TEA PARTY AT THE CAPITOL:"Bury ObamaCare with Kennedy"
One of the people I spent the most time discussing in my book on the history of the American political debate, The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came To Be, was a man named John C. Calhoun. I went so far as to call him the founder of modern conservatism, and the events of this year, including Joe Wilson's offensive outburst on the floor of Congress, Wednesday night, have added strong evidence to my argument.
Although discussions about the relative power of the states and the federal government had been around since the days of the Articles of Confederation in the 1780s, Calhoun was the South Carolina politician who fused a particularly extreme view of states' rights with a patriarchal and violent conservatism. Calhoun argued that states could come and go into and out of the Union, whenever they wanted to; that they could secede from the Union at any time and for any reason; and that even if they stayed in the Union they could nullify any law they wanted, again at any time and for any reason.
He was also violently opposed to the idea of democracy itself, say that they growing population of the North had no power whatsoever over slavery or any other thing the southern states chose to do, and in fact believed that the Bill or Rights only applied to what the federal government couldn't do--that the states were free to eliminate freedom of speech and religion and other civil liberties. (In fact, most southern states had done exactly that by the time of the Civil War.)
Calhoun was ready to start a Civil War in 1832, when he and Andrew Jackson disagreed over a policy that would hurt Calhoun's beloved plantation economy. He resigned as Jackson's vice president, and encouraged the state to secede and raise an army right then and there. It was a protégé of Calhoun who beat abolitionist Charles Sumner almost to death with a cane on the floor of the Senate in 1856, and protégés of Calhoun who led South Carolina to be the first state to secede from the Union in 1861 after Lincoln's election, and be the first state to fire on Union soldiers at Ft. Sumter.
Calhoun's states' rights theories were used to justify Jim Crow in the South and oppose integration after the Civil War all the way into the 1960s. Today, we are seeing Calhoun Conservatism spreading throughout the Republican party and the right wing movement. Joe Wilson's thuggishness on Wednesday night and the conservative movement's embrace of his action yesterday are just the latest examples. Some highlights from the last year: