John Caldwell Calhoun was born March 18, 1782, in Abbeville District, South Carolina; he was the fourth child of Patrick Calhoun and Martha Caldwell Calhoun. His father emigrated with the Irish immigration from County Donegal into the backcountry of South Carolina. John C. Calhoun quit school at age 17 years to work on the family farm when his father became sick. Later his brothers gave him financial support, and he returned to school; he earned a degree from Yale College, Phi Beta Kappa, in 1804. He studied law at the Tapping Reeve Law School in Litchfield, Connecticut, and was admitted to the South Carolina bar in 1807.
Calhoun married Floride Bonneau Colhoun (1792-1866) in January 1811; she was the daughter of John E. Colhoun (1750-1802), lawyer and Senator from South Carolina. She was also a relative, being a first cousin once removed. The couple became parents of 10 children that were born over a period of 18 years; three of their children died in infancy: (1) Andrew Pickens Calhoun (1811-1865), (2) Floride Pure Calhoun (1814-1815), (3) Jane Calhoun (1816-1816), (4) Anna Maria Calhoun (1817-1875; married Thomas Green Clemson, founder of Clemson University in South Carolina), (5) Elizabeth Calhoun (1819-1820), (6) Patrick Calhoun (1821-1858), (7) John Caldwell Calhoun, Jr. (1823-1850), (8) Martha Cornelia Calhoun (1824-1857), (9) James Edward Calhoun (1826-1861), and (10) William Lowndes Calhoun (1829-1858).
During Calhoun’s second term as Vice President, Floride Calhoun as a central figure in the Petticoat affair. The Petticoat affair is also known as the Eaton affair; it was an 1830-1831 scandal that involved members of President Andrew Jackson’s Cabinet and their wives. Beginning as a private matter, it quickly grew into a large scandal. John Eaton fell in love with and married Margaret Timberlake, who already had a husband. “The newlywed Eaton couple caused many issues among Washington’s elite, especially the women. Second Lady Floride Calhoun, the wife of Vice President John C. Calhoun, led an `antipeggy’ group of other Cabinet wives. Each member of Jackson’s Cabinet had a wife in the group except for Martin Van Buren who was the only widower in the Cabinet. Because of this, Van Buren allied himself with the Eatons. However, their biggest supporter was the sitting President Andrew Jackson, who, having felt the wrath of society towards his own marriage, sympathized with Mrs. Eaton’s plight.” The results of the scandal affected the political careers of several men, including Calhoun. The Cabinet members all resigned from their positions with the new Cabinet being informally known as the “Kitchen Cabinet.” Jackson replaced Calhoun with Van Buren as his running mate as Vice President in the next election.
Mrs. Calhoun was an active Episcopalian, and her husband often accompanied her to church; however, he was a “charter member of All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, D.C., in 1821 signing his name right next to John Quincy Adams and remaining a member for all his life. Calhoun seldom mentioned religion. In his early life he had been Presbyterian, but “historians believe he was closest to the informal Unitarianism typified by Thomas Jefferson.
Calhoun was a major American politician during the first half of the 19th century. He “began his political career as nationalist, modernizer, and proponent of a strong national government and protective tariffs. After 1830, his views evolved and he became a greater proponent of states’ rights, limited government, nullification and free trade; as he saw these means as the only way to preserve the Union. He is best known for his intense and original defense of slavery as something positive, his distrust of majoritarianism, and for pointing the South toward secession from the Union….
“Calhoun held major political offices, serving terms in the United States House of Representatives, United States Senate and as the seventh Vice President of the United States (1825-1832), as well as secretary of war and state….
“Calhoun was one of the `Great Triumvirate’ or the `Immortal Trio’ of Congressional leaders, along with his Congressional colleagues Daniel Webster and Henry Clay. In 1957, a Senate Committee selected Calhoun as one of the five greatest U.S. Senators of all time. Calhoun `was a public intellectual of the highest order… and a uniquely gift American politician,’ and `probably the last American statesman to do any primary political thinking.’"
John C. Calhoun died of tuberculosis at the age of 68 on March 31, 1850, in Washington, D.C. He was buried at the St. Philip’s Churchyard in Charleston, South Carolina.
“During the Civil War, a group of Calhoun’s friends were concerned about the possible ransacking of his grave and, during the night, removed his coffin to a hiding spot under the stairs of the church. The next night, his coffin was buried in an unmarked grave near the church, where it remained until 1871, when it was again exhumed and returned to its original spot. His brick tomb was replaced with a decorative sarcophagus provided by the South Carolina state government in 1884.”