John C. Calhoun

1782 - 1850

Calhoun was born on March 18, 1782, near Abbeville, South Carolina, and educated at Yale College (now Yale University). After serving in the South Carolina legislature, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1811 and served three terms. In Congress he and the Speaker of the House, Henry Clay, in 1812 persuaded the House to declare war on Great Britain. From 1817 to 1825 Calhoun was secretary of war in the cabinet of President James Monroe. He was elected vice president of the U.S. in 1824 under President John Quincy Adams. Calhoun was reelected in 1828, when Andrew Jackson won the presidency. In the course of his opposition to the high tariff of 1828, which benefited the industrial North but adversely affected the slaveholding South, Calhoun wrote an essay, The South Carolina Exposition and Protest, in which he asserted the right of the states to nullify federal laws. In 1832 Calhoun persuaded the South Carolina legislature to nullify the federal tariff acts of 1828 and 1832. Later in 1832 he became the first U.S. vice president to resign; he was then named U.S. senator from South Carolina. A compromise tariff, proposed by Clay, resolved the nullification conflict.

The following year Calhoun and Senator Daniel Webster engaged in a historic debate in the Senate over slavery and states' rights. The opposing views expressed in this debate crystallized the theories of government of the opponents and supporters of slavery. Calhoun was secretary of state in the cabinet of President John Tyler in 1844-45. In the latter year he was reelected to the Senate, where he employed his great oratorical abilities to support the annexation of Texas and to defeat the Wilmot Proviso. He died in Washington, D.C., on March 31, 1850.

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