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Copyright, 1882 and 1899,

All rights reserved.

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I. Youth ,1

II. House of Representatives. ... 12

III. Secretary of War 38

IV. Vice-President 61

V. The Senate 103

VI. Slavery 123

VII. Under Van Buren 183

VIII. Texas 221

IX. Oregon and the Mexican War , , . 260

Index 353



Life is not only " stranger than fiction," but
frequently also more tragical than any tragedy
ever conceived by the most fervid imagination.
Often in these tragedies of life there is not one
drop of blood to make us shudder, nor a single
event to compel the tears into the eye. A man
endowed with an intellect far above the average,
impelled by a high-soaring ambition, untainted
by any petty or ignoble passion, and guided by
a character of sterling firmness and more than
common purity, yet, with fatal illusion, devoting
all his mental powers, all his moral energy, and
the whole force of his iron will to the service of
a doomed and unholy cause, and at last sinking
into the grave in the very moment when, under
the weight of the top-stone, the towering pillars
of the temple of his impure idol are rent to
their very base, — can anything more tragical
be conceived ?


That is, in a few lines, the story of the life
of John C. Calhoun. In spite of his grand ca-
reer, South Carolina's greatest son has had a
more hapless fate than any other of the illus-
trious men in the history of the United States.
With few exceptions it is probable that the read-
ers of these pages will consider this a strange
or even an absurd assertion, and thereby them-
selves will furnish another proof of its truth.
Alexander Hamilton, America's greatest polit-
ical genius, has been obliged to wait three quar-
ters of a century to have a statue erected to his
memory, and then it had to be done by his own
offspring. Calhoun has not had to complain of
the same neglect, though nobody could have
been justly accused of ingratitude if this honor
had not been vouchsafed to him ; for he has no
claims upon the gratitude of his country, al-
though his name will forever remain one of the
foremost in its records. But, in common with
Alexander Hamilton, he is still waiting for the
only monument worthy of his memory, a bio-
graphy which does him full justice ; and he will
probably have to wait much longer for such a
memorial, — cere perennius, — which indeed, it
is not unlikely, may never be erected. As yet
it is hardly possible to pass an unbiased judg-
ment upon him, because the wounds of the ter-
rible conflict, in which he was during the life-


time of a whole generation the acknowledged
leader, have not fully healed, and therefore those
passions have not completely died away which
were engendered by the catastrophe in which
that conflict ended. Meanwhile, it becomes
every day more difficult really to understand
that struggle. Even the present generation,
which has grown into manhood since the civil
war, hardly realizes that it is not a soul-stirring
romance, but sober history. The next genera-
tion will find it easier to form an adequate con-
ception of the life of the ancient Indians and
Egyptians than of that of their own grandfa-
thers ; for there is no other instance in all the
history of the world where the civilizations of
two different ages, with their antagonistic prin-
ciples and modes of thinking and feeling, have
been so intricately interwoven as in the United
States during the times of the slavery conflict.
It is only the part played by Calhoun in this
conflict which puts him into the very first rank
of the men who have acted on the political
stage of the United States, though he has done
enough else to secure for his name a permanent
place in the annals of his country.

As the years roll on, the fame of Daniel
"Webster and Henry Clay is gradually growing
dimmer, while the name of Calhoun has yet
lost hardly anything of the lurid intensity with


which it glowed on the political firmament of
the United States towards the end of the first
half of this century. Nor will it ever lose
much of this. The fact is easily explained,
though it may seem strange to the superficial
student. The nvimber of Calhoun's admirers
in his later years was insignificant in compari-
son with the enthusiastic hosts who knew no
more powerful charm than the captivating voice
of the eloquent Kentuckian, and to-day it will
not be seriously questioned that Webster was
intellectually more than the peer of Calhoun.
Neither of the three can lay claim to the name
of a statesman in the highest acceptation of the
term without more than one qualifying restric-
tion, but Calhoun is certainly less entitled to it
than either of his great rivals. Moreover, these
had so many peculiar traits of character, habits,
and fancies, that their lives are a rich source of
pleasant anecdotes ; and from the background
of the general historical development, their fig-
ures spring forth in bold relief with a vividness
equalling that of Washington, Jefferson, and
John Adams. Of Calhoun the man, on the
contrary, but very little is to be told. Even
his contemporaries, with perhaps the exception
of his nearest neighbors, did not know much of
his doings as a private individual, or at least
do not seem to have thought them of suffi-


