JOHN C. CALHOUN by Irving H. Bartlett


A Biography
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 A scholarly, limpid life of the southern statesman and nullifier. Bartlett (American Civilization/UMass at Boston; Daniel Webster, 1978) tries his engaging best at a tough task: to bring to life someone who was called ``the cast-iron man'' by his own contemporaries. Born to Irish immigrants who'd settled in South Carolina and become wealthy and prominent, Calhoun (1782-1850) studied at Yale and, though an adherent of Jeffersonian republicanism, at the heavily Federalist Litchfield Law School. Soon disenchanted with the law's pedantry, he entered public life, assuming office in the US House of Representatives soon after marrying his second cousin and becoming one of the largest plantation masters in South Carolina. Bartlett, while only glancing at his subject's personal life, covers in rapid succession the series of crises that shaped Calhoun's evolution from avid nationalist to champion of sectionalism and nullification, and that thrust him into prominence: his career as a war hawk in the House, which helped propel the country into the War of 1812; his turbulent term as secretary of war under Monroe, which led him into fateful confrontations with Andrew Jackson over Jackson's headstrong Florida policy; his stints as Vice President under John Quincy Adams and Jackson, during which he advocated the power of states to nullify federal laws; and his years as a senatorial defender of slavery and the southern way of life. Bartlett also points out that Calhoun, in his term as secretary of state under Tyler, became one of the architects of the policy that led to the annexation of Texas as a slave state. Finally, Calhoun returned to the Senate, continued to shape public opinion on the Mexican War, and in his Disquisition on Government (1848) achieved the ultimate expression of his views on nullification. Bartlett paints Calhoun as many of his peers no doubt viewed him: brilliant, utterly absorbed in politics and personal ambition, formidable--even admirable in many ways--but not very likable. A fine contribution to antebellum scholarship.

Pub Date: Oct. 25th, 1993
ISBN: 0-393-03476-3
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1993


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