Calhoun and Popular Rule: The Political Theory of the Disquisition and Discourse

By H. Lee Cheek Jr. | Go to book overview

4

The Political Theory of the Discourse

The stronger the pressure ofthe steam, ifthe boiler
be proportionally strong, the more securely the bark
buffets the wave, and defies the tempest.
1.

The philosophical and practical mission Calhoun embarked upon in the “Patrick Henry”-“Onslow” debate, and continued in the Disquisition, came to fruition in the Discourse. Examined in tandem, the Disquisition and Discourse articulate Calhoun's understanding of the importance of popular rule and its obligatory relationship to republican government. Calhoun's Discourse also serves as an interpretation of the American political experience, with an emphasis upon the original dispersion of authority, sovereignty, and restraint, and the ways these vital qualities might be recovered amidst the impending crisis in nineteenth-century America. As a study of the “character and structure” of the republic, the Discourse attempts to nourish the political tradition in such a way as to facilitate a recuperation of the body politic. 2. As will become apparent, the Discourse differs from the Disquisition in terms of focus rather than substance. In many regards, the Discourse amplifies aspects of Calhoun's thought prevalent decades earlier. His remarkable speech in support of a presidential veto in 1842 provides a loose framework thematically anticipating the

____________________
1.
John C. Calhoun, A Discourse on the Constitution and Government of the United States, in Union and Liberty: The Political Philosophy of John C. Calhoun, ed. Ross M. Lence (hereafter cited as Discourse), 219.
2.
Ibid., 222.

-125-

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