cient interest to be handed down to posterity.
AVhether his private correspondence, which is
still withheld from the public, will throw much
light on this side of his life cannot be told.
I have to state with regret that, according to
my information, not very much is to be ex-
pected. I was assured in Charleston, by an
intimate younger friend of Calhoun, that he
had not been in the habit of carefully preserv-
ing his private letters, and that many of his
papers, which are at present intrusted to Mr.
Hunter, of Virginia, were lost during the civil
war. However that may be, the newspapers of
the times and the published private correspond-
ences of his co-actors tell hardly anything of
the personal relations and the home-life of the
man whose slightest public act was watched
with interest by the whole nation. We hear
that he was a just and kind master to his slaves,
that he was possessed of an uncommon conver-
sational talent, and that he exercised an especial
fascination upon young men. This is about all.
From the historical standpoint it is, of course,
deeply to be regretted that we are so little in-
formed about the every-day life of so remark-
able a man ; and yet one cannot help feeling
at the same time a certain satisfaction that we
learn no more about it. There is no better
proof of the personal purity of a public man


than the complete stillness of all gossiping
tongues, among friends as well as foes. The
consequence of this silence is, however, that so
soon as the grave closes over such a public per-,
sonage, the figure begins to assume a shadowy
appearance. A well-read student of the history
of the United States may often easily imagine
himself seated next to Webster and Clay at the
social board, or walking with them in the lanes
of their farms, though he may have been born
after their eyes had been closed forever. But
no one who has not actually grasped Calhoun's
hand and looked into the depth of those steady
and keen eyes will ever be tempted to indulge
for a single moment in such an illusion with
regard to him. Twenty or thirty years hence
there will not be a single person left to whom
he is or ever has been fully a man of flesh
and bone. The Representative, the Secretary
of War, the Vice-President, the " great Nulli-
fier," the Senator, our posterity like ourselves
may be perfectly acquainted with ; but the Cal-
houn off the political stage, the Calhoun who
ate and drank like other mortals, who laughed,
chatted, and sorrowed, who enjoyed life and bat-
tled with its small and great cares, is long ago
dead, and no pen will ever be able to recall him
to life in the same sense in which Webster and
Clay still are and will remain alive so long as


the American people cherish the memory of
their great men.

Yet it is unquestionably true, as it was as-
serted before, that the name of Calhoun already
conveys a much more definite idea to the Amer-
ican people than that of either AVebster or
Clay, and that this difference will be steadily
increased in his favor. The simple explana-
tion of this remarkable fact is, that Calhoun
is in an infinitely higher degree the represent-
ative of an idea, and this idea is the pivotal
point on which the history of the United States
has turned from 1819 to nearly the end of the
first century of their existence as an independ-
ent republic. From about 1830 to the day of
bis death, Calhoun may be called the very im-
personation of the slavery question. From the
moment when he assumes this character, his fig-
ure towers far above all his contemporaries, even
Jackson not excepted ; while up to that time he
is, in spite of his uncommonly brilliant career,
only an able politician of the higher and nobler
order, having many peers and even a consider-
able number of superiors among the statesmen
of the United States. These introductory re-
marks seem necessary in order to justify the
brevity with which we are compelled to treat
the youth of Calhoun and the first period of his
public life.


