John C. Calhoun, Opportunist: A Reappraisal

John C. Calhoun, Opportunist: A Reappraisal

John C. Calhoun, Opportunist: A Reappraisal

John C. Calhoun, Opportunist: A Reappraisal

Excerpt

I have chosen to call this work a reappraisal to emphasize its intended limitations. The definitive biography of Calhoun would require a number of volumes on the history of the United States from 1800 to 1850, in which he took such a prominent part. Surely this is the main reason why for so long no adequate biography of the South Carolinian existed; in fact, until Charles M. Wiltse completed his three-volume study in 1950, no academic historian of note except Gaillard Hunt even attempted one. It is significant, however, that Frederick Jackson Turner at the time of his death was toying with the idea, his last work having convinced him of the importance of Calhoun's political tactics in the Age of Jackson.

My work on Calhoun has been in progress since 1940, but it was severely interrupted for three years by the war. The first draft was completed in 1948, before the publication of Margaret Coit's John C. Calhoun: American Portrait and when only the first of Wiltse's volumes had appeared. Normally, propriety would restrain me from commenting on these two biographies, but I think I should state my reasons for presenting another Calhoun study.

Wiltse's biography is most thorough, but it seems to me that its irrational bias in favor of Calhoun and the South more than offsets its value. To echo the judgment of the reviewer in the Mississippi Valley Historical Review: "All in all, as Arthur Schlesinger's Jackson votes for Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, so Wiltse's Calhoun votes, though much more quietly, for a coalition of the Dixiecrats and the American Liberty League." Miss Coit, a sympathetic biographer of the psychographic school, reveals at times an intuitive insight into Calhoun's personality, but she has manufactured far more color than the facts warrant. It is obvious that she has written down, often in disregard of historical fact and perspective, to the level of the readers of the Ladies' Home Journal -- a . . .

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