United States Magazine
Political Portraits with Pen and Pencil.
John Caldwell Calhoun.
No one who has ever seen the subject of the opposite sketch, on one of the occasions selected by the artist, the delivery of a speech in the Senate, will need the addition of the name, to recognize in it the distinguished Senator from South Carolina whose name heads this page. He has been selected for the fifth number of our Political Portrait Gallery, because he may, at the present moment, be considered to occupy a position more prominent and remarkable, in various points of view, than any of the other public men now on the stage before the eye of the country.
Mr. Calhoun is of Irish extraction, his father having been a native of that land of warm hearts and excitable temperaments, though he left it in early childhood. The family emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1733, from which, after a number of years, they removed to Virginia, and thence finally, in 1756, to South Carolina. He was born in 1782, being the fourth of five children, four sons and a daughter. His father, Patrick Calhoun, was distinguished for his daring spirit manifested in the command of a force of border rangers for the defence of the frontier settlements, against the Indian (especially the Cherokee) hostilities. He married, in 1770, a young lady of the name of Caldwell, of Charlotte county, Virginia.
Mr. Calhoun is therefore now in his fifty-sixth year. He exhibited very extraordinary natural powers of mind at an early age, though his education before the age of eighteen was comparatively but little attended to, the three or four years preceding that age having been spent at home, in the invigorating pursuits of agriculture, and the sports of the field. He had been taken home by his parents from school, on account of the injury which his health had sustained, from the severe application to which he had been excited by a strong enthusiasm for historical reading, supported by a patient industry rarely exhibited by so young a mind. In 1800 his school education was resumed, and in 1802, two years after his first breaking ground upon the rudiments of the Latin grammar, he entered Yale College in the Junior class; — at the head of which his commanding natural powers enabled him to graduate, with the highest honors. He spent a year and a half at the Litchfield law school; and, completing his legal studies in the office of Mr. Desaussure, in Charleston, was admitted to the bar in 1807, where he immediately took a high rank, on the circuit of his native district, Abbeville.
From his earliest years, he was remarkable for an enthusiastic devotion to free principles, taking a prominent position on all occasions among the most ardent of the friends of human freedom, and the enemies of strong governmental powers. This seems to have been the general tone and bias of his mind from the earliest age. He entered Congress in 1811, having served two years in the Legislature of his native State. Since that period, he has been always on the front of the stage, deeply engaged, and playing a part second in prominence to none, in all the important public affairs of the times. A distinguished position was immediately conceded to him, by general consent, in the ranks of the Republican party, of which he was of course a member, being one of its most zealous and powerful champions. He was placed second on the Committee on Foreign Affairs; of which he soon became chairman, on the retirement from Congress of General Porter. This post was, it will be remembered, at that time the leadership of the Republican party in the House. His maiden speech was in defence of his report recommending a declaration of war, against a powerful attack by John Randolph; it placed him at once in the first class of parliamentary orators. His extraordinary powers had full scope in that position, which he maintained with all the enthusiasm, energy, and inexhaustible resources of genius, by which he was so remarkably characterized. His patriotic services to the country at that trying time will always constitute a bright page in the record of his biography, which none of the feelings that may have arisen out of subsequent collisions of great parties and interests ought to be permitted to obscure.
His course at this period presents one feature especially worthy of remark, as having some bearing, in the way of illustration, upon the just understanding of his subsequent political life, and his present actual position. He displayed a strikingly bold independence of party obligations, as they are more commonly estimated by public men prominently engaged in the campaigns of party warfare. Though a leading member of the Republican party, he did not hesitate to oppose it in several important measures, to which a distinct and decided party character had been given, in some instances successfully, and in others in vain; — witness his support of the Navy against a strong tide of party unpopularity, his opposition to the embargo, and the non-importation and non-intercourse acts, and to the great scheme of the Secretary of the Treasury (Mr. Dallas) of a non-specie-paying national bank, which was strongly urged as a party measure indispensable for the successful prosecution of the war. No enemy can deny Mr. Calhoun the credit of having manifested on these occasions an independence, and highminded sincerity of views, entitled at least to this passing notice.
The next important measure with which he is associated was the charter of the Bank of the United States. He was at the head of the Committee on Currency, which reported the bill for that purpose. The fact is not to be disguised, nor the responsibility of the act cast off. But that responsibility has to be shared with the Republican party as a mass. It committed undoubtedly an egregious error. It was a grievous fault, and grievously hath Cæsar answered it. The Republican party yielded — reluctantly and hesitatingly indeed — to a pressure of circumstances, arising out of the utterly deranged state of the currency, industry and business of the country, and the state of bank suspension of specie payments throughout the greater part of the Union, when the general subject of banking was very imperfectly understood, and the plausible ideas on which the system is founded, since demonstrated abundantly to the popular mind to be false, were in full sway and vogue, — a pressure of circumstances upon a party in administration, in a severe crisis, and responsible from day to day for the practical course of affairs in the nation, of which it is scarcely possible for us of a later day to appreciate the full force.
