Thank you for your post, Alan. I always enjoy your informative contributions. And I always like it when posters reply to specific questions, as you did.RE: So, one question here, just one: Can we agree that Calhoun was painting a picture that was hyperbolic?
Hyperbolic, compared to what? Using present day standards, I would say that his language is over the top. I would also say, using present day standards, that it's plainly racist. But I don't know if this kind of rhetoric was abnormal by the standards of the day, and I am worried about applying presentism in a review of these words.
During the debate over the admission of Missouri to the Union in the early 19th century, things got very rancorous in the Congress. Rep James Tallmadge had proposed that Missouri be given statehood on the condition that slavery was prohibited there. This angered southern congressmen. Daniel Walker Howe, in his book What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848, discusses the controversy:
On behalf of the Tallmadge amendment, northern members (of Congress) invoked morality, religion, economics, and the Declaration of Independence. They reminded southerners that their own revered statesmen, led by Thomas Jefferson, had often expressed the hope to find a way out of perpetuating slavery. Yet now, the South presented a virtually solid and implacable opposition (in which the aged Jefferson himself joined) to mandating emancipation in a new state.Through days of rancorous debate, the two sides rehearsed arguments that would be used by North and South for years to come. Before it was over, not just the extension of slavery on the frontier but the existence of slavery throughout the whole Union would be challenged. Thomas Cobb of Georgia fixed Tallmadge in his gaze: "You have kindled a fire which all of the waters of the ocean cannot put out, which seas of blood can only extinguish." Tallmadge defended his moderate proposition with a steadfastness not at all moderate: "If a dissolution of the Union must take place, let it be so! If civil war, which gentlemen so much threaten, must come, I can only say, let it come!"
The above conflict ended in the Missouri Compromise. But look at the language: "You have kindled a fire which all of the waters of the ocean cannot put out, which seas of blood can only extinguish."... "If a dissolution of the Union must take place, let it be so! If civil war, which gentlemen so much threaten, must come, I can only say, let it come!" That is way over the top by my standards, but maybe that's how they rolled back then.
Several months ago, Andrew Delbanco, writing for The Nation, penned an article titled A Den of Braggarts and Brawlers: Politics on Capitol Hill was never civil. He wrote about a new book on behavior in the antebellum Congress:
The Yale historian Joanne Freeman (has a).. revealing new book, The Field of Blood, which takes its title from a commiserating letter sent to Sumner by a friend. Between 1830 and 1860, Freeman reports, “at least eighty violent incidents between congressmen in the House and Senate chambers or on nearby streets and dueling grounds” took place. The caning of Sumner was just one attack in a long tradition of mayhem on Capitol Hill, or what Freeman calls “the ongoing Congressional floor show” of verbal abuse and violence. The Civil War scholar David Potter wrote long ago that, by the 1840s, “Congress was beginning to lose its character as a meeting place for working out problems and to become a cockpit in which rival groups could match their best fighters against one another.” Freeman discloses a surprising amount of literal truth in Potter’s metaphor....The picture of Congress we get from this book is less of a deliberative body of sober adults than of binge-drinking adolescents left alone without adult supervision. At first, the rowdy behavior took place within the confines of a quasi-private club, and thanks to the reticence of the early newspapers, what happened in the Capitol mostly stayed in the Capitol. But by the 1840s, with the rise of a commercially independent and increasingly partisan press, congressional brawling turned into a spectacle greeted by different factions of the public with delight or disgust. A Row in the Senate! Collision Between Foote and Benton! Pistol Drawn! was the blaring headline in the Milwaukee Sentinel and Gazetteafter the dustup between the two senators. Two days later, the editors of the Boston Herald wrote: “If one-half of our Congressmen would kill the other half, and then commit suicide themselves, we think the country would gain by the operation.”...Freeman’s story, which ranges beyond Washington, has elements of both horror and slapstick. When, in 1837, the speaker of the Arkansas House was insulted by a representative, he descended upon the offender and killed him with a bowie knife. “Acquitted for excusable homicide,” he was “reelected, only to pull his knife on another legislator during debate, though this time the sound of colleagues cocking pistols stopped him cold.” In 1856, a Southern-born California Democrat, told by a waiter at Willard’s Hotel that he’d arrived too late for breakfast, pulled out a gun and shot the man to death. Freeman doesn’t say whether the shooter stepped out elsewhere for ham and grits or waited until the dining room reopened for lunch. In Richmond, where representatives and senators from the seceded states convened a Congress of their own after Lincoln’s election, they hurled inkwells at one another over who was more loyal to the new Confederacy. The whole story has the manic oscillation between cruelty and comedy of a Marx brothers’ script.
That behavior is unacceptable today, but it was the norm back then. Certainly, their rhetoric and discourse would also follow norms that we find reprehensible now.
To be clear: I find Calhoun's rhetoric disturbing on a number of levels. But I don't know if it was abnormal or hyperbolic in its time. They had a whole different concept of what was politically correct. Remember, this was a time when it was ok to keep people as chattel because of their ancestry, when women were denied rights because of their gender. Things that are unacceptable to us was OK to them. I am not condoning it, just saying, I need more supporting material to describe Calhoun's rhetoric as hyperbolic in his era.
I always like to agree to agree rather than agree to disagree. Your reply strikes me as a move toward agreement --that Calhoun was hyperbolic. Know this: Every post I make has nothing to do with presentism. So, my judgment of Calhoun has nothing to do with today. Based on the definition of words then, I see his "destruction" language as not only hyperbolic but totally false. So, can we try again: Based on language then in use, was Calhoun's use of "destruction" hyperbolic? No hurry. Just an important factor in re: the OP. Once charge I will make when I submit my grading of SC's Secesh Declarations will be its hyperbolic and elliptical nature.
Let me add one thing without departing from the single question I just posed to you. A major difference between me and the slavery alone or primary advocates is this --as I see it: I take into account ALL the Secesh declarations i can find between 1845-1861, while my critics and opponents take only the immediate declarations of 1860 into account. I see a lot more to secession than December 1860.
Thanks again for your constructive engagement. You are a good role model.