In 2015, the ugly chimera of racism and the legacy of the “Lost Cause” again reared its twin heads of ignorance and arrogance resulting in the death of nine parishioners at the Emanuel AME Church in Charlottesville, South Carolina, located at 110 Calhoun Street. That’s half a block down from Marion Square where stands an 80-foot high statue of the legendary John C. Calhoun, the marker on the base reading “1787-1850: Truth, Justice and the Constitution.” Just who was this John C. Calhoun? And why is he still revered (at least in the South) as a champion of states’ rights, minority rights, limited government, and slavery? Yes, slavery.
In his day, he was considered an orator without equal. He is remembered along with his congressional colleagues Daniel Webster and Henry Clay as part of the “Great Triumvirate” or “Immortal Trio” of congressional leaders. Later, he became known as the “cast-iron man” for his unyielding positions on the rights of the southern white minority including their right to own slaves, even to the point of insisting that any proposal to limit the practice of slavery was an infringement by the northern white majority on civil rights of an oppressed minority. As in the southern white slave-owning minority. Yes, you read that right.
A slave owner himself, JCC championed the concept that slavery was not a “necessary evil” as the abolitionist Yankee devils to the north claimed, but a “positive good” for both slave owners and their slaves. He went so far as to express the theory of nullification, meaning the federal government did not have the right to impose an unjust law upon the states and that each state, to protect the rights of the minority, southern white slave owners, was obligated to ignore and nullify any action to the contrary, including any suggestion that limited their rights to own or practice slavery anywhere and everywhere within the USA.
His name will forever be associated with the admission of the Texas Republic into the Union as our 28th state. As Secretary of State, he personally signed the Texas Annexation Treaty of 1845 paving the way for the Texans, now free from the tyranny of Mexican rule, primarily the abolition of slavery, to enter the Union as a slave state.
His rejection of the Compromise of 1850 and his continued role as the defender of minority rights, southern, white, slave owners, led to the Nashville Convention of 1850 where Southern radicals first met to discuss the possibility of state secession. Then, on March 31, 1850, Calhoun, who had been a long-time sufferer of tuberculosis, died. His last words, reportedly, were “the South. The poor South.”
Historians generally agree that Calhoun’s death stalled the growing southern appetite for secession. In 1850, with public sentiment about abolition not nearly at the fever pitch, it was in 1860, without the additional ten years of northern industrialization in place and with one of the weakest, ineffective of US Presidents, Millard Fillmore, in office and, of at least equal, if not of more importance, not Abraham Lincoln, there is no telling if the secession movement would have succeeded. Most historians would generally agree that if the south had left in 1850, the Confederacy would have been created without so much as a shot fired, much less the commencement of a civil war.
In 2019, as part of a nationwide effort to remove Confederate monuments, activists called upon South Carolina legislators to remove his statue. In Marion Square. A half-block from the Emanuel AME Church. Located at 110 Calhoun Street. It’s still there, and my guess is it isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon.
Did you get your fill of Phil?