... timely and thought-provoking ... A biographer intent on a livelier narrative might devote more space than Mr. Elder does to the events leading up to this moment and the tension that followed from it. Calhoun’s decision to resign the vice presidency for a seat in the Senate, where he eventually negotiated a compromise that averted civil war, receives exactly one sentence. But what interests Mr. Elder is ideas, and Calhoun’s ideas were pointing him toward the fateful path he would follow ... Attempts to make Calhoun fit neatly into our current politics miss the message of this much-needed biography..
Coming so soon after a neoconfederate mob rampaged through the Capitol, a respectful biography of the ideological father of the Confederacy may feel as welcome as an exhumed corpse. But the young historian Robert Elder has given us just that in Calhoun — an illuminating account of the life of the notorious white supremacist as well as his complex afterlife in American political culture ... In his lucid book about this complex and contradictory figure, Robert Elder wisely refrains from assigning Calhoun to a stationary spot along the political spectrum. He points out that echoes of Calhoun’s ideas have not come exclusively from the right ... Elder finished writing this valuable book too soon to add that with Donald Trump’s brazen effort to overturn election results where Black voters — so long disenfranchised by heirs of Calhoun — helped determine the outcome, the cause of states’ rights suddenly became the cause of the left.
... expertly recounts the life and times of John C. Calhoun ... In addition to detailing Calhoun’s substantial career, Elder delves into his subject’s political philosophy and influences. Elder gives ample space to Calhoun’s personal life, including his marriage, children, illnesses, and constant financial struggles. He also assesses the politician’s controversial legacy and the dismantling of his reputation ... This well-researched book offers a definitive account of Calhoun, and will appeal to anyone interested in early American history.