zozo asked in Arts & HumanitiesHistory · 1 decade ago

Why does John C. Calhoun argue that slavery is a “positive good”? Whom does he claim benefits from society?

Why does John C. Calhoun argue that slavery is a “positive good”? Whom does he claim benefits from society?


during 1837

4 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    ~The full quote, taken out of context, is:

    " I hold that in the present state of civilization, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color, and other physical differences, as well as intellectual, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slaveholding States between the two, is, instead of an evil, a good a positive good." ... "I hold then, that there never has yet existed a wealthy and civilized society in which one portion of the community did not, in point of fact, live on the labor of the other." ...

    Calhoun said it on February 6, 1837, is voicing his opposition to sending the issue of abolition to a Senate committee for study, noting that "The subject is beyond the jurisdiction of Congress - they have no right to touch it in any shape or form, or to make it the subject of deliberation or discussion." The jurisdiction issue was so obvious that he did not deign to explain it. Had he felt the need of explanation, he would have simply referred to Article I, Sections 2 and 9, Article IV, Section 2, and Amendments IV, V, IX and X of the Constitution of the USA, all of which in one way or another guarantee the right to own slaves as a basic, fundamental right under the constitution. As Calhoun (and Abe Lincoln) well knew and as each repeated constantly throughout the antebellum period, abolition of slavery could be achieved only by state law or constitutional amendment and neither congress nor the president had any right or authority to address, let alone act upon, the matter as a matter of federal constitutional law.

    As to why Calhoun determined slavery as a positive good, he touches upon the idea only superficially. His reasoning coincides with similar ideas expressed at various times by folks like Lincoln. He does not deal, in that speech, with the practical economical and social reasons why slavery had become a necessity not only in the south but also for the federal government and the northern economies that relied so heavily on southern goods for there very survival. By 1860, fully 75% of federal revenues were raised in the south, mostly by tariff and similar laws enacted by the northern controlled Congress. At the same time, 75% of federal spending occurred in the north. The federal government could not survive financially without the revenue raised from taxation of the southern cash crops. Because of the virtually non-existent labor pool in the south, those crops could not be sown, tended, harvested and gotten to market without a guaranteed work force. Due to the filthy, backbreaking nature of the work, the inhospitable climate and the nominal wages that could have been paid to a free workforce, enslaved labor was the only means by which the large tobacco, cotton, flax and rice plantations could survive. Free farmhands could not be counted on; they would have quit with little or no notice when some better opportunity presented itself, or when the work became too much and not worth the pittance they received for it, and the crops would have never been planted, or would have been neglected and would have rotted in the fields. Worse, as the crops rapidly wore out the soil, new fields could not have been cleared to replace those that had become unproductive. The plantations needed the slave to operate and the federal government and northern industrial, banking, financial and money interests needed the plantations and the southern cash cow to maintain their existence and their fortunes. That is why the abolitionists, vocal as they were, never represented anything even remotely approaching a majority.

    The illegal and unconstitutional Confiscation Acts and the equally illegal and unconstitutional and redundant Emancipation Proclamation were not promulgated as moral, humanitarian civil rights measures. They were weapons of war. The ratification of Amendments XIII, XIV and XV were coerced after the war solely for the purpose of insuring the complete and total destruction of the CSA, the southern economy and the southern way of life so as to ensure that the south could not soon rise again.

    Make no mistake: the southern states did not secede in order to protect the right own human chattel and the north did not fight to free the slaves. Abolition came about as a matter of political expedience and as a tool of war. For more on that issue, read the debates surrounding the passage of the Confiscation Acts. Very few outside the vocal cadre of outspoken abolitionists were concerned with the plight of those of African descent.

    On the social side, no one in the north, forget the south, wanted an influx of uneducated, homeless, angry former slaves with no income, no means of support and no marketable job skills into their neighborhoods. Lincoln himself wanted to settle freed slaves in colonies to be established for the purpose in uninhabited areas of Texas and Missouri, on Caribbean islands or in Indian Territory. He did NOT want them settling in Washington DC or in Illinois especially, or in any other white region generally.

