It was a work of that elaborated on John Calhoun? He believed that a constitution having a majority behind it would protect people against the numerical majority. Calhoun tries to show in the Disquisition of Government, that a majority rule by equal and competent individuals counterbalances a minority rule for a society that has a balance of liberty, rights and power. There are three main parts of his argument.

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Far less attention has been paid to the interpretation and implementation of the U. Constitution during the nineteenth century. Faced with largely unanticipated problems attendant upon economic change, a major influx of new people, and westward expansion, the generation of Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and John C. Calhoun struggled to sustain what was commonly believed to have been the original intention of the framers. In the absence of an appreciation of the work of those prodigious thinkers of the nineteenth century, no real understanding of the American constitutional tradition is possible.

John C. Calhoun stands out among the leading figures of this era renowned for its great orators and public statesmen. He and the others of this new generation found themselves in a period marked by an increasing degree of uncertainty about the future. Continual controversy over such constitutional issues as executive prerogative, the extent of federal, or state, power, the proper disposition of suffrage, and the need to protect minority rights against the dangers of majority tyranny did little to assuage their apprehension.

Added to this uncertainty was the momentous question of defining the nature of the American Union, a seemingly unresolved conundrum exacerbated by repeated congressional failuresEdition: current; Page: [xii] after to administer the admission of new states to the satisfaction of all parties. Along with many of his contemporaries, north and south, he realized the fragility of the American experiment and the importance of his own agency in the development of constitutional government.

A mere enumeration of his political offices is sufficient to establish his national stature during this critical early period. After serving briefly in the South Carolina legislature, Calhoun was elected to the U. House of Representatives in He served as secretary of war under President Monroe from to ; as vice-president under John Quincy Adams and then Andrew Jackson from to ; as senator from South Carolina from to ; as secretary of state under John Tyler from to ; and again as a member of the Senate from until his death in He was first nominated for president in —at the age of thirty-nine—and was considered a serious candidate for that office in every election from until The combination of practical politics and a noted preference for metaphysical discourse gave his speeches and writings a distinct tone.

In general language he sought political solutions designed to alleviate the tensions under which the American system labored.

His systematic theory about the nature of man and government, as well as his rigorous analysis of the presumptions and convictions of The Federalist Papers, deserves careful attention for his part in the ongoing discussion of the uneasy, but critical, relationship between liberty and union. Over a period covering two generations, the family, part of the Scots-Irish immigration into Pennsylvania during the first third of the eighteenth century, was drawn to the western frontier of South Carolina.

His education in New England provided the intellectual seeds for his subsequent development of a theory of nullification and secession. In , at the age of twenty, Calhoun entered Yale University as a junior. Small-town, localist, antinational sentiment, combined with skepticism of numerical majorities, was then popular in certain parts of New England. Yale University had become the intellectual center for these ideas since the defeat of the Federalists in the election of Despite his exposure to these ideas, during his tenure in the House of Representatives from to as a representative of South Carolina, Calhoun was an ardent nationalist: He was more concerned about national strength and unity than about curbing majorities to protect intense minority interests.

He did not waver in his commitment to a strong foreign policy, even in theEdition: current; Page: [xiv] face of bitter protests from the New England states, which claimed that the Jeffersonian embargo and the War of were inequitably ruinous to their commerce and shipping interests. Throughout the early years of his career, he consistently favored extensive federal assistance for internal improvements in an effort to encourage domestic commerce and farming.

The issue of the tariff was to become a much more incendiary issue in the years to come. This harmony combined with his political talents so well that some people began to advance his name as a possible candidate for president. In the presidential campaign of , he decided to limit his obvious ambitions for the time being and settled into the vice-presidency under the administration of John Quincy Adams.

From the very beginning, their relationship was a troubled one. Personalities were at odds; political ambitions clashed. When serious wrangling erupted between Adams and Calhoun who as vice-president was also the presiding officer of the Senate over the respective powers of the executive and the legislature, the controversy spilled over into a series of public letters.

In his six letters, Calhoun argued against the prerogatives claimed by Adams. He declared that republican government required the diffusion of political power.

Liberty would be sacrificed if Americans allowed the abuse of presidential patronage that was threatening to destroy the delicate balance between liberty and power established by the Constitution. At the same time, the tariff issue was looming ever larger in the ongoing debate in the United States about the locus of political power, significantly exacerbating smoldering sectional confrontations within the young Union.

Many Southerners, in particular, thought the tariff had stopped being a means of raising revenue for national defense and was becoming a permanent means of protecting and subsidizing manufacturing interests at theEdition: current; Page: [xv] expense of the South and agricultural interests.

