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CHAPTER FOUR The Oligarchy Rises 151 John C. Calhoun, Philosopher and Statesman In 1862 Charles Drake resorted to describing the basic frame of American political history in order to speak about the war in which the nation was then engaged. Albeit united by a common government, the Northern and Southern sections of the nation had developed in contrary political directions , as “all candid observers know,” he said. The Northern section was “in its nature and principles essentially democratic,” the Southern section “essentially aristocratic.” He added, “Each obeyed the law of its own condition.” The Southern aristocracy was “born to authority” and “tenacious of power.” They could not “tolerate a majority not controlled by them.”1 In obedience to the law of its own condition, “the aristocratic minority would, with absolute certainty, separate itself, by violence, if necessary, from the democratic majority, the very hour it could no longer subject that majority to its will.” Indeed, when power shifted to the Northern people due to the North’s more rapid growth, the aristocracy “struck its first blow at American Republicanism.” The war had been “certain to come,” and when the first blow was struck, it was aimed “with a relentless purpose to destroy.”2 Although the foregoing account had become obvious to Drake and the Republicans once hostilities commenced, the war had not been entirely foreseeable to them: “For many years we refused to believe that the Southern aristocracy would seek that terrible resort, because it seemed out of the range of any imaginable possibility that the descendants of our Revolutionary sires could ever strike at the life of their glorious Country.” That is, it seemed too incredible to be true that Drake’s generation of Southern statesmen could differ so profoundly from their forebears. But they showed that they were in fact a different kind of men altogether. “We forgot,” Drake continued, “that PART I THE REPUBLICAN ARGUMENT 152 an aristocracy ruled the South, and that aristocracies stop not at blood to hold and perpetuate their predominance.” Drake expressed a common opinion among the Republicans, that between the Revolution and the Civil War, the character of Southern statesmen had been radically transformed. In 1776 they were willing to shed their own blood to defend the rights of mankind; by 1861 they were willing to spill blood to assail the rights of mankind. The rebellion in 1776 was a republican revolution; the rebellion in 1861 was an “aristocracy revolting against the people.”3 From the Republican point of view, the Missouri controversy was a prominent event in the ongoing and general transformation of Southern statesmen from ambitiously republican to ambitiously oligarchic. Prior to the Missouri controversy, the Northern people could justifiably assume that the system of government and way of life in the Southern states were developing in a republican direction, as they were in the North, because so many of the most famous republican founders were from the Southern states. But the Missouri controversy had begun to awaken the American people in the free states to the truth. Thereafter, they understood that the influence of the republican principles in the Declaration of Independence on Southern government and society was waning and that the influence of slavery was strengthening. Still, the ambitions of the generation of Southern statesmen exhibited during the Missouri controversy were tame in comparison to the ambitions of Southern statesmen in Drake’s generation. The assessment of the Republicans was that the Missouri Compromise thwarted the spread and development of republicanism across the nation, but the Kansas-­ Nebraska Act three decades later threatened the life of American republicanism. It was South Carolina statesman John C. Calhoun, the Republicans believed , who decisively reshaped Southern statesmen and decisively changed the course of national events over those decades. His national political career began in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1811, when he was twenty-­ eight. By the close of his life and career in 1850, the representatives of the republican people in the free states and the oligarchic rulers of the slave states were struggling for control of the national government, contending for republicanism and oligarchy, respectively. The Republicans held Calhoun responsible, far more than anyone else, for the advance of revolutionary Southern oligarchy after the Missouri controversy . They recognized that by the force of its intrinsic attributes, slavery had been transforming Southern political society as it spread and increased. To that structural cause of revolutionary change, Calhoun added a superior CHAPTER FOUR THE OLIGARCHY RISES 153 guiding mind...


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