"Tie down a hero, and he feels the puncture of a pin; throw him into battle, and he is almost insensible to vital gashes. So in war. Impelled alternately by hope and fear, stimulated by revenge, depressed by shame, or elevated by victory, the people become invincible. No privation can shake their fortitude; no calamity break their spirit. Even when equally successful, the contrast between the two systems is striking. War and restriction may leave the country equally exhausted; but the latter not only leaves you poor, but, even when successful, dispirited, divided, discontented, with diminished patriotism, and the morals of a considerable portion of your people corrupted. Not so in war. In that state, the common danger unites all, strengthens the bonds of society, and feeds the flame of patriotism. The national character mounts to energy. In exchange for the expenses and privations of war, you obtain military and naval skill, and a more perfect organization of such parts of your administration as are connected with the science of national defence. Sir, are these advantages to be counted as trifles in the present state of the world? Can they be measured by moneyed valuation? I would prefer a single victory over the enemy, by sea or land, to all the good we shall ever derive from the continuation of the Non-importation act. I know not that a victory would produce an equal pressure on the enemy; but I am certain of what is of greater consequence, it would be accompanied by more salutary effects to ourselves. The memory of Saratoga, Princeton, and Eutaw is immortal. It is there you will find the country's boast and pride,—the inexhaustible source of great and heroic sentiments. But what will history say of restriction? What examples worthy of imitation will it furnish to posterity? What pride, what pleasure will our children find in the events of such times? Let me not be considered romantic. This nation ought to be taught to rely on its courage, its fortitude, its skill and virtue, for protection. These are the only safeguards in the hour of danger. Man was endued with these great qualities for his defence. There is nothing about him that indicates that he is to conquer by endurance. He is not incrusted in a shell; he is not taught to rely upon his insensibility, his passive suffering, for defence. No, sir; it is on the invincible mind, on a magnanimous nature, he ought to rely. Here is the superiority of our kind; it is these that render man the lord of the world. Nations rise above nations, as they are endued in a greater degree with these brilliant qualities."
This passage is perfectly characteristic of Calhoun, whose speeches present hundreds of such inextricable blendings of truth and falsehood.
We have the written testimony of an honorable man, still living, Commodore Charles Stewart, U. S. N., that John C. Calhoun was a conscious traitor to the Union as early as 1812. In December of that year, Captain Stewart's ship, the Constitution, was refitting at the Washington Navy Yard, and the Captain was boarding at Mrs. Bushby's, with Mr. Clay, Mr. Calhoun, and many other Republican members. Conversing one evening with the new member from South Carolina, he told him that he was "puzzled" to account for the close alliance which existed between the Southern planters and the Northern Democracy.
"You," said Captain Stewart,
"in the South and Southwest, are decidedly the aristocratic portion of this Union; you are so in holding persons in perpetuity in slavery; you are so in every domestic quality, so in every habit in your lives, living, and actions, so in habits, customs, intercourse, and manners; you neither work with your hands, heads, nor any machinery, but live and have your living, not in accordance with the will of your Creator, but by the sweat of slavery, and yet you assume all the attributes, professions, and advantages of democracy."
Mr. Calhoun, aged thirty, replied thus to Captain Stewart, aged thirty-four:—
"I see you speak through the head of a young statesman, and from the heart of a patriot, but you lose sight of the politician and the sectional policy of the people. I admit your conclusions in respect to us Southrons. That we are essentially aristocratic, I cannot deny; but we can and do yield much to democracy. This is our sectional policy; we are from necessity thrown upon and solemnly wedded to that party, however it may occasionally clash with our feelings, for the conservation of our interests. It is through our affiliation with that party in the Middle and Western States that we hold power; but when we cease thus to control this nation through a disjointed democracy, or any material obstacle in that party which shall tend to throw us out of that rule and control, we shall then resort to the dissolution of the Union. The compromises in the Constitution, under the circumstances, were sufficient for our fathers, but, under the altered condition of our country from that period, leave to the South no resource but dissolution; for no amendments to the Constitution could be reached through a convention of the people under their three-fourths rule."
Probably all of our readers have seen this conversation in print before. But it is well for us to consider it again and again. It is the key to all the seeming inconsistencies of Mr. Calhoun's career. He came up to Congress, and took the oath to support the Constitution, secretly resolved to break up the country just as soon as the Southern planters ceased to control it for the maintenance of their peculiar interest. The reader will note, too, the distinction made by this young man, who was never youthful, between the "statesman" and the "politician," and between the "heart of a patriot" and "the sectional policy of the people."
Turning from his loathsome and despicable exposition to the Congressional career of Mr. Calhoun, we find no indication there of the latent traitor. He was merely a very active, energetic member of the Republican party; supporting the war by assiduous labors in committee, and by intense declamation of the kind of which we have given a specimen. In all his speeches there is not a touch of greatness. He declared that Demosthenes was his model,—an orator who was a master of all the arts? all the artifices, and all the tricks by which a mass of ignorant and turbulent hearers can be kept attentive, but who has nothing to impart to a member of Congress who honestly desires to convince his equals. Mr. Calhoun's harangues in the supposed Demosthenean style gave him, however, great reputation out of doors, while his diligence, his dignified and courteous manners, gained him warm admirers on the floor. He was a messmate of Mr. Clay at this time. Besides agreeing in politics, they were on terms of cordial personal intimacy. Henry Clay, Speaker of the House, was but five years older than Calhoun, and in everything but years much younger. Honest patriots pointed to these young men with pride and hope, congratulating each other that, though the Revolutionary statesmen were growing old and passing away, the high places of the Republic would be filled, in due time, by men worthy to succeed them.
When the war was over, a strange thing was to be noted in the politics of the United States: the Federal party was dead, but the Republican party had adopted its opinions. The disasters of the war had convinced almost every man of the necessity of investing the government with the power to wield the resources of the country more readily; and, accordingly, we find leading Republicans, like Judge Story, John Quincy Adams, and Mr. Clay, favoring the measures which had formerly been the special rallying-cries of the Federalists. Judge Story spoke the feeling of his party when he wrote, in 1815:
"Let us extend the national authority over the whole extent of power given by the Constitution. Let us have great military and naval schools, an adequate regular army, the broad foundations laid of a permanent navy, a national bank, a national bankrupt act,"
etc., etc. The strict-constructionists were almost silenced in the general cry, "Let us be a Nation." In the support of all the measures to which this feeling gave rise, especially the national bank, internal improvements, and a protective tariff, Mr. Calhoun went as far as any man, and farther than most; for such at that time was the humor of the planters.
To the principle of a protective tariff he was peculiarly committed. It had not been his intention to take part in the debates on the Tariff Bill of 1816. On the 6th of April, while he was busy writing in a committee-room, Mr. Samuel D. Ingham of Pennsylvania, his particular friend and political ally, came to him and said that the House had fallen into some confusion while discussing the tariff bill, and added, that, as it was "difficult to rally so large a body when once broken on a tax bill," he wished Mr. Calhoun would speak on the question in order to keep the House together. "What can I say?" replied the member from South Carolina. Mr. Ingham, however, persisted, and Mr. Calhoun addressed the House. An amendment had just been introduced to leave cotton goods unprotected, a proposition which had been urged on the ground that Congress had no authority to impose any duty except for revenue. On rising to speak, Mr. Calhoun at once, and most unequivocally, committed himself to the protective principle. He began by saying, that, if the right to protect had not been called in question, he would not have spoken at all. It was solely to assist in establishing that right that he had been induced, without previous preparation, to take part in the debate. He then proceeded to deliver an ordinary protectionist speech; without, however, entering upon the questioner constitutional right. He merely dwelt upon the great benefits to be derived from affording to our infant manufactures "immediate and ample protection." That the Constitution interposed no obstacle, was assumed by him throughout. He concluded by observing, that a flourishing manufacturing interest would "bind together more closely our widely-spread republic," since
"it will greatly increase our mutual dependence and intercourse, and excite an increased attention to internal improvements,—a subject every way so intimately connected with the ultimate attainment of national strength and the perfection of our political institutions."
He further observed, that "the liberty and union of this country are inseparable," and that the destruction of either would involve the destruction of the other. He concluded his speech with these words: "Disunion,—this single word comprehends almost the sum of our political dangers, and against it we ought to be perpetually guarded."
