Calhoun, John C. (Caldwell) (1782–1850), a United States statesman and orator. He was Vice President under John Quincy Adams (1825–29) and Andrew Jackson (1829–32). For many years Calhoun was the most forceful and eloquent spokesman of the Southern plantation owners and slaveholders. He reached the peak of his oratorical skill in Senate debates over slavery and states' rights, including those with Daniel Webster.
Calhoun was a leader in the nullification movement, which asserted the right of individual states to disobey federal laws. He expounded this doctrine in a document called the “South Carolina Exposition,” opposing the tariff act of 1828. He wrote:
The United States is not a union of the people, but a league or compact between sovereign states, any of which has the right to judge when the compact is broken and to pronounce any law to be null and void which violates its conditions.
Calhoun was born near Abbeville, South Carolina, of Scotch-Irish parentage. He was graduated in 1804 from Yale College. He practiced law and served in the South Carolina legislature. In 1812 he married his second cousin, Floride Calhoun. Her wealth enabled him to settle on a plantation called Fort Hill.
Calhoun was a member of the House of Representatives, 1811–17. He was chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs during the War of 1812. He served as secretary of war (1817–25) in President Monroe's cabinet.
While Vice President under Jackson, Calhoun often disagreed with the President. Jackson was disturbed by Calhoun's doctrine of nullification. He also was angered by Mrs. Calhoun's snubbing of Peggy Eaton, wife of the secretary of war. The dissension resulted in Calhoun's resignation in 1832. He was then elected to the Senate, where he denounced the 1832 tariff law as even more objectionable than the “Tariff of Abominations” enacted in 1828. Following Calhoun's theories, South Carolina passed an ordinance of nullification. Jackson replied with the Force Act, which authorized the President to use the army and navy to enforce tariff laws. Calhoun and Henry Clay sponsored a successful compromise measure to reduce the tariff gradually.
Calhoun resigned from the Senate in 184,3, and became John Tyler's secretary of state the next year. While in this post, he recommended the annexation of Texas. He returned to the Senate in 1845, and remained there until his death. He strongly opposed the war with Mexico (1846–47). Calhoun objected to the admission of California to the Union because its proposed state constitution forbade slavery. He was too ill to deliver his final speech on this issue, and had to ask a fellow senator to read it. His last words as he died three weeks later were “The South, the poor South.”