John C. Calhoun: “On the Reception of Abolition Petitions”


From the moment he entered public life, John C. Calhoun was an impressive figure. When young members took control of the House of Representatives, Calhoun quickly became Speaker Henry Clay’s floor leader and ably carried out his duties of persuasion among representatives in order to get legislation moved through committees and to votes. To Americans of his day, Calhoun was one of the most important politicians in the nation and an able interpreter of the Constitution. He viewed the document as a compact between the federal government and the individual states—a key concept in the debate over states’ rights. As a supporter of states’ rights, he also defended the southern states in their efforts to preserve the institution of slavery. His personal views on slavery come to the fore in his speech “On the Reception of Abolition Petitions,” delivered to the U.S. Senate. In this address, he extols the benefits of slavery and characterizes it as a “positive good.”...

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John C. Calhoun (Library of Congress)

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