Thursday, May 15, 2008

John C. Calhoun: Hey, thanks for the Civil War, buddy!

John C. Calhoun had bad hair
He said things of which no one cared
He was of little worth from the day of his birth
To find such a loser is rare
-by me in 11th grade

At left: John C. Calhoun does his best to crush the still-beating heart of the federal Union.

John C. Calhoun was an ugly, ugly, racist, hateful man. John C. Calhoun helped stir the political pot over slavery for DECADES in the first half of the nineteenth century. He is responsible for the doctrine of "nullification" that basically says states can just say "No, thanks" to federal laws, and endorsed the right of secession. Did I mention that he was from South Carolina? He was nicknamed the "cast-iron man" because he looked like he'd been hit in the face with a cast-iron pan. Or maybe it was because he just really, really, really wanted to defend slavery. Like, a lot. After attending Yale, marrying his first cousin once removed FLORIDE COLHOUN CALHOUN, and passing the bar, John C. Calhoun jumped pretty quickly into national politics. First elected to the House of Representatives at the age of 28, Calhoun helped set the stage for national debates with such illustrious colleagues as Daniel Webster and Henry Clay over the role of federalism in the U.S. He was also a big war hawk. He was like Fox News for the War of 1812. He ended up serving as the Secretary of War (I wish we still used this incredibly honest title) under Monroe, and helped fuck over Native Americans by insisting that Indians either assimilate or go west. John C. Calhoun was not cool with the melaninally-enhanced.

At first, everybody was all on the "Let's build a national system of roads and shit" train, but things got complicated after the Corrupt Bargain of 1824. Calhoun had jumped into the presidential race early, but found little support, so ended up running and winning as Vice President in the nail-biter between John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, and Henry Clay. Well, Adams ended up President, Clay the Secretary of State, and Jackson, well, he lived to fight another day. As we know. John C. Calhoun was pretty disillusioned with how the whole deal played out. He had realized that sleazy politicians could manipulate the federal government to their own whims. DUH. What did he think the electoral college was for? Democracy? Fat chance! Oh, and in the meantime, his poor wife Crest or whatever was giving birth to baby after baby (ten in 18 years; with seven surviving infancy). With a father that looked like that, and all that inbreeding, the poor Calhoun children probably never stood a chance, looks-wise.

But so anyway, as VP, Calhoun had nothing better to do than just sit around and come up with crappy political philosophy. Especially since he pretty much hated Adams after the election and was totally on Team Jackson. After the passage of some tariffs (Tariff of Abominations, anyone?) that fucked over the Southern economy, Calhoun was like, "Oh no, you didn't."So he started advocating nullification and "states' rights." He joined the Jackson campaign in 1828, and became his Vice President.* But Calhoun had conflicts with Andrew Jackson too. I'm starting to think maybe John C. Calhoun was just an asshole control freak. Maybe. But the best conflict came along with the Peggy Eaton Affair. (See my Martin Van Buren post to read more insightful insights about this political era.) APPARENTLY (said in my mother's best gossipy voice) ol' Mrs. Colgate Colhoun Calhoun was the instigator of the whole gossip/ snubbing/ scandal that tore apart Jackson's Cabinet. I guess Calhoun's wife/cousin sucked about as much as he did. Calhoun ended up resigning, but he was like, "Whatever, I didn't want to be your vice president anyway, I'm going to run for Senate!"

John C. Calhoun made his biggest waves and wore his worst haircuts as a U.S. Senator for the state of South Carolina. After the nasty Nullification Crisis of 1832, the public was aware of Calhoun's sectionalist views. In the Senate over the next couple decades (close enough, including a brief stint as Tyler's Secretary of State), John C. Calhoun helped push the pro-slavery anti-nationalist agenda. He helped contribute to such gems of statesmanship as the Fugitive Slave Law and the Compromise of 1850. He gave speeches on the floor of the Senate about how inferior blacks were and how slavery was a "positive good" that protected them from themselves. Calhoun died in 1850 of tuberculosis. But don't worry, his philosophies on state-federal relations helped bring about the Confederacy. Also, lots of shit got named after him, including a dorm at Yale and a lake here in the Twin Cities!

FYI: I am totally going to have nightmares about JCC tonight.

*The only other person to serve as VP to two different Presidents was George Clinton. No, not THAT George Clinton. Though you can't knock the P-Funk.

-This post is totally for Julia, who specifically requested it. You too can request posts at any time. Seriously. Whenever. I'm just waiting. Drop 'em in the comments.


  1. I do love references to George Clinton. Also, does JCC kind of look like David Bowie to anyone else? Maybe it's because I find David Bowie completely creepy myself.

  2. I'm fine with the personal slander against the dead statesman, but your "Did I mention he was from South Carolina?" comment was a bit unnecessary. Should we mention that you are from Ohio?????? You know, I think Jeffrey Dahmer went to Ohio State. Oh, and Charles Manson is from Cincinnati. I think I'll stick with John C. Calhoun. As a native South Carolinian, or native Southerner rather, it always irritates me how many others around our country attribute certain behaviors to geographical location. I assure you, there are rednecks, racists, bigots, and losers scattered all throughout our country; yes, even in Ohio. I too despise John C. Calhoun and the like, especially since my alma mater, Clemson University, is a land-grant institution built on his former homestead. He is the namesake for so many buildings and roads across campus, and no one seems to remember his true legacy. I liked your article, just not your generalization. It may seem a paltry complaint, but after years of having my intelligence questioned because of where I've grown up, it never stops being insulting. Thanks, and keep up the informative articles.

  3. This is one of the most idiotic articles I've ever read. Sure, Calhoun was a racist, but have you considered that his point about the rights of the minority might have had a much bigger application outside of white Southerners in the antebellum South? Have you considered that maybe the push for progress and unity at all costs might be equally at the root of the worst elements of Left and Right? Democrats sure aren't shy about questioning progress and unity when it comes to environmentalism and globalization. Do I smell a hypocrite in the house?

    Bad men (or morally ambiguous, which is the worst it gets in real life outside of Hitleresque basket cases) can have very good ideas.

    This sounds more like you indulging some liberal fetish for demonizing anything that can be (however tenuously) linked to the modern Republican Party than anything else. Good history, like most other scholarship, comes out of the writer subjecting his or her own preconceptions to unrelenting skepticism and the empirical method. The alternative is liable to be very sloppy.