Mr. Calhoun now denies any material inconsistency, fairly and liberally regarded, between his present views and those on which he acted at that time. We shall have occasion to remark below upon the exact position, with respect to former and present opinions, on the subject of a bank, entertained by Mr. Calhoun, on which all readers can form their own judgments on this question of consistency, if, indeed, it be deemed one of vital importance, after a lapse of upwards of twenty years, under circumstances so materially changed, on a subject illumined in so great a degree within that period by the lights of experience and the progress of the popular developement of opinion. One remark we feel bound, in historic justice, to make — an admission which has in fact been made by Mr. Calhoun himself. The Republican party at that period was certainly not entirely free from the injurious effect of the long possession of power. A period of war, moreover, has necessarily a tendency to strengthen the governmental action. And in the state of exhaustion and general derangement succeeding the war, it was natural that the minds of the party in power should flow rather in a centripetal than a centrifugal direction, in relation to the powers and action of the Government. Such was undeniably the case. The purity of the good old Virginia doctrine of ’98 was certainly considerably tarnished, by long and trying exposure to temptation; and the charter of the Bank, the minimum principle in the Tariff of 1816, and some of the ideas and measures of the time on the subject of Internal Improvements, it cannot fairly be denied, planted seeds of mischief, from which rapidly grew consequences whose evil influence will yet be long and deeply felt, in the working of our system. We trust that the lesson of experience for which the Republican party has since had to pay so bitter a penalty, will never be forgotten, — as a warning to politicians and to parties, never to yield, in any degree, an essential principle to any apparent urgency of expediency.
Without dwelling upon the other prominent points of Mr. Calhoun’s short but brilliant career in Congress, as a member of the House of Representatives, we pass to his appointment by Mr. Monroe to the head of the Department of War, in December, 1817, at the age of thirty-five. The adaptation of his mind to the practical business of administration was here subjected to a severe test. The state of disorder in which he found the complicated concerns of this Department, is well known, and may be best proved by the fact that it was overwhelmed with a burthen of not less than fifty millions of dollars of unsettled accounts, and all its intricate machinery to a great extent disorganized. The credit has always and universally been conceded to him, of having been one of the most active and efficient officers that ever presided over any of our public departments. The arrears of unsettled accounts were speedily almost entirely extinguished; the army was reorganized in an admirable manner, in point of discipline and economy, on its peace establishment; the West Point Academy was revived, and placed on a sound and effective footing; a thorough system of fortifications, maritime and frontier, was organized; and so perfect a system of financial administration was brought by him into operation, as well in the disbursements of the Department as in the payment of pensions, that not a dollar of the immense amount of money which has been disbursed by that Department (exceeding a hundred millions,) from that period to the present time, has been lost. Nor ought an allusion to be omitted, to the coast survey, originated under his administration; to the fine gallery of Indian portraits, of which he laid the foundation, now so interesting an ornament to the Department; as also to the numerous able state papers which emanated from his pen, especially those on Indian affairs, internal improvements, and the reduction of the army.
He presided over that Department with the highest credit to himself and utility to the country, till the close of Mr. Monroe’s second term, and his own election to the Vice-Presidency, in 1825. His name had been brought before the public as one of the candidates for the Presidency, but withdrawn. On the election of Mr. Adams over General Jackson, by the House of Representatives, his own favorite, Mr. Crawford, being out of the field, he was naturally placed in the Opposition, as well by the mode of that election –being by the House, in opposition to the manifest popular preference — as by his natural party affinities. He discharged the duties of that position with efficiency and dignity. He has repeatedly made the remark since, that the leisure of that position, and its comparative retirement from active participation in party affairs, at the same time that it afforded a clear and close view of all the men and principles involved, had a decided effect in confirming his attachment to the State-Rights school of politics; strengthening and extending his views farther than they had before gone; and satisfying him that the federative principle was the true conservative principle of our system. That before that period his habits of thinking on the subject had been comparatively loose, though always based on the exposition of the Republican doctrine in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of ’98 and ’99, and in Mr. Madison’s imperishable Report. They were thenceforward reviewed, and more strongly defined and settled; and it was there that the conviction forced itself on his mind, that there were no other means practicable, to arrest the tendency of affairs towards a Federal centralization fatal to the rights of the States, than by a trial of the experiment of the extent to which the power of the principle of State sovereignty might be carried, in a direct collision with the usurpations of the Federal Government.
On General Jackson’s election by the people, in 1828, he again came in as Vice-President. On the circumstances of the violent and embittered quarrel which so shortly thereafter ensued between him and the President, we shall not here make any remark. They are fully before the public in the copious publications of correspondence and statements made at the time. Far from us be the ungracious task of reviving the remembrance of bygone occurrences of so disagreeable a nature on all sides, whatever may be the respective opinions of individuals or parties. The effect is all with which we have to do. Mr. Calhoun became placed in an attitude of deep hostility to the President and his principal friends, so strongly and severely personal, as to extend almost of necessity even to political relations. His popularity was shattered (at least with the great body of the Democratic party) even as the earthen vessel, in the collision. A morbid bitterness of feeling towards General Jackson’s entire Administration seems to have arisen out of these personal relations. In a word, Mr. Calhoun soon found himself decidedly ‘in the Opposition,’ and was seen to enact the part, and to exhibit the general bias of views and feelings, that seem natural to that relation. The affair of Nullification soon succeeded; and Mr. Calhoun, in obedience to the call of his State, resigned his seat in the chair of the Senate, as Vice-President, to take his place in that body as a Senator from South Carolina, and as her especial champion before the country for the justification of the course which that State was then pursuing.
‘Nullification’ is, then, the title by which the next chapter in Mr. Calhoun’s life is headed –a word of dread and portentous sound in some portions of the Union, while in others it is regarded, at least by large parties, as the watchword of safety to the liberty, the real interests, and the permanent union, of our Confederacy. Mr. Calhoun may be regarded as having been the master spirit of that affair –whether for glory or the reverse all must determine according to their respective views. Nullification is now a bygone thing, and it can be looked at with perhaps a calmer and clearer eye, than it could be at a time when it was considered to be on the eve of deluging the country with the blood of civil war, and of rending asunder our thrice-blessed Union of the States. The Nullifiers have scarcely been fairly treated by public opinion at the North. Their motives, and the spirit in which they acted, have, in our opinion, been too harshly judged, while the theoretic ground of constitutionality on which they planted themselves, has been comparatively little understood. Our notice of it must necessarily be very brief and slight.
