John Caldwell Calhoun was secretary of war, vice-president, senator, secretary of state, and a political philosopher. He was born near Abbeville, S.C., on March 18, 1782, the son of a slave-holding upcountry farmer. At the age of fourteen, he attended Moses Waddell's Log College in Georgia, entered the junior class at Yale College, graduating in 1804. Calhoun next studied law at Tapping Reeve's school in Litchfield, Conn., and joined Henry W. DeSaussure's law office in Charleston. In 1807 he was admitted to the bar and proceeded to open a law office at Abbeville.
Calhoun's first entered politics as a member of the South Carolina Legislature, serving a three year term from 1809 to 1811. He next joined Congress in 1811 as a War Hawk (a young nationalist who urged war with England to vindicate American honor). President James Monroe appointed him Secretary of War in 1817 and with the President's Cabinet he was a staunch supporter of the full use of federal power to nurture American industry through a protective tariff. The Secretary also promoted commerce through the Bank of the United states, and federal financial assistance for the construction of roads, canals and harbor projects.
Calhoun attempted to succeed James Monroe as President in 1824, but withdrew when he was offered the opportunity to serve as John Quincy Adams' Vice President. His views on federal power changed as South Carolineans became increasingly dependent on slavery for the cultivation of cotton. He no longer believed the South's interests could be served by an active federal government fostering commerce and industry, and in 1828 secretly authored the South Carolina Exposition and Protest which asserted a state had the power of Nullification over any federal law it deemed unconstitutional.
Calhoun subsequently ended up supporting Andrew Jackson's presidential candidacy in 1828, and he was re-elected to the vice-presidency, but after Jackson opposed South Carolina's efforts to nullify the tariff of 1832, Calhoun resigned his office. This powerful spokesman for slavery and Southern rights served in the U.S. Senate (1842-43 and 1845-50), where he successfully secured passage of the Gage Rules that forbade discussion of slavery on the floor of Congress.
Under the Presidency of John Tyler, Calhoun served briefly as Secretary of State (1844-45), where he helped engineer the controversial annexation of Texas. His remaining years were spent defending the right of slavery to expand into federal territories, and his prediction of disunion and civil war was subsequently borne out. He opposed the Compromise of 1850 and died March 31, 1850, leaving a legacy of writings on the rights of the south as a minority within the Union which was a significant contribution to American political theory.