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John Caldwell Calhoun

Other Times and Places He Would Have Been World Renowned

John Caldwell Calhoun will be remembered not for what he did, but for what he said and what he believed. He was an intellectually gifted statesman born at the wrong place and time. At a time when the United States was struggling with the philosophy of an untried style of government, Calhoun brought the arguments to a climax with the clarity of his views and the profundity of his thinking. John C. Calhoun was born March 18, 1782, near Abbeville, South Carolina. His father, Patrick Calhoun, was an Ulster Scot who arrived in the Carolinas when he was five years old. His mother, Martha Caldwell, was descended from earlier waves of Scottish immigrants. John C. Calhoun was graduated from Yale in 1804 and studied law in Connecticut under Tapping Reeve, a scholar who impressed Calhoun with his arguments that states had the right to secede. He returned home to practice law and serve in the state legislature. He was first elected to congress in 1811. He also served as Secretary of War and Vice President. Tariffs favored the industrial North against the agricultural south. So Calhoun argued that states had the right of nullification or refusal to enforce federal tariffs, which South Carolina proceeded to do. President Jackson threatened to arrest Calhoun if South Carolina persisted. The die was cast on the political, social and economic differences of the North and South that would eventually dissolve in Civil War. Calhoun wore out his great powers and talents warning the nations of the inevitable catastrophe that lay 30 years ahead. Still sounding the alarm though refusing to give up the South’s right to secede, he died in Washington D.C., March 31, 1850.

Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
Scottish-American History Club
2800 Des Plaines Avenue
North Riverside, IL 60546