His own state and southern predilections, the agitation of supporters and friends in the South, as well as his concern about balancing sectional interests, led Calhoun to change his earlier nationalist support for the tariff and embrace the South Carolina position on this matter. This issue became an important practical and symbolic matter when an exceptionally high tariff was proposed in Congress early in The proposed tariff was seen by many as a political maneuver by opponents intended to turn popular sentiment against Adams and the tariff.

Much to the dismay of the Southern strategists, their schemes to defeat the tariff came to naught. President Adams approved the bill, which became widely known as the Tariff of Abominations. Calhoun found himself in the dilemma of privately opposing a measure supported by the administration he was a part of.

Even more troubling to him, opponents in the South, and especially in South Carolina, now began to debate openly the prospect of disunion. Seeking a means by which such a desperate response could be avoided, Calhoun turned to the doctrine of interposition, which defended the right of a state to interpose its authority and overrule federal legislation.

The seeds of this doctrine were introduced by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of and Calhoun first advanced it anonymously, in the South Carolina Exposition and Protest, penned during the summer and fall of for a committee of the South Carolina legislature. When Andrew Jackson was elected president in November , Calhoun remained as vice-president. He had played an instrumental role in forging the alliance of Westerners, Southerners, and anti-Adams forces in the Northeast to elect the new president.

Calhoun was suspicious of the political aspirations of many of the supporters of his new political ally. His experience with Jackson, however, proved even less successful than his experience with John Quincy Adams had been.

The divisions over the tariff and protectionism were intractable. The ultimate logic of his own doctrine of nullification, secession, was taken up as a solution by many in the South. After the election of Jackson and Calhoun, the South Carolina legislature had circulated the Exposition widely. In an effort to prevent further alienation of the Northern states and to exhume his possible candidacy for president, Calhoun attempted a public clarification of his position in his Fort Hill Address.

His measured words were noted by virtually everyone. Now it was evident for all to see that the reintroduction of the doctrine of nullification—the right of a single state to negate the laws of the federal government within its jurisdiction—was the work of none other than the Vice-President of the United States.

Edition: current; Page: [xvii] Calhoun resigned his office as vice-president in December and took a seat as a senator from South Carolina, which he held until The brilliance of his mind and the power of his rhetoric made him the natural and unchallenged spokesman for South Carolina and many elements in the South.

This was especially apparent in his speech on the Revenue Collection Bill, commonly known as the Force Bill, in February In this speech, which spanned two days, he argued that recourse to violence to compel obedience to the dictates of the federal government could never be constitutional or legitimate, even if undertaken to preserve the union. In the succeeding years he gradually regained his standing and was appointed secretary of state by President John Tyler in He remained firm in his commitment to a national union of states and continued to worry that Southern states would become a minority in the Congress.

As secretary of state, he advocated the annexation of Texas as a means of balancing the South and the expanding North. He exerted his efforts on behalf of the Union in its dispute with Great Britain over the territory that later became Oregon. He used his position as senator to assail the highly popular Mexican-American War.

He attempted to develop various public projects in South Carolina and for the South generally, including plans for a railroad connecting the South and the West. Much of his energy in his last years was devoted to writing what was to become the Disquisition and the Discourse.

On March 4, , a sick and frail Calhoun sat in the Senate and watched as a colleague read what was to be his last major address. He was too weak to deliver it himself. In his prepared text, an obviously despondent Calhoun opposed the admission of California as a free state.

Little more could be done, he heard Senator Mason say for him; compromise was no longer possible. This pessimistic speech was his final contributionEdition: current; Page: [xviii] to the larger debate on the nature of Union and the relations of the North and the South. Within the month, on March 31, , Calhoun died in Washington, D. Although aware of the limited capability of reasoned discourse to resolve the tensions and centrifugal forces of nineteenth century America, Calhoun turned increasingly in the last few years of his life to questions of philosophy.

He devoted his time and energy to the writing of A Disquisition on Government and A Discourse on the Constitution and Government of the United States, which were completed just before his death. They are complementary texts: The practical American political experience as advanced in the lengthy Discourse makes sense only in the context of the political theory articulated and developed in the less voluminous Disquisition.

The Disquisition expounds his doctrine of the concurrent majority—the right of significant interests to have a veto over either the enactment or the implementation of a public law—and discusses historical instances in which it had worked. The Discourse traces the constitutional foundation for the concurrent majority in the American political tradition and argues for its restoration as the only means to resolve the constitutional and political crisis facing the Union.

Both works reveal a philosopher whose preference for metaphysical discourse is unmistakable. Both works reveal a seasoned politician who had been an active participant in the nineteenth century politics of nationalism, sectionalism, and secession.