The time has passed for any public man to claim credit for "consistency." A person who, after forty years of public life, can truly say that he has never changed an opinion, must be either a demigod or a fool. We do not blame Mr. Calhoun for ceasing to be a protectionist and becoming a free-trader; for half the thinking world has changed sides on that question during the last thirty years. A growing mind must necessarily change its opinions. But there is a consistency from which no man, public or private, can ever be absolved,—the consistency of his statements with fact. In the year 1833, in his speech on the Force Bill, Mr. Calhoun referred to his tariff speech of 1816 in a manner which excludes him from the ranks of men of honor. He had the astonishing audacity to say:
"I am constrained in candor to acknowledge, for I wish to disguise nothing, that the protective principle was recognized by the Act of 1816. How this was overlooked at the time, it is not in my power to say. It escaped my observation, which I can account for only on the ground that the principle was new, and that my attention was engaged by another important subject."
The charitable reader may interpose here, and say that Mr. Calhoun may have forgotten his speech of 1816. Alas! no. He had that speech before him at the time. Vigilant opponents had unearthed it, and kindly presented a copy to the author. We do not believe that, in all the debates of the American Congress, there is another instance of flat falsehood as bad as this. It happens that the speech of 1816 and that of 1833 are both published in the same volume of the Works of Mr. Calhoun (Vol. II. pp. 163 and 197). We advise our readers who have the time and opportunity to read both, if they wish to see how a false position necessitates a false tongue. Those who take our advice will also discover why it was that Mr. Calhoun dared to utter such an impudent falsehood: his speeches are such appallingly dull reading, that there was very little risk of a busy people's comparing the interpretation with the text.
It was John C. Calhoun who, later in the same session, introduced the bill for setting apart the dividends and bonus of the United States Bank as a permanent fund for internal improvements. His speech on this bill, besides going all lengths in favor of the internal improvement system, presents some amusing contrasts with his later speeches on the same subject. His hearers of 1835 to 1850 must have smiled on reading in the speech of 1817 such sentences as these:—
"I am no advocate for refined arguments on the Constitution. The instrument was not intended as a thesis for the logician to exercise his ingenuity on. It ought to be construed with plain good-sense." "If we are restricted in the use of our money to the enumerated powers, on what principle can the purchase of Louisiana be justified?" "The uniform sense of Congress and the country furnishes better evidence of the true interpretation of the Constitution than the most refined and subtle arguments."
Mark this, too:—
"In a country so extensive and so various in its interests, what is necessary for the common interest may apparently be opposed to the interest of particular sections. It must be submitted to as the condition of our greatness."
Well might he say, in the same speech:—
"We may reasonably raise our eyes to a most splendid future, if we only act in a manner worthy of our advantages. If, however, neglecting them, we permit a low, sordid, selfish, sectional spirit to take possession of this House, this happy scene will vanish. We will divide; and, in its consequences, will follow misery and despotism."
With this speech before him and before the country, Mr. Calhoun had not the candor to avow, in later years, a complete change of opinion. He could only go so far as to say, when opposing the purchase of the Madison Papers in 1837, that, "at his entrance upon public life, he had inclined to that interpretation of the Constitution which favored a latitude of powers." Inclined! He was a most enthusiastic and thorough-going champion of that interpretation. His scheme of internal improvements embraced a network of post-roads and canals from "Maine to Louisiana," and a system of harbors for lake and ocean. He kindled, he glowed, at the spectacle which his imagination conjured up, of the whole country rendered accessible, and of the distant farmer selling his produce at a price not seriously less than that which it brought on the coast. On this subject he became animated, interesting, almost eloquent. And, so far from this advocacy being confined to the period of his "entrance upon political life," he continued to be its very warmest exponent as late as 1819, when he had been ten years in public life. In that year, having to report upon the condition of military roads and fortifications, his flaming zeal for a grand and general system of roads and canals frequently bursts the bounds of the subject he had to treat. He tells Congress that the internal improvements which are best for peace are best for war also; and expatiates again upon his dazzling dream of "connecting Louisiana by a durable and well-finished road with Maine, and Boston with Savannah by a well-established line of internal navigation." The United States, he said, with its vast systems of lakes, rivers, and mountains, its treble line of sea-coast, its valleys large enough for empires, was "a world of itself," and needed nothing but to be rendered accessible. From what we know of the way things are managed in Congress, we should guess that he was invited to make this report for the very purpose of affording to the foremost champion of internal improvements an opportunity of lending a helping hand to pending bills.
Mr. Calhoun served six years in the House of Representatives, and grew in the esteem of Congress and the country at every session. As it is pleasing to see an old man at the theatre entering into the merriment of the play, since it shows that his heart has triumphed over the cares of life, and he has preserved a little of his youth, so is it eminently graceful in a young man to have something of the seriousness of age, especially when his conduct is even more austere than his demeanor. Mr. Clay at this time was addicted to gaming, like most of the Western and Southern members, and he was not averse to the bottle. Mr. Webster was reckless in expenditure, fond of his ease, and loved a joke better than an argument. In the seclusion of Washington, many members lived a very gay, rollicking life. Mr. Calhoun never gambled, never drank to excess, never jested, never quarrelled, cared nothing for his ease, and tempered the gravity of his demeanor by an admirable and winning courtesy. A deep and serious ambition impelled and restrained him. Like boys at school, Clay and Webster were eager enough to get to the head of the class, but they did not brood over it all the time, and never feel comfortable unless they were conning their spelling-book; while little Calhoun expended all his soul in the business, and had no time or heart left for play. Consequently he advanced rapidly for one of his size, and was universally pointed at as the model scholar. Accidents, too, generally favor a rising man. Mr. Calhoun made an extremely lucky hit in 1815, which gave members the highest opinion of his sagacity. In opposing an ill-digested scheme for a national bank, he told the House that the bill was so obviously defective and unwise, that, if news of peace should arrive that day, it would not receive fifteen votes. News of peace, which was totally unexpected, did arrive that very hour, and the bill was rejected the next day by about the majority which he had predicted. At the next session, he won an immense reputation for firmness. An act was passed changing the mode of compensating members of Congress from six dollars a day to fifteen hundred dollars a year. We were a nation of rustics then; and this harmless measure excited a disgust in the popular mind so intense and general, that most of the members who had voted for it declined to present themselves for re-election. Calhoun was one of the guilty ones. Popular as he was in his district, supported by two powerful family connections,—his own and his wife's,—admired throughout the State as one who had done honor to it upon the conspicuous scene of Congressional debate,—even he was threatened with defeat. Formidable candidates presented themselves. In these circumstances he mounted the stump, boldly justified his vote, and defended the odious bill. He was handsomely re-elected, and when the bill was up for repeal in the House he again supported it with all his former energy. At the conclusion of his speech, a member from New York, Mr. Grosvenor, a political opponent, with whom Calhoun had not been on speaking terms for two years, sprang to his feet, enraptured, and began to express his approval of the speech in ordinary parliamentary language. But his feelings could not be relieved in that manner. He paused a moment, and then said:—
"Mr. Speaker, I will not be restrained. No barrier shall exist which I will not leap over for the purpose of offering to that gentleman my thanks for the judicious, independent, and national course which he has pursued in this House for the last two years, and particularly upon the subject now before us. Let the honorable gentleman continue with the same manly independence, aloof from party views and local prejudices, to pursue the great interests of his country, and fulfil the high destiny for which it is manifest he was born. The buzz of popular applause may not cheer him on his way, but he will inevitably arrive at a high and happy elevation in the view of his country and the world."
Such scenes as this enhance the prestige of a rising man. Members weak at home envied at once and admired a man who was strong enough to bring over his constituents to his opinion. He was fortunate, too, in this, that a triumph so striking occurred just before he left the House for another sphere of public life. He had what the actors call a splendid exit.
The inauguration of Mr. Monroe on the 4th of March, 1817, ushered in the era of good feeling, and gave to Henry Clay the first of his long series of disappointments. As Secretaries of State had usually succeeded their chiefs in the Presidency, the appointment of Mr. Adams to that office by Mr. Monroe was regarded almost in the light of a nomination to the succession. To add to Mr. Clay's mortification, be was tendered the post of Secretary of War, which he had declined a year before, and now again declined. The President next selected General Jackson, then in the undimmed lustre of his military renown, and still holding his Major-General's commission. He received, however, a private notification that General Jackson would not accept a place in the Cabinet. The President then offered the post to the aged Governor Isaac Shelby of Kentucky, who had the good sense to decline it. There appear to have been negotiations with other individuals, but at length, in October, 1817, the place was offered to Mr. Calhoun, who, after much hesitation, accepted it, and entered upon the discharge of its duties in December. His friends, we are told, unanimously disapproved his going into office, as they believed him formed to shine in debate rather than in the transaction of business.
