Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Mr. T. Calls Out Mr. C.

In my periodic posts about John C. Calhoun and Mexico, I most recently reviewed the Senator’s February 9, 1847 speech advocating an immediate end to the war. Days later, a Democratic Senator condemned Calhoun as a hypocrite.

The accuser in question was one of the more obscure Senators of the period (at least to me). Hopkins L. Turney. Democrat of Tennessee, served a single term in the Senate, from 1845 to 1851.

On February 12, 1847, Sen. Turney delivered remarks in the Senate in which he, among other things, accused Calhoun and others of blocking measures necessary to support the war and the army in the field. In the process, he portrayed Calhoun (without naming him) and unnamed allies as constituting “a party . . . that might properly be termed the Balance of Power party.” This party, Turney suggested, sided now with the Democrats, now with the Whigs, in order to bolster the presidential aspirations of its leader.

Calhoun adamantly denied that his views and votes were “governed by the paltry and miserable consideration of being President of the United States.” Calhoun maintained that he voted at different times in accord with different parties precisely because he was he was not part of “the wretched system of caucusing, which has created in every State a party of men who work in concert to get offices for purposes of plunder.” He was “an independent Senator, governed by my own views, going for the good of the country, uncontrolled by anything which mortal man can bring to bear upon me.”

As for the war, Calhoun had not voted for it on the merits. “I saw in this very war what every man now begins to see – consequences which deterred me; and we are not at the bottom yet.”

In reply, Turney twisted the knife. Had not Calhoun been a principal advocate of annexation of Texas with a boundary of the Rio Grande? Was it not inevitable that annexation would lead to war? In fact, Turney maintained, Calhoun “had done more to bring this country into war now than any other man in the United States.”
[T]he annexation of Texas produced the war. . . . After that act war was inevitable. It was . . . predicted by the Whigs. . . . The Senator from South Carolina had done more to bring it about than any other man in the United States, for he had effected the annexation. He voted to recognize the independence of Texas in General Jackson’s time, and had been very influential in bringing annexation about subsequently. As Secretary of State, he had concluded the treaty with the republic of Texas by which she was to be annexed to the United States. He (Mr. T.) had never read that paper, but he understood that it extended the territory of Texas to the Rio Grande.

After an uproar and call to order, Sen. Turney resumed his indictment:
[T]he Senator from South Carolina did more to bring the war upon the country than any other man in the United States. What then? Texas was annexed. After she was annexed, it was declared by her Minister that annexation would be regarded as an act of hostility. He demanded his passports, and returned to Mexico. The United States Government sent their Minister to Mexico, with powers to negotiate all these matters, and Mexico refused to receive him. She then sent her army to the frontier, and invaded the territory of the United States. She claimed the whole of Texas; and yet the Senator voted against the bill, passed at the last session, giving men and money to resist the invasion, on the ground, as he (Mr. T.) understood, that the preamble of that bill was not true. That preamble asserted that the war had been brought about by Mexico.

It is worth stopping to note that Sen. Turney’s description of Calhoun’s actions and positions in the earlier session is not entirely correct. Calhoun did not vote against the bill; he abstained. Although Calhoun’s objection to the bill did focus on the preamble, Turney garbles the substance of Calhoun’s complaint. These events were the subject of an earlier post.

Turney then drew, or at least implied, his conclusion. “[S]ome powerful motive” – presumably thirst for the presidency – was responsible for Calhoun’s inconsistent positions:
Now, it would seem to him (Mr. T.) to require some powerful motive to induce anybody to bring his country into the war, and then, after getting her into the war, to back out of it, if not to denounce it as unjust and unconstitutional in direct terms!

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