Reading these two works together, one cannot help but sense that this man understood the impending crisis all too well. It begins with the nature of society and the nature of the consent of the governed. Calhoun tries to develop a view of government that avoids the pitfalls he experienced in the U.

Beneath the surface of his treatise is a systematic analysis and critique of the founding principles as set forth by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison,Edition: current; Page: [xix] and John Jay in The Federalist Papers.

The Disquisition explicitly rejects several of the fundamental maxims advanced by Publius, including the presumption that governmental institutions can be a product of reflection and choice, rather than accident and force Federalist ;ns1 , the theory of the extended, compound republic Federalist ;ns10 , the doctrine of the numerical majority Federalist ;ns22 , and the theory of limiting governmental power through the separation of powers Federalist ;ns In essence, Calhoun suggests that the theory of The Federalist Papers makes inadequate safeguards for the maintenance of limited government.

Given the nature of man, argues Calhoun, it is not long before such majorities become overbearing: They begin to enact laws to their own advantage and to the disadvantage and abuse of minority interests. Calhoun elaborates upon his discussion of the concepts of limited government, separation of powers, judicial review, and the theory of the extended, compound republic. He provides a rigorous analysis of virtually all of the major individuals, events, and documents of the founding and subsequent development of the federal government.

He offers a detailed critique of Federalist ;ns39, accusing the celebrated Publius of duplicity and deceit. He challenges the doctrine of judicial review expounded in Federalist ;ns78, arguing that this extra-constitutional practice is incompatible with true federalist principles.

He calls for the restoration of the concurrent majority through the operation of the amendment process provided for in the U. In short, the Discourse offers a critique of the major presumptions and convictions upon which the American political order was founded, including consent of the governed, equality, liberty, community, public virtue and private vice, reflection and choice, accident and force.

Who will be entrusted with the veto power? Who will decide, and on what desiderata, which groups are significant enough to be given a veto or a negative power over the making or executing of the laws?

When would this power be exercised? What would prevent these vested groups from favoring the status quo and limiting the progress and development of society?


John C. Calhoun

The consensus would be effected by this tactic of nullification, a veto that would suspend the law within the boundaries of the state. Constituencies would call for compromise to prevent this outcome. Constitution as interpreted by the Federal Judiciary would no longer exert collective authority over the various states. According to the Supremacy Clause located in Article 6, laws made by the federal government are the "supreme law of the land" only when they are made "in pursuance" of the U. His formula promised to produce laws satisfactory to all interests.

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john calhoun and A Disquisition on Government

Brazilkree There is no difficulty in forming government. Calhoun offered the concurrent majority as the key to achieving consensus, a formula by which a minority interest had the option to nullify objectionable legislation passed by a majority interest. Nor can it be done by limiting the powers of government, so as to make it too feeble to be made an instrument of abuse; for, passing by the difficulty of so limiting its powers, without creating a power higher than the government itself to enforce the observance of the limitations, it is a sufficient objection that it would, if practicable, defeat the end for which government is ordained, by making it too feeble to protect and preserve society. If reversed — if their feelings and affections were stronger for others than for themselves, or even as strong, the necessary result would seem to be, that all individuality would be lost; and boundless and remediless disorder and confusion would ensue.


Online Library of Liberty

Further, I know of no other text which considers American political philosophy and inferring exactly what would happen if we strayed from republican virtue and the rule of law, to democracy and tyranny of the majority. When he writes about factional warfare, breaks down a lot of the destructive steps a In over 40 years of studying our heritage and the science of government and reading quotes and pieces from this and his book on our supreme law I finally decided it was time to study both. When he writes about factional warfare, breaks down a lot of the destructive steps a society can take to go from liberty to tyranny it was like reading a chapter of our modern day world He writes in a style that is easy to understand, will cause pauses for reflection, challenge beliefs, send you side referencing, critically thinking and jotting notes lots of notes. My view is simple; Liberty is our right, Freedom our responsibility and these books help bring even more credence to that concept. Get a real knowledge about who he was and what he can offer us in understanding government from Rome to modern times.


A Disquisition on Government

Far less attention has been paid to the interpretation and implementation of the U. Constitution during the nineteenth century. Faced with largely unanticipated problems attendant upon economic change, a major influx of new people, and westward expansion, the generation of Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and John C. Calhoun struggled to sustain what was commonly believed to have been the original intention of the framers. In the absence of an appreciation of the work of those prodigious thinkers of the nineteenth century, no real understanding of the American constitutional tradition is possible. John C.

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