This essay was first printed in the Southern Partisan Magazine, Volume III, Number 1 (1983).
One hundred and forty years ago, Senator Henry Clay proposed a
constitutional amendment to limit the veto power of the president of the
United States. Senator John C. Calhoun replied to Clay; and that speech
in reply is the most succinct version of Calhoun’s famous doctrine of
concurrent majorities. Calhoun argued, in effect, that there ought to
exist several powers of veto upon the impulses of temporary numerical
“As the Government approaches nearer and nearer to the one absolute
and single power, the will of the greater number, its action will become
more and more disturbed and irregular; faction, corruption and anarchy,
will more and more abound; patriotism will daily decay, and affection
and reverence for the Government grow weaker and weaker until the final
shock occurs, when the system will rush to ruin; and the sword take the
place of law and Constitution.” So Calhoun said in 1842.