The "Cast Iron Man"


Patrick Calhoun settles on the border of Cherokee country--along Long Canes Creek in the South Carolina Upcountry, near present-day Abbeville.


Calhoun's mother, uncle, and two nieces are slain in the Long Canes Massacre, one of the bloody skirmishes accompanying the French and Indian War (1754-63).


Patrick Calhoun becomes the first Upcountry representative in a provincial assembly dominated by Lowcountry interests.


Five colonists die and six are wounded in the Boston Massacre


The Boston Tea Party


March 23: Patrick Henry delivers his famous "give me liberty, or give me death" speech.

April 19: War begins with the Battle of Lexington.


July 4: The Second Continental Congress unanimously adopts Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence.


October 19: War ends when the British general, Cornwallis, surrenders to the American and French armies.


March 18: John Caldwell Calhoun, the third son of Patrick and Martha Caldwell Calhoun, is born.


Great Britain recognizes America's independence in the Treaty of Paris.


The 55 members of the Constitutional Convention begin the work of hammering out a Constitution for the new nation.

Patrick Calhoun, still an Upcountry political force, opposes the document because "it permitted people other than those of South Carolina to tax the people of South Carolina, and thus allowed taxation without representation, which was a violation of the fundamental principle of the revolutionary struggle."

The Northwest Ordinance bars slavery from territories in the "old" Northwest (which includes, in part, present-day Missouri).


George Washington is elected president.


The French Revolution begins.


The Haitian Revolution begins.


Eli Whitney invents the cotton gin, transforming the economy of the lower South.

The Fugitive Slave Law is passed, requiring that escaped slaves be returned to their owners.


Calhoun is sent to an academy in Georgia run by his brother-in-law, the Presbyterian clergyman Moses Waddel. His studies are interrupted by the death of his father, upon which he returns home to run the family plantation.


John Adams is elected the nation's second president.


The Sedition Act is passed, sparking a constitutional debate that eventually results in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, written by Jefferson and James Madison. The resolutions, which argue that individual states may find the new nation's laws unconstitutional, are to become essential to JCC's political philosophy.


After JCC has run the family farm for five years, his elder brother James agrees to take over for seven years so that Calhoun may enter one of the "learned" professions. JCC immediately sets out for Waddel’s now-famed Willington Academy.

Jefferson is elected the nation's third president.

Slave Gabriel Prosser's planned attack on Richmond is only derailed by a storm. The leaders are tried and executed.


JCC departs for Yale College, in New Haven, CN,where he excels in Latin and mathematics and makes the acquaintance of the Lowcountry heiress Floride Colhoun, widow of his first cousin, the late Sen. John Ewing Colhoun.


The Louisiana Purchase gives the U.S. control of western Florida, New Orleans, and the mouth of the Mississippi north to Canada.


The Lewis and Clark expedition sets out to explore the northern boundaries of the Louisiana purchase.

JCC graduates from Yale and summers with Floride Calhoun in Newport, R.I.


JCC begins law studies at Judge Tapping Reeve's famous Litchfield (CN) Law School.


After a brief stay in William Henry Desaussure's Charleston law practice, JCC opens a lucrative practice of his own in Abbeville.

The Chesapeake affair inflames American opinion against the British.

Floride Calhoun


Congress outlaws the slave trade.

Madison is elected the nation's fourth president.

JCC is elected to the state legislature and begins courting his patroness's 16-year-old daughter, also named Floride.


William Henry Harrison defeats a large Shawnee force at the Battle of Tippecanoe. The battle sparks a protracted Indian war in the Northwest.

JCC is elected to the 12th Congress, where he will distinguish himself as a War Hawk.


January: JCC marries his cousin, Floride Bonneau Colhoun.


The War Hawks, including JCC and Kentucky's Henry Clay, convince Madison to declare war.

At the Hartford Convention, pacifist Federalists from New England contemplate secession.


December 24: Americans and British sign the Peace of Ghent, ending the war. Three weeks later, Andrew Jackson wins a lopsided victory (21 American dead to 2,000 British captured, killed, or wounded) at the Battle of New Orleans.


James Monroe, last of the "Virginia dynasty," is elected the nation's 5th president.

Reacting to America's near-defeat in the War of 1812, JCC sponsors the Bonus Bill, calling for a national system of road and canal improvements. Madison vetoes it shortly before Monroe takes office.


Calhoun becomes Monroe's secretary of war, developing a nationalistic program for internal improvements that meets challenges and setbacks from congressional foes.

The Monroe Doctrine, reacting to widespread revolts against Spain in South and Central America and Mexico, declares the Americas "are henceforth not be be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European power."

