Until now there were two kinds of Vice Presidents, those who occupied the office and those who tried to influence U.S. policy, but generally failed. And then there is the seventh Vice President who would have a major impact on American history although in the end it would mostly be negative.
John C. Calhoun was born in South Carolina in 1782 on his family’s farm. When his father became ill he had to quit school to keep the place operating but eventually he attended Yale and earned his degree. After Yale he finished out his education at the Tapping Reeve Law School (Litchfield Law School) where he earned his degree.
Calhoun was elected to the House Of Representatives in 1810 and soon became of the War Hawks, a group of Representatives who opposed any treaties with foreign powers. He was appointed the chairman of the committee on foreign affairs where he supporter going to war with the British over the harassment of American vessels and the pressing (forced conscription) of sailors. During the War of 1812 Calhoun championed the military pushing for funding and fighting against those who tried to negotiate a peace settlement. Although he had been a strong supporter of States Rights he supported for the permanent establishment of a full time military.
In 1817 Calhoun was appointed Secretary of War (Secretary of Defense in the modern world) by President Monroe. While in office Calhoun pushed for the improvement of the infrastructure from roads to canals and even a central bank in order to be able to move troops and fund military operations in order to prevent another invasion. He soon found himself clashing with the Jeffersonians who wanted a smaller government and the states to be in control of their own militias.
Calhoun also found himself fighting with Congress over the treatment of Native Americans. Congress had turned over all dealings with the Tribal Nations to the war department so Calhoun created the Bureau of Indian Affairs, an office that still exists. Eventually he succeeded in getting 38 treaties ratified.
In 1824 Calhoun decided to run for President but his record caused the southern states to turn against him so he put his name in for the Vice Presidency. No single Presidential candidate won a majority of the vote so the election was decided in the House of Representatives and Calhoun won the majority of the votes for the Vice Presidency. During his first term he became a vocal proponent of States Rights and even supported Jefferson’s Kentucky and Virginia Resolution that claimed states had the right to nullify any federal law they deemed unconstitutional, this created a major rift between him and President John Quincy Adams.
Calhoun was reelected in 1828 and became Andrew Jackson’s Vice President; making him the second to serve two different Presidents. It was also the time which the Democrat-Republicans realigned themselves and became the Democratic Party, making Calhoun the last Democrat-Republican and the first Democrat Vice President. However Calhoun and Jackson were bitter enemies dating back to The Seminole Wars when Jackson raised a private army to invade Spanish controlled Florida, a plan created by former Vice President Aaron Burr. Calhoun had pressed for the Censure of Jackson although he was forgiven by the President after Spain turned the territory over to the United States.
Tensions further increased when Calhoun created the Nullifier Party in South Carolina, a group that supported the Kentucky And Virginia Resolution and eventually led to the state declaring federal tariffs illegal. The entire matter led to South Carolina claiming it had a right to secede from the Union until Jackson sent the U.S. Navy to Charleston harbor to suppress the uprising and threatened to hang the leaders as traitors, especially Calhoun, thus stalling the Civil War for forty years.
The second clash between Calhoun and Jackson came during the Petticoat Affair. A rumor was spread that Secretary of War John Eaton had an adulterous affair with his wife Peggy before she was legally divorced from her first husband. Jackson and his wife had gone through the same thing so he threw his support behind the Etons and blamed Calhoun for causing the trouble. In order to make sure Calhoun didn’t repeat these actions Jackson fired the majority of the Cabinet and based his new appointments upon people he more closely trusted, they became known as the Kitchen Cabinet. Calhoun found himself shut out of most policy meetings.
In 1832 Robert Hayne, the Senator from South Carolina, was elected Governor of the state and resigned his seat in Congress. The State chose Calhoun to replace him and since he had been shut out of the Jackson administration he resigned as Vice President, the first to do so, the office remained vacant until the next election. After the loss of Hamilton and finding themselves on the wrong side of many historical events such as the War of 1812 the Federalists has been slowly losing power. At the time a new party emerged to oppose Andrew Jackson, they called themselves the Whig Party. Although Calhoun would support their policies he refused to join due to their anti slavery stance, Calhoun believed slavery to be a necessary evil. After Jackson left the White House Calhoun began to cooperate with President Van Buren to resolve the banking crisis of 1837. In 1843 he resigned from the Senate and returned to South Carolina where he began working to try to win the Presidential election of 1844 but had little support from the Democrats so he never became a serious candidate.
In 1844 Tyler appointed Calhoun to the position of Secretary of State where he resolved the Oregon crisis with the 49th Parallel compromise dividing the territory between the U.S. and Canada. In 1846 he found himself once again negotiating for U.S. territory. When Texas tried to join the Union they found opposition in Congress but he managed to get a compromise and the Senate voted to allow the former Republic to become the 28th state.
Calhoun was elected to the Senate for a second time in 1845 where he first opposed the Mexican American War and any bills that called for new territories to be slave free. Calhoun died from tuberculosis in 1850. He was buried in South Carolina but during the Civil War the Rebels feared the Union troops would desecrate his grave so he was dug up and hidden. In 1871 he was eventually returned and a tomb was built in his honor.
John C. Calhoun was one of the most powerful individuals to occupy the office of the Vice Presidency. He was a firm believer in the rights of the minority but at the same time he supported slavery. His actions were a catalyst that led to the Civil War. He pushed for war with the British in 1812 but negotiated a peaceful compromise over Oregon thus preventing a third war. He supported Texas joining the Union but he opposed the Mexican American War and the expansion of U.S. territory in the West. He was a confusing individual who actually had a lasting effect on the Vice Presidency, future Presidents would take a greater hand in the selection of the Vice President to avoid the kind of clashes that existed between Jackson and Calhoun.