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John C. Calhoun and the Price of Union: A Biography (Southern Biography) Paperback – July 19, 1993

ISBN-13: 978-0807118580 ISBN-10: 0807118583 Edition: New edition
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Slaveholder, Senator from South Carolina, secretary of state, secretary of war and vice-president under the administrations of John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, Calhoun (1782-1850) is portrayed as ambitious but deeply insecure, riven by conflict in both his political and private lives, by Niven, author of Martin Van Buren and The Romantic Era of American Politics. Because of his role in instigating the War of 1812, the author charges, Calhoun nearly destroyed the Union that he professed to support, while his struggle for a unified South and his intransigent defense of the Southern way of life helped to doom it. In this comprehensive study, Niven traces 40 years of complex national and state politics and bitter rivalries, and sympathetically portays Calhoun's domestic trials and recurring health problems. He died in despair, we're shown, anticipating the dissolution of the Union. Illustrations not seen by PW.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Southern Biography
  • Paperback: 367 pages
  • Publisher: Louisiana State University Press; New edition edition (July 19, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807118583
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807118580
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,039,152 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Thomas J. Burns VINE VOICE on October 18, 2000
In his opening remarks John Niven makes the promise that he would not undertake psychoanalysis of John C.Calhoun, Much to his credit, he is true to his word. What Niven has delivered is an eminently readable and straightforward account of South Carolina's greatest political figure. We forget all that he did: senator, secretary of war, secretary of state, and vice president, in a distinguished career that began in the early days of Madison's presidency and concluded during the Taylor-Fillmore administration, a span of nearly four decades.
Niven's disclaimer, however, is telling. There is a tendency to use Calhoun's career as a sort of national inkblot. For constitutional scholars and ideologues of many stripes Calhoun's writings survive as either the last great stand of states rights or as a subversive manifesto for the tragic secession that would follow. For politicians and observers of human behavior, Calhoun is either the consummate patriot or his own worst enemy.
From the data Niven provides, it can be said that while Calhoun may have been eccentric, he was not crazy. Everyone born in primitive eighteenth century America survived with a history, and Calhoun, born in 1782, was no exception. His family and his colony shared a history of terrible suffering at the hands of the British [those were Calhoun's people slaughtered in Mel Gibson's "The Patriot."] Calhoun himself was orphaned as a young teen and appears to have spent a studious but lonely existence until he studied law at Yale under the famous Timothy Dwight.
Calhoun arrived home with his diploma just in time to ride a wave of strong Carolina resistance against the Virginia-New York axis that seemed to control presidential elections.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 17, 1999
John Niven, professor emeritus of American History at the Claremont Graduate School, has shed new light on a statesman that history has long viewed as just another inconsistent headstrong Southerner, John C. Calhoun. Niven convinces the reader that this prominent politician of the antebellum south was much more consistent and levelheaded in both his public and private lives than his typical portrayal as a protean, stubborn hot-head from South Carolina would suggest. A lifelong advocate of the South, John C. Calhoun served as a member of Congress at the time of the War of 1812, secretary of war under James Monroe, vice president with John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, secretary of state under John Tyler, and then as a senator from South Carolina until he died in 1850. The key to Niven's success in bringing to life to this "cast iron man" is drawing on Calhoun's personal life and experiences in order to gain persuasive insight into the motives and stances of his political career. (back cover) Instead of telling the classic tale of Calhoun's shift from nationalism, during the War of 1812 and the tariff of 1816, to sectionalism and states' rights in later years, on the issues of the protective tariff and slavery, Niven convincingly exerts the original contention that Calhoun had always stood behind individual liberty and states rights. In Calhoun's view, as supported by his own papers, his apparent nationalistic support of the war and the tariff of 1816 was actually an effort to "provide for the common defense and to utilize the resources of all to strengthen the states as individual entities." (p.Read more ›
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Michael E. Fitzgerald on August 30, 2009
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John Calhoun was one of the most accomplished politicians of his time. For forty years he served the United States as Senator, Secretary of War, Secretary of State and twice as Vice President. He entered Congress an ardent nationalist, one of the War Hawks that led the United States into the War of 1812. As Secretary of War in the Monroe Administration, he was a strong supporter of public works, primarily those designed to promote the safety, security and defense of the United States. He would, however, over time, turn away from a nation first attitude as his perceptions of the politics of his time led him to the conclusion that his cherished way of life, the agrarianism of the Southern States in general and his native State of South Carolina in particular, was threatened by the growing populations and prosperity in the Northern and Western sections of the country.

The Era of Good Feelings, that period of substantive economic growth that occurred in the United States after the War of 1812, was not equally shared throughout the country. Unlike the North and the West, the South, whose capital turnover was slow even in the best of times, experienced recession as global commodity prices for cotton and cereal grains stagnated and declined. Unlike the North and West whose sectors were economically diverse, the South's capital was tied up in two interdependent asset classes, land and slaves. Thus, when Congress naturally sought to protect the faster growing, emergent portions of the US economy through protective tariffs, the South reacted negatively, even harshly.

On a parallel course was a fundamental difference in the labor practices of the sections. The North and West employed wage or free labor; the South employed slave labor.
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