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John C. Calhoun (Ford, 1988)

Scholarship

Lacy K. Ford, Jr., Origins of Southern Radicalism: The South Carolina Upcountry, 1800-1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 191-192.

Calhoun, of course, was an astute politician. He did not expect unanimity in South Carolina on any issue, except perhaps opposition to the abolitionists, and…he certainly did not shy away from political competition once a challenge emerged. Yet Calhoun’s preference for the “country-republican” consensus ideal always influenced his attitude toward South Carolina politics. He always fought for victory, the sought reconciliation. He never looked only to reward the faithful but also to bring the opposition back into the fold. He never wanted merely to dominate South Carolina politics but rather to unite the state behind his actions. Although Calhoun seldom, if ever, succeeded in actually uniting the whole state behind him, he did frequently have the overwhelming majority of South Carolinians on his side, and he made the unusual cohesion within South Carolina work to give the state a loud and strong voice in national forums. The purpose of the consensus preached by Calhoun, and usually practiced by his followers, was to achieve for South Carolina as a whole a sort of political independence that was essentially the personal independence of the republican freeholder writ large. South Carolina could then, like Calhoun, stand on its “own bottom,” beyond the sway of demagogues and above the corrupting influence of spoilsmen. Throughout his life, Calhoun and his followers kept South Carolina half-in and half-out of the Jacksonian mainstream, waging a series of heated grassroots campaigns, literally going field-to-field and door-to-door wooing voters, but always, even when acting as a tough partisan, standing as a barrier to the development of a permanent two-party system in South Carolina. 
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