Home  »  Volume XVI: American EARLY NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART I  »  § 16. The Constitutional Guarantees of Minority

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

XV. Publicists and Orators, 1800–1850

§ 16. The Constitutional Guarantees of Minority

At the very outset, as we have seen, Calhoun announced principles calculated to defend the minority. His later and more elaborate treatises, notably his Disquisition on Government and his Discourse on the Constitution and Government of the United States, pushed to the end his theories as to the constitutional guarantees of minority. Here we find a very able discussion of constitutional principles so cogently expressed that they challenge one’s admiration if they do not carry conviction. Intent upon disproving the notion that a mere majority of individuals, mere numbers, can decide upon rights or impose decisions on others, he insists that each interest or portion of the community must have a negative, and thus only when there is concurrence of the elements can there be the right to exercise power; where this principle of negation and concurrence does not exist, government rests on force; where they do exist, there is constitutionalism; a majority may be tyrannical, and therefore an unrestrained majority is inconsistent with constitutional liberty. It would be hard to deny that our constitutional system rests in part on the belief that majorities have not all power over the individual; but Calhoun’s theory was different from this: interests, individual communities, must have, through the negative, the power of self-defence—and this meant, in reality, the South as a section and slavery as an interest. Through his whole career from 1828 till his death in 1850 there appears consistently this right of a minority to protect itself.