John Calhoun

John Calhoun

John C. Calhoun loved his country. But he also loved his home state of South Carolina, and he supported its institution of slavery. He believed in states' rights—that if a state didn't believe a federal law was constitutional, it didn't have to obey it.

In the decades leading up to the Civil War, people had strong feelings about slavery—on both sides. Calhoun defended slavery and states rights as a congressman, senator, secretary of war, secretary of state, and vice-president.

Calhoun was born in 1782 on a small cotton farm. Growing up, he saw how wealthy slave-holding plantation owners became. Calhoun received his early education at home, graduated from Yale, and earned a law degree by 1807. He married his wealthy cousin, Floride Bonneau.

Some people called Calhoun a war hawk because he encouraged the nation to go to war against England in 1812. He became vice-president of the United States under both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. But he never became president, and this disappointed him.

After Congress imposed a big tax in 1828, Calhoun become a champion of states' rights. Because his belief in states' rights led to a constitutional crisis, he resigned as vice president. He returned to the Senate, where he created a gag rule that prevented discussions of slavery. He pushed for the annexation of Texas so that the area would be open to slavery, and he argued passionately that slaveholders could take their enslaved people into free states and still own them. This debate over states' rights and slavery would eventually lead to the Civil War.

Calhoun spent his last years fighting abolitionism. He died in Washington, D.C., in 1850. Although he did not live to see the beginning of the Civil War, he had led the cause of states' rights that ultimately led to armed conflict.

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