The Civil War created a rift (okay, okay, an insurmountable gorge) between the United States, with the North and South fighting over slavery and states’ rights. Although the war officially lasted from 1861 to 1865, the roots of the arguments between these two factions go back several decades — to a man who wasn’t even alive during the war.
John C. Calhoun: Influential politician with shifting views
In addition to bearing a striking resemblance to Doc Brown, including a shared preference of not shaving their necks, Calhoun held many political offices during his life. He began his political career as a staunch federalist — meaning he supported a powerful, centralized federal government. He was a member of the House of Representatives, served as the War Secretary under President James Monroe, and the nation’s seventh Vice President, under both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. Political life must have weighed heavily on Calhoun. He not only started sporting a stylishly-dour look, but he also started pushing for states’ rights.
Although was the key issue that divided the nation during the Civil War, many historians also point out that states’ rights were also at the center of the struggle. Southern states wanted to be free to maintain a slavery system, while the leaders of the North — and the federal government — wanted the South to abolish slavery.
Calhoun was a staunch supporter of slavery and owned many himself
Calhoun was born in South Carolina and believed that slavery as an institution was good for both owners and slaves.
After serving as Vice President, Calhoun became the secretary of state and a senator for his home state. As he got older, he followed the typical path of many politicians: He became cranky and curmudgeonly. Calhoun took it a step further and became a human rights villain.
Southern states got riled up by Calhoun’s pro-slavery rhetoric
The South used Calhoun’s positions advocating for states’ rights to fuel dissent against the North. In Calhoun’s view, the northern “Yankees” were imposing their views and lifestyle on southern states. Many southerners feared that freeing slaves would result in an economic meltdown.
Ultimately, the northern states’ views on slavery won the war. But many American lives were lost on both sides of the divide. Calhoun’s legacy once represented an American institution, but modern history has frowned upon his pro-slavery stance. Recently, Yale University stripped Calhoun’s name from one of their schools, in a symbolic act refuting what he stood for.