In 1733 James Calhoun is said to have emi-
grated from Donegal in Ireland to the United
States. He first went to Pennsylvania, then
settled on the Kanawha, in Virginia, and at
last, in 1756, removed to South Carolina. In
1770 his son Patrick married Martha Caldwell,
the daughter of a Presbyterian emigrant from
Ireland. John Caldwell Calhoun, the third son
of Patrick and Martha, was born March 18,
1782, in the Abbeville District, South Carolina.
Though his father died while he was still a boy,
the ardent temper of the zealous revolutionary
patriot seems to have exercised a marked influ-
ence on the formation of the character of the
son. John remained with his mother on the
farm. There he led a quiet and simple life, for
his father had left the family in very modest
circumstances. No opportunity was offered him
to attend regularly a good school, and his sol-
itary rambles in the woods had to serve in
lieu of systematic instruction. Being from his
early childhood of a meditative turn of mind,
the youth learned to think before his memory
had become burdened with the thoughts of other
people. This defective education in his boy-
hood made itself felt through his whole life.
In spite of the diligence with which he api^lied
himself later, for some years, to his books, the
stock of positive knowledge which he had to


fall back upon was never large, and the peculiar
kind of narrowness which is inseparable from
one-sidedness was among the most prominent
traits in his mental and moral structure. But
what he lacked in breadth of view he fully
made up by penetrating intensity, bold inde-
pendence of thinking, and a keen instinct for
the true nature of the things which fell within
the limited circle in which his mind moved.

Calhoun had completed his eighteenth year,
when he began an uninterrupted course of sys-
tematic study in order to fit himself for the
higher walks of life. Under the direction of
his brother-in-law, Dr. AVaddel, a Presbyterian
clergyman, he prepared himself for college, and
after two short years he was able to enter the
junior class at Yale. In 1804 he was graduated
with high honors, and then devoted himself for
three years to the study of law, spending eigh-
teen months of the time at the law school at
Litchfield, Connecticut. Of much more im-
portance than the often-repeated story, that
while at Yale he had been declared fit and
likely to become some day President of the
United States, is the unmistakable fact that
his prolonged sojourn in New England exer-
cised a marked influence upon the formation of
the political opinions which he held in the be-
ginning of bis political career.


Having returned to Abbeville, he began to
practise law ; but it does not appear that the
public were especiall}'^ eager to avail themselves
of his services as an attorney and counsellor,
nor that he distinguished himself in any case
of importance. A man of his general ability
and uncommon logical acuteness could not have
failed to acquire a prominent standing in this
calling if he had devoted himself to it with
his whole energy. Yet he woidd undoubtedly
never have become a great lawyer, because he
was not objective enough to examine his pre-
mises with sufficient care, while he built his
argument upon them with undeviating and most
incisive logic, thereby frequently arriving at
most shocking conclusions with nothing to stand
upon except a basis of false postulates. More-
over, such natures never attain greatness, unless
they pursue an aim which fills the whole head
and heart with the force of a burning passion,
a frame of mind into which but few men caa
be put by the common law ; and of these few
Calh.oun certainly was not one. He was a born
leader of men, and nature had destined him
for a political career. While at college the
exciting questions of the day had engrossed his
whole attention, and the intelligence and ear-
nestness with which he discussed them proved
that he would try to have a hand in shaping


the events of the future. Sooner and in a
higher degree than he himself had probably
dared to anticipate, this wish was to be ful-

He had barely had time to get again familiar
with the surroundings of his youth, when he
was sent by his district to the state Legislature.
The stage was too small to draw the eyes of
the nation upon the young man, but it was the
right place to prove his fitness for a larger one.
In 1811 he was elected a member of Congress,
and in the same year he, married his cousin,
rioride Calhoun. She was possessed of a mod-
est fortune, which enabled him to steer with all
sails set into the open sea of politics. On
November 4 he took his seat in the House of
Representatives, having previously removed to
Bath on the Savannah.