The high Tariff of 1828 went into operation, in despite of the discontent and strenuous opposition of the South, or the cotton-growing interest of the Union, by whom it was regarded with the utmost detestation, as utterly unconstitutional — as contrary to the liberal principles of political economy, as elucidated by the modern developement of that science, which abhor all restriction and all legislative tampering with particular interests– and as an unjust and tyrannical sacrifice of their interests to the supposed interest of another section of the Union. The payment of the national debt was considered to remove the only possible shadow of legitimacy, on national grounds, which could be claimed for it. Yet there appeared no hope of effecting a change in that career of restrictive policy, for the protection of a sectional manufacturing interest, recommended to popularity, with a majority of the people and of Congress, under the specious name of ‘the American System,’ without the introduction of some new elements of action into the relations between the conflicting parties and opinions, which should shake that massive ascendency of a majority, abusing its power over a minority; and should force the former back to that respect for the violated rights and interests of the latter, for which all other means seemed insufficient. We wish simply to state the theory of Nullification, according to the ideas of those who should understand best their own intentions and grounds of action. In such cases, when a minority interest is driven by what it considers the oppression of a majority, to approach the ultima ratio of revolution, it is not easy for other interests to enter fully into the exasperated feelings, and perhaps exaggerated views, on which the parties in question proceed, nor to judge fairly of the fact on which their justification must depend, namely, the extent of the oppression under which they are suffering. In all collisions of interests, it is exceedingly difficult to be just, within even the narrowest limits, to our antagonist, while we claim the extension of the broadest liberality to ourselves. But now, when Nullification is but a memory and an abstraction, the time has arrived, not only for justice, but for that generosity, which a truly enlightened and philosophical history should always extend to the motives of men and parties. The State of South Carolina, armed with the single principle of the State sovereignty, undertook the combat with the giant of the protective policy, arrayed in the panoply of Federal power. The events of the contest, a short but severe one, it is not necessary to dwell upon. The State, in solemn convention assembled, planting itself on the reserved rights of its original sovereignty, declared the law in question unconstitutional, and therefore essentially null and void, and decreed that it should not be executed within the limits of its State jurisdiction, in a word, it ‘nullified,’ appealing to the two following passages from the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, long established as embodying the political creed of the Republican party, in justification of the constitutional ground thus assumed by it:
“Resolved, That this assembly doth explicitly and peremptorily declare, that it views the powers of the federal government as resulting from the compact to which the States are parties, as limited by the plain sense, and intention of the instrument constituting that compact, and as no farther valid than they are authorised by the grants enumerated in that compact; and that in case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers not granted by the said compact, the States, who are parties thereto, have the right, and are in duty bound, to interpose for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining within their respective limits, the authorities, rights, and liberties appertaining to them.” —Virginia Resolutions of 1798, by Mr. Madison.
“Resolved, That this commonwealth considers the federal union, upon the terms, and for the purposes specified in the late compact, as conducive to the liberty and happiness of the several States: That it does now unequivocally declare its attachment to the union, and to that compact, agreeably to its obvious and real intention, and will be among the last to seek its dissolution; That if those who administer the general government, be permitted to transgress the limits fixed by that compact, by a total disregard to the special delegations of power therein contained, an annihilation of the State governments, and the erection upon their ruins of a general consolidated government, will be the inevitable consequence; That the principle and construction contended for by sundry of the State legislatures; that the general government is the exclusive judge of the extent of the powers delegated to it, stop nothing short of despotism, since the discretion of those who administer the government, and not the constitution, would be the measure of their powers; That the several States who formed that instrument, being sovereign and independent, have the unquestionable right to judge of its infraction, and that a NULLIFICATION by those sovereignties of all unauthorised acts done under color of that instrument, is the rightful remedy.” —Kentucky resolutions of 1799. The original draft of which was made by [vice-president] Thomas Jefferson.
Nor did the State confine itself to simple arguments, and paper declarations of opinion and intention. The Federal Executive being bound, by the most solemn sanctions of oath and duty, to enforce the execution of the Federal laws, even, if necessary, with the arm of physical power, the State placed itself in an attitude of military preparation, for the defence of its position; organized and armed its own physical force; and succeeded in arousing so determined and excited a state of feeling in its citizens, that we think there can be no doubt that it would have maintained its position to the last extremity, –a position, manifestly, exceedingly difficult to be overcome, if thus maintained, by any physical power which could have been brought against it.
The result all know. A compromise was agreed upon between the conflicting interests. A gradual reduction of the protective duties, down to the scale of mere revenue taxation, was agreed upon, to be consummated in the year 1842. Which party may be entitled to claim this compromise as a triumph, it would be very unprofitable to discuss. Whether the abandonment of the principle of protection, on the one side, to be fully carried into effect at an appointed, and not far distant, period, was a submission on the part of the ‘American-System’ interest, — or whether the acquiescence in the tariff laws, the burthen of their oppression being reduced, and gradually lightened from year to year, was a submission on the part of the adverse interest — is now of little consequence, though an issue appears to have been recently joined, on that point, between the two leading representatives of those interests in the arrangement of that compromise. The truth lies perhaps midway between the two extremes. There was mutual concession — triumph and submission on both sides.
