Saturday, April 21, 2012

Confederate "Heritage" Month, April 21: John Calhoun, political theorist

John Calhoun of South Carolina was the godfather of secession and the patron saint of the post-Civil War violent overthrown of the democratic Reconstruction state government, Jim Crow laws and segregationism.

John C. Calhoun (1782-1850)
"I never saw any one who so completely gave me the idea of possession." (Harriet Martineau)

Richard Current in John C. Calhoun (1966) writes:

Wherever a White Citizens' Council meets in Mississippi, or a similar group in another of the Southern states, there is to be sought, nowadays, the true spirit of Calhoun. It is to be sought in the activities of conservative - or reactionary - Southern whites. The way they use the lobby, the bloc, the party convention, and other political devices can be considered as essentially Calhounian.
That is now the spirit that dominates today's Republican Party, from the state and local levels to the national scene.

Current quotes a passage from the travel memoirs of Harriet Martineau, Retrospect of Western Travel, Vol. 1 (1838), on her encounter with Calhoun in 1835:

Mr. Calhoun, the cast-iron man, who looks as if he had never been born and never could be extinguished, would come in sometimes to keep our understandings upon a painful stretch for a short while, and leave us to take to pieces his close, rapid, theoretical illustrated talk, and see what we could make of it. ... His mind has long lost all power of communicating with any other. I know of no man who lives in such utter intellectual solitude. He meets men, and harangues them by the fireside as in the Senate; he is wrought like a piece of machinery, set going vehemently by a weight, and stops while you answer; he either passes by what you say, or twists it into a suitability with what is in his head, and begins to lecture again. ... Mr. Calhoun is as full as ever of his nullification doctrines; and those who know the force that is in him, and his utter incapacity of modification by other minds (after having gone through as remarkable a revolution of political opinion as perhaps any man ever experienced) will no more expect repose and self-retention from him than from a volcano in full force. Relaxation is no longer in the power of his will. I never saw any one who so completely gave me the idea of possession.
Today, he would do very well as a commentator on FOX News

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