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04/26/16

John C. Calhoun: The Men who dominated National Life

This entry is part 13 of 18 in the series The Roots of the Civil War

John C. CalhounBefore we move on to the the last several events that led up to the Civil War, it is important that we look at the men who dominated national life and the Congress in the antebellum period. Their political careers overlapped and they had a huge impact on the history of the United States.

Let’s start with John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. Born in South Carolina in 1782, Calhoun began his political career as a nationalist, modernizer, and proponent of a strong national government and protective tariffs. After 1830 while still holding national office as Vice President, Calhoun’s views evolved and he became a proponent of of states’ rightslimited governmentnullification and free trade.

Calhoun served in a succession of political offices starting in 1811 when he was sworn into the House of Representatives. He was to remain in the House for six years. He then was appointed Secretary of War in 1817 by President James Monroe.

As Secretary of War Calhoun proposed an expansible army similar to that of France under Napoleon, whereby a basic cadre of 6,000 officers and men could be expanded into 11,000 without adding additional officers or companies. Congress wanted an army to defend the nation in the event of war against Britain or Spain over Florida. Once the crisis was settled diplomatically the need subsided and Calhoun’s plans were shelved.

In 1825 Calhoun was elected Vice President by the House of Representatives in a landslide. He was to serve four years with John Quincy Adams and four years with Andrew Jackson. He was one of two vice presidents to serve under two different presidents.

Eventually, Calhoun split with Jackson over the policy of hard cash, which he felt favored Northern financial interests. Calhoun opposed an increase in the protective tariff. When his position was defeated he returned to his South Carolina plantation to write “South Carolina Exposition and Protest“, an essay rejecting the centralization philosophy.

This led to the theory of a concurrent majority through the doctrine of nullification,”the right of a State to interpose, in the last resort, in order to arrest an unconstitutional act of the General Government, within its limits.” Jackson, who supported states’ rights but believed that nullification threatened the Union, opposed it.

Calhoun and Jackson came to a breaking point over a previous recommendation when Calhoun was Secretary of War. In May 1830, Jackson discovered that Calhoun had asked President Monroe to censure then-General Jackson for his invasion of Spanish Florida in 1818.

Calhoun was then serving as James Monroe’s Secretary of War (1817–1823). Jackson had invaded Florida during the First Seminole War without explicit public authorization from Calhoun or Monroe. Calhoun’s and Jackson’s relationship deteriorated further. Calhoun defended his position and by February 1831 the break between the two men was irrevocable.

In 1832, states’ rights theory was put to the test in the Nullification Crisis, after South Carolina passed an ordinance that nullified federal tariffs. Congress passed the Force Bill, which empowered the President to use military power to force states to obey all federal laws. Jackson sent US Navy warships to Charleston harbor, and even talked of hanging Calhoun. South Carolina then nullified the Force Bill.

Cooler heads prevailed and Congress passed the Compromise Tariff of 1833, a proposal by Senator Henry Clay to change the tariff law in a manner which satisfied Calhoun, who by then was in the Senate.

Calhoun ran for the Senate in 1832 and was elected by the South Carolina legislature. After the Compromise Tariff of 1833 was implemented, the Nullifier Party, along with other anti-Jackson politicians, formed a coalition known as the Whig Party. Calhoun would gain his most lasting fame and his most influence as a senator.

Calhoun led the pro-slavery faction in the Senate in the 1830s and 1840s, opposing both abolitionism and attempts to limit the expansion of slavery into the western territories; actively anti-Wilmot Proviso. He was a major advocate of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, which required the co-operation of local law enforcement officials in free states to return escaped slaves.

In a famous speech on the Senate floor on February 6, 1837, Calhoun asserted that slavery was a “positive good.” He rooted this claim on two grounds: white supremacy and paternalism.

“I take higher ground. I hold that in the present state of civilization, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color, and other physical differences, as well as intellectual, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slaveholding States between the two, is, instead of an evil, a good—a positive good… I may say with truth, that in few countries so much is left to the share of the laborer, and so little exacted from him, or where there is more kind attention paid to him in sickness or infirmities of age. Compare his condition with the tenants of the poor houses in the more civilized portions of Europe—look at the sick, and the old and infirm slave, on one hand, in the midst of his family and friends, under the kind superintending care of his master and mistress, and compare it with the forlorn and wretched condition of the pauper in the poorhouse… I hold then, that there never has yet existed a wealthy and civilized society in which one portion of the community did not, in point of fact, live on the labor of the other.”

Calhoun cooperated with Jackson’s successor Martin Van Buren, who became president in 1837. Democrats were very hostile to national banks, and the country’s bankers had joined the opposition Whig Party. The Democratic replacement was the “Independent Treasury” system, which Calhoun supported and which went into effect.

Calhoun, like Jackson and Van Buren, attacked finance capitalism, which he saw as the common enemy of the Northern laborer, the Southern planter, and the small farmer everywhere. He therefore united these groups under the banner of the Democratic Party.

Van Buren’s successor was William Henry Harrison, a Whig, who died a mere month after taking office. He was succeeded by John Tyler, a former DEmocrat, who appointed Calhoun as Secretary of State in 1844. Calhoun would serve in that position for less than a year but had a huge impact on American foreign policy.

He was able to resolve  the Oregon boundary dispute, claimed by both Britain and the U.S. Calhoun compromised by splitting the area down the middle at the 49th parallel, ending the war threat.

