A Disquisition on Government and a Discourse on the Constitution and Government of the United States.

Author: John C. Calhoun, edited by Richard K. Cralle.

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Last Updated: December 24, 2016
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Publisher's Commentary: During the agitation preceding the Compromise of 1850, John C. Calhoun, U.S. Senator from South Carolina, hastily wrote these two essays, one on civil government in general, and the other on the United States Constitution. Calhoun was a key player in the Senate at the time, but died in early 1850 before the Compromise was settled, and before he had an opportunity to review and edit these works.

In spite of the rough and unedited form, these works show an unmistakable brilliance. Alexander Stephens, in Constitutional View of the War Between the States, Volume 1, Colloquy 7, says this of Calhoun and these essays: "Government he considered a science, and in its study his whole soul was absorbed. His Treatise on the Constitution of the United States is the best that was ever penned upon that subject, and his Disquisition on Government generally, is one of the few books of this age, that will outlive the language in which it was written."

Some of the interesting and provoking topics explored in these pages are:

  • An overview of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, in both their absolute and constitutional forms.
  • A contrast of numerical majority (absolute form of democracy) versus concurrent majority (parliamentary form of democracy), using the Roman and British constitutions as examples of the latter.
  • Comments about the conflicts between the state and federal judiciaries.
  • A contrast of the philosophies and views of Hamilton and Jefferson.
  • A discussion of the electoral college, its difficulties, and its unintended consequences.
  • A discussion of the tariff issues of the 1820s and 1830s and the concept of nullification.

Other Editions:

  • Archive.org (multiple digital image formats and OCR'd text)