Happy Birthday, John C. Calhoun

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John C. Calhoun, former vice president of the U.S., was born on this day (March 18) in 1782. In his book For a New Liberty (p. 58)Murray Rothbard called Calhoun “One of America’s most brilliant political theorists” who “wrote prophetically of the inherent tendency of a State to break through the limits of its written constitution.” You are not educated in American political theory and history unless you have read Calhoun’s Disquisition on Government and his Discourse on the Government and Constitution of the United States. The Liberty Fund of Indianapolis has published both of these works, along with a dozen of Calhoun’s speeches, in a book entitled Union and Liberty. The Essential Calhoun, edited by Clyde Wilson, is also an excellent resource.

Here’s an excerpt from Calhoun’s Disquisition on Government (pp. 25-27),originally published in 1850:

“A written constitution certainly has many and considerable advantages, but it is a great mistake to suppose that the mere insertion of provisions to restrict and limit the powers of the government, without investing those for whose protection they are inserted with the means of enforcing their observance, will be sufficient to prevent the major and dominant party from abusing its powers. Being the party in possession of the government, they will . . . have no need of these restrictions . . .” The minor or weaker party on the contrary, would take the opposite direction and regard them as essential to their protection against the dominant party . . . . But where there are no means by which they could compel the major party to observe the restrictions, the only resort left them would be a strict construction of the constitution . . . . To this the major party would propose a liberal construction — one which would give to the words of the grant the broadest meaning of which they were susceptible. It would then be construction against construction — the one to contract and the other to enlarge the powers of the government to the utmost. But of what possible avail could the strict construction of the minor party be, against the liberal interpretation of the major, when the one would have all the powers of the government to carry its construction into effect and the other be deprived of all means of enforcing its construction? In a contest so unequal, the result would not be doubtful. The party in favor of the restrictions would be overpowered. The end of the contest would be the subversion of the constitution . . . the restrictions would ultimately be annulled and the government be converted into one of unlimited powers.”

In addition to reading Calhoun, I recommend ignoring the lies about Calhoun that have been invented by Harry Jaffa and repeated by his fellow “Straussians” over the years. On several occassions I have asked Clyde Wilson, editor of the 28 volumes of Calhoun’s Collected Works, about things the Straussians have said about Calhoun and Clyde’s response has been “I never heard of that; it’s untrue.”

8:13 am on March 18, 2008
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