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A new biography of the intellectual father of Southern secession--the man who set the scene for the Civil War, and whose political legacy still shapes America today. John C. Calhoun is among the most notorious and enigmatic figures in American political history. First elected to Congress in 1810, Calhoun went on to serve as secretary of war and vice president. But he is perhaps most known for arguing in favor of slavery as a "positive good" and for his famous doctrine of "state interposition," which laid the groundwork for the South to secede from the Union--and arguably set the nation on course for civil war. Calhoun has catapulted back into the public eye in recent years, as some observers connected the strain of radical politics he developed to the tactics and extremism of the modern Far Right, and as protests over racial injustice have focused on his legacy. In this revelatory biographical study, historian Robert Elder shows that Calhoun is even more broadly significant than these events suggest, and that his story is crucial for understanding the political climate in which we find ourselves today. By excising Calhoun from the mainstream of American history, he argues, we have been left with a distorted understanding of our past and no way to explain our present.
Basic Books, 9780465096442, 656pp.
Publication Date: February 16, 2021
About the Author
Robert Elder is an assistant professor of history at Baylor University, where his research focuses on the American South, and the author of The Sacred Mirror: Evangelicalism, Honor, and Identity in the American South, 1790-1860. He holds a PhD from Emory University and lives in Woodway, Texas.