John C. Calhoun

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It is harder to preserve than to obtain liberty.

John Caldwell Calhoun (March 18, 1782March 31, 1850) was a prominent United States politician from South Carolina during the first half of the 19th century. He served as the seventh Vice President of the United States, first under John Quincy Adams (1825–1829) and then under Andrew Jackson (1829–1832), but resigned the Vice Presidency to enter the United States Senate, where he had more power. He also served in the United States House of Representatives (1810–1817) and was both Secretary of War (1817–1824) and Secretary of State (1844–1845).

Quotes[edit]

The very essence of a free government consists in considering offices as public trusts, bestowed for the good of the country, and not for the benefit of an individual or a party.
I cannot think in the present state of parties of entering again on the political arena.
In looking back, I see nothing to regret, and little to correct.
  • Protection and patriotism are reciprocal.
    • Speech in the House of Representatives (12 December 1811).
  • The neighboring tribes are becoming daily less warlike, and more helpless and dependent on us … [T]hey have, in a great measure, ceased to be an object of terror, and have become that of commiseration.
    • John C. Calhoun to the House of Representatives, 5 December 1818.
  • The Government of the absolute majority instead of the Government of the people is but the Government of the strongest interests; and when not efficiently checked, it is the most tyrannical and oppressive that can be devised.
    • Speech to the U.S. Senate (15 February 1833).
  • The very essence of a free government consists in considering offices as public trusts, bestowed for the good of the country, and not for the benefit of an individual or a party.
    • Speech (13 February 1835).
  • A power has risen up in the government greater than the people themselves, consisting of many and various and powerful interests, combined into one mass, and held together by the cohesive power of the vast surplus in the banks.
    • Speech (27 May 1836); this is the source of the phrase, "Cohesive power of public plunder".
  • I cannot think in the present state of parties of entering again on the political arena. I would but waste my strength and exhaust my time, without adding to my character, or rendering service to the country, or advancing the cause for which I have so long contended. I feel no disgust nor do I feel disposed to complain of any one. On the contrary, I am content, and willing to end my publick life now. In looking back, I see nothing to regret, and little to correct. My interest in the prosperity of the country, and the success of our peculiar and sublime political system when well understood, remain without abatement, and will do so till my last breath; and I shall ever stand prepared to serve the country, whenever I shall see reasonable prospect of doing so.
    • Letter to Duff Green (10 February 1844), in Correspondence of John C. Calhoun (1900) edited by William Pinkney Starke, p. 569.
  • Our well-founded claim, grounded on continuity, has greatly strengthened, during the same period, by the rapid advance of our population toward the territory — its great increase, especially in the valley of the Mississippi — as well as the greatly increased facility of passing to the territory by more accessible routes, and the far stronger and rapidly-swelling tide of population that has recently commenced flowing into it.
    • Letter to Richard Pakenham, British minister to the United States, concerning the boundary dispute between the two countries (3 September 1844).
  • The surrender of life is nothing to sinking down into acknowledgment of inferiority.
    • Speech in the Senate (19 February 1847).
  • It is harder to preserve than to obtain liberty.
    • Speech in the Senate (January 1848).
  • The interval between the decay of the old and the formation and establishment of the new constitutes a period of transition which must always necessarily be one of uncertainty, confusion, error, and wild and fierce fanaticism.
    • A Disquisition on Government (1851), p. 90.

Attributed[edit]

  • I never know what South Carolina thinks of a measure. I never consult her. I act to the best of my judgment, and according to my conscience. If she approves, well and good. If she does not, or wishes any one to take my place, I am ready to vacate. We are even.
    • Reported in Walter J. Miller, "Calhoun as a Lawyer and Statesman"' part 2, The Green Bag (June 1899), p. 271. Miller states "I will cite his own words", but this quotation is reported as not verified in Calhoun's writings in Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989).


Disputed[edit]

  • Beware the wrath of a patient adversary.
    • This has recently become attributed to Calhoun on the internet and in print, but seems to be a derivative of John Dryden's statement in Absalom and Achitophel (1681): Beware the Fury of a Patient Man.

External links[edit]

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