Causes of the Civil War
John C. Calhoun in Causes of the Civil War
John C. Calhoun (1782-1850) was a United States politician from South Carolina who served as vice president under both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. In 1832, Calhoun resigned from the vice presidency to accept a position in the United States Senate. Throughout the 1830s and 1840s, he led a crusade against abolitionism and those antislavery legislators who sought to limit the expansion of slavery into the western territories.
On 6 February 1837, Calhoun stood before the United States Senate and read aloud two antislavery petitions sent to Congress by abolitionist groups. He then proceeded to deliver a warning: "As widely as this incendiary spirit has spread," he said of the abolitionist crusade, "it has not yet infected this [federal government]...but unless it be speedily stopped, it will spread and work upwards till it brings the two great sections of the Union into deadly conflict."1 In a speech that would come to represent the political and racial ideology of the South throughout the following tumultuous years, Calhoun proclaimed that slavery—not freedom for all—defined the Union. Peculiar as it had become to the American South, slave labor, he said, had formed "the most solid and durable foundation on which to rear free and stable political institutions."2