The Political Theory of the Disquisition
Working within an understanding of American politics influenced by the original diffusion of power and defense of liberty evidenced in Jefferson's and Madison's political thought, Calhoun confronted the crisis in which America found itself during the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Calhoun's many speeches, public reports, and personal letters articulated a remarkable philosophical and constitutional commentary on political events during the period, while also providing ruminations of a more enduring quality about human nature, the purpose of politics, and the American regime's chances of survival. Such reflections are important to this book's overall pursuit, but we must now direct our attention to the more philosophically significant materials available within the Calhounian literary corpus—his theoretical testaments, A Disquisition on Government and A Discourse on the Constitution and Government of the United States. As Calhoun confided to his daughter Anna Maria, the impetus for composing the Disquisition, and subsequently the Discourse, was to provide “a solid foundation for political science” to assist future generations of Americans:
I finished yesterday, the preliminary work, which treats of the elementary principles of the Science of Government, except reading it over and making final corrections, previous to copying and publishing. It takes 125 pages of large foolscap closely written for me. I am pretty well satisfied with its execution. It will be nearly throughout new territory. 1.