Fortune favored him again. Entering the office after a long vacancy, and when it was filled with the unfinished business of the war,—fifty million dollars of deferred claims, for one item,—he had the same easy opportunity for distinction which a steward has who takes charge of an estate just out of chancery, and under a new proprietor who has plenty of money. The sweeping up of the dead leaves, the gathering of the fallen branches, and the weeding out of the paths, changes the aspect of the place, and gives the passer-by a prodigious idea of the efficiency of the new broom. The country was alive, too, to the necessity of coast and frontier defences, and there was much building of forts during the seven years of Mr. Calhoun's tenure of place. Respecting the manner in which he discharged the multifarious and unusual duties of his office, we have never heard anything but commendation. He was prompt, punctual, diligent, courteous, and firm. The rules which he drew up for the regulation of the War Department remained in force, little changed, until the magnitude of the late contest abolished or suspended all ancient methods. The claims of the soldiers were rapidly examined and passed upon. It was Mr. Calhoun who first endeavored to collect considerable bodies of troops for instruction at one post. He had but six thousand men in all, but he contrived to get together several companies of artillery at Fortress Monroe for drill. He appeared to take much interest in the expenditure of the ten thousand dollars a year which Congress voted for the education of the Indians. He reduced the expenses of his office, which was a very popular thing at that day. He never appointed nor removed a clerk for opinion's sake. In seven years he only removed two clerks, both for cause, and to both were given in writing the reasons of their removal. There was no special merit in this, for at that day to do otherwise would have been deemed infamous.
Mr. Calhoun, as a member of Mr. Monroe's Cabinet, still played the part of a national man, and supported the measures of his party without exception. Scarcely a trace of the sectional champion yet appears. In 1819, he gave a written opinion favoring the cession of Texas in exchange for Florida; the motive of which was to avoid alarming the North by the prospective increase of Slave States. In later years, Mr. Calhoun, of course, wished to deny this; and the written opinions of Mr. Monroe's Cabinet on that question mysteriously disappeared from the archives of the State Department. We have the positive testimony of Mr. John Quincy Adams, that Calhoun, in common with most Southern men of that day, approved the Missouri Compromise of 1820, and gave a written opinion that it was a constitutional measure. That he was still an enthusiast for internal improvements, we have already mentioned.
The real difficulty of the War Department, however, as of the State Department, during the Monroe administration, was a certain Major-General Andrew Jackson, commanding the Military Department of the South. The popularity of the man who had restored the nation's self-love by ending a disastrous war with a dazzling and most unexpected victory, was something different from the respect which we all now feel for the generals distinguished in the late war. The first honors of the late war are divided among four chieftains, each of whom contributed to the final success at least one victory that was essential to it. But in 1815, among the military heroes of the war that had just closed General Jackson stood peerless and alone. His success in defending the Southwest, ending in a blaze of glory below New Orleans, utterly eclipsed all the other achievements of the war, excepting alone the darling triumphs on the ocean and the lakes. The deferential spirit of Mr. Monroe's letters to the General, and the readiness of every one everywhere to comply with his wishes, show that his popularity, even then, constituted him a power in the Republic. It was said in later times, that "General Jackson's popularity could stand anything," and in one sense this was true: it could stand anything that General Jackson was likely to do. Andrew Jackson could never have done a cowardly act, or betrayed a friend, or knowingly violated a trust, or broken his word, or forgotten a debt. He was always so entirely certain that he, Andrew Jackson, was in the right, his conviction on this point was so free from the least quaver of doubt, that he could always convince other men that he was right, and carry the multitude with him. His honesty, courage, and inflexible resolution, joined to his ignorance, narrowness, intensity, and liability to prejudice, rendered him at once the idol of his countrymen and the plague of all men with whom he had official connection. Drop an Andrew Jackson from the clouds upon any spot of earth inhabited by men, and he will have half a dozen deadly feuds upon his hands in thirty days.
Mr. Calhoun inherited a quarrel with Jackson from George Graham, his pro tempore predecessor in the War Department, This Mr. Graham was the gentleman ("spy," Jackson termed him) despatched by President Jefferson in 1806 to the Western country to look into the mysterious proceedings of Aaron Burr, which led to the explosion of Burr's scheme. This was enough to secure the bitterest enmity of Jackson, who wholly and always favored Burr's design of annihilating the Spanish power in North America, and who, as President of the United States, rewarded Burr's followers, and covertly assisted Houston to carry out part of Burr's project. Graham had sent orders to Jackson's subordinates directly, instead of sending them through the chief of the Department. Jackson, after due remonstrance, ordered his officers not to obey any orders but such as were communicated by or through himself. This was a high-handed measure; but Mr. Calhoun, on coming into power, passed it by without notice, and conceded the substance of Jackson's demand,—as he ought. This was so exquisitely pleasing to General Jackson, that he was well affected by it for many years towards Mr. Calhoun. Among the younger public men of that day, there was no one who stood so high in Jackson's regard as the Secretary of War.
The Florida war followed in 1818. When the report of General Jackson's invasion of Florida, and of the execution of Arbuthnot and Armbrister reached Washington, Mr. Calhoun was the only man in the Cabinet who expressed the opinion that General Jackson had transcended his powers, and ought to be brought before a court of inquiry. This opinion he supported with ardor, until it was overruled by the President, who was chiefly influenced by Mr. Adams, the Secretary of State. How keenly General Jackson resented the course of Mr. Calhoun on this occasion, when, eleven years afterwards, he discovered it, is sufficiently well known. We believe, however, that the facts justify Calhoun and condemn Jackson. Just before going to the seat of war, the General wrote privately to the President, strongly recommending the seizure of Florida, and added these words:
"This can be done without implicating the government. Let it be signified to me through any channel (say, Mr. J. Rhea) that the possession of the Floridas would be desirable to the United States, and in sixty days it will be accomplished."
General Jackson dwells, in his "Exposition" of this matter, upon the fact that Mr. Calhoun was the first man in Washington who read this letter. But he does not say that Mr. Calhoun was aware that Mr. Rhea had been commissioned to answer the letter, and had answered it in accordance with General Jackson's wishes. And if the Rhea correspondence justified the seizure of Florida, it did not justify the execution of the harmless Scottish trader Arbuthnot, who, so far from "instigating" the war, had exerted the whole of his influence to prevent it. It is an honor to Mr. Calhoun to have been the only man in the Cabinet to call for an inquiry into proceedings which disgraced the United States and came near involving the country in war. We have always felt it to be a blot upon the memory of John Quincy Adams, that he did not join Mr. Calhoun in demanding the trial of General Jackson; and we have not been able to attribute his conduct to anything but the supposed necessities of his position as a candidate for the succession.
Readers versed in political history need not be reminded that nearly every individual in the Cabinet of Mr. Monroe had hopes of succeeding him. Mr. Adams had, of course; for he was the premier. Mr. Crawford, of course; for it had been "arranged" at the last caucus that he was to follow Mr. Monroe, to whose claims he had deferred on that express condition. Henry Clay, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and De Witt Clinton of New York, had expectations. All these gentlemen had "claims" which both their party and the public could recognize. Mr. Calhoun, too, who was forty-two years of age in Mr. Monroe's last year of service, boldly entered the lists; relying upon the united support of the South and the support of the manufacturing States of the North, led by Pennsylvania. That against such competitors he had any ground at all to hope for success, shows how rapid and how real had been his progress toward a first-rate national position. If our readers will turn to the letters of Webster, Story, Wirt, Adams, Jackson, and others of that circle of distinguished men, they will see many evidences of the extravagant estimation in which he was held in 1824. They appear to have all seen in him the material for a President, though not yet quite mature for the position. They all deemed him a man of unsullied honor, of devoted patriotism, of perfect sincerity, and of immense ability,—so assiduously had he played the part of the good boy.
