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Slavery Trumps Democracy

Calhoun defended slavery as best for capitalism. He argued that capitalism without slavery leads to anarchy, and that slavery allows a stable capitalist economy to flourish. When labor is free, he argued, then labor conflicts with capital. When labor is not free, but is owned outright in the form of slavery, conflict disappears:

Where wages command labor, as in the non-slaveholding States, there necessarily takes place between labor and capital a conflict, which leads, in process of time, to disorder, anarchy, and revolution, if not counteracted by some appropriate and strong constitutional provision. Such is not the case in the slaveholding States. There labor and capital are identified. There the high profit of labor, but increases the means of the master to add to the comfort of his slaves, and hence in all conflicts which may occur in the other portions of the Union between labor and capital, the South will ever be found to take the conservative side. (61)

Despite the occurrence of individual and collective slave resistance, Calhoun maintained that capital and labor coexisted harmoniously in the South.

There were some at this time who believed that slavery was a necessary evil, acceptable only for political need or economic advantage. Calhoun was not among them.

He fervently believed that slavery was a "good," and that its benefits extended to black people as well as to white:

Let me not be understood as admitting, even by implication, that the existing relations between the races in the slaveholding states is an evil-far otherwise; I hold it to be a good, as it has thus far proved itself to be both, and will continue to prove so if not disturbed by the fell spirit of abolition. We now believe it [slavery] a great blessing to both of the races-the European and African, which, by a mysterious Providence, have been brought together in the Southern Section of this Union. That one has greatly improved, and the other has not deteriorated; while in a political point of view, it has been the great stay of the Union and our free institutions, and one of the main sources of the unbounded prosperity of the whole. (62)

For Calhoun, slavery posed no moral conflict. Like James Hillhouse, however, Calhoun did recognize a tension between the system of slavery and the Revolutionary ideals of democracy. Calhoun concluded that the ideal of universal equality was wrongheaded:

If our Union and system of government are doomed to perish, and we are to share the fate of so many great people who have gone before us, the historian ... will trace it to a proposition, which originated in a hypothetical truism, but which as now expressed and now understood is the most false and most dangerous of all political errors. The proposition to which I allude has become an axiom in the minds of a vast majority on both sides of the Atlantic, and is repeated daily from tongue to tongue as an established and incontrovertible truth; it is that "All men are born free and equal" ... As understood, there is not a word of truth in it ... It is utterly untrue. (63)

Calhoun denied equality in order to perpetuate slavery.





Calhoun's Slaves

Political Influence

Slavery Trumps


Numbers in parentheses refer to notes. See the notes page.