote of 35–16, a margin of more than two-to-one. The vote went largely along party lines: Whigs had opposed it almost unanimously (1–27), while Democrats split, but voted largely in favor (15–8). Nevertheless, the disclosure of the treaty placed the issue of Texas annexation at the center of the 1844 general election.

At the Democratic Convention in Baltimore, Maryland in May 1844, Calhoun’s supporters, with Calhoun in attendance, threatened to bolt the proceedings and shift support to Tyler’s third party ticket if the delegates failed to produce a pro-Texas nominee. Calhoun’s Pakenham letter, and its identification with proslavery extremism, moved the presumptive Democratic Party nominee, the northerner Martin Van Buren, into denouncing annexation. Therefore, Van Buren, already not widely popular in the South, saw his support from that region crippled. As a result, James K. Polk, a pro-Texas Jacksonian and Tennessee politician, won the nomination. Historian Daniel Walker Howe says that Calhoun’s Pakenham letter was a deliberate attempt to influence the outcome of the 1844 election, writing:


In the general election, Calhoun offered his endorsement to Polk on condition that he support the annexation of Texas, oppose the Tariff of 1842, and dissolve the Washington Globe, the semi-official propaganda organ of the Democratic Party headed by Francis Preston Blair. He received these assurances and enthusiastically supported Polk’s candidacy. Polk narrowly defeated Henry Clay, who opposed annexation. Lame-duck President Tyler organized a joint House–Senate vote on the Texas treaty which passed, requiring only a simple majority. He signed a bill of annexation on March 1, With President Polk’s support, the Texas annexation treaty was approved by the Texas Republic in 1845. A bill to admit Texas as the 28th state of the Union was signed by Polk on December 29, 1845.

Calhoun was reelected to the Senate in 1845 following the resignation of Daniel Elliott Huger. He soon became vocally opposed to the Mexican–American War. He believed that it would distort the national character by undermining republicanism in favor of empire and by bringing non-white persons into the country. When Congress declared war against Mexico on May 13, he abstained from voting on the measure. Calhoun also vigorously opposed the Wilmot Proviso, an 1846 proposal by Pennsylvania Representative David Wilmot to ban slavery in all newly acquired territories. The House of Representatives, through its Northern majority, passed the provision several times. However, the Senate, where non-slave and slave states had more equal representation, never approved the measure.


A major crisis emerged from the persistent Oregon boundary dispute between Great Britain and the United States, due to an increasing number of American migrants. The territory included most of present-day British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. American expansionists used the slogan “54–40 or fight” in reference to the Northern boundary coordinates of the Oregon territory. The parties compromised, ending the war threat, by splitting the area down the middle at the 49th parallel, with the British acquiring British Columbia and the Americans accepting Washington and Oregon. Calhoun, along with President Polk and Secretary of State James Buchanan, continued work on the treaty while he was a senator, and it was ratified by a vote of 41–14 on June 18, 1846.


The Compromise of 1850, devised by Clay and Stephen A. Douglas, a first-term Democratic senator from Illinois, was designed to solve the controversy over the status of slavery in the vast new territories acquired from Mexico. Many pro-slavery Southerners opposed it as inadequate, and Calhoun helped organize preparations for the Nashville Convention, which would meet that summer to discuss the possibility of Southern secession. The nearly 68-year old Calhoun had suffered periodic bouts of tuberculosis throughout his life. In March 1850, the disease reached a critical stage. Weeks from death and too feeble to speak, Calhoun wrote a blistering attack on the compromise that would become likely his most famous speech. On March 4, a friend, Senator James Mason of Virginia, read the remarks. Calhoun affirmed the right of the South to leave the Union in response to Northern subjugation, specifically the North’s growing opposition to the South’s “peculiar institution” of slavery. He warned that the day “the balance between the two sections” was destroyed would be a day not far removed from disunion, anarchy, and civil war. Calhoun queried how the Union might be preserved in light of subjugation by the “stronger” party against the “weaker” one. He maintained that the responsibility of solving the question lay entirely on the North—as the stronger section, to allow the Southern minority an equal share in governance and to cease its anti-slavery agitation. He added:

Calhoun died at the Old Brick Capitol boarding house in Washington, D.C., on March 31, 1850, of tuberculosis, at the age of 68. Last words attributed to him were “The South, the poor South!”