How the great popularity of General Jackson was adroitly used by two or three invisible wire-pullers to defeat the aspirations of these too eager candidates, and how from the general wreck of their hopes Mr. Calhoun had the dexterity to emerge Vice-President of the United States, has been related with the amplest detail, and need not be repeated here. Mr. Calhoun's position seemed then to combine all the advantages which a politician of forty-three could desire or imagine. By withdrawing his name from the list of candidates in such a way as to lead General Jackson to suppose that he had done so in his favor, he seemed to place the General under obligations to him. By secretly manifesting a preference for Mr. Adams (which he really felt) when the election devolved upon the House of Representatives, he had gained friends among the adherents of the successful candidate. His withdrawal was accepted by the public as an evidence of modesty becoming the youngest candidate. Finally he was actually Vice-President, as John Adams had been, as Jefferson had been, before their elevation to the highest place. True, Henry Clay, as Secretary of State, was in the established line of succession; but, as time wore on, it became very manifest that the re-election of Mr. Adams, upon which Mr. Clay's hopes depended, was itself exceedingly doubtful; and we accordingly find Mr. Calhoun numbered in the ranks of the opposition. Toward the close of Mr. Adams's Presidency, the question of real interest in the inner circle of politicians was, not who should succeed John Quincy Adams in 1829, but who should succeed Andrew Jackson in 1833; and already the choice was narrowing to two men,—Martin Van Buren and John C. Calhoun.
During Mr. Calhoun's first term in the Vice-Presidency,—1825 to 1829,—a most important change took place in his political position, which controlled all his future career. While he was Secretary of War,—1817 to 1824,—he resided with his family in Washington, and shared in the nationalizing influences of the place. When he was elected Vice-President, he removed to a plantation called Fort Hill, in the western part of South Carolina, where he was once more subjected to the intense and narrow provincialism of the planting States. And there was nothing in the character or in the acquirements of his mind to counteract that influence. Mr. Calhoun was not a student; he probed nothing to the bottom; his information on all subjects was small in quantity, and second-hand in quality. Nor was he a patient thinker. Any stray fact or notion that he met with in his hasty desultory reading, which chanced to give apparent support to a favorite theory or paradox of his own, he seized upon eagerly, paraded it in triumph, but pondered it little; while the weightiest facts which controverted his opinion he brushed aside without the slightest consideration. His mind was as arrogant as his manners were courteous. Every one who ever conversed with him must remember his positive, peremptory, unanswerable "Not at all, not at all" whenever one of his favorite positions was assailed. He was wholly a special pleader; he never summed up the testimony. We find in his works no evidence that he had read the masters in political economy; not even Adam Smith, whose reputation was at its height during the' first half of his public life. In history he was the merest smatterer, though it was his favorite reading, and he was always talking about Sparta, Athens, and Rome. The slenderness of his far tune prevented his travelling. He never saw Europe; and if he ever visited the Northern States, after leaving college, his stay was short. The little that he knew of life was gathered in three places, all of which were of an exceptional and artificial character,—the city of Washington, the up-country of South Carolina, and the luxurious, reactionary city of Charleston. His mind, naturally narrow and intense, became, by revolving always in this narrow sphere and breathing a close and tainted atmosphere, more and more fixed in its narrowness and more intense in its operations.
This man, moreover, was consumed by a poor ambition: he lusted after the Presidency. The rapidity of his progress in public life, the high offices he had held, the extravagant eulogiums he had received from colleagues and the press, deceived him as to the real nature of his position before the country, and blinded him to the superior chances of other men. Five times in his life he made a distinct clutch at the bawble, but never with such prospect of success that any man could discern it but himself and those who used his eyes. It is a satisfaction to know that, of the Presidency seekers,—Clay, Webster, Calhoun, Douglas, Wise, Breckenridge, Tyler, Fillmore, Clinton, Burr, Cass, Buchanan, and Van Buren,—only two won the prize, and those two only by a series of accidents which had little, to do with their own exertions. We can almost lay it down as a law of this Republic, that no man who makes the Presidency the principal object of his public life will ever be President. The Presidency is an accident, and such it will probably remain.
Mr. Vice-President Calhoun found his Carolina discontented in 1824, when he took up his abode at Fort Hill. Since the Revolution, South Carolina had never been satisfied, and had never had reason to be. The cotton-gin had appeased her for a while, but had not suspended the operation of the causes which produced the stagnation of the South. Profuse expenditure, unskilful agriculture, the costliest system of labor in the world, and no immigration, still kept Irelandizing the Southern States; while the North was advancing and improving to such a degree as to attract emigrants from all lands. The contrast was painful to Southern men, and to most of them it was mysterious. Southern politicians came to the conclusion that the cause at once of Northern prosperity and Southern poverty was the protective tariff and the appropriations for internal improvements, but chiefly the tariff. In 1824, when Mr. Calhoun went home, the tariff on some leading articles had been increased, and the South was in a ferment of opposition to the protective system. If Mr. Calhoun had been a wise and honest man, he would have reminded his friends that the decline of the South had been a subject of remark from the peace of 1783, and therefore could not have been caused by the tariff of 1816, or 1820, or 1824. He would have told them that slavery, as known in the Southern States, demands virgin lands,—must have, every few years, its cotton-gin, its Louisiana, its Cherokee country, its something, to give new value to its products or new scope for its operations. He might have added that the tariff of 1824 was a grievance, did tend to give premature development to a manufacturing system, and was a fair ground for a national issue between parties. The thing which he did was this: he adopted the view of the matter which was predominant in the extreme South, and accepted the leadership of the extreme Southern, anti-tariff, strict-constructionist wing of the Democratic party. He echoed the prevailing opinion, that the tariff and the internal improvement system, to both of which he was fully committed, were the sole causes of Southern stagnation; since by the one their money was taken from them, and by the other it was mostly spent where it did them no good.
He was, of course, soon involved in a snarl of contradictions, from which he never could disentangle himself. Let us pass to the year 1828, a most important one in the history of the country and of Mr. Calhoun; for then occurred the first of the long series of events which terminated with the surrender of the last Rebel army in 1865. The first act directly tending to a war between the South and the United States bears date December 6, 1828; and it was the act of John C. Calhoun.
It was the year of that Presidential election which placed Andrew Jackson in the White House, and re-elected Mr. Calhoun to the Vice-Presidency. It was the year that terminated the honorable part of Mr. Calhoun's career and began the dishonorable. His political position in the canvass was utterly false, as he himself afterwards confessed. On the one hand, he was supporting for the Presidency a man committed to the policy of protection; and on the other, he became the organ and mouthpiece of the Southern party, whose opposition to the protective principle was tending to the point of armed resistance to it. The tariff bill of 1828, which they termed the bill of abominations, had excited the most heated opposition in the cotton States, and especially in South Carolina. This act was passed in the spring of the very year in which those States voted for a man who had publicly endorsed the principle involved in it; and we see Mr. Calhoun heading the party who were electioneering for Jackson, and the party who were considering the policy of nullifying the act which he had approved. His Presidential aspirations bound him to the support of General Jackson; but the first, the fundamental necessity of his position was to hold possession of South Carolina.
The burden of Mr. Calhoun's later speeches was the reconciliation of the last part of his public life with the first. The task was difficult, for there is not a leading proposition in his speeches after 1830 which is not refuted by arguments to be found in his public utterances before 1828. In his speech on the Force Bill, in 1834, he volunteered an explanation of the apparent inconsistency between his support of General Jackson in 1828, and his authorship of the "South Carolina Exposition" in the same year. Falsehood and truth are strangely interwoven in almost every sentence of his later writings; and there is also that vagueness in them which comes of a superfluity of words. He says, that for the strict-constructionist party to have presented a candidate openly and fully identified with their opinions would have been to court defeat; and thus they were obliged either to abandon the contest, or to select a candidate "whose opinions were intermediate or doubtful on the subject which divided the two sections,"—a candidate "who, at best, was but a choice of evils." Besides, General Jackson was a Southern man, and it was hoped that, notwithstanding his want of experience, knowledge, and self-control, the advisers whom he would invite to assist him would compensate for those defects. Then Mr. Calhoun proceeds to state, that the contest turned chiefly upon the question of protection or free trade; and the strife was, which of the two parties should go farthest in the advocacy of protection. The result was, he says, that the tariff bill of 1828 was passed,—"that disastrous measure which has brought so many calamities upon us, and put in peril the liberty and union of the country," and "poured millions into the treasury beyond the most extravagant wants of the country."