On the one side, Nullification was in a very difficult and delicate position. A tremendous power of moral influence against it, from all the rest of the Union, hemmed it round, and pressed upon it with an irresistible, though impalpable, force. It was weakened also by intestine division, the Union party in the State itself being very formidable, and being rendered the more so from the intemperate manner in which the excited passions of the time hurried the dominant party in the State to use their power. It was not supported by the other States of the South, and was certainly made to totter to its base by the ponderous blows directed upon it by General Jackson, acting as the Federal Chief Magistrate, supported as he was, on this question, by all the rest of the Union. Its position was becoming every day more and more untenable. It was in the wrong, as to the mode of remedy, and the constitutional argument went against it. In such a situation, however resolute and gallant might be the spirit of the State, however strong in the self-concentration of her own indomitable will and energy, taking counsel of despair, it is manifest that a compromise on grounds so honorable and equal, –the principle contended for being recovered by her, in exchange for a temporary sacrifice of interest, afforded a very fortunate and providential escape from a position, which was fast becoming too hot to hold.
While, on the other hand, the advocates of the protective policy were in a situation not much more favorable, in a country in which Public Opinion is the one omnipotent ruling principle, against whose power it is vain for any interest long to contend. It was apparent that that policy had now reached a point at which its ascendency was to be maintained only at the expense of civil war; and for this the country was not prepared. Resting on a foundation of policy (even as far as the true interests of the manufacturers themselves were concerned) at the best, hollow and doubtful –at variance with the principles of liberty which animate the genius of our people– plainly hostile to the spirit of the Constitution, at least as understood by the Republican party of the Union, in possession of the Executive administration of the government –that policy could not possibly have ventured to the point of shedding a single drop of blood for its maintenance. Its own friends could not have supported it to that extremity. Or if they had done so, it would have been the signal for its total annihilation. Its position was not more tenable than that of South Carolina, and there can be no doubt that the compromise tariff was the very best bargain that could possibly have been made in behalf of ‘the American System.’
The truth is, that a civil war in this country, or a separation of the Union, is a thing in its nature impossible, at least in the present age, and we confidently trust for all future ages. In violent collisions of interests, the excited passions of the contest may lead to the brink of the precipice, but they can never have power to urge the people, our sixteen or seventeen millions, the one step beyond, to the fatal plunge. The wrong opinion must then yield to the right, by an irresistible moral necessity; or if there is wrong on both sides, it must be abandoned by both, and a compromise must be the result. In such relations between principles and great interests, individuals are of much less consequence than they are often supposed. They act but as representatives and agents, obeying a compulsion before which they are, personally, but as straws before a tempest. That compromise could not but have taken place. It was a necessity, which could not but have worked itself out by some means or other, through one set of agents if not through another.
We are no friends of Nullification, though we endeavour, in all honesty and candor, to judge it liberally. There was much of wrong, mixed up with much of right, in it. It was right in the end proposed, the overthrow of the restrictive and protective system, which we consider as not less hostile to the spirit of the Constitution, than to the true principles of political science. It was wrong in the means –because all other means had not been exhausted– or, at the very least, wrong in the forms and theoretic grounds of procedure, as it was certainly too violent and intemperate in the mode. Under the Constitution and the compact, it could not rightfully nullify, –whether the circumstances were such as to justify a recourse to the ultima ratio of a revolutionary attitude, it is not for us to pronounce. Nullification was revolution, in its spirit and its substance; and the mistake committed was, in claiming to be within the forms of the Constitution, when in truth the State took up a position beyond and above them, on the ground of its original sovereignty. On the one side the Federal principle, and on the other the State-Rights principle, the centripetal and centrifugal forces of our system, were both carried to extreme. But so it often is in great contests for reform, the reforming principle is frequently carried to excess, and intemperately administered, and that very excess and violence, though they distress and convulse at the time, and may even awaken opposition from those who really sympathize with the end proposed, do often seem to have been perhaps indispensable to success, or at least to its early achievement.
Such are our leading views of Nullification; the expression of which may probably be unpopular with both parties. It has certainly done some good, –that is not to be denied. It was a little hurricane while it lasted, but has left a beneficial effect on the atmosphere. It can have no bad effect as an example to be imitated on slight occasions, whenever a State may differ in opinion with the Federal Government on a question of constitutionality, or of an obnoxious law, because the action of the Federal Government on this occasion was so energetic, as fully, at least, to vindicate its rightful authority, while its strong measures did not, and, from the nature of the principles involved, could not, extend in their operation beyond the statute book and the assertion of right. It is, however, very certain that the protective system in our federal legislation will never raise its head again in this country, though whether it received a death wound from Nullification, or merely died a natural death, as is now asserted by its friends, in the ripeness of its allotted years, after accomplishing its object of establishing a national system of manufacture, it is not necessary for us further to consider, being fully satisfied of the fact and with it, and willing to give the past to oblivion and fix our thoughts and action upon the more important present and future.
Mr. Calhoun continued decidedly and very energetically in opposition to General Jackson’s Administration, his opposition being marked by all the vehemence of his character, and the active vigor of his mind, acting under the stimulus of strongly excited personal feelings. Opposition to ‘Executive usurpation’ was the quarter of the field, in the general party contest that was raging, particularly occupied by him. This position placed him of course in alliance with the Federal party, –an alliance which certainly made it an exceedingly difficult matter to define the exact meaning and scope of the broad common name adopted by the Opposition party, that of “Whigs.” This was a false position, to be occupied by Mr. Calhoun, and that name may be said to have been under a dark eclipse during that period. It was of course manifest that this Opposition was but a rope of sand, –that no permanent union could subsist between elements so widely hostile in their fundamental principles; and that success would of necessity be the immediate signal for dissolution. There can be no question, that that success would have been the overthrow of the Republican, and the elevation to power of the Federal, party, in which case, Mr. Calhoun’s section of the Opposition must, of course, have been absorbed into the greater body, and politically annihilated. The first fruits of the victory would have been a National Bank –with the whole train of manifold evil naturally flowing out of such an institution, and such a policy in control of the Federal government.
