Calhoun on American Government, Politics, and War

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“When it comes to be once understood that politics is a game; that those who are engaged in it but act a part; that they make this or that profession, not from honest conviction or intent to fulfill it, but as the means of deluding the people, and through that delusion to acquire power, when such professions are to be entirely forgotten, the people will lose all confidence in public men. All will be regarded as mere jugglers. . . .”

“One thing alarms me—the eager pursuit of gain which overspreads the land, and which absorbs every faculty of the mind and every feeling of the heart.”

“What we want, above all things on earth in our public men, is independence. It is one great defect in the character of the public men of America, that there is that real want of independence . . . .”

“Every dollar that we can prevent from coming into the treasury, or every dollar thrown back into the hands of the people, will tend to strengthen the cause of liberty, and unnerve the arm of power.”

“We all knew that when a public building was once commenced that it was never finished under five times the original estimate.”

“It was impossible to force the minds of the public officers to the importance of attendance on the public money, because we had too much of it.”

“All administrations are nearly alike extravagant.”

“It has been justly stated by a British writer that the power to make a small piece of paper, not worth one cent, by the inscribing of a few names, to be worth a thousand dollars, was a power too high to be entrusted to the hands of mortal man.”

“The Constitutional power of the President never was or could be formidable, unless it was accompanied by a Congress which was prepared to corrupt the Constitution.”

“The Presidential election is no longer a struggle for great principles, but only a great struggle as to who shall have the spoils of office.”

“The Federal Government is no longer under the control of the people, but of a combination of active politicians, who are banded together under the name of Democrats or Whigs, and whose exclusive object is to obtain the control of the honours and emoluments of the government. They have the control of almost the entire press of the country, and constitute a vast majority of Congress. . . . With them a regard for principle, or this or that line of policy, is a mere pretext. They are perfectly indifferent to either, and their whole effort is to make up on both sides such issues as they may think for the time to be the most popular, regardless of truth or consequences.”

“The first step, towards any effectual reform, is to put down and disgrace party machinery & management. No devise ever was adopted better calculated to gull the community . . . & keep the people in ignorance.”

“When did the South ever lay its hand upon the North?”

“We act, as if good institutions & liberty belong to us of right, & that neither neglect nor folly can deprive us of their blessing.”

“We make a great mistake in supposing all people are capable of self-government. Acting under that impression, many are anxious to force free governments on all the peoples of this continent, and over the world . . . . that it is the mission of this country to spread civil and religious liberty all over the globe . . .even by force, if necessary. It is a sad delusion.”

“We have lost all sensibility; we have become callous and hardened under the operation of these deleterious practices and principles which characterize the time. What a few years since would have shocked and roused the whole community, is now scarcely perceived or felt.”

“. . . there was a mysterious connection between the fate of our country and that of Mexico.”

“A bullying menacing system has every thing to condemn and nothing to recommend it . . . .”

“He who, in estimating the strength of a people, looks only to their numbers and physical force, leaves out of the reckoning the most material elements of power—union and zeal.”

“The business of war is a serious one. War created the means of its own continuance. It called into being mighty influences which were interested in carrying it on. . . .”

“Never was so momentous a measure adopted, with so much precipitancy; so little thought; or forced through by such objectionable means [as the war with Mexico].”

“I must say I am at a loss to see how a free and independent republic can be established in Mexico under the protection and authority of its conquerors . . . . I had always supposed that such a government must be the spontaneous wish of the people . . ..”

“Peace is, indeed, our policy. A kind Providence has cast our lot on a portion of the globe sufficiently vast to satisfy the most grasping ambition, and abounding in resources beyond all others, which only require to be fully developed to make us the greatest and most prosperous people on earth.”

About Clyde Wilson

Clyde Wilson is a distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at the University of South Carolina where he was the editor of the multivolume The Papers of John C. Calhoun. He is the M.E. Bradford Distinguished Chair at the Abbeville Institute. He is the author or editor of over thirty books and published over 600 articles, essays and reviews and is co-publisher of www.shotwellpublishing.com, a source  for unreconstructed Southern books. More from Clyde Wilson

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One thought on “Calhoun on American Government, Politics, and War

  1. “I must say I am at a loss to see how a free and independent republic can be established in Mexico under the protection and authority of its conquerors . . . . I had always supposed that such a government must be the spontaneous wish of the people . . ..”

    The follies of American foreign policy haven’t changed.

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