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JOHN C. C A L H .0 U N.
Including the Period from his Infancy until he entered Congress. The object of the present memoir of John CALDWELL CALHOUN is not to present a biography of the man, but to describe him as a statesman; to draw and to develop his character in that capacity, and to trace his eminent public services during a long career in one of the most eventful periods of human history. To dwell on a character like his, distinguished by every trait that should win esteem and command admiration, would be to the biographer a nost attractive labour ; but the pleasure of depicting a private life elevated by spotless purity and integrity, and a severe simplicity of tastes and habits, must be relinquished_except so far as occasional reference to his early history may become necessary-for the higher duty of portraying his intellectual features, and of explaining his motives and conduct as a public man. It is not our aim to commend him to public affection, or to enlist popular sympathy in his behalf, but rather to show to the world, not for his sake, but for its own instruction, the deep influence of this master-mind upon the great political events of his age. A fair and impartial review of the career of this eminent statesman in connexion with public affairs, is necessary to a thorough understanding of the course of our own government for nearly two thirds of its existence. Such a review, it is believed, would be no unacceptable offering at the present time. Throughout the whole period from 1811 up to the present time he has served the Union in the various capacities of Representative, Secretary of War, Vice-president, and Senator. He has taken a prominent and influential part in all the great questions which have arisen during that long interval; and, although he has asked a release from farther public service, it is not impossible that he may be destined to close his career as a statesman in another and a higher station. With faculties unclouded, with physical powers unimpaired, with a judgment matured by observation and experience, with an intrepidity untamed by the many trying vicissitudes of his extraordinary life, and with an activity whose energies are unabated by time, it is probable that the American people will not dispense with such services 'as he might render in the highest sphere open to American statesmen.
Mr. Calhoun is a native of South Carolina, and was born in Abbeville District on the 18th of March, 1782. His family is Irish on both sides. His father, Patrick Calhoun, was born in Donegal, in Ireland, but the family emigrated when Patrick was a child, first to Pennsylvania, where they remained some years, and then to the western part of Virginia, from whence they were driven by the Indians after Braddock's defeat. They
removed finally to South Carolina in 1756, when Patrick settled on the place where the subject of this sketch was born, and which still continues in the family of his younger brother. His mother, whose maiden name was Caldwell, was born in Charlotte County, Virginia. They had five children, one daughter and four sons, of whom John was the youngest but
He was called after his maternal uncle, Major John Caldwell, whom the Tories had murdered in cold blood, and in his own yard, after destroying his house by fire. If time permitted, it might be interesting here to trace the effect which the traditions of the stirring scenes of a pioneer's life might have had upon the mind and character of young Calhoun. His paternal and maternal family both being Whig, they were exposed not only to hostile Indian incursions, but also to Tory outrages. They maintained their foothold on the soil despite the conflicts of an almost constant border warfare, and adhered to their country amid the horrors of civil strife and in the face of foreign invaders. But they had need both of courage and constancy to bear them through the severe trials to which they were exposed. Of three maternal uncles able to bear arms, one perished as we have before described, another fell at the battle of Cowpens with thirty sabre wounds, and a third, taken prisoner by the English, was immured for nine months in the dungeons of St. Augustine. Nor was Patrick Calhoun, the father, indebted to anything less than a strong arm and a stout heart for his escape from the perils which surrounded him. Upon one occasion, with thirteen other whites, he maintained a desperate conflict for hours with the Cherokee Indians, until, overwhelmed by superior numbers, he was forced to retreat, leaving seven of his companions dead upon the field. Three days after, they returned to bury their dead, and found the bodies of twenty-three Indian warriors, who had perished in the same conflict. At another time, he was singled out by an Indian distinguished for his prowess as a chief and for his skill with the rifle. The Indian taking to a tree, Calhoun secured himself behind a log, from whence he drew the Indian's fire four times by holding his hat on a stick a little above his hiding-place. The Indian at length exhibited a portion of his person in an effort to ascertain the effect of his shot, when he received a ball from his enemy in the shoulder, which forced him to fly. But the hat exhibited the traces of four balls by which it had been perforated. The effect of this mode of life upon a mind naturally strong and inquisitive was to create a certain degree of contempt for the forms of civilized life, and for all that was merely conventional in society. He claimed all the rights which nature and reason seemed to establish, and he acknowledged no obligation which was not supported by the like sanctions. It was under this conviction that, upon one occasion, he and his neighbours went down within twenty-three miles of Charleston, armed with rifles, to exercise a right of suffrage which had been disputed : a contest which ended in electing him to the Legislature of the state, in which body he served for thirty years. Relying upon virtue, reason, and courage as all that constituted the true moral strength of man, he attached too little importance to mere information, and never feared to encounter an adversary who, in that respect, had the advantage over him: a confidence which many of the events of his life seemed to justify. Indeed, he once appeared as his own advocate in a case in Virginia, in which he recovered a tract of land in despite of the regularly-trained disputants who sought to embarrass and defeat him. He opposed the Federal Constitution, because, as he said, it permitted other people than those of South Carolina to tax the people of South Carolina, and thus allowed taxation without representation, which was a violation of the fundamental principle of the Revolutionary struggle.
We have heard his son say that among his earliest recollections was one of a conversation when he was nine years of age, in which his father maintained that government to be best which allowed the largest amount of individual liberty compatible with social order and tranquillity, and insisted that the improvements in political science would be found to consist in throwing off many of the restraints then imposed by law, and deemed necessary to an organized society. It may well be supposed that his son John was an attentive and eager auditor, and such lessons as these must doubtless have served to encourage that free spirit of inquiry, and that intrepid zeal for truth for which he has been since so much distinguished. The mode of thinking which was thus encouraged may, perhaps, have compensated in some degree the want of those early advantages which are generally deemed indispensable to great intellectual progress. Of these he had comparatively few. But this was compensated by those natural gifts which give great minds the mastery over difficulties which the timid regard as insuperable. Indeed, we have here another of those rare instances in which the hardiness of natural genius is seen to defy all obstacles, and develops its flower and matures its fruit under circumstances apparently the most unpropitious.
