Artist: Charles Bird King
Title: John C. Calhoun, Secretary of War
Oil on canvas
36 1/8 x 28 1/2 in. (91.8 x 72.4 cm) Overall, Frame: 39 x 27 in. (99.1 x 68.6 cm)
Gift of the Grandy Family in memory of C. Wiley Grandy
In this portrait by Charles Bird King, John C. Calhoun stares intently out of the frame, entreating the viewer to look to where he points. He holds a map showing the northeast corner of the new state of Missouri and nearby territories. The map also includes the “Road to Chariton,” marked by a diagonal red line. At the spot on the map where Calhoun’s finger points, the Army built the territory’s first fort. Depicted at the beginning of a long career in government, Calhoun was Secretary of War under President James Monroe in 1817, and encouraged the Army’s Corps of Engineers to survey and explore the Western territories.
John C. Calhoun was the first to serve as Vice President under two different administrations, first under John Quincy Adams and then under Andrew Jackson. A strong proponent of slavery, he intensely debated for the extension of slavery into the western territories. He also championed “nullification,” in which states could veto laws passed by the federal government that they deemed unconstitutional. South Carolina adapted this stance, and the Force Bill of 1833 authorized President Andrew Jackson the ability to use military force to impose federal law. Despite reaching a compromise, Calhoun resigned as Vice President and returned to South Carolina to run for Senate where he could more effectively defend his belief in states’ rights.