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James S. Calhoun

Born: 1802 - Died: 7-2-1852

Born perhaps in Georgia in 1802, although the details of his early life are uncertain. Calhoun was married in December 1822 to Caroline Anne Simmons of South Carolina, by whom he was the father of Martha Ann and Carolina Louisa. After the death of his first wife in 1828, he married Mrs. Annie V. Williamson of Greensboro, Georgia in February 1830; Calhoun had no children by his second marriage.

Calhoun became active in politics in 1825 in Milledgeville, Georgia as a supporter of the Crawford‑Troup faction in Georgia politics. In 1830 he became a member of the Georgia Legislature, serving three terms from Baldwin County. In the early 1830s he broke with the Democratic Party over the tariff issue and became a Whig. Moving to Columbus, Georgia in 1833, Calhoun became a banker and landowner. He served twice as Mayor of Columbus, in 1837 and 1838, and was a member of the State Senate in 1838, 1840, and 1845. Calhoun was active in William Henry Harrison’s campaign for the Presidency in 1840; in October of the following year President John Tyler appointed Calhoun to the consulate in Havana, Cuba. He eventually returned to Columbus, where he reentered the State Senate in 1845 and worked as Editor of the Columbus Enquirer. Calhoun organized a company of light infantry in May 1846 which became part of the First Regiment of Georgia Volunteers during the Mexican War. During the war he advanced from the rank of Captain to Lieutenant Colonel. In April 1849 he was named Indian Agent at Santa Fe. As agent, he recommended aid for the Pueblo, but close supervision of the more hostile Navaho, Apache, Comanche, and Ute.

President Millard Fillmore nominated Calhoun as Governor of the New Mexico Territory on December 23, 1850, and he was inaugurated on March 3, 1851. The new governor’s major concern was Indian affairs, and he followed the policies begun during his years as agent. He stated that his policy towards the more antagonistic tribes was "compulsory enlightenment ... enforced at the point of a bayonet." Any possible success with this program was thwarted by the hostility of the military commander in the territory, Colonel Edwin V. Sumner. Like many of the territorial governors after him, Calhoun tried but failed to establish a system of free education. A southerner, he sought unsuccessfully to allow slavery and to prevent the entrance of free blacks into the territory. He was, however, popular with the Mexican population because of his efforts to secure them full citizenship rights and appointment to office.

On May 6, 1852, Calhoun, ill with scurvy, left the territory for a final trip in which he hoped to get to Washington, D.C. and then home to Georgia. Believing he was going to die, he brought a coffin with him on the trip. Calhoun died on July 2, 1852 near Independence, Missouri, and was buried on the plains. Until the inauguration of Calhoun’s successor on September 13, Territorial Secretary John Greiner served as Acting Governor.


Sources Used:

Annie H. Abel, ed., The Official Correspondence of James S. Calhoun ... (Washington. D.C., 1915).

Lena Dargan, "James S. Calhoun," unpub. master’s thesis, University of New Mexico, 1932.

Frank D. Reeve, "The Government and the Navaho, 1846‑1858," New Mexico Historical Review, 14 (January 1939), 82‑120.

Fletcher M. Green, "James S. Calhoun: Pioneer Georgia Leader and First Governor of New Mexico," Georgia Historical Quarterly, 39 (December 1955), 309‑47.

Calvin Horn, New Mexico’s Troubled Years: The Story of the Early Territorial Governors (Albuquerque, 1963).