Calhoun’s Long Goodbye (Part Four)

Calhoun's Statue at the Capitol

Calhoun’s Statue at the Capitol

(Previous Parts: OneTwo, and Three.)

The free states’ populations grew at a greater rate than the slave states’ populations, which meant more free state Representatives over in the House and a free state Electoral College majority. But stuff happens, right? Immigration did not amount to some secret abolitionist plot. Calhoun did not go quite so far as to say it did, but likewise did not see the North’s greater population growth as a natural, undirected event:

The first of the series of acts by which the South was deprived of its due share of the territories, originated with the confederacy which preceded the existence of this Government. It is to be found in the provision of the ordinance of 1787. Its effect was to exclude the South entirely from that vast and fertile region which lies between the Ohio and the Mississippi rivers, now embracing five States and one territory. The next of the series is the Missouri compromise, which excluded the South from that large portion of Louisiana which lies north of 36″ 30′, excepting what is included in the State of Missouri. The last of the series excluded the South from the whole of the Oregon Territory. All these, in the slang of the day, were what are called slave territories, and not free soil; that is, territories belonging to slaveholding powers and open to the emigration of masters with their slaves. By these several acts, the South was excluded from 1,238,025 square miles – an extent of country considerably exceeding the entire valley of the Mississippi.

And adding in the Mexican Cession, not counted in the previous:

To sum up the whole, the United States, since they declared their independence, have acquired 2,373,046 square miles of territory, from which the North will have excluded the South, if she should succeed in monopolizing the newly acquired territories, about three-fourths of the whole, leaving to the South but about one-fourth.

Forming only one-fourth of the states would put the South in dire straits indeed, as the others might pass a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery.

One can’t argue with the facts. Congress did exclude slavery from the Northwest Territory (the five states and one territory Calhoun mentions) and from the Louisiana purchase north of 36″ 30′, except Missouri itself. But Southerners could still go to those lands, settle, and bring with them anything they liked except for slaves. (Slaves could go too but they might become free if they did. So even Southerners who didn’t count to Calhoun and his class could move freely. Of course that only adds a grievance for the South.) When Calhoun says that the North monopolized the territories, he means the North excluded slavery from them. Not a sliver of daylight separates slavery from the South, despite Calhoun’s earlier, transparent claim that the sectional disequilibrium formed an issue apart from slavery.

Calhoun insisted that had the North not barred the South from so much territory, it would have gained population at a similar rate, which would have translated directly into House seats and thus yielded a sectionally balanced House as existed in the 1790s. Immigrants ultimately wanted land, after all. Here the South Carolina conservative repudiates literally almost the entire history of slavery under the Constitution, plus some of its time under the Articles of Confederation. Slavery settlements do not get much more ancient in American history than Thomas Jefferson’s Northwest Ordinance.

Calhoun apparently did not consider that most immigrants, even in the early nineteenth century, would come off the boat as unskilled labor and need to find jobs to earn enough money to go west and buy land. Prosperous, highly skilled people in the mother country rarely have cause to immigrate in great numbers, after all. The South had plenty of unskilled labor in the bodies of its slaves. Many also performed skilled labor. Thus the very institution Calhoun built his worldview around preserving helped create the existential threat to it that he rose to denounce.


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