Front Page Titles (by Subject) PUBLIC LETTER TO J[OHN] BAUSKETT AND OTHERS, EDGEFIELD DISTRICT, S.C. - Union and Liberty: The Political Philosophy of John C. Calhoun
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PUBLIC LETTER TO J[OHN] BAUSKETT AND OTHERS, EDGEFIELD DISTRICT, S.C. - John C. Calhoun, Union and Liberty: The Political Philosophy of John C. Calhoun 
Union and Liberty: The Political Philosophy of John C. Calhoun, ed. Ross M. Lence (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1992).
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PUBLIC LETTER TO J[OHN] BAUSKETT AND OTHERS, EDGEFIELD DISTRICT, S.C.
Having successfully overthrown the protective tariff and having checked the dangerous tendencies toward usurpation on the part of both the legislative and executive branches of government, many Southerners believed that the dangers to liberty had abated. By 1837, however, it had become apparent to Calhoun that the relief the South had won for itself would only be temporary if the banking system were allowed to ally itself with the government—a combination of money and power that was certain to lead to a centralization of the currency, commerce, and capital of the country in a manner far more detrimental to the South than any other previous issue of public policy. In an effort to offset that concentration of power and to counteract the corruption and inefficiency of the league of state banks supported by General Jackson, Calhoun grudgingly argued in favor of the restoration of a national bank.
Frustrated by the charges of men such as Clay and Webster that his public position was inconsistent and driven by political expediency, Calhoun penned the Edgefield Letter to a number of influential constituents from his home state of South Carolina to explain his position on the question of a national bank. The Edgefield Letter, then, presents us with a synopsis of the complex nature of the bank within the context of sectional politics. It also allows us to understand both the reasons for Calhoun’s decision to return to the ranks of the Democratic Party and for his enormous distrust of both the Jackson and the Van Buren administrations.
Gentlemen: It is with very great reluctance I decline your kind invitation to partake of a public dinner. From no quarter, and on no occasion, could an expression of approbation be more acceptable, but so short is the interval between this and the next regular session of Congress, and so indispensable is it, that I should devote it exclusively to my domestic concerns, preparatory to my long absence from home, that I am compelled to decline the honor intended.
In saying that on no occasion could the expression of your confidence be more welcome, I intend no unmeaning common place. During the long period of my public service, never have I seen a more important crisis, than the present, and in none have I ever been compelled, in the discharge of my duty, to assume a greater responsibility. I saw clearly on my arrival at Washington, at the commencement of the late extra session, that our affairs had reached the point, when, according to the course we might take, we should reap the full harvest of our long and arduous struggle against the encroachments and abuses of the general government, or lose the fruits of all our labour. I clearly saw, that our bold and vigorous attacks had made a deep and successful impression. State interposition had overthrown the protective tariff and with it the American system, and put a stop to congressional usurpation; and the joint attacks of our party and that of our old opponents, the national republicans, had effectually brought down the power of the executive, and arrested its encroachments for the present. It was for that purpose, we had united. True to our principles of opposition to the encroachment of power, from whatever quarter it might come, we did not hesitate, after overthrowing the protective system and arresting legislative usurpation, to join the authors of that system, in order to arrest the encroachments of the executive, although we differed as widely as the poles on almost every other question, and regarded the usurpation of the executive, but as a necessary consequence of the principles and policy of our new allies. In joining them, we were not insensible to the embarrassment of our position. With such allies, success was difficult, and victory itself, without a change of principles and policy on their part, dangerous; and, accordingly, while we united with them against the executive, we refused all participation in the presidential contest. But, with all its embarrassments, it was the only practicable course left us, short of abandoning our principles, or the country, by retiring altogether from the field of contest. In this embarrassing position, we waited the development of events, with the fixed determination, that let what might come, we would inflexibly pursue the course, which a regard to our principles; and the success of our cause demanded.
Such was the position we occupied, from 1833, when our contest with the general government terminated, to the commencement of the late extra session, when it became manifest a great change had been effected, which could not but have a powerful influence over our future course. It soon became apparent after the meeting of Congress, that the joint resistance of ourselves and our late allies in conjunction with the course of events in reference to the currency, had brought down the lofty pretensions of the executive department. The union between the government and the money power, which had so greatly strengthened those in authority at first had not only ceased, but they were forced to take ground against the reunion of the two, and to make war against those very banks, which had been the instruments of their power and aggrandizement. Forced to take this position, and divested in a great measure of patronage and influence from the exhausted state of the treasury, they were compelled to fall back, as the only means of saving themselves, on the principles of 1827, by which we had ejected from office the national republican party, and to which our portion of the old party of ’27 have inflexibly adhered, but from which, the other, adhering to the administration, had so greatly departed in practice. As soon as I saw this state of things, I clearly perceived, that a very important question was presented for our determination, which we were compelled to decide forthwith; shall we continue our joint attack, with the nationals, on those in power, in the new position, which they have been compelled to occupy? It was clear, with our joint forces, we could utterly overthrow and demolish them, but it was not less clear, that the victory would inure, not to us, but exclusively to the benefit of our allies and their cause. They were the most numerous and powerful, and the point of assault on the position, which the party to be assaulted had taken in relation to the banks, would have greatly strengthened the settled principles and policy of the national party, and weakened, in the same degree, ours. They are, and ever have been, the decided advocates of a national bank, and are now in favor of one, with a capital so ample, as to be sufficient to control the state institutions, and to regulate the currency and exchanges of the country. To join them, with their avowed object in the attack, to overthrow those in power, on the ground they occupied against a bank, would, of course, not only have placed the government and country in their hands without opposition, but would have committed us, beyond the possibility of extrication, for a bank, and absorbed our party in the ranks of the national republicans. The first fruits of the victory, would have been an overshadowing national bank, with an immense capital, not less than from fifty to an hundred millions, which would have centralized the currency and exchanges, and with them, the commerce and capital of the country, in whatever section the head of the institution might be placed. The next would be the indissoluble union of the political and money power in the hands of our old political opponents, whose principles and policy are so opposite to ours, and so dangerous to our institutions as well as oppressive to us.
