What is the significance of John C. Calhoun?

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mkoren | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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John C. Calhoun was a very significant individual in the South and in our country. John C. Calhoun was a young war hawk that got elected to Congress. He favored going to war with Great Britain in the War of 1812.

He is most known for his views on the protective tariff, states’ rights, secession, and slavery. Calhoun was very concerned that the protective tariff was hurting the South while it helped the North. He believed that a state had a right to nullify a law if it the law hurt the state while it helped another state. This concept, called nullification, was a key belief of John C. Calhoun.

John C. Calhoun also believed in the concept of secession. He said a state could withdraw or leave the Union if a state couldn’t nullify a law and was being hurt by that law. Calhoun was a big believer in the concept of states’ rights. He felt the states should have more power than the federal government. He also was a strong supporter of slavery. He believed there should be slavery in the South. South Carolina threatened to secede over the tariff and slavery issues. When the tariff issue was eventually settled, slavery continued to be a key issue. While John C. Calhoun died in 1850, South Carolina followed through on the idea of secession when the state eventually seceded after Lincoln won the election of 1860 fearing that slavery would end in the United States.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The significance of John C. Calhoun is that he was a major figure in pushing the South and the North apart.  Even though he died in 1850, he helped to cause the Civil War.

Calhoun is best known for his strong advocacy of the position of states' rights.  He believed that the states should have, for example, the right to nullify laws made by the federal government if the states felt that those laws were contrary to the Constitution.  This view of his came out most strongly in the Nullification Crisis of the early 1830s.  Calhoun later became an advocate of the states' right to secede.

In these ways, Calhoun was significant in that he helped to push the idea that the South should move farther away (by nullification and then secession) from the North.

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