Famous Americans of Recent Times eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 624 pages of information about Famous Americans of Recent Times.
Never was mental assurance more complete, and seldom less warranted by innate or acquired superiority.  If his knowledge of books was slight, his opportunities of observing men were still more limited, since he passed his whole life in places as exceptional, perhaps, as any in the world,—­Washington and South Carolina.  From the beginning of his public career there was a canker in the heart of it; for, while his oath, as a member of Congress, to support the Constitution of the United States, was still fresh upon his lips, he declared that his attachment to the Union was conditional and subordinate.  He said that the alliance between the Southern planters and Northern Democrats was a false and calculated compact, to be broken when the planters could no longer rule by it.  While he resided in Washington, and acted with the Republican party in the flush of its double triumph, he appeared a respectable character, and won golden opinions from eminent men in both parties.  But when he was again subjected to the narrowing and perverting influence of a residence in South Carolina, he shrunk at once to his original proportions, and became thenceforth, not the servant of his country, but the special pleader of a class and the representative of a section.  And yet, with that strange judicial blindness which has ever been the doom of the defenders of wrong, he still hoped to attain the Presidency.  There is scarcely any example of infatuation more remarkable than this.  Here we have, lying before us at this moment, undeniable proofs, in the form of “campaign lives” and “campaign documents,” that, as late as 1844. there was money spent and labor done for the purpose of placing him in nomination for the highest office.

Calhoun failed in all the leading objects of his public life, except one; but in that one his success will be memorable forever.  He has left it on record (see Ben on, II. 698) that his great aim, from 1835 to 1847, was to force the slavery issue on the North.  “It is our duty,” he wrote in 1847, “to force the issue on the North.”  “Had the South,” he continued, “or even my own State, backed me, I would have forced the issue on the North in 1835”; and he welcomed the Wilmot Proviso in 1847, because, as he privately wrote, it would be the means of “enabling us to force the issue on the North.”  In this design, at length, when he had been ten years in the grave, he succeeded.  Had there been no Calhoun, it is possible—­nay, it is not improbable—­that that issue might have been deferred till the North had so outstripped the South in accumulating all the elements of power, that the fire-eaters themselves would have shrunk from submitting the question to the arbitrament of the sword.  It was Calhoun who forced the issue upon the United States, and compelled us to choose between annihilation and war.

[Footnote 1:  Mr. Calhoun had still Irish enough in his composition to use “will” for “shall.”]


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Famous Americans of Recent Times from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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