It is due to justice here to give the version of Mr. Calhoun’s own friends, of his party position at this period, which is substantially as follows:– It is true indeed, that the Administration was an administration of the Democratic or Republican party, the party always identical, in the main, with the State-Rights, as contra-distinguished from the Federal, party. But he regarded it as corrupt in the character of its men and its measures, and as carrying the Executive power to a height of abuse which justified a temporary alliance even with the extreme Federal party, for the purpose of humbling and reforming it. The episode of Nullification, too, had a considerable influence in confirming a decided general antagonist relation between the Administration and Mr. Calhoun and his friends.
On the bank question, the leading practical question involved in the contest of the parties, Mr. Calhoun considered the Administration experiment, of a State Bank Deposite System, as even a worse alternative, both in constitutionality and policy, than a National Bank, independently of the consideration of the excessive Executive power exercised in the mode of carrying that experiment into effect. Such would be, substantially, as fairly stated as in our power, the explanation of that anomalous political relation held by Mr. Calhoun towards the two main parties, –in alliance with the extreme the farthest removed from his own abstract principles, to oppose and overthrow the administration elected and supported by the party to which his own school properly belonged, though the latter had committed the fault of pushing the State-Rights principle to an impracticable and revolutionary excess.
His course through that period was looked upon in a different light by the friends and party of the Administration, and gave rise to very strong feelings, which were of course reflected from the press, in a manner necessarily calculated to widen and deepen the existing breach. It was generally considered to be prompted solely by a reckless passion of ambition and vindictiveness, sacrificing all the ties and affinities of a common school of party principles, to feelings and objects of a nature purely personal –with Rule or Ruin for its desperate motto. And it was looked upon with a sense of resentment and indignation the stronger from the full appreciation entertained of the high character of his intellectual powers, as also of his great personal influence. It is not for us to decide between these different constructions of his course at that period; the events are so recent as to be fresh within the memory of all; and the expression of our opinions on the subject would have but very little importance or influence. The truth would probably be found, by the dispassionate and candid searcher, at some intermediate point –there being on the one side doubtless much injustice and misrepresentation, and on the other some considerable self-delusion, and strong bias, taking its origin and complexion from a very peculiar and embittered state of personal relations. Our views of the truth of that plausible charge against the late Administration, of an unconstitutional expansion of the Executive power, have been sufficiently explained in a former article (February Number, Art. I.) to render any further allusion to it in this place unnecessary.
It is, of course, well known that Mr. Calhoun stands now in the altered relation of a supporter of the policy of the present Administration [Martin Van Buren], which differs from the last in little else than in the change of the individual at its head. On this point, our remarks must be of necessity brief with reference to our limits of space.
Our view of it is simply this. Mr. Calhoun and the ultra State-Rights party were in a false position, in conducting such an opposition against the late Administration, as to constitute a support to the antagonist party, with which they had even less of natural affinity than the party actually in power. If that opposition had been successful, it would have placed the Federal party at the head of affairs. That state of things was unnatural, forced, and factitious, and, from the nature of principles, and the laws which govern the combinations of political parties, could not permanently endure. As soon as the temporary causes of this alienation of parties naturally one and the same, and distinguished in principles rather by a difference of degree than of kind, should be removed, by the irresistible operation of time, they must come together again. No human power could long keep them apart. Between the powers of principles, and the affinities of great masses, individuals, even the greatest, are comparatively nothing. If they should place themselves between, with their personal motives and influence, in the hope of keeping them apart, they must be crushed into annihilation as between two great millstones. Nullification is now, in our day, as has been remarked above, a memory, and nothing more, –a mere abstraction of theory, so far as all practical affairs of the present, or prospects of the future, are concerned. The charge of Executive usurpation has exhausted itself. It is evident that the Executive power, if heretofore swollen, by the influence of sufficient causes, up to the full level of its banks, though it never overflowed them, has now subsided naturally back to its accustomed channel. The purity of the present Administration, in the school of Democratic and State-Rights principles, is too manifest on its very front, –the great issue between the parties is too plainly the same, essentially, as in the unforgotten contest between the same parties at the close of the last century,– to leave it possible for any considerable portion of the South to remain long in Opposition. Individuals may represent and precede masses, in these great combinations of parties, but they do not lead them. They are borne on by them, –or rather all act by a common law, impelling all in the same direction. The individual loses all his influence –which can never in this country have any other basis than the representation of a principle or a popular sentiment– and is trampled under foot, if he should attempt to cast himself in the way of that mighty movement.
We do not therefore acquiesce in the claim which has been advanced triumphantly by Mr. Calhoun, in his recent encounters with the leaders of the Opposition in the Senate, that his sudden interposition has rescued the Administration from destruction. Such an idea is founded on a misappreciation of the relative importance of men and principles. Even had he not been sincere in his principles, but actuated solely by unworthy selfish motives of calculation, (and we believe unhesitatingly in his profound and enthusiastic sincerity, which no one who knows the man could ever dream of doubting,) he could not choose but take that course. The last link of the causes which had bound him to the great error of his political life, his alliance with the Federal Opposition to General Jackson’s administration, was broken, having gradually become attenuated to the point of disappearance, –and he could not have remained much longer in that artificial and highly forced relation. The position had become utterly untenable, except at the necessary and immediate consequence of political annihilation. Is it not evident that the moral power which he now brings to the support of the financial policy of the Administration, is derived from his representation of a great party and its principles –a representative character which must force that course upon him, by a moral necessity to oppose which would be equally destruction and dishonor ?
