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A new biography of the intellectual father of Southern secession - the man who set the scene for the Civil War, and whose political legacy still shapes America today.

John C. Calhoun is among the most notorious and enigmatic figures in American political history. First elected to Congress in 1810, Calhoun went on to serve as secretary of war and vice president. But he is perhaps most known for arguing in favor of slavery as a "positive good" and for his famous doctrine of "state interposition", which laid the groundwork for the South to secede from the Union - and arguably set the nation on course for civil war. 

Calhoun has catapulted back into the public eye in recent years, as the strain of radical politics he developed has found expression once again in the tactics and extremism of the modern Far Right. In this revelatory biographical study, historian Robert Elder shows that Calhoun is crucial for understanding the political climate in which we find ourselves today. By excising him from the mainstream of American history, we have been left with a distorted understanding of our past and no way to explain our present.

©2021 Robert Elder (P)2021 Hachette Audio

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  • 総合評価
    4 out of 5 stars
  • ナレーション
    4 out of 5 stars
  • ストーリー
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Kindle Customer
  • 2021/07/19

How a nationalist became the father of secession.

How a nationalist became the intellectual father of pro-slavery secession.

Former vice-president, Secretary of War, State, and senator from South Carolina, John C. Calhoun, is one of the most curious figures in American history. Early in his career he was an ardent nationalist, desiring a stronger national government to defend against foreign influence. But he's best known for his later defense of slavery as a positive good providing much of the intellectual underpinning for Southern secessionism.

Of late he's become a bogeyman for both the left and right with both sides claiming at various times that the other side is acting like Calhoun the secessionist. On the one hand this is odd because Calhoun died in 1850, well before the Confederacy seceded. So while it's easy to fault Calhoun for his defenses of slavery, he was never, strictly speaking, a Confederate or secessionist.

Robert Elder's new extensive biography does a wonderful job of tracing Calhoun's intellectual development and transition. As mentioned, his early political thought was decidedly nationalist. America needed defending from foreign (read: European) states bent on taking advantage of the new nation and Calhoun was at the forefront of that, trying to ensure protective tariffs for American industry (north and south).

That desire to protect Americans slowly morphed into a sectional conflict between North and South as the impact of tariffs was felt very differently between the two. Wrapped up in all this was the South's reliance on chattel slavery to maintain their economic (and political) position. Elder does a fine job showing how Calhoun's focus slowly shifted from defending "America" writ large to the portion of America that he thought most embodied the Jeffersonian ideal (agrarian Southern).

Elder also helps the reader understand that while Calhoun became synonymous with firebrand defenses of slavery, he didn't start as such a firebrand. While secession and threats thereof has a deep history in the US from all corners -- Calhoun's defenses of slavery were, for most of his career, muted and in line with much of his Southern contemporaries and Founders -- that slavery was an evil and unfortunate institution that had to be accommodated to ensure a break from England and one that everyone would hope would just go away quietly.

As that attitude shifted, at least in the north, from passive opposition to slavery to the more moralistic abolitionist movement, the defenses of slavery became that much more "active" and started to describe it as a positive good for all involved rather than a tolerable evil.

What's most fascinating about Elder's biography is Calhoun's very nuanced theories of constitutional legitimacy and how to ensure the protection of (political) minority rights. Calhoun's theory of the "concurrent" majority--i.e. the only real way to check a purely majoritarian rule is by granting near-veto power to substantial interests/sections within a population. While it was marshalled primarily in defense of an odious practice by arguing that the interests of the various Southern classes called for the preservation of slavery, the fact that it has been used (at least implicitly, because nobody wants to quote Calhoun favorably), by both sides of the political spectrum either as a way (on the left) to promote identity politics or as a way (on the right) to check the numerical majority, the fact remains that, as Elder closes, we have much to learn from John C. Calhoun, and erasing him from our collective historical memories, or only remembering him as a caricature, does everyone a disservice.