The passage of this tariff bill was accomplished by the tact of Martin Van Buren, aided by Major Eaton, Senator from Tennessee. Mr. Van Buren was the predestined chief of General Jackson's Cabinet, and Major Eaton was the confidant, agent, and travelling manager of the Jacksonian wire-pullers, besides being the General's own intimate friend. The events of that session notified Mr. Calhoun that, however manageable General Jackson might be, he was not likely to fall into the custody of the Vice-President. General Jackson's election being considered certain, the question was alone interesting, who should possess him for the purposes of the succession. The prospect, as surveyed that winter from the Vice-President's chair, was not assuring to the occupant of that lofty seat. If General Jackson could not be used as a fulcrum for the further elevation of Mr. Calhoun, would it not be advisable to begin to cast about for another?
The tariff bill of 1828 was passed before the Presidential canvass had set in with its last severity. There was time for Mr. Calhoun to withdraw from the support of the man whose nearest friends had carried it through the Senate under his eyes. He did not do so. He went home, after the adjournment of Congress, to labor with all his might for the election of a protectionist, and to employ his leisure hours in the composition of that once famous paper called the "South Carolina Exposition," in which protection was declared to be an evil so intolerable as to justify the nullification of an act founded upon it. This Exposition was the beginning of our woe,—the baleful egg from which were hatched nullification, treason, civil war, and the desolation of the Southern States. Here is Mr. Calhoun's own account of the manner in which what he correctly styles "the double operation" was "pushed on" in the summer of 1828:—
"This disastrous event [the passage of the tariff bill of 1828] opened our eyes (I mean myself and those immediately connected with me) as to the full extent of the danger and oppression of the protective system, and the hazard of failing to effect the reform intended through the election of General Jackson. With these disclosures, it became necessary to seek some other ultimate, but more certain measure of protection. We turned to the Constitution to find this remedy. We directed a more diligent and careful scrutiny into its provisions, in order to understand fully the nature and character of our political system. We found a certain and effectual remedy in that great fundamental division of the powers of the system between this government and its independent co-ordinates, the separate governments of the States,—to be called into action to arrest the unconstitutional acts of this government by the interposition of the States,—the paramount source from which both governments derive their power. But in relying on this our ultimate remedy, we did not abate our zeal in the Presidential canvass; we still hoped that General Jackson, if elected, would effect the necessary reform, and thereby supersede the necessity for calling into action the sovereign authority of the State, which we were anxious to avoid. With these views the two were pushed with equal zeal at the same time; which double operation commenced in the fall of 1828, but a few months after the passage of the tariff act of that year; and at the meeting of the Legislature of the State, at the same period, a paper known as the South Carolina Exposition was reported to that body, containing a full development, as well on the constitutional point as on the operation of the protective system, preparatory to a state of things which might eventually render the action of the State necessary in order to protect her rights and interest, and to stay a course of policy which we believed would, if not arrested, prove destructive of liberty and the Constitution."—Works, II. 396.
Mr. Calhoun omits, however, to mention that the Exposition was not presented to the Legislature of South Carolina until after the Presidential election had been decided. Nor did he inform his hearers that the author of the paper was Mr. Vice-President Calhoun. Either there was a great dearth of literary ability in that body, or else Mr. Calhoun had little confidence in it; for nearly all the ponderous documents on nullification given to the world in its name were penned by Mr. Calhoun, and appear in his collected works. If the Legislature addressed its constituents or the people of the United States on this subject, it was he who prepared the draft. The South Carolina Exposition was found among his papers in his own handwriting, and it was adopted by the Legislature with only a few alterations and suppressions. There never was a piece of mischief more completely the work of one man than the nullification troubles of 1833-34.
The South Carolina Exposition, when Mr. Calhoun had completed it, was brought before the public by one of the usual methods. The Legislature of South Carolina passed the following resolutions:—
"Resolved, That it is expedient to protest against the unconstitutional and oppressive operation of the system of protective duties, and to have such protest entered on the journals of the Senate of the United States. Also, to make a public exposition of our wrongs, and of the remedies within our power, to be communicated to our sister States, with a request that they will co-operate with this State in procuring a repeal of the tariff for protection, and an abandonment of the principle; and if the repeal be not procured, that they will co-operate in such measures as may be necessary for averting the evil.
"Resolved, That a committee of seven be raised to carry the foregoing resolution into effect."
The resolution having been carried, the following gentlemen were appointed to father Mr. Calhoun's paper: James Gregg, D.L. Wardlaw, Hugh S. Legare, Arthur P. Hayne, William C. Preston, William Elliott, and R. Barnwell Smith. The duty of this committee consisted in causing a copy of Mr. Calhoun's paper to be made and presenting it to the Legislature. This was promptly done; and the Exposition was adopted by the Legislature on the 6th of December, 1828. Whether any protest was forwarded to the Secretary of the United States Senate for insertion in the journal does not appear. We only know that five thousand copies of this wearisome and stupid Exposition were ordered to be printed, and that in the hubbub of the incoming of a new administration it attracted scarcely any attention beyond the little knot of original nullifiers. Indeed, Mr. Calhoun's writings on this subject were "protected" by their own length and dulness. No creature ever read one of them quite through, except for a special purpose.
The leading assertions of this Exposition are these:—1. Every duty imposed for protection is a violation of the Constitution, which empowers Congress to impose taxes for revenue only. 2. The whole burden of the protective system is borne by agriculture and commerce. 3. The whole of the advantages of protection accrue to the manufacturing States. 4. In other words, the South, the Southwest, and two or three commercial cities, support the government, and pour a stream of treasure into the coffers of manufacturers. 5. The result must soon be, that the people of South Carolina will have either to abandon the culture of rice and cotton, and remove to some other country, or else to become a manufacturing community, which would only be ruin in another form.
Lest the reader should find it impossible to believe that any man out of a lunatic asylum could publish such propositions as this last, we will give the passage. Mr. Calhoun is endeavoring to show that Europe will at length retaliate by placing high duties upon American cotton and rice. At least that appears to be what he is aiming at.
"We already see indications of a commercial warfare, the termination of which no one can conjecture, though our fate may easily be. The last remains of our great and once flourishing agriculture must be annihilated in the conflict. In the first instance we will be thrown on the home market, which cannot consume a fourth of our products; and, instead of supplying the world, as we would with free trade, we would be compelled to abandon the cultivation of three fourths of what we now raise, and receive for the residue whatever the manufacturers, who would then have their policy consummated by the entire possession of our market, might choose to give. Forced to abandon our ancient and favorite pursuit, to which our soil, climate, habits, and peculiar labor are adapted, at an immense sacrifice of property, we would be compelled, without capital, experience, or skill, and with a population untried in such pursuits, to attempt to become the rivals, instead of the customers, of the manufacturing States. The result is not doubtful. If they, by superior capital and skill, should keep down successful competition on our part, we would be doomed to toil at our unprofitable agriculture,—selling at the prices which a single and very limited market might give. But, on the contrary, if our necessity should triumph over their capital and skill, if, instead of raw cotton we should ship to the manufacturing States cotton yarn and cotton goods, the thoughtful must see that it would inevitably bring about a state of things which could not long continue. Those who now make war on our gains would then make it on our labor. They would not tolerate that those who now cultivate our plantations, and furnish them with the material and the market for the product of their arts, should, by becoming their rivals, take bread from the mouths of their wives and children. The committee will not pursue this painful subject; but as they clearly see that the system if not arrested, must bring the country to this hazardous extremity, neither prudence nor patriotism would permit them to pass it by without raising a warning voice against an evil of so menacing a character."—Works, VI. 12.
The only question which arises in the mind of present readers of such passages (which abound in the writings of Mr. Calhoun) is this: Were they the chimeras of a morbid, or the utterances of a false mind? Those who knew him differ in opinion on this point. For our part, we believe such passages to have been inserted for the sole purpose of alarming the people of South Carolina, so as to render them the more subservient to his will. It is the stale trick of the demagogue, as well as of the false priest, to subjugate the mind by terrifying it.
