The Calhoun Institute is a non-profit corporation in South Carolina dedicated to the purpose of enhancing scholarship, education and critical thinking related to matters of first principles, right-reason and good government.

John C. Calhoun was not a perfect man, with perfect insight and a perfect character. He was mere mortal man, like all such men he was fallible. He made mistakes. He lived in a time and a place that understood parts of the world through a perspective that is different in many ways to our modern perception. Yet, for all his flaws, despite how many have come to misunderstand him, ignore him and vilify him, Calhoun spoke right to the heart of some important matters. On some very important matters, Calhoun was absolutely right.

To paraphrase and summarize what was absolutely good, correct and right about his political philosophy and the warnings he provided to his contemporaries we might state his position thusly:

The American Republic cannot long stand in freedom and harmony if power is centralized, the voices of the minority view silenced through impotence,  power centralized with no check or balance placed upon it outside of the institutions of that very power – in short, centralized power in the hands of any majority must necessarily lead to totalitarianism and tyranny; the death of the Republic.

Calhoun, after the Mexican American War, came to fully realize the righteousness of the original Anti-federalist arguments and the danger of the Federalist position. He, perhaps better than any man of his time, saw far into the future and the danger that awaited a time where the Federal government ruled supreme – without any mechanism for the people through their states to impose restraints. He saw the future of crony capitalism, central banks running the economy, a vast and ineffective central government, abuse of powers, fecklessness and discord in the political arena and endless wars. That was the centralized Federalist position that Calhoun opposed. These are the very things that have come to define the U.S. Government.

Those that dismiss Calhoun because he used the vehicle of States’ Rights to defend the institution of slavery simply miss the main message of his words and warnings. Such a dismissal ignores the historical and economic complexities of that issue and assume it a simple binary circumstance. It was much more complex, and no option at the time fully satisfied all the elements required of a good solution.

Calhoun is one of America’s greatest political philosophers that also held office and operated in the public square. Understanding his words and warnings provide great insight into how we have come to the circumstances of our current era and perhaps valuable advice as to how we might reset the Republic on a better path.


John C. Calhoun quotes

The Government of the absolute majority instead of the Government of the people is but the Government of the strongest interests; and when not efficiently checked, it is the most tyrannical and oppressive that can be devised.  – Speech to the U.S. Senate (15 February 1833)

A power has risen up in the government greater than the people themselves, consisting of many and various and powerful interests, combined into one mass, and held together by the cohesive power of the vast surplus in the banks. – Speech (27 May 1836); this is the source of the phrase, “Cohesive power of public plunder”

The truth is—the Government of the uncontrolled numerical majority, is but the absolute and despotic form of popular governments; —just as that of the uncontrolled will of one man, or a few, is of monarchy or aristocracy; and it has, to say the least, it has as strong a tendency to oppression, and the abuse of its powers, as either of the others.

War, in our country, ought never to be resorted to but when it is clearly justifiable and necessary; so much so as not to require the aid of logic to convince our understanding nor the ardour of eloquence to inflame our passions. There are many reasons why this country should never resort to it but for causes the most urgent and necessary.

By nature, every individual has the right to govern himself; and governments, whether founded on majorities or minorities, must derive their right from the assent, expressed or implied, of the governed, and be subject to such limitations as they may impose.

It is harder to preserve than to obtain liberty. – Paraphrase of 1848 Oregon State Bill speech

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