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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The broader position on this is that all constitutional governments, whether of the one, few, or many, have a tendency to degenerate into their absolute forms. The right of suffrage, disquieition itself, can do no more than give complete control to those who elect, over the conduct of those they have elected.

Government must be able to repel assaults from abroad, as well as to repress violence and disorders within. 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.

The object of the latter is, to collect the sense of the community. Nor can it be done by limiting the powers of government, so as to make it too feeble to be made an instrument of abuse; for, passing by the difficulty of so limiting its powers, without creating a power higher than the government itself to enforce the observance of the limitations, it is a sufficient objection that it would, if practicable, defeat the end for which government is ordained, by making it too feeble to protect and preserve society.

These are the objects most eagerly sought of all others by the talented and aspiring; and the possession of which commands the greatest respect and admiration. From this there results another distinction, which, although secondary in its character, very strongly marks the difference between these forms of government. No reason, indeed, can be assigned, why the latter would abuse their power, which would not apply, with equal force, to the former.

Neither would be able to retain power beyond some fixed term; for those seeking office and patronage would become too numerous to be rewarded by the offices and patronage at the disposal of the government; and these being the sole objects of pursuit, the disappointed would, at the next succeeding election, throw their weight into the opposite scale, in the hope of better success at the next turn of the wheel.

For this purpose, a struggle will take place between the various interests to obtain a majority, in order to control the government. If it do not, it will prove, in practice, to be, not a constitution, but a cumbrous and useless machine, which must be speedily superseded and laid aside, for some other more simple, and better suited to their condition.

Surely the question is strikingly relevant to the United States at the opening of the twenty-first century, when the country seems evenly divided between the Blue and Red parties, post-modernists and traditionalists, urbanites and rural people, whites and nonwhites an application Lani Guinier perceived even before the election.

I refer to their respective conservative principle—that is, the principle by which they are upheld and preserved. Freehlingis how a compromise would be achieved in the aftermath of a minority veto, when the ubiquitous demagogues betray their constituencies and abandon the concurrent majority altogether.


The object of the latter is, to collect the sense of the community. In no age or country has any society or community ever been found, whether enlightened or savage, without government of some description.

Liberty and security are the indispensable elements that leave each member of a society free to develop his intellectual and moral facilities. To show that such must be the case, and at the same time to mark more strongly the difference between the two, in order to guard against the danger of overlooking it, I propose to consider the subject more at length.

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.

But to create such employments, by disbursements, is to bestow on the portion of the community to whose lot the disbursements may fall, a far more durable and lasting benefit—one that would add much more to its wealth and population—than would the bestowal of an equal sum gratuitously: Liberty leaves each free to pursue the course he may deem best to promote his interest and happiness, as far as it may be compatible with the primary end for which government is ordained — while security gives assurance to each, that he shall not be deprived of the fruits of his exertions to better his condition.

Nor would the fact that the former would constitute a majority of the community, counteract a tendency originating in the constitution of man; and which, as such, cannot depend on the number by whom the powers of the government may be wielded.

It can do no more, however enlightened the people, or however widely extended or well guarded the right may be.

That the numerical majority will divide the community, let it be ever so homogeneous, into two great parties, which will be engaged in perpetual struggles to obtain the control of the government, has already been established.

It is, then, manifest, taking the whole process together, that taxes must be, in effect, bounties to that portion of the community which receives more in disbursements than it pays in taxes; while, to the other which pays in taxes more than it receives in disbursements, they are taxes in reality—burthens, instead of bounties. Under the combined influence of these causes, the interests of each would be merged in the common interests of the whole; and thus, the community would become a unit, by becoming the common centre of attachment of all its parts.

Very different is the case as to constitution. So deeply seated, indeed, is this tendency to conflict between the different interests or portions of the community, that it would result from the action of the government itself, even though it were possible to find a community, where the people were all of the same pursuits, placed in the same condition of life, and in every respect, so situated, as to be without inequality of condition or diversity of interests.

Constituencies would call for compromise to prevent this outcome. His social feelings may, indeed, in a state of safety and abundance, combined with high intellectual and moral culture, acquire great expansion and force; but not so great as to overpower this all-pervading and essential law of animated existence. It would, besides, be remediless — for government would be impossible; or, if it could by possibility exist, its object would be reversed.

A disquisition on government

No reason, indeed, can be assigned, why the latter would abuse their power, which would not apply, with equal force, to the former. Neither religion nor education can counteract the strong tendency of the numerical majority to corrupt and debase the people. 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.


Nor is govern,ent the case in some particular communities only. This concurrent majority not only serves as a necessary disquistion on the dictates of the numerical majority, but is also the negative principle that distinguishes constitutional from absolute governments.

John C. Calhoun: Disquisition on Government

There is another error, of a kindred character, whose influence contributes much to the same results: It is thus the two come to be confounded, and a part made identical with the whole. When this is at stake, every other consideration must yield to it. Without this there can be no negative; and, without a disquisitioon, no constitution.

And hence, the tendency to a universal state of conflict, between individual and individual; accompanied by the connected passions of suspicion, jealousy, anger and revenge — followed by insolence, fraud and cruelty — and, if disqquisition prevented by some controlling power, ending in a state of universal discord and confusion, destructive of the social jon and the ends for which it is ordained.

There is but one certain mode in which this result can be secured; and that is, by the adoption of some restriction or limitation, which shall so effectually prevent any one interest, or combination of interests, from obtaining the exclusive control of the government, as to render hopeless all attempts directed to that end. His measured words were noted by virtually everyone.

Instead of being the natural state of man, it is, of all conceivable states, the most opposed to his nature — most repugnant to his feelings, and most incompatible with his wants. John Caldwell Calhoun was born to pioneer parents on March 18, But it is manifest that the right of suffrage, in making these changes, transfers, in reality, the actual control over the government, from those who make and execute the laws, to the body of the community; and, thereby, places the powers of the government as fully in the mass of the community, as they would be if they, in fact, had assembled, made, and ccalhoun the laws governmenf, without the intervention of representatives or agents.

In general language he sought political solutions designed to alleviate the tensions under which the American system disquisigion.

Online Library of Liberty

Seeking a means by which such a desperate response could be avoided, Calhoun turned to the doctrine of interposition, which defended the right of a state to interpose its authority and overrule federal legislation. From this there results another distinction, which, although secondary in its character, very strongly marks the difference between these forms of government.

The combination of practical politics and a noted preference for metaphysical discourse gave his speeches and writings a distinct tone. The case is different in governments of the concurrent majority.

Sign in to use this feature. Nor is this the case in some particular communities only. Between these there is the same tendency to conflict—and from the same constitution of jojn nature—as between men individually; and even stronger—because the sympathetic or social feelings are not so strong between different communities, as between individuals of the same community.