The Papers of John C. Calhoun. Volume XXV: 1847-1848

By Barney, William L. | The Journal of Southern History, August 2001 | Go to article overview

The Papers of John C. Calhoun. Volume XXV: 1847-1848


Barney, William L., The Journal of Southern History


The Papers of John C. Calhoun. Volume XXV: 1847-1848. Edited by Clyde N. Wilson and Shirley Bright Cook. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999. Pp. xx, 715. $59.95, ISBN 1-57003-306-4.)

John C. Calhoun became increasingly concerned over the vulnerability of the South within the Union during the first session of the thirtieth Congress, which met in 1847-1848, the period covered by this latest volume of the Calhoun papers. He repeatedly warned that southern rights and safety were about to be trampled in a Union now controlled by antislavery northerners and fawning, office-seeking politicians. When Congress assembled in December 1847, Calhoun's concerns focused on the efforts of the Polk administration to expand the war against Mexico so as to conquer more territory beyond New Mexico and California, the provinces already occupied by U.S. forces. A consistent opponent of the war from its very beginning, Calhoun argued that an enlarged military effort would only feed the alarming and growing lust of the public for empire regardless of its constitutional dangers, bloat executive powers and patronage, and saddle the republic with a soaring debt that would disrupt finances and encourage speculation. Calhoun felt, moreover, as did most of his South Carolina correspondents, that with or without a Wilmot Proviso, the South would be shut out--in regard to the introduction of slavery--of any conquered Mexican territories.

The same corrupting quest for place and power that Calhoun viewed as the driving force behind American policy in the Mexican War had long convinced him that the national political parties could not be entrusted with upholding southern rights. Especially in presidential contests, where the stakes were the highest, the pandering of the parties to the prejudices of the voters reduced them in his view to "two miserable factions . …

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