Such clearly would have been the inevitable result if we had joined in the assault on those in power, in the position they had been constrained to occupy; and he must indeed be blind—all past experience must be lost to him, who does not see, that so infatuated a course would have been fatal to us and ours. The connection between the government and the bank would, by necessary consequence in the hands of that party, have led to a renewal of that system of unequal and oppressive legislation, which have impoverished the staple states, and from which we have escaped with such peril and difficulty. The bank, when united with the government, is the natural ally of high duties and extravagant expenditure. The greater the revenue and the more profuse the disbursements, the greater its circulation and the more ample its deposits. This tendency on the part of that institution, and the known principles and views of policy of the party, would have co-operated, with irresistible force, to renew the system we have pulled down with so much labour, with an aggravation of its oppression far beyond any thing we have ever yet experienced, and thus the fruits of all our exertions and struggles against the system, would have been lost—forever lost.
By taking the opposite course, the reverse of all this will follow, if our states rights party be but firmly united and true to their principles. Never was there before, and never, probably, will there be again, so fair an opportunity to carry out fully our principles and policy, and to reap the fruits of our long and arduous struggle. By keeping the banks and the government separated, we effectually prevent the centralization of the currency and exchanges of the country at any one point, and, of course, the commerce and the capital, leaving each to enjoy that portion which its natural advantages, with its industry and enterprise may command. By refusing to join our late allies in their attack on those in power, where they have sheltered themselves, we prevent the complete ascendency of the party and their principles, which must have followed, and gain the only opportunity we could have of rallying anew the old states rights party of 1827, on the ground they then occupied, as an opposing power, to hold in check their old opponents, the national republican party. It would also give us the chance of effecting, what is still more important to us, the union of the entire South. The southern division of the administration party must reoccupy the old state rights ground. They have no alternative; and unless we, who have so long and under so many difficulties adhered to it, shall now desert our stand, the South must be united. If once united, we will rally round the old state rights party all in every section, who are opposed to consolidation, or the overaction of the central government; and the political parties will again be formed on the old and natural division of state rights and national, which divided them at the commencement of the government, and which experience has shown is that division of party most congenial to our system, and most favorable to its successful operation.
As obvious as all this must appear, I felt, that I assumed a heavy responsibility in taking the course I did. It was impossible, that all the circumstances and motives, under which I acted, could at once be generally understood, and, of course, the part I was compelled to take was liable to be misconceived and grossly misrepresented. We had been so long contending against the abuses and encroachments of the executive power, as to forget that they originated in the prior abuses and encroachments of Congress, and were accordingly exclusively intent on expelling from office, those who had acquired and exercised their authority in a manner so dangerous, without reflecting into whose hands the power would go, and what principles and policy would gain the ascendency. With this state of feelings on the part of our friends, I saw it was impossible to take a position, which, by consequence, was calculated to cover those in power, however urgent the cause, without occasioning a shock, in the first instance, and the imputation of unworthy motives, to meet which, however transient the misapprehension might be, required some resolution and firmness. But there were other, and far greater causes of responsibility, to which this was as nothing. Of all the interests in the community, the banking is by far the most influential and formidable—the most active; and the most concentrating and pervading; and of all the points, within the immense circle of this interest, there is none, in relation to which the banks are more sensitive and tenacious, than their union with the political power of the country. This is the source of a vast amount of their profits, and of a still larger portion of their respectability and influence. To touch their interest on this tender point is to combine all in one united and zealous opposition, with some exceptions in our portion of the community, where the union of the two powers acts injuriously to the banking, as well as the commercial and other great interests of the section. To encounter so formidable an opposition, supported by a powerful political party with whom I had been acting for some years against entire power, and who regarded the union of the government and the banks as essential to the union of the states themselves, was to assume a heavy responsibility, under the most favorable circumstances; but to back and sustain those in such opposition, in whose wisdom, firmness and patriotism, I have no reason to confide, and over whom I have no control, is to double that responsibility. This responsibility, I have voluntarily assumed. Desiring neither office, nor power, and having nothing to hope personally from the movement, no motive, but the disastrous political consequences, which I clearly saw must follow from any other course, to the country, and its institutions generally, and our section in particular, and a deep sense of duty, could have induced me to take the step I did. That it has met the approbation of so respectable a portion of my old constituents and friends, to whose early and steadfast support, under every trial and difficulty I am so much indebted, is a source of deep gratification which I shall long remember and acknowledge. With great respect, I am, &c.
J. C. Calhoun.