The Cumberland Road, from Cumberland, MD, to Wheeling, WV, opens. In time, it is to cross Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.


The Panic of 1819 produces depression and demoralization, particularly in the South where crop prices fall to record lows.


Clay, speaker of the House, pushes through the Missouri Compromise, which admits Missouri to the Union as a slave state while barring slavery from any future states above the 36䓞´ parallel line.


JCC decides to run for the presidency, but his record as a nationalist makes him suspect in his native South.


Denmark Vesey's slave plot is discovered in Charleston, SC.


Clay proposes his "American System," in which Southern raw materials and Western corn provide the fuel for New England’s factory economy.

John Quincy Adams is elected the nation's 6th president. Calhoun becomes his vice- president.


JCC breaks with Adams. The two are to remain lifelong enemies.

Severe depression envelops the Upper South, largely as a result of its inability to compete with cheaper cotton from the new Southwestern lands.


Construction begins on New York's Erie Canal.

JCC’s family purchases a plantation in the Pendleton District of SC--it becomes known as "Fort Hill."

Fort Hill


The Tariff of Abominations, which is seen as protecting Northern textile interests at the expense of Southern cotton interests, is passed. Sponsors Clay and Daniel Webster are burned in effigy in South Carolina.

Calhoun begins developing the political theory of "nullification" in the South Carolina Exposition, an anonymous document inspired by the tariff debates and proposing that a minority has the right to protect itself from a predatory majority by nullifying the majority's laws.

Calhoun offers himself as Andrew Jackson's running mate. Jackson is elected 7th president, with Calhoun once again as vice president.

The Exposition draws swift reaction from across the South as Madison and other leaders vigorously attack the doctrine.


David Walker, a free African-American, publishes "Walker's Appeal," in which he argues in favor of the use of violence by slaves to obtain freedom.

Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave whose speeches have been producing a sensation among abolitionist audiences, begins publishing the North Star.


Growing nullification sentiment combines with debates on federal land policy to spark the Webster-Hayne debates, in which Daniel Webster of Massachusetts and Robert Hayne of South Carolina debate the value of the Union and states' rights to nullify.


The Eaton affair--gossip swirling about the reputation of the secretary of war’s wife, Peggy Eaton--sharpens a growing rift between Jackson and Calhoun, a rift skillfully exploted by Secretary of State Martin Van Buren.

When the Jefferson Birthday Dinner becomes an unofficial forum for tariff-bashers and nullifiers, Jackson throws down the gauntlet in his toast: "Our federal Union--it must and shall be preserved."

Allegations surface that Calhoun supported punishing Jackson for his role during the Seminole War; the relationship between the two becomes icy.

The first railroad, the Baltimore and Ohio, opens


Calhoun writes the Fort Hill Address, admitting his authorship of the South Carolina Exposition, committing himself to the nullification cause, and, in effect, dooming his presidential hopes.

Nat Turner leads a small band of revolting slaves from plantation to plantation, murdering nearly 60 whites and taking slave recruits, until federal troops put down the rebellion. Around 100 insurrectionists are executed.

William Lloyd Garrison's The Liberator begins publication with a demand for immediate and uncompensated emancipation.


Tariff of 1832 sets off a fever of nullification agitation in South Carolina. By referendum, the legislature nullifies the tariffs of 1828 and 1832.

Calhoun resigns from the vice presidency and returns to the U.S. Senate to lead the nullification fight.

Jackson is re-elected president, with Martin Van Buren as his vice president.


Congress debates the Verplanck Bill, which would provide tariff relief to South Carolina, and the Force Bill, which would force the state to comply with nullified laws.

Jackson issues the Proclamation to the People of South Carolina. Privately, he vows to use every measure, including military force, to bring the Carolinians into line.

Clay sponsors the Compromise of 1833, which ends the Nullification crisis.


Texas (which includes present-day Texas, plus parts of New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado and, South Dakota) begins fighting for independence from Mexico.


White abolitionists are mobbed in New York, Massachusetts, and Vermont. Garrison narrowly escapes lynching.


The Third Seminole War pits Seminoles and their African-American allies against American troops bent on re-enslaving the black tribe members. The war costs the U.S. 1,500 lives and $20,000,000.


One hundred eighty-seven Texans die at the Alamo; less than a month later, Santa Anna's forces are defeated at the Battle of San Jacinto.

Calhoun leads an attempt to "gag" abolitionist papers by preventing their circulation in the South.

Martin van Buren is elected the nation's 8th president.


Jackson's war on the Bank of the United States erupts in the Panic of 1837. Van Buren is blamed for the turmoil.

