John C. Calhoun is often called "the Hamlet and the fire-eater of the southern cause," as well as his life, "a Greek tragedy in five acts."(Margaret L. Coit pg.1).John C. Calhoun is by many considered the most controversial of the Southern Statesmen. He was born on March 18, 1782 in an area near Abbeville South Carolina, now it is known as Anderson County. Calhoun's father was a " leader of the community" and a revolutionary veteran as well as an Indian fighter named Patrick Calhoun, who at age five immigrated with the family to the young United States from Donegal, Ireland.
They lived in Philadelphia where his mother was "most inhumanly butchered" and Patrick learned to fight in the frontier. At age fifty four Patrick Calhoun married Martha Caldwell. She was a dark-haired "tall,stately" woman of Scottish origins. The couple's third child was John C. Calhoun. As John grew the heritage of politics as well as battle was deeply instilled in him, and much of the Jeffersonian doctrine.
By the age of five John new his alphabet and began to read, he would read the books that his father would bring home. By age thirteen he had memorized pages of Thomas Paine's "The Rights of Man." Later on his sister died and Patrick, his father was dying. John was sent to live on the family farm in Long Cane county. He would grow crops and manage the farm. John was submitted to complete intellectual solitude which would allow him to expand his intellect until the age of eighteen. John was encouraged by his neighbors and his family, to go to get a higher education. He decided that if he was to get an education it had to be the best. The best this young country had to offer. Mr. Calhoun was sent to Moses Waddell's famous "log college," where he was able to learn his Greek and Latin as well as catch up on some schooling because his early childhood schooling was very inefficient.
In 1802 he was accepted in the junior class at Yale University here he was considered an outstanding but rebellious student. After attending Yale he entered Tappin Reeve's law school located in Litchfield, Connecticut. John began debating and he proved how passionately he guarded the nation's well being. He fought continually time after time to keep controlled the matter of majority rule which would take away from smaller states votes and freedoms and taxation. All he did was so that the
"Industrializing" North would stop taking advantage of the South, and Calhoun knew this would lead to oppression which would lead to separation. This is something he, as a nationalist knew would hurt profoundly the nation. The situation escalated when the abolition movement was brought up in congress.
For the North slavery symbolized an inhuman evil, but for the South according to Calhoun slavery was an actual good for the nation. The North believed that slavery should have been prohibited in all states of the Union, so the abolition commenced.
In the South they were recovering from a depression and labor was very much available. Slaves were needed to bring the economy back up for the cotton growers. To the south it was a matter of " life and death." In the controversy over abolition a deep rooted hate sprung between the two major sides. Calhoun described it as " a hatred more deadly than one hostile nation ever entertained towards another." The speech "on the Reception of Abolition Petitions" delivered February 6, 1837, Calhoun tries to persuade congress to stop the abolitionist movements against the South by stating the anxiety that would cause to the nation as a whole. He speaks of the consequences that will result from abolition in the South and the fact that the Union will not be able to coexist.
According to Calhoun the Union would be able to coexist if the South would be protected by provisions which would give the states the right to vote on whether or not to negate abolition. This way giving the South some of it's power back. Also Calhoun believes that if the North will stop trying to show power with by trying to obligate the other states of the union to do what it wants then the Union can be saved. And the North
is left with these quotes, "Slavery is a domestic institution. It belongs to the states, each for itself to decide, whether it shall be established or not; and if it be established, whether it should be abolished or not."
Furthermore "The day that the balance between two sections of the country-the slaveholding states and the non-slaveholding states is destroyed, is a day that will not be far removed from political revolution, anarchy, civil war, and widespread disaster." John Caldwell Calhoun predicted it would happen. The United States civil war.John C. Calhoun is an interesting character, upon his death he new that the everything he fought for, the preservation of the South and the Union had been lost, that is what probably made him in history a tragic figure.
Coit, Margaret, ed. Great Lives Observed - John C. Calhoun.
Redding, Saunders. They Came in Chains.
John C. Calhoun