John C. Calhoun: American Portrait

John C. Calhoun: American Portrait

John C. Calhoun: American Portrait

John C. Calhoun: American Portrait

Excerpt

THE YEAR was 1782; the place, Abbeville on the South Carolina frontier. John Caldwell Calhoun was born on the eighteenth day of March in the first frame house in the Long Cane country. That year the last guns of the Revolution sounded along the mountain borders. That year a son was born to another pioneer and soldier in a cabin on the New Hampshire frontier, a region rough and primitive as Abbeville. His name was Daniel Webster.

At first, John's world was small. Tossing on a quilt, his back braced to the hard planks beneath, he could lie and kick for hours. Full skirts brushed across the floor; faces, black and white, bent over him and vanished; his young nose quivered to the scents of cornbread and frying pork; his ears heard the thumping of the churn and the whirr of the spinning wheel. Near, but not too near, orange flames licked at the black hollow of the fireplace, and on cool days he might roll closer, sinking his small fists into the heaps of fresh-picked cotton that lay drying on the hearth. But this pleasure was brief -- a swift slap across the knuckles, or the hasty substitution of a gourd filled with dried peas, suspended investigations. Cotton was not for baby boys, but in a very few years he and his younger brother, Patrick, would be seated before that same fireplace, fingers busily searching the warm cotton for the seed, of which they would be required to find an ounce before bedtime.

Slowly the horizon widened. The baby could creep about the kitchen, sinking his knees into the softness of a bearskin, or scraping them raw against the splintery pine flooring. And if in his explorations he rammed his head against a table with the usual wailing results, it is safe to assume that he got his share of kissing and consolation.

For the time and the place his was a normal but solitary boyhood. Cheerful, it could not have been. It was hard growing up to be a Puritan in South Carolina Sin was a dark and evil thing in even the youngest heart -- so ran the tenets of that stern Calvinistic faith which burned across the Southern highlands in all the primitive fury with which it had seared New England a century earlier or still smouldered on the moors of Scotland. For young children the code was severe. Strict obedience. No . . .

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