Mr. Calhoun concludes his Exposition by bringing forward his remedy for the frightful evils which he had conjured up. That remedy, of course, was nullification. The State of South Carolina, after giving due warning, must declare the protective acts "null and void" in the State of South Carolina after a certain date; and then, unless Congress repealed them in time, refuse obedience to them. Whether this should be done by the Legislature or by a convention called for the purpose, Mr. Calhoun would not say; but he evidently preferred a convention. He advised, however, that nothing be done hastily; that time should be afforded to the dominant majority for further reflection. Delay, he remarked, was the more to be recommended, because of
"the great political revolution which will displace from power, on the 4th of March next, those who have acquired authority by setting the will of the people at defiance, and which will bring in an eminent citizen, distinguished for his services to his country and his justice and patriotism";
under whom, it was hoped, there would be "a complete restoration, of the pure principles of our government." This passage Mr. Calhoun could write after witnessing the manoeuvres of Mr. Van Buren and Mr. Eaton! If the friends of Mr. Adams had set the will of the people at defiance on the tariff question, what had the supporters of General Jackson done? In truth, this menace of nullification was the second string to the bow of the Vice-President. It was not yet ascertained which was going to possess and use General Jackson,—the placid and flexible Van Buren, or the headstrong, short-sighted, and uncomfortable Calhoun. Nullification, as he used daily to declare, was a "reserved power."
At the time of General Jackson's inauguration, it would have puzzled an acute politician to decide which of the two aspirants had the best chance of succeeding the General. The President seemed equally well affected toward both. One was Secretary of State, the other Vice-President. Van Buren, inheriting the political tactics of Burr, was lord paramount in the great State of New York, and Calhoun was all-powerful in his own State and very influential in all the region of cotton and rice. In the Cabinet Calhoun had two friends, and one tried and devoted ally (Ingham), while Van Buren could only boast of Major Eaton, Secretary of War; and the tie that bound them together was political far more than personal. In the public mind, Calhoun towered above his rival, for he had been longer in the national councils, had held offices that drew upon him the attention of the whole country, and had formerly been distinguished as an orator. If any one had been rash enough in 1829 to intimate to Mr. Calhoun that Martin Van Buren stood before the country on a par with himself, he would have pitied the ignorance of that rash man.
Under despotic governments, like those of Louis XIV. and Andrew Jackson, no calculation can be made as to the future of any public man, because his future depends upon the caprice of the despot, which cannot be foretold. Six short weeks—nay, not so much, not six—sufficed to estrange the mind of the President from Calhoun, and implant within him a passion to promote the interests of Van Buren. Our readers, we presume, all know how this was brought to pass. It was simply that Mr. Calhoun would not, and Mr. Van Buren would call upon Mrs. Eaton. All the other influences that were brought to bear upon the President's singular mind were nothing in comparison with this. Daniel Webster uttered only the truth when he wrote, at the time, to his friend Dutton, that the "Aaron's serpent among the President's desires was a settled purpose of making out the lady, of whom so much has been said, a person of reputation"; and that this ridiculous affair would "probably determine who should be the successor to the present chief magistrate." It had precisely that effect. We have shown elsewhere the successive manoeuvres by which this was effected, and how vigorously but unskillfully Calhoun struggled to avert his fate. We cannot and need not repeat the story; nor can we go over again the history of the Nullification imbroglio, which began with the South Carolina Exposition in 1828, and ended very soon after Calhoun had received a private notification that the instant news reached Washington of an overt act of treason in South Carolina, the author and fomenter of that treason would be arrested and held for trial as a traitor.
One fact alone suffices to prove that, in bringing on the Nullification troubles, Calhoun's motive was factious. When General Jackson saw the coming storm, he did two things. First, he prepared to maintain the authority of the United States by force. Secondly, he used all his influence with Congress to have the cause of Southern discontent removed. General Jackson felt that the argument of the anti-tariff men, in view of the speedy extinction of the national debt, was unanswerable. He believed it was absurd to go on raising ten or twelve millions a year more than the government could spend, merely for the sake of protecting Northern manufactures. Accordingly, a bill was introduced which aimed to do just what the nullifiers had been clamoring for, that is, to reduce the revenue to the amount required by the government. If Mr. Calhoun had supported this measure, he could have carried it. He gave it no support; but exerted all his influence in favor of the Clay Compromise, which was expressly intended to save as much of the protective system as could be saved, and which reduced duties gradually, instead of suddenly. Rather than permit the abhorred administration to have the glory of pacificating the country, this lofty Roman stooped to a coalition with his personal enemy, Henry Clay, the champion and the soul of the protectionist party.
No words can depict the bitterness of Calhoun's disappointment and mortification at being distanced by a man whom he despised so cordially as he did Van Buren. To comprehend it, his whole subsequent career must be studied. The numerous covert allusions to the subject in his speeches and writings are surcharged with rancor; and it was observed that, whenever his mind reverted to it, his manner, the tone of his voice, and every gesture testified to the intensity of his feelings. "Every Southern man," said he on one occasion,
"who is true to the interests of his section, and faithful to the duties which Providence has allotted him, will be forever excluded from the honors and emoluments of this government, which will be reserved only for those who have qualified themselves by political prostitution for admission into the Magdalen Asylum."
His face, too, from this time, assumed that haggard, cast-iron, intense, introverted aspect which struck every beholder.
Miss Martineau, in her Retrospect of Western Travel, has given us some striking and valuable glimpses of the eminent men of that period, particularly of the three most eminent, who frequently visited her during her stay in Washington. This passage, for example, is highly interesting.
"Mr. Clay sitting upright on the sofa, with his snuffbox ever in his hand, would discourse for many an hour in his even, soft, deliberate tone, on any one of the great subjects of American policy which we might happen to start, always amazing us with the moderation of estimate and speech which so impetuous a nature has been able to attain. Mr. Webster, leaning back at his ease, telling stories, cracking jokes, shaking the sofa with burst after burst of laughter, or smoothly discoursing to the perfect felicity of the logical part of one's constitution, would illuminate an evening now and then. Mr. Calhoun, the cast-iron man, who looks as if he had never been born and could never be extinguished, would come in sometimes to keep our understandings on a painful stretch for a short while, and leave us to take to pieces his close, rapid, theoretical, illustrated talk, and see what we could make of it. We found it usually more worth retaining as a curiosity, than as either very just or useful. His speech abounds in figures, truly illustrative, if that which they illustrate were true also. But his theories of government (almost the only subject upon which his thoughts are employed), the squarest and compactest that ever were made, are composed out of limited elements, and are not, therefore, likely to stand service very well. It is at first extremely interesting to hear Mr. Calhoun talk; and there is a never-failing evidence of power in all that he says and does, which commands intellectual reverence; but the admiration is too soon turned into regret, into absolute melancholy. It is impossible to resist the conviction, that all this force can be at best but useless, and is but too likely to be very mischievous. His mind has long lost all power of communicating with any other. I know of no man who lives in such utter intellectual solitude. He meets men and harangues by the fireside as in the Senate; he is wrought like a piece of machinery, set going vehemently by a weight, and stops while you answer; he either passes by what you say, or twists it into a suitability with what is in his head, and begins to lecture again. Of course, a mind like this can have little influence in the Senate, except by virtue, perpetually wearing out, of what it did in its less eccentric days; but its influence at home is to be dreaded. There is no hope that an intellect so cast in narrow theories will accommodate itself to varying circumstances; and there is every danger that it will break up all that it can in order to remould the materials in its own way. Mr. Calhoun is as full as ever of his Nullification doctrines; and those who know the force that is in him, and his utter incapacity of modification by other minds, (after having gone through as remarkable a revolution of political opinion as perhaps any man ever experienced,) will no more expect repose and self-retention from him than from a volcano in full force. Relaxation is no longer in the power of his will. I never saw any one who so completely gave me the idea of possession. Half an hour's conversation with him is enough to make a necessitarian of anybody. Accordingly, he is more complained of than blamed by his enemies. His moments of softness by his family, and when recurring to old college days, are hailed by all as a relief to the vehement working of the intellectual machine,—a relief equally to himself and others. These moments are as touching to the observer as tears on the face of a soldier."
Of his appearance in the Senate, and of his manner of speaking, Miss Martineau records her impressions also:—
"Mr. Calhoun's countenance first fixed my attention; the splendid eye, the straight forehead, surmounted by a load of stiff, upright, dark hair, the stern brow, the inflexible mouth,—it is one of the most remarkable heads in the country."
"Mr. Calhoun followed, and impressed me very strongly. While he kept to the question, what he said was close, good, and moderate, though delivered in rapid speech, and with a voice not sufficiently modulated. But when he began to reply to a taunt of Colonel Benton's, that he wanted to be President, the force of his speaking became painful. He made protestations which it seemed to strangers had better have been spared, 'that he would not turn on his heel to be President,' and that 'he had given up all for his own brave, magnanimous little State of South Carolina.' While thus protesting, his eyes flashed, his brow seemed charged with thunder, his voice became almost a bark, and his sentences were abrupt, intense, producing in the auditory a sort of laugh which is squeezed out of people by the application of a very sudden mental force. I believe he knew not what a revelation he made in a few sentences. They were to us strangers the key, not only to all that was said and done by the South Carolina party during the remainder of the session, but to many things at Charleston and Columbia which would otherwise have passed unobserved and unexplained."