    In the north, with its ever increasing influx of immigrants, freed slaves were not a welcome prospect. The immigrants, especially the Irish, were despised and equated with the Africans as a sub-species not capable of participating in government and not entitled to rights of citizenship or equal protection of law and due process. Calhoun did not voice such sentiments as loudly as did the northern intelligentsia, but he did not hide his opinion either. For more one that aspect of the issue, read particularly the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson or candidates of the Know Nothing Party (or its kindred parties: the movement was pervasive, especially in New England, New York and Pennsylvania, but it went by dozens of names - due to the secrecy of membership rolls, it is difficult to identify all of the true initiated Know Nothings, but their philosophy was widespread and their standard was taken up not only by the bastions of political and financial power, but by the hoi poloi as well. After the spate of anti-Irish and anti-Catholic riots, lynchings and burnings of homes, churches and businesses of the Catholics and Irish during the 1830's and 1840's, the abolition movement (in part, at least) turned the focus from those sub-humans and socially and politically undesirable inferior species to those of African heritage. The immigrants were already too much competition for the scarce jobs that were available and due to their sheer numbers, the vast labor pool guaranteed that working conditions would remain deplorable and wages would remain obscenely low. An influx of millions of freed slaves could only exacerbate the already horrendous situation. The "obviously superior" Anglo-Saxon, Teutonic majority of "real Americans" would not tolerated the added competition threatened by the migration of those "African animals" into their realms, and slavery was the only defense against such an invasion.

    While the Irish were merely wage slaves, the Africans, being of a different race and easily identifiable because of physical characteristics and features, could be enslaved by chains. The common conventional wisdom of the era was that the Africans were sub-human and should be treated as such. Read Thomas Jefferson's thoughts on that topic, as well as the treatises of any number of other academicians of the era. From pulpits in the north and south alike (as well as in Europe) those enlightened men of the cloth made it clear that the African race was put on earth by God to serve as the beast of burden of the white race and Man had no right to question, let alone interfere with, God's will.

    At one time or another, Calhoun voiced all of these ideas, as did many of his counterparts in the north. The quote of interest to you was uttered by Calhoun when he forewarned of the inherent danger of allowing Congress to consider an issue over which it had no right, authority or jurisdiction, and he warned that the concession of allowing such a debate, even in committee, could only exacerbate the growing sentiment for secession. His concern was not the abolition of slavery - he knew that Congress could not do that. His concern was the continuing and ever increasing encroachment of the federal government into areas that, as a matter of basic and fundamental constitutional law, were expressly reserved onto the states. He predicted as early as 1837 that if such encroachments continued unabated:

    "It is impossible under the deadly hatred which must spring up between the two great nations, if the present causes are permitted to operate unchecked, that we should continue under the same political system. The conflicting elements would burst the Union asunder, powerful as are the links which hold it together. Abolition and the Union cannot coexist. As the friend of the Union I openly proclaim it and the sooner it is known the better. The former may now be controlled, but in a short time it will be beyond the power of man to arrest the course of events. We of the South will not, cannot, surrender our institutions."

    You can find the actual text of the speech at a number of sources by simply searching "John C Calhoun slavery a positive good", something that either did not occur to you or that you were too lazy to try. You have the most powerful research tool ever conceived by man right there at your fingertips. Learn to use it.

  • 4 years ago

    John Calhoun Quotes

  • 4 years ago

    Calhoun believes that under slavery, the black race has attained a condition of unprecedented civilization and moral, physical, and intellectual improvement, a state vastly superior to its "initially low, degraded, savage conditions

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    When did he say that? But it now benefits the black people because they have affirmative action and can play the race card to get whatever they want.

    Source(s): Obama is president thanks to the race card.
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