The Coming of the Civil War
Calhoun, Speech on Abolition Petitions (1837)
About This Text
Author: John C. Calhoun
Composed: c.1837 CE
Abolitionist organizations petitioned the US government over the subject of slavery throughout American history. With the rise of immediatists like Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison in the 1830s, abolition groups began to aggressively petition Congress to emancipate the enslaved living in the Southern states. The slaveholding Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina spoke out against these petitions, calling slavery a “positive good” in keeping with human history. If anything, Calhoun argued, enslaved Africans were elevated in their condition under the tutelage of Europeans. To Calhoun, it was only a matter of time before “fanatical” abolitionists would convince Americans in the non-slaveholding states of the supposed merits of emancipation, disrupting the “harmony” between the enslaved and slaveholders and within a generation leading to the dissolution of the Union through bloodshed. Holding “concession or compromise [with the abolitionists] to be fatal,” Calhoun called upon Americans of both sections to maintain the Union by resisting and even censoring emancipation schemes.