Notes on John C. Calhoun, A Disquisition on Government, () But “this [ social] state cannot exist without government”, and “In no age or country has any . A Disquisition on Government [John C. Calhoun, H. Lee Cheek Jr.] on Amazon. com. *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. This volume provides the most. Written between and , John C. Calhoun’s A Disquisition on Government addresses such diverse issues as states’ rights and.

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This, indeed, may be carried to such an extent, that one class or portion of the community may be elevated to wealth and power, and the other depressed to abject poverty and dependence, simply by the fiscal action of the government; and this too, through disbursements only — even under a system of equal taxes imposed for revenue only.

Questions like these, and many others raised by Calhoun in his Disquisition and Discourse, represent a legacy of continuing relevance in the ongoing debate in American constitutional thought. According to the Supremacy Clause located in Article 6, laws made by the federal government are the “supreme law of the land” only when they are made “in pursuance” of the U.

For they who fall into these errors regard the restrictions which organism imposes on the will of the numerical majority as restrictions on the will of the people, and, therefore, as not only useless, but wrongful and mischievous. Nor, in stating that absolute governments exclude all other means of resistance to its authority than that of force, have I overlooked the case of governments of the numerical majority, which form, apparently, an exception.

But such is not the case. It has been already shown, that the same constitution of man which leads those who govern to oppress the governed—if not prevented—will, with equal force and certainty, lead the latter to resist oppression, when possessed of the means of doing so peaceably and successfully.

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The numerical majority, perhaps, should usually be one of the elements of a constitutional democracy; but to make it the sole element, in order to perfect the constitution and make the government more popular, is one of the greatest and most fatal of political errors. Until then, the disquiwition will have a strong tendency to slide, first, disquisituon the government of the numerical majority, and, finally, into absolute government of some other form.

Taxation may, indeed, be made equal, regarded separately from disbursement. It is only when aided by a proper organism, that it can collect the sense of the entire community — of each and all its interests; of each, through its appropriate organ, and of the whole, through all of them united. Be it greater or smaller, a majority or minority, it must equally partake of an attribute inherent in each individual composing disquisiyion and, as in disquisitjon the individual is stronger than the social feelings, the one would have the same tendency as the other to oppression and abuse of power.

He devoted his time and energy to the writing of Yovernment Disquisition on Government and A Discourse on the Constitution and Government of the United States, which were completed just before his death.

For, in such case, it would require so large a portion of the community, compared with the whole, to concur, or acquiesce in the action of the government, that the number to be plundered would be too few, and the number to be aggrandized too many, to afford adequate motives to oppression and the abuse of its powers.


Each, in consequence, has a greater regard for his own safety or happiness, than for the safety or happiness of others; and, where these come in opposition, is ready to sacrifice the interests of others to his own.

In an effort to prevent further alienation of the Northern states and to exhume his possible candidacy for president, Calhoun attempted a public clarification of his position in his Fort Hill Address. That this authority is the constitution-making power—the people of diwquisition States respectively. Those who are invested with the powers of government must be prevented from employing those powers as a means of aggrandizing themselves.

The one implies the other; and in all, the two bear the same relation to each other — and have, on the part of the governing portion, the same tendency to oppression and abuse of power. The proposed tariff was seen by many as a political maneuver by opponents intended to turn popular sentiment against Adams and the tariff.

He challenges the doctrine of judicial review expounded in Federalist ;ns78, arguing that this extra-constitutional practice is incompatible with true federalist principles. On all questions jon acting, necessity, where it exists, is the overruling motive; and where, in such cases, compromise among the parties is an indispensable condition to acting, it exerts an overruling influence in predisposing them to acquiesce in some one opinion or course of action.

And, hence, in such contests, the party which may prevail, will usually find, in the commander of its forces, a master, under whom the great body of the community will be glad to find protection against the incessant agitation and violent struggles of two corrupt factions — looking only to power as the means of securing to themselves the honors and emoluments of the government. The process may be slow, and much time may be required before a compact, organized majority can be thus formed; but formed it will be in time, even without preconcert or design, by the sure workings of that principle or constitution of our nature in which government itself originates.

And what makes this evil remediless, through the right of suffrage of itself, however modified or carefully guarded, or however enlightened the people, is the fact that, as far as the honors and emoluments of the government and its fiscal action are concerned, it is impossible to equalize it.

If the rights of the individual constitute the ultimate test of minority rights, how can a concurrent majority system, which vests power in a few, great interests, be an adequate safeguard for the rights of the individual in society?

But to go further, and make equality of condition essential to liberty, would be to destroy both liberty and progress.

To perfect society, it is necessary to develop the faculties, intellectual and moral, with which man is endowed. The assertion is true in reference to all constitutional governments, be their forms what they may. So far from being, of itself, jkhn — however well guarded it might be, and however enlightened the people — it would, unaided by goverhment provisions, leave the government as absolute, as it would be in the hands of irresponsible rulers; and with a tendency, govegnment least as strong, towards oppression and abuse of its powers; as I shall next proceed to explain.


Thus, in the very first stage of the process, the government becomes the government of a minority instead of a majority — a minority, usually, and under the most favorable circumstances, of not much more than one-fourth of the whole community.

Of these, the moral are, by far, the most influential.

Union and Liberty: The Political Philosophy of John C. Calhoun – Online Library of Liberty

And hence, instead of faction, strife, and struggle for party ascendency, there would be patriotism, nationality, governmen, and a struggle only for supremacy in promoting the common good of the whole. It follows, also, that government has its origin in this twofold constitution of his nature; the sympathetic or social feelings constituting the remote — and the individual or direct, the proximate cause.

The effect of this would be, insecurity; and, of insecurity—to weaken the impulse of individuals to better their condition, and thereby retard progress and improvement. The minority party, when it becomes the majority, then follows the precedent. I still remember his advice to me so many years ago: In coming to this conclusion, I have assumed the organism to be perfect, and the different interests, portions, or classes of the community, to be sufficiently enlightened to understand its character and object, and to exercise, with disqquisition intelligence, the right of suffrage.

It never did, nor can exist; as it is inconsistent with the preservation and perpetuation of the race. Indeed, these, with other improvements, belonging to the present state of progress, have given to communities the most advanced, a superiority over those the least so, almost as great as that of the latter over the brute creation. It leads to others equally false and fatal, in reference to the best means of preserving and perpetuating them, when, from some fortunate combination of circumstances, they are correctly formed.

As Calhoun himself noted in his letter of June 15,from Fort Hill:. Without this there can be no systematic, peaceful, or effective resistance to the natural tendency of each to come into conflict with the others: If knowledge, wisdom, patriotism, and virtue, be the most certain means of acquiring them, they will be most highly appreciated and assiduously cultivated; and this would cause them to become prominent traits in the character of the people.

The minor and subject party would become the major and dominant party, with the same absolute authority and tendency to abuse power; and the jonh and dominant party would become the minor and subject party, with the same right to resist through the ballot box; and, if successful, again to change relations, with like effect.

But as population increases, wealth accumulates, and, above all, the revenues and expenditures become large — governments of this form must become less and less suited to the condition of society; until, if not in the mean time changed into governments of the concurrent majority, they must end in an appeal to force, to be followed by a radical change in its structure and character; and, most probably, into monarchy in its absolute form — as will be next explained.