John C. Calhoun interpretations

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    I came across a presentation from the 1990s for the Mises Institute in which Clyde Wilson was asked about the change that took place in Calhoun’s outlook from being more nationalistic in his younger years to being more for decentralization, free trade and strict construction later on. He seemed to say that the changes were only very minor ones and that Calhoun was mostly consistent in his principles. This seems to contrast significantly with Russell Kirk’s view which seems to me to be that John Randolph possibly converted Calhoun from the nationalist agenda to something like old republican principles. I could be reading more into what they said than they intended but it did seem to me that their interpretations were along these lines. I would be interested in hearing what anyone here would have say about Calhoun’s development in this regard.


    I published an article in The Journal of Libertarian Studies in 2002 arguing that Calhoun’s posture concerning federal power–which had been assertive, though not Hamiltonian–turned on a dime in response to the outcome of the presidential election of 1824. I’ll add that whether Randolph had laid the groundwork is an interesting question; certainly he began to sound more like Randolph, although Randolph rejected Calhoun’s doctrine of Nullification, insisting that a state could secede but not nullify, when the time came. Take a look. (Note: Tom Woods edited that issue.)


    Thank you for this response Dr. Gutzman. I read your article with enjoyment and found it helped me to get a better knowledge of how to address this question. I find this subject to be particularly interesting because of the colorful nature of Calhoun’s political views not to mention Randolph’s.

    I made note of the passage where you describe Calhoun’s tolerance toward Randolph as president of the senate and surely it must have crossed Calhoun’s mind during Randolph’s speeches at this time that the things Randolph was articulating overlapped with his own growing concerns. Do you know of any instance in the post-Monroe part of Calhoun’s life where he ever made a more explicit gesture in favor of Randolph? I have my suspicions that their dislike for one another never went away but I would be happy to be corrected.


    None comes to mind, but that is not to say that it didn’t occur.

    You’re welcome.

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