Note: This entire post is a paraphrase of Calhoun’s work. Direct quotes have been marked as such. Summary Man is a social being and. A Disquisition on Government. By John C. Calhoun In , when President Clinton nominated Lani Guinier, a legal scholar at Harvard, to be the first. A Disquisition on Government [John C. Calhoun, H. Lee Cheek Jr.] on Amazon. com. *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. This volume provides the most.

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Man is left to perfect what the wisdom of the Infinite ordained, as necessary to preserve the race.

In order to form a just estimate of the full force of these advantages—without reference to any other consideration—it must be remembered, that government—to fulfill the ends for which it is ordained, and more especially that of protection against external dangers—must, in the present condition of the world, be clothed with powers sufficient to call forth the resources of the community, and be prepared, at all times, to command them promptly in every emergency which may possibly arise.

It has been already shown, that the same constitution of man which leads those who govern to oppress the governed—if not prevented—will, with equal force and certainty, lead the latter to resist oppression, when possessed of the means of doing so peaceably and successfully. But where there are no means by which they could compel the major party to observe the restrictions, the only resort left them would be, a strict construction of the Edition: To meet the necessary expenses, large sums must be collected and disbursed; and, for this purpose, heavy taxes must be imposed, requiring a multitude of officers for Edition: So powerful, indeed, is this tendency, that it has led to almost incessant wars between contiguous communities for plunder and conquest, or to avenge injuries, real or supposed.

Much time and energy has been devoted to the rise of American constitutionalism and the nature of the American Union in the eighteenth century. In such case, it would be indispensable to success to avoid division and keep united—and hence, from a necessity inherent in the nature of such governments, each party must be alternately forced, in order to insure victory, to resort to measures to concentrate the control over its movements in fewer and fewer hands, as the struggle became more and more violent.

Summary: A Disquisition On Government by John C. Calhoun | Craig W. Wright

In asserting that our individual are stronger than our social feelings, it is not intended to deny that there are instances, growing out of peculiar relations — as that of a mother and her infant — or resulting from the force of education and habit over peculiar constitutions, in which the latter have overpowered the former; but these instances are few, and always regarded as something extraordinary.

A perfect government of the kind would be one which would embrace the consent of every citizen or member of the community; but as this is impracticable, in the opinion of those who regard the numerical as the only majority, and who can perceive no other way by which the sense of the people can be taken — they are compelled to adopt this as the only true basis of popular government, in contradistinction to governments of the aristocratical or monarchical form.

The assertion is true in reference to all constitutional governments, be their forms what they may. The reason applies to government in all its forms—whether it be that of the one, the few, or the many. The brilliance of his mind and the power of his rhetoric made him the natural and unchallenged spokesman for South Carolina and many elements in the South. For they who fall into these errors regard the restrictions which organism imposes on the will of the numerical majority as restrictions on the will of the people, and, therefore, as not only useless, but wrongful and mischievous.

But one regards numbers only, and considers the whole community as a unit, having but one common interest throughout; and collects the sense of the greater number of the whole, as that of the community. It may be readily inferred, from what has been stated, that the effect of organism is neither to supersede nor diminish the importance of the right of suffrage; but to aid and perfect it. The force sufficient to overthrow an oppressive government is usually sufficient to establish one equally, or more, oppressive in its place.


But the effect of this is to place them in antagonistic relations, in reference to the fiscal action of the government, and the entire course of policy therewith connected. This, indeed, may be carried to such an extent, that one class or portion of the community may be elevated to wealth and power, and the other depressed to abject poverty and dependence, simply by the fiscal action of the government; and this too, through disbursements only—even under a system of equal taxes imposed for revenue only.

That which corrupts and debases the community, politically, must also corrupt and debase it morally. The Discourse traces the constitutional foundation for the concurrent majority in the American political tradition and argues for its restoration as the only means to resolve the constitutional and political crisis facing the Union.


John C. Calhoun, A Disquisition on Government – PhilPapers

Such being the case, it necessarily results, that the right of suffrage, by placing the control of the government in the community disquisitikn But that constitution of our nature which makes us feel more intensely what affects us directly than what affects us indirectly through others, necessarily leads to conflict between individuals. Much of his energy in his last years was devoted to writing what was to become the Disquisition and the Discourse.

Both works reveal a philosopher whose preference for metaphysical discourse is unmistakable. The process may be slow, and much time may be required before a compact, organized majority can be thus formed; but formed it will be in time, even without preconcert or design, by the sure workings of joh principle or constitution of our nature in which government itself originates.

