CALHOUN, JOHN CALDWELL (1782–1850), American statesman and parliamentarian, was born, of Scottish-Irish descent, in Abbeville District, South Carolina, on the 18th of March 1782. His father, Patrick Calhoun, is said to have been born in Donegal, in North Ireland, but to have left Ireland when a mere child. The family seems to have emigrated first to Pennsylvania, whence they removed, after Braddock’s defeat, to Western Virginia. From Virginia they removed in 1756 to South Carolina and settled on Long Cane Creek, in Granville (now Abbeville) county. Patrick Calhoun attained some prominence in the colony, serving in the colonial legislature, and afterwards in the state legislature, and taking part in the War of Independence. In 1770 he had married Martha Caldwell, the daughter of another Scottish-Irish settler.
The opportunities for obtaining a liberal education in the remote districts of South Carolina at that time were scanty. Fortunately, young Calhoun had the opportunity, although late, of studying under his brother-in-law, the Rev. Moses Waddell (1770–1840), a Presbyterian minister, who afterwards, from 1819 to 1829, was president of the University of Georgia. In 1802 Calhoun entered the junior class in Yale College, and graduated with distinction in 1804. He then studied first at the famous law school in Litchfield, Conn., and afterwards in a law office in Charleston, S.C., and in 1807 was admitted to the bar. He began practice in his native Abbeville District, and soon took a leading place in his profession. In 1808 and 1809 he was a member of the South Carolina legislature, and from 1811 to 1817 was a member of the national House of Representatives.
When he entered the latter body the strained relations between Great Britain and the United States formed the most important question for the deliberation of Congress. Henry Clay, the Speaker of the House, being eager for war and knowing Calhoun’s hostility to Great Britain, gave him the second place on the committee of foreign affairs, of which he soon became the actual head. In less than three weeks the committee reported resolutions, evidently written by Calhoun, recommending preparations for a struggle with Great Britain; and in the following June Calhoun submitted a second report urging a formal declaration of war. Both sets of resolutions the House adopted. Clay and Calhoun did more, probably, than any other two men in Congress to force the reluctant president into beginning hostilities.
In 1816 Calhoun delivered in favour of a protective tariff a speech that was ever after held up by his opponents as evidence of his inconsistency in the tariff controversy. The embargo and the war had crippled American commerce, but had stimulated manufactures. With the end of the Napoleonic wars in Europe the industries of the old world revived, and Americans began to feel their competition. In the consequent distress in the new industrial centres there arose a cry for protection. Calhoun, believing that there was a natural tendency in the United States towards the development of manufactures, supported the Tariff Bill of 1816, which laid on certain foreign commodities duties higher than were necessary for the purposes of revenue. He believed that the South would share in the general industrial development, not having perceived as yet that slavery was an insuperable obstacle. His opposition to protection in later years resulted from an honest change of convictions. He always denied that in supporting this bill he had been inconsistent, and insisted that it was one for revenue.
From 1817 to 1825 Calhoun was secretary of war under President Monroe. To him is due the fostering and the reformation of the National Military Academy at West Point, which he found in disorder, but left in a most efficient state. Calhoun was vice-president of the United States from 1825 to 1832, during the administration of John Quincy Adams, and during most of the first administration of Andrew Jackson. This period was for Calhoun a time of reflection. His faith in a strong nationalistic policy was gradually undermined, and he finally became the foremost champion of particularism and the recognized leader of what is generally known as the “States Rights” or “Strict Construction” party.
In 1824 there was a very large increase in protective duties. In 1828 a still higher tariff act, the so-called “Bill of Abominations,” was passed, avowedly for the purpose of protection. The passage of these acts caused great discontent, especially among the Southern states, which were strictly agricultural. They felt that the great burden of this increased tariff fell on them, as they consumed, but did not produce, manufactured articles. Under such conditions the Southern states questioned the constitutionality of the imposition. Calhoun himself now perceived that the North and the South represented diverse tendencies. The North was outstripping the South in population and wealth, and already by the tariff acts was, as he believed, selfishly levying taxes for its sole benefit. The minority must, he insisted, be protected from “the tyranny of the majority.” In his first important political essay, “The South Carolina Exposition,” prepared by him in the summer of 1828, he showed how this should be done. To him it was clear that the Federal Constitution was a limited instrument, by which the sovereign states had delegated to the Federal government certain general powers. The states could not, without violating the constitutional compact, interfere with the activities of the Federal government so long as the government confined itself to its proper sphere; but the attempt of Congress, or any other