This intelligent observer saw the chieftain on his native heath:—
"During my stay in Charleston, Mr. Calhoun and his family arrived from Congress, and there was something very striking in the welcome he received, like that of a chief returned to the bosom of his clan. He stalked about like a monarch of the little domain, and there was certainly an air of mysterious understanding between him and his followers."
What Miss Martineau says of the impossibility of Calhoun's mind communicating with another mind, is confirmed by an anecdote which we have heard related by Dr. Francis Lieber, who, as Professor in the College of South Carolina, was for several years the neighbor and intimate acquaintance of Mr. Calhoun. The learned Professor, upon his return from a visit to Europe, called upon him, and in the course of the interview Mr. Calhoun declared, in his positive manner, that the slaves in the Southern States were better lodged, fed, and cared for than the mechanics of Europe. Dr. Lieber, being fresh from that continent, assured the Secretary of State that such was not the fact, as he could testify from having resided in both lands. "Not at all, not at all," cried Calhoun dogmatically, and repeated his wild assertion. The Doctor saw that the poor man had reached the condition of absolute unteachableness, and dropped the subject. There could not well be a more competent witness on the point in dispute than Dr. Lieber; for, besides having long resided in both continents, it was the habit and business of his life to observe and ponder the effect of institutions upon the welfare of those who live under them. Calhoun pushed him out of the witness-box, as though he were an idiot.
A survey of the last fifteen years of Calhoun's life discloses nothing upon which the mind can dwell with complacency. On the approach of every Presidential election, we see him making what we can only call a grab at a nomination, by springing upon the country some unexpected issue designed to make the South a unit in his support. From 1830 to 1836, he exhausted all the petty arts of the politician to defeat General Jackson's resolve to bring in Mr. Van Buren as his successor; and when all had failed, he made an abortive attempt to precipitate the question of the annexation of Texas. This, too, being foiled, Mr. Van Buren was elected President. Then Mr. Calhoun, who had for ten years never spoken of Van Buren except with contempt, formed the notable scheme of winning over the President so far as to secure his support for the succession. He advocated all the test measures of Mr. Van Buren's administration, and finished by courting a personal reconciliation with the man whom he had a hundred times styled a fox and a political prostitute. This design coming to naught, through the failure of Mr. Van Buren to reach a second term, he made a wild rush for the prize by again thrusting forward the Texas question. Colonel Benton, who was the predetermined heir of Van Buren, has detailed the manner in which this was done in a very curious chapter of his "Thirty Years." The plot was successful, so far as plunging the country into a needless war was concerned; but it was Polk and Taylor, not Calhoun, who obtained the Presidency through it. Mr. Calhoun's struggles for a nomination in 1844 were truly pitiable, but they were not known to the public, who saw him, at a certain stage of the campaign, affecting to decline a nomination which there was not the slightest danger of his receiving.
We regret that we have not space to show how much the agitation of the slavery question, from 1835 to 1850, was the work of this one man. The labors of Mr. Garrison and Mr. Wendell Phillips might have borne no fruit during their lifetime, if Calhoun had not made it his business to supply them with material. "I mean to force the issue upon the North," he once wrote; and he did force it. On his return to South Carolina after the termination of the Nullification troubles, he said to his friends there, (so avers Colonel Benton, "Thirty Years," Vol. II. p. 786,)
"that the South could never be united against the North on the tariff question; that the sugar interest of Louisiana would keep her out; and that the basis of Southern union must be shifted to the slave question."
Here we have the key to the mysteries of all his subsequent career. The denial of the right of petition, the annexation of Texas, the forcing of slavery into the Territories,—these were among the issues upon which he hoped to unite the South in his favor, while retaining enough strength at the North to secure his election. Failing in all his schemes of personal advancement, he died in 1850, still protesting that slavery is divine, and that it must rule this country or ruin it. This is really the sum and substance of that last speech to the Senate, which he had not strength enough left to deliver.
We have run rapidly over Mr. Calhoun's career as a public man. It remains for us to notice his claims as a teacher of political philosophy, a character in which he influenced his countrymen more powerfully after he was in his grave than he did while living among them.
The work upon which his reputation as a thinker will rest with posterity is his Treatise on the Nature of Government. Written in the last year of his life, when at length all hope of further personal advancement must have died within him, it may be taken as the deliberate record or summary of his political opinions. He did not live to revise it, and the concluding portion he evidently meant to enlarge and illustrate, as was ascertained from notes and memoranda in pencil upon the manuscript. After the death of the author in 1850, the work was published in a substantial and elegant form by the Legislature of South Carolina, who ordered copies to be presented to individuals of note in science and literature, and to public libraries. We are, therefore, to regard this volume, not merely as a legacy of Mr. Calhoun to his countrymen, but as conveying to us the sentiments of South Carolina with regard to her rights and duties as a member of the Union. Events since its publication have shown us that it is more even than this. The assemblage of troublesome communities which we have been accustomed to style "the South," adopted this work as their political gospel. From this source the politicians of the Southern States have drawn all they have chosen to present to the world in justification of their course which bears the semblance of argument; for, in truth, Mr. Calhoun, since Jefferson and Madison passed from the stage, is almost the only thinking being the South has had. His was a very narrow, intense, and untrustworthy mind, but he was an angel of light compared with the men who have been recently conspicuous in the Southern States.
This treatise on government belongs to the same class of works as Louis Napoleon's Life of Caesar, having for its principal object one that lies below the surface, and the effect of both is damaged by the name on the title-page. The moment we learn that Louis Napoleon wrote that Life of Caesar, the mind is intent upon discovering allusions to recent history, which the author has an interest in misrepresenting. The common conscience of mankind condemns him as a perjured usurper, and the murderer of many of his unoffending fellow-citizens. No man, whatever the power and splendor of his position, can rest content under the scorn of mankind, unless his own conscience gives him a clear acquittal, and assures him that one day the verdict of his fellow-men will be reversed; and even in that case, it is not every man that can possess his soul in patience. Every page of the Life of Caesar was composed with a secret, perhaps half-unconscious reference to that view of Louis Napoleon's conduct which is expressed with such deadly power in Mr. Kinglake's History of the Crimean War, and which is so remarkably confirmed by an American eyewitness, the late Mr. Goodrich, who was Consul at Paris in 1848. Published anonymously, the Life of Caesar might have had some effect. Given to the world by Napoleon III., every one reads it as he would a defence by an ingenious criminal of his own cause. The highest praise that can be bestowed upon it is, that it is very well done, considering the object the author had in view.
So, in reading Mr. Calhoun's disquisition upon government, we are constantly reminded that the author was a man who had only escaped trial and execution for treason by suddenly arresting the treasonable measures which he had caused to be set on foot. Though it contains but one allusion to events in South Carolina in 1833, the work is nothing but a labored, refined justification of those events. It has been even coupled with Edwards on the Will, as the two best examples of subtle reasoning which American literature contains. Admit his premises, and you are borne along, at a steady pace, in a straight path, to the final inferences: that the sovereign State of South Carolina possesses, by the Constitution of the United States, an absolute veto upon every act of Congress, and may secede from the Union whenever she likes; and that these rights of veto and secession do not merely constitute the strength of the Constitution, but are the Constitution,—and do not merely tend to perpetuate the Union, but are the Union's self,—the thing that binds the States together.
Mr. Calhoun begins his treatise by assuming that government is necessary. He then explains why it is necessary. It is necessary because man is more selfish than sympathetic, feeling more intensely what affects himself than what affects others. Hence he will encroach on the rights of others; and to prevent this, government is indispensable.
But government, since it must be administered by selfish men will feel more intensely what affects itself than what affects the people governed. It is, therefore, the tendency of all governments to encroach on the rights of the people; and they certainly will do so, if they can. The same instinct of self-preservation, the same love of accumulation, which tempts individuals to over-reach their neighbors, inclines government to preserve, increase, and consolidate its powers. Therefore, as individual selfishness requires to be held in check by government, so government must be restrained by something.
