John C. Calhoun

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Doc Brown posing as Calhoun in Back to the Future IV Calhoun in his tuberculosis-riddled later years. Also, dig that slaveholder neckbeard (zoom to puke).
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I hold that 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.
—John C Calhoun on Slavery

John C. Calhoun (1782–1850) was one of the nastier political figures in 19th century United States and could be considered the intellectual great-grandfather of American-styled white supremacy and Southern reactionary politics.[1] He was a strong defender of slavery[note 1] and brought the nation to the brink of civil war due to his nullification doctrine that basically argues that any state can nullify any law it doesn't agree with.[note 2]

Despite all that, he managed to be US Vice President for a time (1825-1832)[note 3] and overall one of the most important Southern leaders during the antebellum era. Famously he was Andrew Jackson's vice president while the two had a falling out during the Nullification Crisis of 1832, leading to the two bitterly hating each other and Jackson claiming on his last day in office that his two main regrets were that he "had been unable to shoot Henry Clay or to hang John C. Calhoun."

He furthermore gets chickenhawk bonus points for virulently supporting the War of 1812 (his political group at that time was called "war-hawks") despite never having served in any military.[note 4] In fact his pro-war stance and support for military buildup initially led to him initially being a Federalist sympathizer before flipping to the anti-Federalist/Democratic Party due to the issue of (you guessed it) slavery. If you needed definitive proof that the US would be better off without the Carolinas, he is it.

Calhoun was fiercely opposed to high protectionist tariffs.[2] He even threatened for his home state of South Carolina to secede over the issue, but Andrew Jackson had none of it.

Calhoun was also responsible for the establishment of the Bureau of Indian AffairsWikipedia in 1824 to regulate the social, economic and political affairs of Native Americans on reservations.[3]

Greatest hits[edit]

We make a great mistake in supposing that all people are capable of self government. Acting under that impression, many are anxious to force free Governments on all the people of this continent, and over the world, if they had the power. It has been lately urged in a very respectable quarter, that it is the mission of this country to spread civil and religious liberty over all the globe, and especially over this continent -- even by force, if necessary. It is a sad delusion. None but a people advanced to a high state of moral and intellectual excellence are capable in a civilized condition, of forming and maintaining free Governments; and among those who are so far advanced, very few indeed have had the good fortune to form constitutions capable of endurance. It is a remarkable fact in the political history of man, that there is scarcely an instance of a free constitutional Government, which has been the work exclusively of foresight and wisdom. They have all been the result of a fortunate combination of circumstances. It is a very difficult task to make a Constitution worthy of being called so. This admirable federal Constitution of ours, is the result of such a combination. It is superior to the wisdom of any or all of the men by whose agency it was made. The force of circumstances, and not foresight or wisdom, induced them to adopted many of its wisest provisions.
Calhoun from his January 4th, 1848 speech.
Be assured that emancipa­tion itself would not satisfy these fanatics: -that gained, the next step would be to raise the negroes to a social and political equality with the whites; and that being effected, we would soon find the present condi­tion of the two races reversed. They and their northern allies would be the masters, and we the slaves; the condition of the white race in the British West India Islands, bad as it is, would be happiness to ours. There the mother country is interested in sustaining the supremacy of the European race.
— Calhoun in an 1837 speech

See also[edit]

  • American Civil War — Calhoun's "extreme" (as in, even by the standards of the day) and unbending defense of Southern slavery combined with his readiness to double-cross the Federal government helped make this basically inevitable.
  • John Tyler — Calhoun served as Secretary of State under Tyler.
  • Strom Thurmond


  1. He considered it a "positive good" rather than subscribing to the mainstream apologist view of slavery being a "necessary evil".
  2. Hint, it can't: see Article 6, Clause 2Wikipedia of the United States Constitution
  3. In fact he was one of only two Vice presidents to serve under two different presidents, the other being a certain George Clinton. He also served in the US House of Representatives and Senate (South Carolina), as Secretary of State, and as Secretary of War.
  4. To be fair, he was just a bit young to fight in the American Revolution, though he was old enough for the Barbary War.


  1. Johm C. Calhoun: The Man Who Started The Civil War, Ethan S. Rafuse, Historynet 12 June 2006
  2. McNamara, Robert (July 19, 2019). The Tariff of Abominations of 1828. ThoughtCo. Retrieved March 15, 2021.