Tyler and Calhoun, who were both Southerners, were eager to annex the independent Republic of Texas. Texas was slave country and the Southerners wished to bring Texas into the Union as a slave state. When the Senate could not muster a two-thirds vote to pass a treaty of annexation with Texas, Calhoun devised a joint resolution of the Houses of Congress, requiring only a simple majority. Texas joined the Union and war broke out with Mexico in 1846.

Meanwhile, Calhoun had resigned as Secretary of State in March 1845 and returned to the Senate in November of the same year. Calhoun by then believed that the country was threatened by a totally corrupt party system. He believed that in their lust for office, patronage and spoils, politicians in the North pandered to the antislavery vote, especially during presidential campaigns, and politicians in the slave states sacrificed Southern rights in an effort to placate the Northern wings of their parties.

He was the driving force behind the drafting and publication of the “Address of the Southern Delegates in Congress, to Their Constituents.” It listed the alleged Northern violations of the constitutional rights of the South, then warned southern voters to expect forced emancipation of slaves in the near future, followed by their complete subjugation by an unholy alliance of unprincipled Northerners and blacks, and a South forever reduced to “disorder, anarchy, poverty, misery, and wretchedness.”

By 1850, Calhoun was gravely ill with tuberculosis. During the debate over the Compromise of 1850, which Calhoun rejected, he was so ill that one of his colleagues read his speech, calling upon the Constitution, which upheld the South’s right to hold slaves; warning that the day “the balance between the two sections” was destroyed would be a day not far removed from disunion, anarchy, and civil war.

John C. Calhoun died on March 31, 1850 in Washington. He was returned to Charleston and interred in the St. Philip’s Churchyard.

 

04/13/16

Tariffs and the Nullification Crisis

This entry is part 5 of 18 in the series The Roots of the Civil War

In 1828 the Congress passed a new tariff that the Southerners immediately named the Tariff of Abominations. Northern industries were being driven out of business by low-priced imports and the Northern representatives felt that a higher tariff on low-priced goods was necessary.

However, the Southerners saw it as an attack on them because it forced them to pay higher prices on the goods that they didn’t produce. More importantly,  reducing the exportation of British goods to the US made it difficult for the British to pay for the cotton they imported from the South. The South saw this as a direct attack on their way of life.

The first protective tariff was passed by Congress in 1816; its tariff rates were increased in 1824. Southern states such as South Carolina contended that the tariff was unconstitutional and were opposed to the newer protectionist tariffs, but Western agricultural states favored them, as well as New England’s industries. The Southerners believed that they were unconstitutional because they favored one section of the country over another.

The Tariff of 1828 had the desired effect. Britain reduced their importation of Southern cotton, weakening the Southern economy. THe South was forced to buy more goods from the North rather than Britain. These purchases strengthened Northern manufacturers.

John C. CalhounDespite the sufferings of the South, the US experienced net economic growth with US GDP increasing from $888 million in 1828 to $1.118 billion by 1832 largely due to growth of the Northern manufacturing base.

But the South did not accept the tariff and it created a split within the Democratic Party. Andrew Jackson had been elected President in 1828 with John C. Calhoun of South Carolina as his Vice President. The tariff’s opponents expected Jackson to push for significant reductions in the tariff’s rates but he didn’t address their concerns. In Washington, an open split on the issue occurred between Jackson and Vice-President Calhoun.

On July 14, 1832, Jackson signed into law the Tariff of 1832 which made some reductions in tariff rates. Calhoun resigned on December 10 of the same year.

The Tariff of 1832 had been substantially written by by former President John Quincy Adams, who had been elected to the House of Representatives and appointed chairman of the Committee on Manufactures. It reduced the existing tariffs to remedy the conflict created by the tariff of 1828, but it was still deemed unsatisfactory by some in the South, especially in South Carolina. South Carolinian opposition to this tariff and its predecessor, the Tariff of Abominations, caused the Nullification Crisis.

The Tariff of 1828 had pushed the duties on citizens to as high as 45 percent on the value of specific manufactured goods. The 1832 act brought the rate down to 35%. As an example, the duty on hemp, which had been $60 a ton in 1828, was reduced to $40. Even then southerners were not happy with it. Eventually, their unrest and dissatisfaction was what led to the nullification crisis. Along with that, another bill was passed, Tariff of 1833.

The tariffs caused the South Carolina legislature to pass the Ordinance of Nullification. This law declared by the power of the State that the federal Tariffs of 1828 and 1832 were unconstitutional and therefore null and void within the sovereign boundaries of South Carolina.

Southerners were violently opposed to the 1828 Tariff of Abominations but their opposition to tariffs had gone much further back. After the War of 1812 the national government had developed a policy of national tariffs to protect American industries from low-priced European imports.

By 1828 South Carolina state politics was increasingly organized around the tariff issue. When the Jackson administration failed to take any actions to address their concerns, the most radical faction in the state began to advocate that the state itself declare the tariff null and void within South Carolina.

In November 1832 a state convention declared that the tariffs of both 1828 and 1832 were unconstitutional and unenforceable in South Carolina after February 1, 1833. Military preparations to resist anticipated federal enforcement were initiated by the state. In late February both a Force Bill, authorizing the President to use military forces against South Carolina, and a new negotiated tariff, the Compromise Tariff of 1833, satisfactory to South Carolina were passed by Congress. The South Carolina convention reconvened and repealed its Nullification Ordinance on March 11, 1833.

The tariff rates were lowered and the crisis was over but nullification would rear its head once again in the 1850s. Southerners would return to it under a new name: states’ rights.