Calhoun, John C.

Calhoun, John C. (Caldwell)

(1782–1850) vice-president, orator; born in Abbeville District, S.C. During a long political career, he was the secretary of war (1817–25) and the secretary of state (1844) and he served as vice-president under two presidents. During the War of 1812, he was a "War Hawk" in Congress. He sought the presidency in 1824, but received the office of vice-president under John Quincy Adams (1825–29). He feuded with Adams and then supported Andrew Jackson in the 1828 elections. He became Jackson's vice-president in 1829–32. He had originally been a nationalist, but by the late 1820s he had become a firm advocate of states' rights—particularly the right of the state to nullify the effects of a federal law within that state's borders. In 1832, the Nullification Crisis in South Carolina led Calhoun to resign the vice-presidency and to accept a vacant Senate seat from South Carolina; he had been frustrated by the rules that prevented a vice-president from speaking out on the issue of nullification. He remained in the Senate until his death, with the exception of a brief period as President Tyler's secretary of state (1844). Although his views on states' rights and slavery have long since been repudiated, no one has ever doubted his sincerity and eloquence.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.