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Calhoun's constitutional economics

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Abstract

Calhoun's early speeches and writings argue for an expansive national government. His later works, most notablyA Disquisition on Government, argue for a strong version of states' rights, nullification, and secession. Earlier accounts of Calhoun's thought attribute this apparent contradiction to political expediency and opportunism. But I argue here that Calhoun's early nationalism was a reaction against the operation of multiple vetoes in the legislative process, requiring near unanimity to pass legislation. By 1825, however, Congress had evolved institutions that circumvented these vetoes, resulting in majoritarian redistribution. The later Calhoun opposed the legislation that followed from these circumventions and proposed an alternative form of unanimity, the concurring majority, as the appropriate corrective.

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An earlier version of this essay was prepared for a public lecture at Clemson University, to commemorate the Clemson University Centennial, October 18, 1989.

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Aranson, P.H. Calhoun's constitutional economics. Constit Polit Econ 2, 31–52 (1991). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02393225

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