The times were most favorable for a clever
and ambitious young statesman to make a bril-
liant debut. The policy of commercial restric-
tions, with which Jefferson and Madison had
tried to force England and France to respect
the rights of neutrals, had signally failed. The
party in power had not the candor and moral
courage to acknowledge that it had stumbled
into grave mistakes, but it was apparent tliat
it could no more, for any length of time, pur-
sue its old course. If the great European war
should last much longer — and there was no
prospect of its speedy termination — the United
States would evidently be forced to abandon
all half-hearted and two-edged measures, and to
adopt a clear and decisive policy. It was per-
haps impossible to satisfy the commercial States ;
but thus much was certain, that their dissatis-
faction was too great and too well-founded to
permit an expectation that they would jog on
with impunity in the old ruts. Nor would either
the honor or the vital interests of the Union


allow that it should bow its head in meekness,
and receive with folded arms the stripes which
the belligerent powers were pleased to lay on
its back. Whatever might be resolved upon
and done, it was sure to raise a great clamor
among a considerable portion of the people ; yet
something must be done, and in such circum-
stances the race generally is to the swift and
the battle to the strong.

It was a coincidence of the utmost impor-
tance that the ranks of the revolutionary pa-
triots had, by this time, become so thinned
that the representatives of a new generation
coidd grasp the helm without having to en-
counter the opposition of long acknowledged
authority. It so happened, also, that among
these newcomers on the political stage there
were some exceptionally young men, possessed
of a much higher order of talent than most of
their seniors. So the leadership of the nation
in this great crisis fell into the hands of untried
and inexperienced men, who had hardly reached
maturity, yet were fully conscious of their own
power and worth, and who were impelled by
a high-toned pride and ardent patriotism, and
urged on by the glowing visions of an un-
bounded ambition. It was therefore to be ex-
pected that, true to the nature of hot-blooded,
daring, and self-relying youth, they would ad-


vise the cutting of the Gordian knot which the
silver-haired sages of the Revolution had vainly
tried to disentangle. At which side of it, in
their opinion, the stroke of the sword should
be dealt, could not be doubtful from the first.
In spite of Napoleon, the majority of the peo-
ple had not yet entirely lost the enthusiastic
sympathy awakened by the French Kevolution,
and the services rendered by France to the
United States in the war of independence were
still unforgotten. On the other hand, the old
wounds which had been inflicted by the blows
exchanged with England had not quite ceased
to rankle ; the emancipated daughter smarted
under the overbearing haughtiness of the mo-
ther, whom she had once forced to submit to
her just claims. Then, too, above all else. Na-
poleon's violent decrees against the rights of
neutrals were to a considerable extent mere
stage lightnings, while the English Orders in
Council told with terrible effect upon the com-
merce and the general prosperity of the United
States, and the pretended right of visitation,
which was frequently exercised with studied
insolence, cut the American pride to the quick.
Prudential reasons of great weight might be
urged against resenting all these injuries at this
time with powder and lead, and personal inter-
est as well as party spirit would surely put these


reasons into the strongest light. But it was no
less certain that the passionate and indignant
appeals to the counter-reasons would awaken a
loud echo in numberless bosoms, since every
patriot had to confess to himself that they too
had great weight.

The general elections for the Twelfth Con-
gress had resulted in favor of the war party. It
was principally due to his position towards this
overshadowing question that Henry Clay owed
his election to the speakership ; and for the same
reason the Speaker awarded the second place on
the Committee on Foreign Relations to the new
member from South Carolina. Mr. Cralle, the
editor of Calhoun's works, assures us that at
the first meeting of the members Calhoun was
— on motion of Mr. Porter, of Pennsylvania, to
whom the Speaker had assigned the chairman-
ship — mianimously chosen to preside over their
deliberations. So he held from the first the
place which, next to the speakership, was the
most important in the House of Representatives.

On November 29, 1811, the committee, to
wliifh that part of the President's message re-
latins' to foreign affairs had been referred, sub-
mitted its report. Although the report was
presented by Mr. Porter, it seems likely that
it was mainly written by Calhoun. The essence
of it was contained in the following sentences : -^


"To wronos so daring in tlieir character, and so
disgraceful in tlieir execution, it is impossible that the
people of the United States should remain indiffer-
ent. We must now tamely and quietly submit, or
we must resist by those means which God has placed
within our reach.

