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John C. Calhoun

U.S. Secretary of State / U.S. Vice President

Born: 18 March 1782
Died: 31 March 1850
Birthplace: McCormick County, South Carolina
Best known as: The Senate leader who was vice president for both J.C. Adams and Andrew Jackson

Most famous for his role in the pre-Civil War debate over states' rights, John Caldwell Calhoun was a U.S. senator from South Carolina (1832-43, 1845-50) and vice president under presidents John Quincy Adams (1825-29) and Andrew Jackson (1829-32). Calhoun grew up in South Carolina and was educated at Yale University before opening a law practice back home in Abbeville, South Carolina. He was a state representative (1808) and a U.S. representative (1811-1817) before serving as President Monroe's Secretary of War (1817-25). His terms as vice president were marked by his vocal differences with his presidents. Adams was an avid abolitionist from Boston, but Calhoun was a pro-slavery southern plantation owner, and Jackson and Calhoun were openly hostile to each other. Things heated up in the early 1830s over the issue of federal tariffs: Calhoun claimed that states could nullify federal laws, earning him the nickname of "Arch Nullifier," and Jackson threatened to use the army if South Carolina forced the issue. (Calhoun's colleague, Senator Henry Clay, helped work out a compromise.) Calhoun resigned as Jackson's vice president in 1832 and became a U.S. senator, then briefly served as Secretary of State under President Tyler (1844-45) and finally served in the Senate again until his death in 1850. After his death Calhoun became a symbol for southern unity and his likeness was used on the currency of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War (on $1000 bills in 1861 and $100 bills in 1862).

Extra credit:

John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, colleagues in the Senate, were dubbed the “Great Triumvirate” for their oratory and statesmanship… Calhoun was sometimes known as “the cast-iron man” for his cool logic and stern temperament… In 1959, a Senate committee named John C. Calhoun one of the Senate’s five most outstanding members ever. The committee was chaired by Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts.

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