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

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

5

Restoring the Concurrent Republic

The Disquisition and Discourse serve as Calhoun's most profound attempt to ensure a firmer grounding for popular rule through the recovery of a proper understanding of the interrelationship between liberty and authority. While maintaining a lifelong appreciation of voting and majority rule, Calhoun also acknowledged the limitations of these concepts. As he had noted years earlier to his friend Virgil Maxcy, “We have much to learn in political science. The rule of the majority & the right of suffrage are good things, but they alone are not sufficient to guard liberty, as experience will teach.” 1. Instead of endorsing purely abstract notions of majority rule and voting, Calhoun preferred to define both within a historical context. His use of the historical should be appreciated as an attempt at refining and explaining the importance of the Founding principles within a distinctively nineteenth-century framework. Regardless of the political system, some restriction upon those who assumed control over the government was needed. In presenting his recapitulative theory of politics, Calhoun expanded upon his earlier work on the “organism” that promoted restraint within the polity. He also employed a myriad of titles to describe this quality of restraint: the concurrent voice, the sense of the community, and most prominently, the concurrent majority.

As both a theoretical and a practical means of encouraging consensus, securing liberty, promoting the diffusion of power, and ultimately ensuring the regime's survival, the concurrent majority was the preeminent American contribution to political thought, according

____________________
1.
Calhoun to Virgil Maxcy, August 6, 1831, Papers, 11:451.

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