Calhoun’s Long Goodbye (Part Six)

Calhoun's Statue at the Capitol

Calhoun’s Statue at the Capitol

(Previous Parts: OneTwoThree, Four, and Five)

Having laid out the long course to Northern ascendancy at the South’s expense, Calhoun turned from Southern grievances to Northern politics. Specifically, why did Northern dominance so threaten the South? Calhoun maintained that the North and South entered the Constitution with the tacit agreement for sectional equality, but he took care to unconvincingly extricate their sectional identities from the issue of slavery. In so doing he asked too much of himself, as time and time again he returned to the centrality of slavery to South identity.

But if there was no question of vital importance to the South, in reference to which there was a diversity of views between the two sections, this state of things might be endured, without the hoard of destruction to the South. But such is not the fact. There is a question of vital importance to the Southern section, in reference to which the views and feelings of the two sections are as opposite and hostile as they can possibly be.

I refer to the relation between the races in the Southern Section, which constitutes a vital portion of her social organization. Every portion of the North entertains views and feelings more or less hostile to it. Those most opposed and hostile, regard it as a sin, and consider themselves under the most sacred obligation to use every effort to destroy it. Indeed, to the extent that they conceive they have power; they regard themselves as implicated in the sin, and responsible for not suppressing it by the use of all and every means. Those less opposed and hostile, regard it as a crime – an offence against humanity, as they call it; and, although not so fanatical, feel themselves bound to use all efforts to effect the same object; while those who are least opposed and hostile, regard it as a blot and a stain on the character of what they call the Nation, and feel themselves accordingly bound to give it no countenance or support.

At last Calhoun drops the pretense entirely. The same man who began saying slavery did not form the heart of sectional discontent, but rather a growing inequality between the sections did, now comes around to say that in fact the South could suffer inequality as long as the North did not campaign against slavery. Clearly preserving slavery, not sectional equality, comes first.

And how did it come to this?

With the success of their first movement, this small fanatical party [antislavery] began to acquire strength; and with that, to become an object of courtship to both the great parties. The necessary consequence was, a further increase of power, and a gradual tainting of the opinions of both of the other parties with their doctrines, until the infection has extended over both; and the great mass of the population of the North, who, whatever may be their opinion of the original abolition party, which still preserves its distinctive organization, hardly ever fail, when it comes to acting, to co-operate in carrying out their measures.

Had proslavery forces achieved that, Calhoun would have crowed victory from the roof of every plantation house in the South. His own project to unify the South amounted to much the same as he accused the abolitionists of achieving. I can’t say with any confidence, but I imagine Calhoun must have bitterly envied the antislavery success on some level.

Calhoun continued with a list of Northern offenses to prove his point: personal liberty laws, Northerners aiding fugitive slaves, abolitionist petitions, the Wilmot Proviso. All of it aimed for a single thing: complete abolition. Abolitionists never had greater strength. The South never had greater vulnerability.


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