John C. Calhoun: “On the Slavery Question”


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 a key interpreter of the Constitution. He may also have been the most outspoken defender of the South.

Calhoun was staunchly opposed to abolition and a leader of the Senate pro-slavery faction throughout the 1830s and 1840s. As a supporter of states’ rights, he stood firmly against limits to the expansion of slavery into the western territories. In “On the Reception of Abolition Petitions,” an address delivered to the U.S. Senate in 1837, he had gone so far as to characterize slavery as “a positive good.” In 1850, in the midst of heated debate...

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John C. Calhoun (Library of Congress)

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