John Calhoun (1782-1850) was a Southern Confederation politician who was instrumental in the development and adoption of the Second Britannic Design, which created the modern governmental structure of the Confederation of North America. Despite this achievement, he is best known today for his unsuccessful opposition to the manumission of Negro slaves.
Calhoun was born in the backcountry of South Carolina to immigrants from Northern Ireland, but was a resident of Georgia when he began his political career. By 1829, when a slave insurrection convulsed the S.C., he had become leader of the confederation's Liberal Party, and his famous Defense of the Realm speech in that year crystallized the debate on the slavery issue. He argued that whatever the origins of the institution, there was no practical alternative to maintaining it -- he specifically rejected sale to Jefferson, deportation to Africa, massacre, and manumission, the last on the grounds that the uncivilized Negroes could not live peacefully with whites. The S.C.'s only hope, he said, was an alliance of Liberal parties in all the confederations of the C.N.A., in defense of the status quo against the claims of laborers. On this platform, Calhoun was elected both Governor of Georgia and Governor-General of the S.C. in 1833.
The financial panic of 1836 led to a collapse in the price of cotton and an ensuing collapse in the price of slaves. Though Calhoun argued that these conditions were temporary, most plantation owners sought a way to free themselves from the burden of their unprofitable human assets. Finally, in 1840, Conservative leader William Lloyd won approval for a program of compensated manumission in the S.C., to be financed by bonds sold in both the C.N.A. and Britain.
However, Calhoun's appeal for political solidarity among ruling establishments across the C.N.A. was more successful. Along with Winfield Scott and Henry Gilpin, he led the Liberal convention of 1841 in Concordia, North Carolina. This meeting called for the establishment of a national C.N.A. army to deal with Indians and with further potential revolts by French-speakers in Quebec, laborers in the Northern Confederation, or the S.C.'s recently freed slaves. It also urged a common currency and a national banking system. These proposals, modified by discussion with the opposing Conservative Party, were adopted as part of the Second Britannic Design.
Calhoun's political legacy was less prominent in his own S.C., as his Liberal Party's identification with plantation owners was seen as anachronistic in the decades after his death, especially with so many of the confederation's Negroes migrating to Southern Vandalia and elsewhere. Calhoun's protege John Runk failed to achieve the Liberal nomination for Governor-General in 1878, largely because his identification with Calhoun would have lost him the votes of Negroes and their allies.
Sobel's sources for Calhoun's life include a collection of his essays and a journal article by Frank Stroud entitled "Calhoun in Defeat: The Lost Cause of '39".
|Governors of the Southern Confederation|
|John Connolly • John Calhoun • Willie Lloyd • Chester Phipps|