  • 総合評価
    4 out of 5 stars
  • ナレーション
    4 out of 5 stars
  • ストーリー
    4 out of 5 stars
  • steve thomas
  • 2021/04/03

Good Bio

Glad to find this new bio on Audible as the Coit one is outdated. After a slow start (apparently not much is known about his early life), I found this to be quite good. Calhoun began as a nationalist who supported the 2nd Bank of US, internal improvements and even tariffs. When SC politics took a hard turn against tariffs in the 1820's, Calhoun nimbly shifted gears and became pro States-rights and the foremost advocate of nullification. In the 1830's as a strong abolitionist movement emerged Calhoun led the shift from defending slavery as a necessary evil to embracing slavery as a positive good. The rest of his career was devoted to the pro-south, pro-slavery cause including his short stint as Secretary of State where he took on the British empire for it's anti-slavery tilt.

The narration is choppy and there's lots of misplaced emphasis like "war making-powers" instead of "war-making powers" but I gave it 4 stars because the narrator has a nice soothing voice which goes a long way.

  • 総合評価
    4 out of 5 stars
  • ナレーション
    3 out of 5 stars
  • ストーリー
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Christopher
  • 2021/03/16

A Complicated Figure

This is an excellent biography of Calhoun, one that offers an even-handed treatment of a very problematic historical figure. Elder casts Calhoun as neither an untouchable giant nor as a villain to be cast away; instead, he presents us with a richly complicated human picture of someone who, at his best, grew the institutions that would one day blossom into fixtures of America, and who, at his worst, represented a toxic form of white supremacy whose poisonous effects are still felt in the present day.

The narrator in this recording has a great voice, but his readings feel oddly unnatural at times, offering weird pauses and inflection points that break the rhythm of the sentence. It didn’t deter me from listening, but it was noticeable.

Overall, I’d recommend this book to anyone trying to understand a complicated figure from America’s past and the long shadow he casts on its present.

  • 総合評価
    5 out of 5 stars
  • ナレーション
    4 out of 5 stars
  • ストーリー
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Robert N. Driscoll
  • 2021/03/10

Loved it. Thorough and I learned a great deal.

Calhoun is a tough subject to tackle because it is tempting to let the awfulness of the cause he served be the only thing that matters. I found the treatment of him complete and nuanced without obscuring or avoiding his connection to slavery. I'm glad I took the time with this. I did think the narration was a touch uneven, as though someone went back and dropped in sentences or paragraphs occasionally.

  • 総合評価
    5 out of 5 stars
  • ナレーション
    5 out of 5 stars
  • ストーリー
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Bookworm
  • 2021/06/04

Excellent

If you are interested in the early political and constitutional development of America, this is a book for you. If you are interested in understanding Calhoun and how he formed his beliefs, this is also a book for you. I found it very enlightening and worthy of my time. Well structured and excellent narration.

  • 総合評価
    4 out of 5 stars
  • ナレーション
    1 out of 5 stars
  • ストーリー
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Dan Kremer
  • 2021/05/20

A good biography spoiled (almost)

Excellent biography, terrible narration. Inappropriate pauses, pronunciation and emphasis throughout. A computer reading would have been better.

  • 総合評価
    4 out of 5 stars
  • ナレーション
    4 out of 5 stars
  • ストーリー
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Nana Landgraf
  • 2021/04/26

Excellent book and performance

I’m trying to give it five stars in all categories but phone not cooperating. I got this book because of review in The Economist. Otherwise never would have touched it. Dislike his ideas and his effect on US and our history. But he’s a complex man. And the reading was good too, straightforward, fitting to the subject and my tastes.

  • 総合評価
    4 out of 5 stars
  • ナレーション
    1 out of 5 stars
  • ストーリー
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Amazon Customer
  • 2021/04/15

Excellent book ruined by poor narration

The book is important, erudite and analytical. Unfortunately the reading by Rick Perez is very poor, strained and mechanical, communicating a lack of comprehension and appreciation of the book. Difficult to understand the choice of this reader by Audible.