It is thus, that, in such governments, devotion to party becomes stronger than devotion to country—the promotion of the interests of party more important than the promotion of the common good of the whole, and its triumph and ascendency, objects of far greater solicitude, than the safety and prosperity of the community.

That, by which this is prevented, by whatever name called, is what is meant by constitution, in its most comprehensive sense, when applied to government. In the course of the Disquisition, Calhoun argues that the principles of government are as certain and as unquestionable as the laws of gravitation or astronomy.

On the contrary, the line between the two forms, in popular governments, is so imperfectly understood, that honest and sincere friends of the constitutional form not unfrequently, instead of jealously watching and arresting their tendency to degenerate into their absolute forms, not only regard it with approbation, but employ all their powers to add to its strength and to increase its impetus, in the vain hope of making the government more perfect and popular.

Neither religion nor education can counteract the strong tendency of the numerical majority to corrupt and debase the people. The concurrent majority, since it would discourage aggrandizement by particular interests, would tend to bring the community together.

A disquisition on government

It may be further affirmed, that, being more favorable to the enlargement and security of liberty, governments of the concurrent, must necessarily be more favorable to progress, development, improvement, and civilization — and, of course, to the increase of power which results from, and depends on these, than those of the numerical majority.

Even when the oppression of the government comes to be too great to be borne, and force is resorted to in order to overthrow it, the result is rarely ever followed by the establishment of liberty. The government would gradually pass from the hands of the majority of the party into those of its leaders; as the struggle became more intense, and the honors and emoluments of the government the all-absorbing objects.

In such case, it would be indispensable to success to avoid division and keep united — and hence, from a necessity inherent in the nature of such governments, each party must be alternately forced, in order to insure victory, to resort to measures to concentrate the control over its movements in fewer and fewer hands, as the struggle became more and more violent.


Both are, however, necessary to the existence and well-being of our race, and equally of Divine ordination. The deep impression they make, whenever they occur, is the strongest proof that they are regarded as exceptions to some general and well understood law of our nature; just as some of the minor powers of the material world are apparently to gravitation. As, then, there never was such a state as the, so-called, state of nature, and never can be, it follows, that men, instead of being born in it, are born in the social and political state; and of course, instead of being born free and equal, are born subject, not only to parental authority, but to the laws and institutions of the country where born, and under whose protection they draw their first breath.

It is thus, also, that the numerical majority, by regarding the community as a unit, and having, as such, the same interests throughout all its parts, must, by its necessary operation, divide it into two hostile parts, waging, under the forms of law, incessant hostilities against each other.

Online Library of Liberty

This principle, in constitutional governments, is compromise — and in absolute governments, is force — as will be next explained. Calhoun considered the concurrent majority essential to provide structural restraints to governance, believing that “a vast majority of mankind is entirely biased by givernment of self-interest and that by diaquisition interest must be governed”. The causes calculated to enlarge the one and contract the other, are numerous and various.

I refer to their respective conservative principle—that is, the principle by which they are upheld and preserved. I next assume, also, as a fact not less incontestable, that, while man disqulsition so constituted as to make the social state necessary to his existence and the full development of his faculties, this state itself cannot exist without government.

The ultimate logic of his own doctrine of nullification, secession, was taken up as a solution by many in the South. The two are the opposites of each other. In no instance have any cakhoun been governemnt without at least one or more primary documents to support such an alteration.

Such being the case, it necessarily results, that the right of suffrage, by placing the control of the government in the community must, from the same constitution of our nature which makes government valhoun to preserve society, lead to conflict among its different interests—each striving to obtain possession of its powers, as the means of protecting itself against the others—or of advancing its respective interests, regardless of the interests of others.

And hence, in no governments, except those that rest on the principle of the concurrent or constitutional majority, can the people guard their liberty against power; and hence, also, when lost, the great difficulty and uncertainty of regaining it by force. For of all the causes which contribute to form the character of a governmenr, those by which power, influence, and standing in the government are most certainly and readily governmdnt, are, by far, the most powerful.

And hence they endeavor to destroy organism, under the delusive hope of making government more democratic. A broader position may, indeed, be taken; viz. He was the pure and unsullied patriot, ready to sacrifice position, honors, life itself for the liberties of his country; or he was the very image of Lucifer—the archangel fallen, damned forever to the bottomless pit by his own overmastering ambition.

In a more advanced stage, when communities had passed from the calhouh to the civilized state, discipline, strategy, weapons of increased power, and money — as the means of meeting increased expense — became additional and important elements.