" Your committee will not cast a shade on the
American name by the expression of a doubt which
branch of this alternative will be embraced ; . . • the
period has arrived when, in the opinion of your com-
mittee, it is the sacred duty of Congress to call forth
the patriotism and the resources of the country."

The report concluded with six resolutions,
which were designed to give effect to this o^jin-

So the first act of Calhoun on the national
stage was to sound the war-trumpet. Hence-
forth incessant war, war to the bitter end, was
to be his destiny to the last day of his life ;
though it was in later years to be waged not
against a foreign aggressor, but against internal
adversaries, against the peace of the Union,
against the true welfare of his own section of
the country.

On December 12 Calhoun delivered his first
set speech in Congress, defending the resolu-
tions and refuting the arguments of John Ran-
dolph, who was himself a member of the Com-
mittee on Foreign Relations. On a former


occasion Calhoun had addressed to the House
a few remarks on a question of little impor-
tance, which he had concluded with an allusion
to the diffidence and embarrassment which a
young man necessarily felt in speaking to the
assembled representatives of the nation. Now,
however, there was in his whole tone and man-
ner no more the slightest trace of such a feel-
ing. He did not speak with arrogance, and
still less was there anything personally offen-
sive in what he said, or in the manner with
which he said it. From the beginning of his
public career he observed the parliamentary
proprieties with the rigor and naturalness of
the born gentleman. Often did he prove that
he could wield with equal force and dexterity
the trenchant sword and the massive club, but
he always attacked the argument of his adver-
sary and not his person, and he was never
guilty of the hectoring and bullying tone in
which so many of the Southern politicians in-
dulged with keen relish. From the first he
entered the lists with the proud conviction of
being fully the equal of any man, und he al-
ways spoke in the weighty tone of authority.
Upon him the shaking of Randolph's long fin-
ger made no impression. With open visor he
met the 'much-dreaded antagonist, and though
he did not throw him to the ground, yet the


Virginian came out of the figlit only second
best. They exchanged many a tilt, and the
ill-humor with which Randolph spoke of Cal-
houn, in his private correspondence, shows how
much he felt the wounds received from the
lance of that adversary.

Calhoun began his speech with the open
avowal " that the committee recommended the
measures now before the House, as a prepara-
tion for war ; " and he added, "■ such, in fact, was
its express resolve, agreed to, I believe by every
member, except that gentleman [Randolph].
. . . Indeed, the report could mean nothing but
war or empty menace." With lofty indigna-
tion he repelled the insinuation that, though
there was adequate cause for war, the people
would not deem their violated interests and
outraged rights of sufficient moment willingly
to defray the costs of fighting for their vindica-

" But it may be, and I believe it was said, that the
people will not pay taxes, because the rights violated
are not worth defending ; or that the defence will
cost more than the gain. Sir, I here enter my sol-
emn protest against this low and ' calculating ava-
rice ' entering this hall of legislation. It is only
fit for shops and counting-houses ; and ought not to
disgrace the seat of power by its squalid aspect.
Whenever it touches sovereign power, the nation is


ruined. It is too short-sighted to defend itself. It
is a compromising spirit, always ready to yield a part
to save the residue. It is too timid to have in itself
the laws of self-preservation. It is never safe but
under the shield of honor. . . . Sir, I am not versed
in this calculating policy ; and will not, therefore,
pretend to estimate in dollars and cents the value of
national independence. I cannot measure in shillings
and pence the misery, the stripes, and the slavery of
our impressed seamen ; nor even the value of our
shipping, commercial, and agricultural losses under
the Orders in Council and the British system of

With equal candor he answered Randolph's
question, why then, if all this was so, war was
not declared immediately : '' Because," he said,
"we are not yet prepared." That there was
any danger in avowing this and, at the same

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