This remark is not intended in any depreciating sense or spirit. Far from it. We admire Mr. Calhoun’s recent course in the highest degree, and are fully conscious of the magnanimity of motive by which he has been actuated, of the moral influence which has accompanied his accession to the support of the Administration on the Divorce question, and of the signal services rendered by his powerful arm in the giant struggle of the debate. But what are men, even the greatest and the highest, in comparison with principles and with millions ?
The Opposition have clearly evinced their angry appreciation of the important bearing of Mr. Calhoun’s movement, by the strenuous efforts made by them, both in Congress and through the press, to counteract the effect of its moral influence, by destroying his character as a statesman, by the cry of inconsistency, and even by the insinuation of corrupt motive. Without insulting Mr. Calhoun by admitting the latter to be entitled to any notice, after he has himself ‘stamped it in the dust in scorn,’ we must make a passing allusion to the former.
The inconsistency in principles charged upon Mr. Calhoun, relates mainly to his late opposition to, and present support of, the Administration, and to his views on the subject of banking and currency now maintained, as contrasted with those which placed him in the ranks of the supporters of the Bank of the United States, in its recent contest with the Government. Those of a more ancient date, as alleged, it is not worth while, on such an occasion as the present, to enter into.
This charge Mr. Calhoun met and refuted, in a most masterly style, in his speech in reply to Mr. Clay on the tenth of March last. His defence was, as to its general outline, this. His relations to the two parties had been such as have been above described. He had acted on grounds independent of both; and though he had been placed by circumstances in the attitude of a temporary ally of the Federal party to reduce the overgrown Executive power –the object of their common hostility– he had nothing else in common with that party, and owed it no allegiance nor fidelity. It was universally known that there was even less natural affinity between his principles and theirs, than between him and the common enemy; and they had no right nor reason to count upon his permanent alliance with them, after the causes on which he had acted had ceased to operate. The overthrow of the Administration, at the present crisis, would produce the consummation the most to be deprecated by his party, the accession of the Federal school of politics to power. The Administration being now practically reformed in the obnoxious points which had excited his opposition, and being now no longer an object of any serious apprehension from the extension of Executive power, his causes for hostility to it were correspondently modified. Thus much for his personal and party relations; and he could only be accused of inconsistency, and of “going over,” by those who looked upon the contest of the parties in no other light than as a struggle for power between the Ins and the Outs, and who were enraged by his refusal to continue, a volunteer ally, in their service to help them into power, when in truth such a course would have involved an utter faithlesness to the principles of his own beloved State-Rights party, –principles, always cherished by him and proclaimed above the din of the party cries of the day.
On the latter question, relating to his opinions on the currency, Mr. Calhoun certainly annihilated the charge forever, in the powerful speech already alluded to, in reply to Mr. Clay by the indisputable evidence of the record. We must refer the reader to that speech, which every one, of both parties, ought to make it a duty to read –in justice to Mr. Calhoun. After the publication of that speech no one can hereafter repeat the charge without incurring the liability, himself, of wilful calumny. It is sufficient for us here to state the exact ground assumed by him, and supported by the amplest evidence of extracts from his former speeches. His idea of the true constitutional doctrine of the powers of the Federal Government in relation to the currency, was this,– that if the Government recognize the paper of the banks as money, by receiving and circulating it, it is then bound to regulate the security and uniformity of what it conducts its fiscal action in, by any means necessary to that object, –this power and duty being derived directly from the principle of uniformity of taxation, in the Constitution; and a national bank would be a more efficient, and not less constitutional mode than a league of State Banks.
The latter is the worst of all the alternatives possible in the case, both from its effect on the currency, and from the dangerous influence with which it is calculated to swell the Federal, and especially the Executive, power. The framers of the Constitution were, as all admit, “hard-money men,” and contemplated and intended the use of real money alone, the precious metals, in the fiscal concerns of the Government. The practice arose, under the original auspices of Hamilton, of dealing in bank paper, accompanied with that of depositing the revenue in banks; which connection with those institutions, as a system, became, in process of time, so intimate and apparently indissoluble, that the question of its constitutionality or even expediency, was not an open one for any practical or useful purpose. There stood the fact, resting on a foundation seemingly as broad and deep as the foundations of the eternal hills; and abstractions of opinions and arguments, whether in relation to its constitutionality or good policy, could no more shake it, than the winds whistling around the base of the mountain. Thus connected with the banking system, and dealing in a paper currency, made by the Government itself money, so far as its operations were concerned, the Government was bound to regulate it, even by the means of a National Bank, if that was the most efficient instrument for the purpose.
The question was never a free and open one, to be considered de novo, on original grounds of principle, before the present time. The recent explosion of the system has not only effected the total separation of the Government from it, by operation of law itself, but the opinions of men have been matured by time and experience to the point of preparation for a return to the original constitutional ground from which the Government never ought to have departed. The choice of practicable alternatives is not now, as on the former occasions, between a national bank and a league of banks, but between the latter and the divorce. Either of the two extremes he preferred to the middle course, which united the evils of both, he infinitely preferred the last to both the others, now that, for the first time in his life, he found himself and the country in such a position as to admit the possibility of a free choice.
