Thursday, March 18, 2010

Happy Birthday John C. Calhoun

"He is the much the ablest man in the Senate. He could have demolished Newton, Calvin, or even John Locke as a logician."
Daniel Webster on John C. Calhoun

"Posterity will condemn me more because I was persuaded not to hang John C. Calhoun as a traitor than for any other act in my life."
President Andrew Jackson lamenting about not having his own VP executed. I guess he wasn't thinking about all the horrible things he did to Native Americans..or else he didn't care.

Today is the birthday of a man listed as one of the "Five Greatest Senators in U.S. History" as named by a Senate committee in 1957 presided over by John F. Kennedy. John C. Calhoun was described by a contemporary as:
"The cast-iron man. Who looks as if he had never been born, and never could be extinguished."

In "Profiles in Courage" JFK described him as a man with a mind that was:
"cold, narrow, concentrated, and powerful...Strangely enough, although he had the appearance, especially in his later days, of a fanatic, he was a man of infinite charm and personality. He was reputed to be the best conversationalist in South Carolina, and he won to him through their emotions men who failed to comprehend his closely reasoned arguments."

Being VP was just another little thing on the list of accomplishments of this extraordinary figure in American history.

He was a graduate of Yale, as a state representative wrote legislation making South Carolina the first state to adopt universal suffrage (for white men anyway), elected a member of the House of Representatives from his beloved South Carolina when he was just 29, served as both Secretary of State and Secretary of War, and was the most prominent Senator of the south for almost 20 years. And of course, he was VP. In fact, he happened to be a VP surrounded by interesting and ridiculous events, and a historic VP in many ways.

He was Vice-President under John Quincy Adams, and again elected VP in the next election under the new President, Andrew Jackson. Only VP George Clinton shares that distinction.

While VP under Jackson, his wife (and first-cousin once removed) Floride was the ringleader in the ridiculous "Petticoat Affair" where she organized the wives of Cabinet members to shun and ostracize "Pothouse" Peggy Eaton a former bar-maid who married Secretary of War John Eaton. They alleged that John and Peggy Eaton had engaged in an adulterous affair while Mrs. Eaton was still legally married to her first husband John B. Timberlake. The scandal resulted in the resignation of all but two of Jackson's Cabinet members. Talk about Girl Power. Calhoun told Jackson it was pointless to try to argue with his wife about an issue like this (she was very sensitive, conservative and genteel) but President Jackson was desperate to settle this affair and stop the laughs of many around the country over the whole affair. So he decided to pay Floride a formal visit. When President Jackson went to visit Floride and tried convince her to ease up on this and accept Mrs. Eaton, Floride listened to him politely and then turned to her butler and said:

"Show this gentleman to the door."


Finally, in 1830 when South Carolina threatened to secede from the Union over issues of high tariffs during the "Nullification Crisis" the issues between Jackson and Calhoun came to a head. During the crisis at the 1830 Jefferson Day dinner at Jesse Brown's Indian Queen Hotel, Calhoun proposed in front of many prominent Southerners that the President give a toast to which President Jackson raised his glass and while staring daggers at his VP said:

"Our federal Union, it must be preserved."

Calhoun kept his glass raised and cooly replied:
"The Union, next to our liberty, the most dear."

When Jackson found out that while Secretary of War Calhoun had wanted President Monroe to censure him for his invasion of Florida, the President was furious. All of these issues led Calhoun to be the first person to ever resign the Vice-Presidency.

He followed up his service as VP as a Senator from South Carolina, taking part in all the huge debates of the day over expansion and slavery. It is during this time that he cemented his legend as an incredible Senator. Calhouns legacy of support for states rights, slavery and agrarian republicanism lived long after his death in 1850, inspiring many men to later resign their House and Senate seats and help their states secede from the Union and join the Confederacy.

A legendary and amazing figure in American history, join us here at Vice-Precedence as we say:


Thanks for reading!

Matt Saxe

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