The Fort Hill Address

Personalities AE  6
John Calhoun.

John Calhoun, by 1831, had alienated himself from President Andrew Jackson, and he wanted to “head off talk of secession,” and on July 26, 1831, he published his “Fort Hill Address” in a South Carolina newspaper. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 399.

Calhoun, then Vice President, by publishing this article, had stated a strong defense of state sovereignty and states’ rights. He did not see the federal judiciary as an “arbiter of the Constitution.” See id. He also stated that he was not opposed to industrialization or technological progress because he saw them “as laying the solid foundation of a highly improved condition of society, morally and politically.” Id.

However, Calhoun did not trust that the size of America protected it against tyranny, as James Madison had stated in The FederalistSee id.

In Calhoun’s Fort Hill Address, Calhoun also invoked “the authority of Jefferson’s Kentucky Resolutions and Madison’s Virginia Resolutions to the effect that states could interpose their sovereignty and nullify unconstitutional federal legislation.” See id. at 400. Madison, the last of the Founding Fathers, was alive to read Calhoun’s statement of this in the South Carolina Exposition, and he “repudiated it, insisting that the Virginia Resolutions had meant nothing of the kind.” Id. Madison stated that the “Constitution had in fact created a system of divided sovereignty, whatever philosophers might say about sovereignty being indivisible, and that no individual state could nullify a federal law.” Id.

Calhoun was stating a position symptomatic of the first generation following the Founding Fathers. They were part of a generation that was inheriting and applying the system of government that the Founding Fathers had devised. In that way, Calhoun’s generation and every subsequent generation of Americans has had to interpret the true intent of the Founding Fathers in all facets of government.

The only difference in this instance was the fact that James Madison was alive to provide clarification, or at least to defend his words. Regardless, Calhoun clearly represented the southern way of thinking, showing his admiration for states’ rights. The South had embraced this same principle and would come to assert states’ rights in the decades to come. At least some of the justification for this position came from Madison’s words from years past, despite Madison making the intent of his words clear.

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