Wednesday, June 24, 2009

John Calhoun's Pakenham Letter: What Did Calhoun Know?

A postscript to my previous post about John C. Calhoun’s Pakenham Letter.

As you have seen, one issue underlying any analysis of Calhoun’s actions is whether the annexation treaty had any realistic chance of passage in the first place. If passage were likely, then Calhoun’s decision to write the letter looks more like an attempt to unite the south, consequences be damned. If on the other hand, passage was not in the cards in the first place, well then the letter might be seen as a long-shot attempt to shake things up.

The eventual vote on the treaty suggests that the chances for passage of the treaty, even without the Pakenham Letter, were slim and none – and slim, as they say, had just left town. Remember that, because the annexation document was in the form of a treaty, it needed to pass by a 2-1 margin (two-thirds of those voting). In fact, it was rejected by more than a 2-1 majority:

For Against
Northern Dems 5- 7
Northern Whigs 0- 13
Southern Dems 10- 1
Southern Whigs 1- 14
Total 16- 35

John Calhoun was one smart guy. I think it's safe to say that he knew that the treaty was DOA when he wrote the Pakenham Letter.

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