The abolitionist, Rev. Elijah Lovejoy, is murdered by an Illinois mob.


Cinque, an African prince, leads a slave revolt aboard the slaver Amistad. Captured in Connecticut, the slaves, represented by ex-President J.Q. Adams, are freed by order of the U.S. Supreme Court.


JCC's courtship of northern Democrats bears fruit as Congress passes the "21st rule," allowing states to stop distribution of abolitionist literature. In addition, a plank in the party's platform declares the federal government has no right to interfere in “domestic” state institutions, i.e., slavery.


Texas launches an unsuccessful campaign to capture Santa Fe.

Indian fighter William Henry Harrison, the nation's 9th president, dies one month after taking office and is succeeded by his vice president, John Tyler of Virginia.

JCC weighs another run for the presidency--this time as a Democrat.


The Tariff of 1842 is passed.

Anna Calhoun Clemson


Harper and Brothers publishes a highly eulogistic anonymous biography of JCC. JCC vigorously denies any role in its publication.

John Quincy Adams issues a manifesto, signed by 13 congressmen, denouncing Texas annexation as a conspiracy of the "Slave Power"

Van Buren wrests the nomination from JCC, but fumbles at the goal line by taking an unpopular position on the annexation of Texas.

JCC retires from the Senate to begin work on two treatises on government--the Disquisition on Government and the Discourse on the Constitution and Government of the United States.


JCC is appointed to complete the term of deceased secretary of state Upshur. JCC and Tyler work closely on the Texas negotiations, but the treaty is defeated after Van Buren's New York Evening Post leaks confidential correspondence in which JCC links settling the Texas problem with the need to defend slavery against abolitionists.

James K. Polk is elected the nation's 11th president. Polk chooses not to keep JCC on as secretary of state.


The U.S. annexes Texas. One year later, the Mexican War begins. JCC's steady opposition--sparked by fears of disturbing the balance of power between slave and free states--costs him support in the South.

JCC suffers a severe attack of congestive fever. Due to the state of his health he decides to remain in retirement from politics.


The U.S. gains its Northwest territories (present-day Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and parts of North and South Dakota) by treaty with the British.

The Wilmot Proviso passes in the House, barring slavery from any territory acquired from Mexico. In January of the following year, amidst intense controversy, the bill fails to pass in the Senate.


JCC speaks to a large meeting in Charleston, bashing the Wilmot Proviso and issuing a call for the South to unite behind a Southern candidate--most likely himself, though that was not specified--for president. JCC's final attempt to build support for a presidential run dies aborning.


The U.S. agrees in the Treaty of Guadalupe to pay Mexico $15,000,000 for lands gained by conquest in the war (present-day New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, California and parts of Colorado and South Dakota).

Gold is discovered in California.

JCC returns to the Senate, where he quickly clashes with Stephen A. Douglas, senator from Illinois. Douglas chides JCC's extremist tactics, saying that he and the other Southern fireaters were responsible for doubling the abolitionist vote in the North.

Zachary Taylor is elected the nation's 12th president.

The Free Soil Party, led by JCC's old enemy Van Buren, polls 300,000 votes on an anti-South, anti-slavery platform.


California precipitates a crisis by seeking admission to the Union.

JCC pushes for and eventually succeeds in galvanizing a Southern convention to battle the threat to parity. But the states reject his arguments, voting for compromise and Union.

JCC concludes work on "A Disquisition on Government" and "A Discourse on the Constitution and Government of the United States." The works are the distillation of his constitutional ruminations since the publication of the "Exposition" they are published posthumously.



January: Health failing, JCC faints three times in the lobby of the Senate.

March 4: Too ill to speak, JCC listens to the Senate debate on the compromise while James Mason of Virginia reads his speech.

March 13: JCC's last appearance in the Senate.

March 30: JCC dies.

Fall: Parity between the 15 slave and free states ends with the Compromise of 1850. California is admitted to the union as a free state, Utah and New Mexico are allowed to choose slave or free status when they apply for statehood, and a federal Fugitive Slave Law is offered as a sop to the South..


Capers, Gerald M. John C. Calhoun--Opportunist: A Reappraisal. Gainesville, U of Florida P, 1968.

Eibling, Harold H., et al., eds. History of Our United States. 2nd edition. River Forest, Ill: Laidlaw Brothers, 1968.

Ford Jr., Lacy K. Origins of Southern Radicalism: The South Carolina Upcountry, 1800-1860. New York: Oxford UP, 1988.

Peterson, Merrill. The Great Triumvirate: Webster, Clay, and Calhoun. New York: Oxford UP, 1987.