During the period of the contest between the late Administration and the Bank of the United States, though it is now so frequently referred to as period of sound and healthy currency, he had understood the real hollow character of that fair-seeming outward show of health and prosperity. He was that the currency was bloated, and was in a career of expansion that threatened an eventual explosion such as has occurred. He considered the State Bank deposite system as calculated to promote that tendency; and that a National Bank under the control of Congress, and suitably organized and regulated with reference to the object in view, afforded the only means of arresting that tendency, and, to use his own phrase at the time, ‘to unbank the banks.’ He was therefore in favor of renewing its charter with proper modifications, for twelve years, being two years longer than the renewal of that of the Bank of England, in order that we might have the benefit of the wisdom and example of the economists and legislators of that country, in determining upon our own future system.
He had always entertained, and frequently expressed, great doubts as to the principles on which our whole banking system was based, –doubts as to its beneficial influence on the real prosperity, happiness, morals, and liberties of the people. He had distinctly intimated on a former occasion that if the question had then been between bank and no bank, he should not then have been found on the former side of it. After the removal of the deposites, he had even stated that if the existing ‘illegal and unconstitutional’ connection between the Executive and the league of banks was to continue, he should himself feel bound to introduce a proposition to divorce the Government altogether from the banking system, by prohibiting it from receiving or touching bank notes at all. And he was now most happy to embrace the first opportunity that presented itself, of realizing the aspiration, long cherished but never before feasible, of a separation of the Government from the whole system, and a return to the original intent of the Constitution, after all always found by experience to be the wisest policy, as it is the purest honesty, –at least according to the Republican and State-Rights school of politics.
Such was, substantially, Mr. Calhoun’s defence of himself against this charge of inconsistency of opinions. We regret that it is not in our power to publish the extracts from his former speeches by which he supported it; it is sufficient for us to say, that they fully sustained the position which he assumed, and to refer the reader, both as a point of some political and historical interest, and as justly due to Mr. Calhoun, to the speech itself in which he quotes those extracts.
Mr. Calhoun has had to sustain a tremendous battery of attack, at the present session, from the two great leaders of the Opposition, Mr. Clay and Mr. Webster; and these encounters of intellect –whatever may be thought of the propriety of time and place– have presented scenes of an interest never probably surpassed on any similar occasion. The contest of mutual attack and defence went back to the commencement of the public lives of the eminent combatants, and afforded a highly interesting review of the political history of the country for the last twenty or thirty years. We have no space to travel over the same ground, but have no hesitation in saying, that the combat appeared to us like that between the rock and the waves, and that Mr. Calhoun established a vast intellectual superiority over both his great assailants together. His strong and far-reaching grasp of mind, his power of rapid and profound analysis and generalization, –poorly evaded by sneers upon his ‘metaphysical’ and ‘visionary’ ‘genius,’– his vigor of intellectual bound, and the self-evident candor, depth and earnestness of his convictions, showed in signal superiority, (according at least to our opinion,) over the mental attributes of the more dexterous lawyer and politician, able, powerful and great, as both unquestionably are.
The long protracted passage at arms between him and Mr. Clay, in particular, which will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it, brought constantly to mind the recollection of the encounter, in the desert, between the heavy mail-armed Christian knight and the agile and dexterous Saracen, of Scott’s romance of The Crusaders, –a comparison of which the justice may very fairly be acknowledged by the friends of both parties.
Mr. Calhoun is, undeniably, a great man. For a number of years past, as has been before remarked, he has been, according to our view, in a false position, –lost and entangled in a morass, into which he was insensibly led by an ignis fatuus of personal feelings. He is now all himself again –MacGregor’s foot again on his native heath. We had supposed it scarcely possible for him ever to become extricated from that false position, and again on firm and open ground. Probably no other man than himself could have thus effected it, by a single great stroke of genius. In that act, and in the mode in which performed, he has most emphatically shewn himself a great man. His Edgefield letter, followed up by his immediate declaration of support, on the reading of Mr. Van Buren’s Message at the Extra Session, and by the zeal and power since manifested by him in the van of the debate on the great question of the divorce, will constitute an imperishable monument of honorable fame.
Inferior men would have sunk under the crisis –as we have seen so many sad instances. With Mr. Calhoun there was no hesitating, no negotiating, no wavering, no special-pleading about details, but he came out at once with all the energy of great intellectual power, all the confidence of immoveable strength of convictions, and all the frankness of conscious honesty and patriotism of purpose –took his stand on the Constitution and on broad principles, indifferent how his abandonment of former party connections and the formation of new (so far as they should naturally arise out of the common support of common principles) might be received by either party– and, in a word, proved himself by that single act, emphatically a great man.
Whether the Republican party as a whole, over the Union, will ever forgive Mr. Calhoun the manner and spirit of his opposition to President Jackson’s administration, notwithstanding all explanations of circumstances and motives, well as he may have retrieved his position, –we may not say; nor whether the odium attaching to the word ‘Nullification,’ will ever be forgotten, –even though the recollection of it be accompanied with a thought upon the gallantry and self-devotion with which, in that affair, according to the views of his friends, he sacrificed himself, probably for life, to a principle. That question is to be solved by time alone.
We will conclude this article, which has insensibly extended, in the frank explanation of our views of Mr. Calhoun’s party course and position, far beyond the limits of our intention, with the following sketch of him, drawn by a personal friend of that gentleman, a distinguished Representative from his own State, in the other House of Congress. Our own views on the subjects touched upon in it, have been sufficiently expressed in the foregoing pages, to render it unnecessary for us to make any invidious modification of this portraiture by the hand of a friend, though it is proper for us thus to designate the quarter from which it proceeds.
