"Stripped of all its covering, the naked question is, whether ours is a federal or consolidated government; a constitutional or absolute one..."
—John C. Calhoun
John C. Calhoun's long political career was predominantly devoted to three issues: war against Britain, defending slavery, and vigorously supporting state's rights. After breaking with President Andrew Jackson over the issue of nullificationThe theory that an individual state can void a federal law if it believes it to be unconstitutional., Calhoun resigned the vice presidency to accept a seat in the U. S. Senate representing his home state of South Carolina. In reaction to the Tariff of 1828A divisive tariff that was supported by the north and opposed to by the south. (termed the "tariff of abominations" by many Southerners), Calhoun pushed South Carolina to the verge of secession in 1833, claiming that the state had the right to nullify any federal law they deemed unconstitutional. A compromise tariff bill authored by Henry ClayA harsh political rival of Andrew Jackson and member of the Whig Party. finally settled the conflict peacefully without Jackson or Calhoun losing political influence.
While serving in the Senate, Calhoun devoted much of his energy to protecting the institution of slavery. With his paternalistic perspective, Calhoun painted slavery as a "positive good" - going well beyond the "necessary evil" argument that was traditionally held by most southern politicians. Whereas the Nullification Crisis centered on a tariff, what really terrified the South was, arguably, the possibility that the federal government would one day outlaw slavery. Until his death in 1850, Calhoun hoped to expand slavery into the western territories and continued to fight against abolitionistsThe abolitionist movement was dedicated to outlawing slavery in the United States., real and imagined, on all fronts.