Standing high above us is a fitting location at Marion Square for John C. Calhoun – a man whose genius dwarfs that of most American politicians before or since. Despite the stereotype that he was some crusty, backward yokel, Calhoun was Yale-educated and one of America’s most outstanding orators, and was twice elected Vice President of the United States, while also serving as Secretary of War and Secretary of State, as well in the U.S. Senate.
Calhoun’s grasp of the purpose of government, being formed to serve and protect its people, not rule them, was as astute as any of the founding fathers. Calhoun’s brilliant “Disquisition on Government”, written nearly 200 years ago, provides a good example of his concise, logical perspective, as well as a good lesson in what ails our government and society today. For example, he envisioned in the 1840’s, a “despotism in numbers” where tax consumers could out vote and control tax payers and impose majority will on a voiceless minority. He stressed, as Jefferson had years before, the principle of nullification and concurrent consent, which the South had voiced in response to tariffs passed by a Northern majority in Congress that
favored one region at the expense of another.
“In such case,” he wrote, “ 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.”