The section of the country in which his family resided was then newly settled, and in a rude frontier state. There was not an academy in all the upper part of the state, and none within fifty miles, except one at about that distance in Columbia county, Georgia, which was kept by his brother-in-law, Mr. Waddell, a Presbyterian clergyman. There were but a few scattered schools in the whole of that region, and these were such as are usually found on the frontier, in which reading, writing, and arithmetic were imperfectly taught. At the age of thirteen he was placed under the charge of his brother-in-law to receive his education. Shortly after, his father died; this was followed by the death of his sister, Mrs. Waddell, within a few weeks, and the academy was then discontinued, which suspended his education before it had fairly commenced. His brother-inlaw, with whom he was still left, was absent the greater part of the time, attending to his clerical duties, and his pupil thus found himself on a secluded plantation, without any white companion during the greater por tion of the time. A situation apparently so unfavourable to improvement turned out, in his case, to be the reverse. Fortunately for him, there was a small circulating library in the house, of which his brother-in-law was librarian, and, in the absence of all company and amusements, that attracted his attention. His taste, although undirected, led him to history, to the neglect of novels and other lighter reading ; and so deeply was he interested, that in a short time he read the whole of the small stock of historical works contained in the library, consisting of Rollin's Ancient History, Robertson's Charles V., his South America, and Voltaire's Charles XII. After despatching these, he turned with like eagerness to Cook's Voyages (the large edition), a small volume of Essays by Brown, and Locke on the Understanding, which he read as far as the chapter on Infinity. All this was the work of but fourteen weeks. So intense was his application that his eyes became seriously affected, his countenance pallid, and his frame emaciated. His mother, alarmed at the intelligence of his health, sent for him home, where exercise and amusement soon restored his strength, and he acquired a fondness for hunting, fishing, and other country sports. Four years passed away in these pursuits, and in attention to the business of the farm while his elder brothers were absent, to the entire neglect of his education. But the time was not lost., Exercise and rural sports invigorated his frame, while his labours on the farm gave him a taste for agriculture, which he has always retained, and in the
pursuit of which he finds delightful occupation for his intervals of leisure from public duties.
About this time an incident occurred upon which turned his after life. His second brother, James, who had been placed at a counting-house in Charleston, returned to spend the summer of 1800 at home. John had determined to become a planter; but James, objecting to this, strongly urged him to acquire a good education, and pursue one of the learned professions. He replied that he was not averse to the course advised, but there were two difficulties in the way: one was to obtain the assent of his mother, without which he could not think of leaving her, and the other was the want of means. He said his property was small and his resolution fixed : he would far rather be a planter than a half-informed physician or lawyer. With this determination, he could not bring his mind to select either without ample preparation ; but if the consent of their mother should be freely given, and he (James) thought he could so manage his property as to keep him in funds for seven years of study preparatory to entering his profession, he would leave home and commence his education the next week. His mother and brother agreeing to his conditions, he accordingly left home the next week for Dr. Waddell's, who had married again, and resumed his academy in Columbia county, Georgia. This was in June, 1800, in the beginning of his 19th year, at which time it may be said he commenced his education, his tuition having been previously very imperfect, and confined to reading, writing, and arithmetic in an ordinary country school. His progress here was so rapid that in two years he entered the junior class of Yale College, and graduated with distinction in 1804, just four years from the time he commenced his Latin grammar. He was highly esteemed by Dr. Dwight, then the president of the college, although they differed widely in politics, and at a time when political feelings were intensely bitter. The doctor was an ardent Federalist, and Mr. Calhoun was one of a very few, in a class of more than seventy, who had the firmness openly to avow and maintain the opinions of the Republican party, and, among others, that the people were the only legitimate source of political power. Dr. Dwight entertained a different opinion. In a recitation during the senior year, on the chapter on Politics in Paley's Moral Philosophy, the doctor, with the intention of eliciting his opinion, propounded to Mr. Calhoun the question, as to the legitimate source of power. He did not decline an open and direct avowal of his opinion. A discussion ensued between them, which exhausted the time allotted for the recitation, and in which the pupil maintained his opinions with such vigour of argument and success as to elicit from his distinguished teacher the declaration, in speaking of him to a friend, that “the young man had talent enough to be President of the United States,” which he accompanied by a prediction that he would one day attain that station.
An English oration was assigned to Mr. Calhoun at the Commencement. He selected for his thesis, “ The qualifications necessary to constitute a perfect statesman,” and prepared his oration, but was prevented from delivering it by a severe indisposition. After graduating, he commenced the study of the law, and devoted three years to that and miscellaneous reading, eighteen months of which were spent at Litchfield, Connecticut, where a celebrated law-school was kept at that time by Judge Reeves and Mr. Gould. He acquired great distinction at the school. It was there that he successfully cultivated, in a debating society, his talents for extemporary speaking. The residue of the time was spent in the offices of Mr. De Saussure, of Charleston (afterward chancellor), and of Mr. George Bowie, of Abbeville. Having spent seven years in preparation, according to his determination when he commenced his education, and having passed his examination for admission to the bar, he began the practice of law in his native district. He rose at once into full practice, taking a stand with the oldest and ablest lawyers on the circuit,