“Mr. Calhoun has evidently taken Demosthenes for his model as a speaker or rather, I suppose, he has studied, while young, his orations with great admiration, until they produced a decided impression upon his mind. His recent speech in defence of himself against the attacks of Mr. Clay, is precisely on the plan of the famous oration De Corona, delivered by the great Athenian, in vindication of himself from the elaborate and artful attacks of Æschines. While the one says: “Athenians! to you I appeal, my judges and my witnesses !” –the other says: “In proof of this, I appeal to you, Senators, my witnesses and my judges on this occasion!” Æschines accused Demosthenes of having received a bribe from Philip, and the latter retorted by saying that the other had accused him of doing what he himself had notoriously done. Mr. Clay says, that Mr. Calhoun had gone over, and he left to time to disclose his motives. Mr. Calhoun retorts: “Leave it to time to disclose my motives for going over ! I, who have changed no opinion, abandoned no principle, and deserted no party I, who have stood still and maintained my ground against every difficulty, to be told that it is left to time to disclose my motive ! The imputation sinks to the earth with the groundless charge on which it rests. I stamp it down in the dust. I pick up the dart which fell harmless at my feet. I hurl it back. What the Senator charges on me unjustly, he has actually done. He went over on a memorable occasion, and did not leave it to time to disclose his motive.”
In the conception and arrangement of the whole speech, in fact, there is a remarkable similarity to the speech of the great Athenian. And where could any man find a nobler model ? For withering sarcasm –burning invective–lofty declamation– for all that is spirit-stirring and glorious in eloquence, there is not on record, in any language, as noble and perfect a specimen as this Oration for the Crown.
“Mr. Calhoun, in the simplicity and brevity of his sentences, throughout all his speeches, shows the model he has studied. In fact his whole character and life are eminently Greek. His striking and grand conceptions –with his unassuming and plain manners–his calm dignity and composure– his sternness and exemplary purity in private and public life, all show that he has bathed deep in the fountains of antiquity.
“In one faculty of the mind he surpasses any public man of the age, and that is in analysis. His power to examine a complex idea, and exhibit to you the simple ideas of which it is composed, is wonderful. Hence it is that he generalizes with such great rapidity, that ordinary minds suppose, at first, he is theoretical; whereas he has only reached a point at a single bound, to which it would require long hours of sober reflection for them to attain. It is a mistake to suppose that he jumps at his conclusions without due care and consideration. No man examines with more care, or with more intense labor, every question upon which his mind is called to act. The difference between him and others is, that he thinks constantly with little or no relaxation. Hence the restless activity, and energy of his mind always place him far in advance of those around him. He has reached the summit, while they have just commenced to ascend, and cannot readily discover the path which has lead him to his lofty and extensive view.
“Mr. Calhoun evidently has studied our system of government very profoundly and philosophically, on the leading ideas of the school of Jefferson. His great speech in reply to Mr. Webster, on the federative principle of the Constitution, and the sovereignty of the States, is one of the most profound and finished commentaries upon that noble instrument and its formation, that has ever been produced by the genius of man. On that remarkable occasion, he simplified the points of controversy with his distinguished antagonist to such a degree, that he compelled him to deny that our system of Government was a constitutional compact; and finally forced him to the position, that the Government itself had substantive and independent rights, as if the Government was not made by the Constitution, and had no existence, in a single attribute, without it. This debate was managed with great power and ability on both sides. Both speakers saw that the whole argument turned upon the point whether the Constitution was a compact or not. If it was admitted, the wit of man could not avoid the conclusion, that each party to the compact must of necessity judge of its provisions and infractions, or surrender up their original character as sovereign contracting parties, to a government with power to define its own limitations, and, of necessity, to make and unmake the compact at the will and pleasure of those who might chance to give it impulse and vitality.
This subject eminently suited Mr. Calhoun’s mind and habits of thought, and he consequently exhibited a power of argument –a distinctness of analysis–and a luminous investigation of the attributes and nature of government– which will stand a monument to his fame, as long as the American eagle shall present to the world that bright constellation of independent States which now glitter and blaze around its brow. No human being can read that speech without feeling that it contains the same doctrines which were proclaimed in the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions of ’98, and in the immortal report of Mr. Madison, around which the Republican party rallied with the devotion of those who felt the liberties of their country to be involved.
“As a public speaker and debater, Mr. Calhoun is energetic and impressive to the highest degree. Without having much of the action of an orator, yet his compressed lip –his erect and stern attitudes–his iron countenance, compressed lip, and flashing eye– all make him at times eloquent in the full sense of the word. No man can hear him without feeling. His power is in clear analysis –suppressed passion, and lofty earnestness. As to the great questions connected with the currency of the present day, it is vain and idle to contend with him. It has been the subject of his daily thought for more than twenty years. He is before his age, but he will triumph, and posterity will be astonished at the profoundness and the sagacity of his views. Many suppose that he has an absorbing ambition; but this is a mistake, and it arises from the natural activity of his mind on all questions of much interest, and his constant and ardent patriotism. Devotion to the honor and liberties of his country is his consuming passion, and his ardent pursuit of what he conceives to be her interests is mistaken by the superficial observer for overweening ambition. Ambition he has, but it is high and noble, and like the Roman’s, identified with love for Rome. His nullification, so much misunderstood and misrepresented, was with him a pure and enthusiastic devotion to the true spirit of the Constitution and the permanent interest of the whole Union, according to his understanding of them. His greatest weakness, if weakness it can be called, is his free and unreserved confidence in those who are not his friends. This arises from the natural integrity and unsuspecting character of his heart. Another weakness perhaps is, that he talks too much, forgetting that there is often dignity and power in impressive silence, particularly after a man has acquired fame. This arises, however, from the simplicity of character and great love of truth, which makes him eager to present her to others that they may receive and love her too, with veneration equal to his own.”