Thursday, July 23, 2009

"To no act in my life do I revert with more entire satisfaction"

John C. Calhoun responded immediately to the accusations that Sen. Hopkins L. Turney made in the Senate on February 12, 1847. Calhoun’s reply includes the only explanation he ever gave, to the best of my knowledge, as to why he cast the drive to annex Texas as a pro-slavery measure. By inference, it is only occasion on which he suggested, at least indirectly, why he sent the Pakenham Letter, which I discussed in several previous posts.

Calhoun’s defense of his conduct embraced a number of topics. He again adamantly denied, for example, that his actions or votes had been influenced by a desire for the presidency. He also vigorously denied the claim that he had not voted in favor of bills providing the troops in the field with provisions and other support.

Turning to the question of his actions in connection with the annexation of Texas, Calhoun initially provided only a brief defense: annexation was a “pure necessity.” When he expressed doubt that the Senate wanted to take the time to hear further explanation, his colleagues urged him to continue:
[Sen. Turney] spoke of the responsibility for the war as arising from the annexation of Texas. I take a deep interest in the measure of annexation, and to no act in my life do I revert with more entire satisfaction. Annexation at that time, according to my opinion, was a question of pure necessity. I might go into this matter if it would not occupy the time of the Senate. (Cries of “go on”).

Apparently satisfied that the Senate was prepared to hear him out, Calhoun continued. He began by discussing his decision to accept the position of Secretary of State following the death of Abel P. Upshur on February 28, 1844. Calhoun tacitly admitted that he was aware of the secret treaty negotiations with the Republic of Texas in which John Tyler and Upshur had been involved. The president, a political outcast, desperately needed help to pass what Calhoun then viewed as “a very important measure”:

According to my view, the time was not propitious in one aspect.

The then President had no party in either House. I am not certain he had a single supporter in this [i.e., the Senate]; and not more than four or five in the other. It appeared to me to be a very unpropitious moment, under such circumstances, to carry through so important a measure. When it was intimated to me that I would be nominated for the office of Secretary of State, I strongly remonstrated against it to my friends here [in Washington]; but before my remonstrance reached them [Calhoun was in South Carolina at the time] I was unanimously appointed, and was compelled to accept. I saw that the Administration was weak, and that that very important measure would be liable to be defeated.

Merrill D. Peterson points out the many incentives that Calhoun had in March 1844 to accept the post of Secretary of State:
Calhoun accepted with such alacrity because he saw an opportunity to serve the South and the Union by the consummation of Texas annexation and settlement of the Oregon boundary. And who can doubt that he also saw an opportunity, as James G. Blaine later suggested, to exact "an historic revenge which the noblest minds might indulge" on Martin Van Buren?

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