Saturday, August 01, 2009

"[T]he result is inevitable - anarchy and despotism"

In his speech of January 4, 1848 explaining his resolutions opposing the continuation of the war against Mexico, South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun next turned to his contentions that continued war “would be in conflict with the genius and character of our institutions, and subversive of our free government.” Calhoun addressed these “two together, as they are so intimately connected.”

There were two possibilities, Calhoun maintained. The first was “to hold Mexico in subjection;” the second, “incorporating her into our Union.” He turned first to the consequences of “hold[ing] Mexico as a subjected province.” The result would be that Mexico would conquer the United States by destroying her liberty:
Mr. President, there are some propositions too clear for argument; and before such a body as the Senate, I should consider it a loss of time to undertake to prove that to hold Mexico as a subjected province would be hostile, and in conflict with our free popular institutions, and in the end subversive of them. Sir, he who knows the American Constitution well – he who has duly studied its character – he who has looked at history, and knows what has been the effect of conquests of free States invariably, will require no proof at my hands to show that it would be entirely hostile to the institutions of the country to hold Mexico as a province. There is not an example on record of any free State even having attempted the conquest of any territory approaching the extent of Mexico without disastrous consequences. The nation conquered have [sic] in time conquered the conquerors by destroying their liberty. That will be our case, sir.

In describing with more particularity how the conquest and subjugation of Mexico would destroy American liberty, Calhoun described two related consequences. First, it would result in the transfer of power from the States to the federal government, leaving the former “mere subordinate corporations”:
The conquest of Mexico would add so vast amount to the patronage of this Government, that it would absorb the whole power of the States in the Union. This Union would become the imperial, and the States mere subordinate corporations.

At the same time, on the federal level, conquest would drain power from the Legislative branch and concentrate it in the Executive:
But the evil will not end there. The process will go on. The same process by which the power would be transferred from the States to the Union, will transfer the whole from this department of the Government (I speak of the Legislature) to the Executive. All the added power and added patronage which conquest will create, will pass to the Executive. In the end, you put in the hands of the Executive the power of conquering you.

Concentrating power in the Executive would be disastrous not only in itself, but also because it would further deform the electoral process. Calhoun seemed to be suggesting that, by making the election of the president all-important, political struggles for the presidency would tear the country apart. As in ancient Rome, a single despot would ultimately emerge:
You give to it [the Executive], sir, such splendor, such ample means, that, with the principle of proscription which unfortunately prevails in our country, the struggle will be greater at every presidential election than our institutions can possibly endure. But the end of it will be, that that branch of Government will become all powerful, and the result is inevitable – anarchy and despotism. It is as certain as that I am this day addressing the Senate.

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