This something is the constitution, written or unwritten. A constitution is to the government what government is to the people: it is the restraint upon its selfishness. Mr. Calhoun assumes here that the relation between government and governed is naturally and inevitably "antagonistic." He does not perceive that government is the expression of man's love of justice, and the means by which the people cause justice to be done.
Government, he continues, must be powerful; must have at command the resources of the country; must be so strong that it can, if it will, disregard the limitations of the constitution. The question is, How to compel a government, holding such powers, having an army, a navy, and a national treasury at command, to obey the requirements of a mere piece of printed paper?
Power, says Mr. Calhoun, can only be resisted by power. Therefore, a proper constitution must leave to the governed the power to resist encroachments. This is done in free countries by universal suffrage and the election of rulers at frequent and fixed periods. This gives to rulers the strongest possible motive to please the people, which can only be done by executing their will.
So far, most readers will follow the author without serious difficulty. But now we come to passages which no one could understand who was not acquainted with the Nullification imbroglio of 1833. A philosophic Frenchman or German, who should read this work with a view to enlightening his mind upon the nature of government, would be much puzzled after passing the thirteenth page; for at that point the hidden loadstone begins to operate upon the needle of Mr. Calhoun's compass, and he is as Louis Napoleon writing the Life of Caesar.
Universal suffrage, he continues, and the frequent election of rulers, are indeed the primary and fundamental principles of a constitutional government; and they are sufficient to give the people an effective control over those whom they have elected. But this is all they can do. They cannot make rulers good, or just, or obedient to the constitution, but only faithful representatives of the majority of the people and executors of the will of that majority. The right of suffrage transfers the supreme authority from the rulers to the body of the community, and the more perfectly it does this, the more perfectly it accomplishes its object. Majority is king. But this king, too, like all others, is selfish, and will abuse his power if he can.
So, we have been arguing in a circle, and have come back to the starting-point. Government keeps within bounds the selfishness of the people; the constitution restrains the selfishness of the government; but, in doing so, it has only created a despot as much to be dreaded as the power it displaced. We are still, therefore, confronted by the original difficulty. How are we to limit the sway of tyrant Majority?
If, says Mr. Calhoun, all the people had the same interests, so that a law which oppressed one interest would oppress all interests, then the right of suffrage would itself be sufficient; and the only question would be as to the fitness of different candidates. But this is not the case. Taxation, for example: no system of taxation can be arranged that will not bear oppressively upon some interests or section. Disbursements, also: some portions of the country must receive back, in the form of governmental disbursements, more money than they pay in taxes, and others less; and this may be carried so far, that one region may be utterly impoverished, while others are enriched. King Majority may have his favorites. He may now choose to favor agriculture; now, commerce; now, manufactures; and so arrange the imports as to crush one for the sake of promoting the others. "Crush" is Mr. Calhoun's word. "One portion of the community," he says,
"may be crushed, and another elevated on its ruins, by systematically perverting the power of taxation and disbursement, for the purpose of aggrandizing or building up one portion of the community at the expense of the other."
May be. But has not the most relentless despot an interest in the prosperity of his subjects? And can one interest be crushed without manifest and immediate injury to all the others? Mr. Calhoun says: That this fell power to crush important interests will be used, is exactly as certain as that it can be.
All this would be unintelligible to our foreign philosopher, but American citizens know very well what it means. Through this fine lattice-work fence they discern the shining countenance of the colored person.
But now, what remedy? Mr. Calhoun approaches this part of the subject with the due acknowledgment of its difficulty. The remedy, of course, is Nullification; but he is far from using a word so familiar. There is but one mode, he remarks, by which the majority of the whole people can be prevented from oppressing the minority, or portions of the minority, and that is this:
"By taking the sense of each interest or portion of the community, which may be unequally and injuriously affected by the action of the government, separately, through its own majority, or in some other way by which its voice can be expressed; and to require the consent of each interest, either to put or to keep the government in motion."
And this can only be done by such an "organism" as will "give to each division or interest either a concurrent voice in making and executing the laws or a veto on their execution."
This is perfectly intelligible when read by the light of the history of 1833. But no human being unacquainted with that history could gather Mr. Calhoun's meaning. Our studious foreigner would suppose by the word "interest," that the author meant the manufacturing interest, the commercial and agricultural interests, and that each of these should have its little congress concurring in or vetoing the acts of the Congress sitting at Washington. We, however, know that Mr. Calhoun meant that South Carolina should have the power to nullify acts of Congress and give law to the Union. He does not tell us how South Carolina's tyrant Majority is to be kept within bounds; but only how that majority is to control the majority of the whole country. He has driven his problem into a corner, and there he leaves it.
Having thus arrived at the conclusion, that a law, to be binding on all "interests," i.e. on all the States of the Union, must be concurred in by all, he proceeds to answer the obvious objection, that "interests" so antagonistic could never be brought to unanimous agreement. He thinks this would present no difficulty, and adduces some instances of unanimity to illustrate his point.
First, trial by jury. Here are twelve men, of different character and calibre, shut up in a room to agree upon a verdict, in a cause upon which able men have argued upon opposite sides. How unlikely that they should be able to agree unanimously! Yet they generally do, and that speedily. Why is this? Because, answers Mr. Calhoun, they go into their room knowing that nothing short of unanimity will answer; and consequently every man is disposed to agree with his fellows, and, if he cannot agree, to compromise. "Not at all." The chief reason why juries generally agree is, that they are not interested in the matter in dispute. The law of justice is so plainly written in the human heart, that the fair thing is usually obvious to disinterested minds, or can be made so. It is interest, it is rivalry, that blinds us to what is right; and Mr. Calhoun's problem is to render "antagonistic" interests unanimous. We cannot, therefore, accept this illustration as a case in point.
Secondly, Poland. Poland is not the country which an American would naturally visit to gain political wisdom. Mr. Calhoun, however, repairs thither, and brings home the fact, that in the turbulent Diet of that unhappy kingdom every member had an absolute veto upon every measure. Nay, more: no king could be elected without the unanimous vote of an assembly of one hundred and fifty thousand persons. Yet Poland lasted two centuries! The history of those two centuries is a sufficient comment upon Mr Calhoun's system, to say nothing of the final catastrophe, which Mr. Calhoun confesses was owing to "the extreme to which the principle was carried." A sound principle cannot be carried to an unsafe extreme; it is impossible for a man to be too right. If it is right for South Carolina to control and nullify the United States, it is right for any one man in South Carolina to control and nullify South Carolina. One of the tests of a system is to ascertain where it will carry us if it is pushed to the uttermost extreme. Mr. Calhoun gave his countrymen this valuable information when he cited the lamentable case of Poland.
From Poland the author descends to the Six Nations, the federal council of which was composed of forty-two members, each of whom had an absolute veto upon every measure. Nevertheless, this confederacy, he says, became the most powerful and the most united of all the Indian nations. He omits to add, that it was the facility with which this council could be wielded by the French and English in turn, that hastened the grinding of the Six Nations to pieces between those two millstones.
Rome is Mr. Calhoun's next illustration. The Tribunus Plebis, he observes, had a veto upon the passage of all laws and upon the execution of all laws, and thus prevented the oppression of the plebeians by the patricians. To show the inapplicability of this example to the principle in question, to show by what steps this tribunal, long useful and efficient, gradually absorbed the power of the government, and became itself, first oppressive, and then an instrument in the overthrow of the constitution, would be to write a history of Rome. Niebuhr is accessible to the public, and Niebuhr knew more of the Tribunus Plebis than Mr. Calhoun. We cannot find in Niebuhr anything to justify the author's aim to constitute patrician Carolina the Tribunus Plebis of the United States.
Lastly, England. England, too, has that safeguard of liberty, "an organism by which the voice of each order or class is taken through its appropriate organ, and which requires the concurring voice of all to constitute that of the whole community." These orders are King, Lords, and Commons. They must all concur in every law, each having a veto upon the action of the two others. The government of the United States is also so arranged that the President and the two Houses of Congress must concur in every enactment; but then they all represent the same order or interest, the people of the United States. The English government, says Mr. Calhoun, is so exquisitely constituted, that the greater the revenues of the government, the more stable it is; because those revenues, being chiefly expended upon the lords and gentlemen, render them exceedingly averse to any radical change. Mr. Calhoun does not mention that the majority of the people of England are not represented in the government at all. Perhaps, however, the following passage, in a previous part of the work, was designed to meet their case:—