John C. Calhoun
The Politics of Interest
If John C. Calhoun knew Lincoln at all—Lincoln served one term in Congress from 1847 to 1849, and Calhoun died in 1850—he would have known him as Lord Charnwood says Lincoln's fellow members of Congress did, as a “pleasant, honest, plain specimen of the rough West.” Yet it is justifiable to treat Calhoun as an opponent of Lincoln inasmuch as Lincoln came to define his position on the slavery question in contradistinction to Calhoun's position. Unlike Stephen A. Douglas, Calhoun and “all the politicians of his school” had forthrightly “denied the truth of the Declaration” as to human equality. Years before his debates with Douglas, Lincoln had spoken of these politicians as “a few, but an increasing number of men, who, for the sake of perpetuating slavery, are beginning to assail and to ridicule the white man's charter of freedom—the declaration that 'all men are created free and equal.'”1 If white Americans could not uphold that charter without calling the enslavement of the blacks into question, could they assail it without endangering their own freedom? This, according to Lincoln, was the problem with which Calhoun and his followers were obliged to contend.
In arriving at this conclusion, Lincoln most likely had Calhoun's Senate speeches in mind; but a more revealing source is Calhoun's theoretical work, A Disquisition on Government. One biographer calls the