Kurt's Historic Sites

John C. Calhoun

John C. Calhoun

Interment LocationVisitedSequence in Graves I Have Visited
Charleston, SCJune 5, 201337th Vice President visited

Photographed June 5, 2013.

The era of the Second Party System in the U.S. was strongly influenced by three statesmen who were known as “the Great Triumvirate.” They were Henry Clay of Kentucky, Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, and John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. The first of the triad to pass was Calhoun in March 1850. The politician’s remains were transferred from Washington, D.C. to his native state and, per an agreement between his surviving kin and the Charleston City Council, were laid to rest at the cemetery across the street from St. Philip’s Episcopal Church.

Many of the early U.S. vice presidents are not interred with their spouses, including Aaron BurrGeorge ClintonElbridge Gerry, and Calhoun. After the death of former Second Lady Floride Calhoun in 1866, she was buried at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Cemetery in Pendleton with the children who predeceased her, as opposed to being laid to rest in Charleston.

Photographed June 5, 2013.
Photographed June 5, 2013.

Though his death came over a decade prior to the American Civil War, Calhoun’s specter haunted the bloody conflict. In the antebellum period he was one of the most prominent and powerful proponents of the continuation of the institution of chattel slavery and its expansion into newly-incorporated western territories. Additionally, in 1832 Calhoun co-authored papers that attested states could nullify federal laws they did not wish to adhere to. The Nullification Crisis, while about tariffs in the immediate sense, was a precursor to the secession of eleven southern states over slavery in 1860 and 1861. Calhoun professed himself to have been a friend of the Union, but foretold of its dissolution over slavery. In a Senate floor speech in 1837, he asserted, “We of the South will not, cannot surrender our institutions.” And the generation that followed Calhoun’s did not do so without a war.

The former vice president’s original tomb was “a solid structure of masonry raised above the surface and lined with cedar wood.” Calhoun was removed from that sepulcher during the Civil War because locals feared — should Charleston fall to Union forces — the body of South Carolina’s most noted pro-slavery statesman would be desecrated. Calhoun’s iron coffin was secreted across the street to the East Churchyard until Charlestonians determined the threat had passed. In 1884, the state of South Carolina erected the present monument over his gravesite.

Photographed June 5, 2013.

Fast Facts

Born: March 18, 1782 in Abbeville, South Carolina

Spouse: Floride Bonneau Calhoun (m. 1811-1850)

Primary Political Affiliation: Democratic Party

Served in Cabinet of: James Monroe and John Tyler

Cabinet Positions: Secretary of War (1817-1825); Secretary of State (1844-1845)

Vice Presidential Term: 1825-1829 under John Quincy Adams; 1829-1832 under Andrew Jackson

Died: March 31, 1850 in Washington, D.C.

Cause of Death: Tuberculosis

Age: 68

Last Words: “The South, the poor South.”

Interment: St. Philip’s Episcopal Church West Cemetery, Charleston, South Carolina

"However sound the great body of the non-slaveholding states are at present, in the course of a few years they will be succeeded by those who will have been taught to hate the people and institutions of nearly one half of this Union, with a hatred more deadly than one hostile nation ever entertained towards another. It is easy to see the end. By the necessary course of events, if left to themselves, we must become, finally, two people. It is impossible, under the deadly hatred which must spring up between the two great sections, if the present causes are permitted to operate unchecked, that we should continue under the same political system."
- John C. Calhoun

February 6, 1837 in a speech delivered in the U.S. Senate in response to abolition petitions
Photographed March 19, 2022.

John and Floride Calhoun had ten children from 1811 to 1829, the first 18 years of their marriage. Three Calhoun daughters died in infancy, including Elizabeth, who died in March 1820. John C. Calhoun served as secretary of war during the entirety of Elizabeth’s short life, which totaled just six and a half months. Elizabeth is buried in Range 28 of Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. 

Sources Consulted and Further Reading

Anderson, Dorothy Middleton and Margaret Middleton Rivers Eastman. St. Philip’s Church of Charleston: An Early History of the Oldest Parish in South Carolina. Mount Pleasant, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2015. https://books.google.com/books?id=UP3BCQAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false.

Calhoun, John C. Speeches of John C. Calhoun Delivered in the Congress of the United States from 1811 to the Present Time. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1843. https://archive.org/details/speechesofjohncc00incalh/page/222/mode/2up.

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