John C. Calhoun | History of SC Slide Collection

John C. Calhoun
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In 1824, John C. Calhoun (1782-1850) was elected Vice President of the United States under John Quincy Adams, and again in 1828 under Andrew Jackson. (For Calhoun's career prior to 1824, see John C. Calhoun) During his second term, he became involved with the Nullification Controversy. Calhoun wrote the report which resulted in the "South Carolina Exposition," expressing the doctrine of nullification (see The Webster-Hayne Debate, and "Union And States' Rights Gazette"). This document declared the unconstitutionality of the protective tariff (which he believed favored northern industry) and maintained that states retained the power to nullify (not enforce) an unconstitutional act within its own borders. When Congress passed the Tariff of 1832 in spite of this warning from South Carolina, Calhoun published a letter to South Carolina Governor Hamilton, defending the right of any state to secede if the government exceeded its power and nullification did not work. As the state prepared an ordinance for nullifying the tariff and enhanced its military forces, Congress passed a bill which repealed the Tariff Act of 1832. After resigning from the Vice Presidency, Calhoun served South Carolina in the U.S. Senate from 1833-1843, and from 1845 until his death in 1850. In 1845, Calhoun was one of the leading orators opposing the Wilmot Proviso, which proposed to prohibit slaves in any territories acquired should war break out with Mexico. He defended the right of all citizens to enjoy whatever property, including slaves, they brought with them from their own state to the territories, and insisted that they were entitled to Federal protection of this property. This issue took on greater meaning in 1849, when California applied for statehood with a constitution that prohibited slavery. Calhoun died in 1850 before these issues were ever resolved. This portrait by William Scarborough was painted in 1846.

Courtesy of the South Carolina State Museum.

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