In what historian Robert R. Russell calls the “Calhoun Doctrine,” Calhoun argued that the Federal Government’s role in the territories was only that of the trustee or agent of the several sovereign states: it was obliged not to discriminate among the states and hence was incapable of forbidding the bringing into any territory of anything that was legal property in any state. Calhoun argued that citizens from every state had the right to take their property to any territory. Congress and local voters, he asserted, had no authority to place restrictions on slavery in the territories. In a February 1847 speech before the Senate, Calhoun declared that “the enactment of any law which should directly, or by its effects, deprive the citizens of any of the States of this Union from emigrating, with their property, in to any of the territories of the United States, will make such discrimination and would therefore be a violation of the Constitution.” Enslavers therefore had a fundamental right to take their property wherever they wished. As constitutional historian Hermann von Holst noted, “Calhoun’s doctrine made it a solemn constitutional duty of the United States government and of the American people to act as if the existence or non-existence of slavery in the Territories did not concern them in the least.” The Calhoun Doctrine was opposed by the Free Soil forces, which merged into the new Republican Party around 1854. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney used Calhoun’s arguments in his decision in the 1857 Supreme Court case Dred Scott v. Sandford, in which he ruled that the federal government could not prohibit slavery in any of the territories.


Many Southerners believed his warnings and read every political news story from the North as further evidence of the planned destruction of the white southern way of life. The climax came a decade after Calhoun’s death with the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln in 1860, which led to the secession of South Carolina, followed by six other Southern states. They formed the new Confederate States, which, in accordance with Calhoun’s theory, did not have any organized political parties.


The Confederate government honored Calhoun on a 1¢ postage stamp, which was printed in 1862 but was never officially released.


Calhoun’s widow, Floride, died on July 25, 1866, and was buried in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Cemetery in Pendleton, South Carolina, near their children, but apart from her husband.


In 1896, a monument to Calhoun was erected in Marion Square in Charleston, South Carolina; it replaced an 1887 monument that was poorly cast. “The statue has been a topic of debate for a long time. In 2017, Charleston’s city council deferred a proposal to put a plaque on the statue that would have stated his white-supremacist views.” It is No. 5 on the Make It Right Project’s 2018 list of the 10 Confederate monuments it most wants removed. The Make It Right Project organized a protest at the monument on May 16, 2019. The monument was removed on June 24, 2020.


In 1910, the state of South Carolina gave a statue of John C. Calhoun to the National Statuary Hall Collection.


In 1957, a five-member “special” committee, led by Senator John F. Kennedy, selected Calhoun as one of the five senators to enter the newly created senatorial pantheon “hall of fame.” This “hall of fame” was established to fill five vacant portrait spaces in the Senate Reception Room.


Biographer John Niven argues “that these moves were part of a well-thought-out plan whereby Hayne would restrain the hotheads in the state legislature and Calhoun would defend his brainchild, nullification, in Washington against administration stalwarts and the likes of Daniel Webster, the new apostle of northern nationalism.” Calhoun was the first of two vice presidents to resign, the second being Spiro Agnew in 1973. During his terms as vice president, Calhoun made a record of 31 tie-breaking votes in the Senate.


Calhoun was portrayed by actor Arliss Howard in the 1997 film Amistad. The film depicts the controversy and legal battle surrounding the status of slaves who in 1839 rebelled against their transporters on the La Amistad slave ship.


Recently, Calhoun’s reputation has suffered particularly due to his defense of slavery. The racially motivated Charleston church shooting in South Carolina in June 2015 reinvigorated demands for the removal of monuments dedicated to prominent pro-slavery and Confederate States figures. That month, the monument to Calhoun in Charleston was found vandalized, with spray-painted denunciations of Calhoun as a racist and a defender of slavery. Later, in 2020, during the George Floyd protests in South Carolina, the monument was vandalized with signs and spray paint, with calls from the public demanding its removal, causing the city of Charleston to erect a chain link fence around the statue to prevent the public from accessing it, before announcing on June 23, 2020 that the statue would be removed.


In response to decades of requests, Yale President Peter Salovey announced in 2017 that the university’s Calhoun College would be renamed to honor Grace Murray Hopper, a pioneering computer programmer, mathematician and Navy rear admiral who graduated from Yale. Calhoun is commemorated elsewhere on the campus, including the exterior of Harkness Tower, a prominent campus landmark, as one of Yale’s “Eight Worthies.”


In June 2020, Clemson University removed John C. Calhoun’s name from Clemson University Calhoun Honors College, renaming it to Clemson University Honors College. This action was taken in response to a petition which was supported by NFL stars DeAndre Hopkins and Deshaun Watson who are Clemson University alumni. Against the backdrop of the George Floyd protests, University chairman Smyth McKissick said that “we must recognize there are central figures in Clemson’s history whose ideals, beliefs and actions do not represent the university’s core values of respect and diversity.”

Upcoming Birthday

Currently, John C. Calhoun is 240 years, 10 months and 11 days old. John C. Calhoun will celebrate 241st birthday on a Saturday 18th of March 2023.

Find out about John C. Calhoun birthday activities in timeline view here.

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