Concurrent majority
Concurrent majority refers in general to the concept of preventing majorities from oppressing minorities by allowing various minority groups veto power over laws. The most vocal proponents of the theory have tended to be minority groups, such as farm
A farm is an area of land, or, for aquaculture, lake, river or sea, including various structures, devoted primarily to the practice of producing and managing food , fibres and, increasingly, fuel. It is the basic production facility in food production. Farms may be owned and operated by a single...

ers in an industrial
Capitalism is an economic system that became dominant in the Western world following the demise of feudalism. There is no consensus on the precise definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category...

 society or nonwhites in a predominately white society. The concurrent majority is intended to prevent the tyranny of the majority
Tyranny of the majority
The phrase "tyranny of the majority" , used in discussing systems of democracy and majority rule, is a criticism of the scenario in which decisions made by a majority under that system would place that majority's interests so far above a dissenting individual's interest that the individual would be...

 that can otherwise occur in an unlimited democracy
Democracy is generally defined as a form of government in which all adult citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law...


Prior to the American Revolution
American Revolution
The American Revolution was the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which thirteen colonies in North America joined together to break free from the British Empire, combining to become the United States of America...

, all governments were controlled by small minorities of ruling elites; large parts of the population were completely disfranchised, even in countries like Switzerland
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

 whose governments (local, regional, and federal) were constitutionally democratic by modern standards. The conception of government that materialized during the separation of the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 from the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 marked movement away from such control towards wider enfranchisement. The problem of tyranny then became a problem of limiting the power of a majority.

The US Constitution

Even so, the widening of the franchise caused concern. The framers of the United States Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

, even while reiterating that the people held national sovereignty
Sovereignty is the quality of having supreme, independent authority over a geographic area, such as a territory. It can be found in a power to rule and make law that rests on a political fact for which no purely legal explanation can be provided...

, worked to ensure that a simple majority of voters could not infringe upon the liberty
Liberty is a moral and political principle, or Right, that identifies the condition in which human beings are able to govern themselves, to behave according to their own free will, and take responsibility for their actions...

 of the rest of the people. One protection from this was separation of powers
Separation of powers
The separation of powers, often imprecisely used interchangeably with the trias politica principle, is a model for the governance of a state. The model was first developed in ancient Greece and came into widespread use by the Roman Republic as part of the unmodified Constitution of the Roman Republic...

, such as bicameralism
In the government, bicameralism is the practice of having two legislative or parliamentary chambers. Thus, a bicameral parliament or bicameral legislature is a legislature which consists of two chambers or houses....

 in the Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 and the three "separate" branches of the central government: legislative, executive, and judicial.

Having two houses was intended to serve as a brake on popular movements that might threaten particular groups, with the House
United States House of Representatives
The United States House of Representatives is one of the two Houses of the United States Congress, the bicameral legislature which also includes the Senate.The composition and powers of the House are established in Article One of the Constitution...

 representing the common people and the Senate
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

 defending the interests of the state governments. The House was to be elected by popular vote, while the Senate were appointed by state legislators. Executive veto, the implied power of judicial review
Judicial review
Judicial review is the doctrine under which legislative and executive actions are subject to review by the judiciary. Specific courts with judicial review power must annul the acts of the state when it finds them incompatible with a higher authority...

 by the Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

, the possibility of state nullification
Nullification (U.S. Constitution)
Nullification is a legal theory that a State has the right to nullify, or invalidate, any federal law which that state has deemed unconstitutional...

 of central government laws or outright secession
Secession is the act of withdrawing from an organization, union, or especially a political entity. Threats of secession also can be a strategy for achieving more limited goals.-Secession theory:...

 by states, and armed rebellion of citizens all created further obstacles to overbearing majority rule.

Calhoun and nullification

During the first part of the 19th century, John C. Calhoun
John C. Calhoun
John Caldwell Calhoun was a leading politician and political theorist from South Carolina during the first half of the 19th century. Calhoun eloquently spoke out on every issue of his day, but often changed positions. Calhoun began his political career as a nationalist, modernizer, and proponent...

 of South Carolina
South Carolina
South Carolina is a state in the Deep South of the United States that borders Georgia to the south, North Carolina to the north, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Originally part of the Province of Carolina, the Province of South Carolina was one of the 13 colonies that declared independence...

 revived and expounded upon the concurrent majority doctrine. An ardent advocate of states' rights
States' rights
States' rights in U.S. politics refers to political powers reserved for the U.S. state governments rather than the federal government. It is often considered a loaded term because of its use in opposition to federally mandated racial desegregation...

, Calhoun served as Vice President
Vice President of the United States
The Vice President of the United States is the holder of a public office created by the United States Constitution. The Vice President, together with the President of the United States, is indirectly elected by the people, through the Electoral College, to a four-year term...

 and Senator. He noted that the North
Northern United States
Northern United States, also sometimes the North, may refer to:* A particular grouping of states or regions of the United States of America. The United States Census Bureau divides some of the northernmost United States into the Midwest Region and the Northeast Region...

, with its industrial economy, had become far more populous than the South
Southern United States
The Southern United States—commonly referred to as the American South, Dixie, or simply the South—constitutes a large distinctive area in the southeastern and south-central United States...

. As the South's agricultural economy differed vastly from that of the North, the difference in power afforded by population threatened interests Calhoun considered essential to the South.

As national policy, driven by the North, became ever more hostile to the South, Calhoun argued more stridently for a requirement of concurrent majority by geographic region. Following the Tariff of 1828
Tariff of 1828
The Tariff of 1828 was a protective tariff passed by the Congress of the United States on May 19, 1828, designed to protect industry in the northern United States...

, referred to by Southerners as the "Tariff of Abominations", Calhoun wrote (anonymously at the time) the South Carolina Exposition and Protest
South Carolina Exposition and Protest
The South Carolina Exposition and Protest, also known as Calhoun's Exposition, was written in December 1828 by John C. Calhoun, then vice president under John Quincy Adams and later under Andrew Jackson. Calhoun did not formally state his authorship at the time, though it was known.The document was...

. The document threatened secession
Secession is the act of withdrawing from an organization, union, or especially a political entity. Threats of secession also can be a strategy for achieving more limited goals.-Secession theory:...

 of South Carolina if the tariff was not repealed. After another protective Tariff of 1832
Tariff of 1832
The Tariff of 1832 was a protectionist tariff in the United States. It was largely written by former President John Quincy Adams, who had been elected to the House of Representatives and been made chairman of the Committee on Manufactures, and reduced tariffs to remedy the conflict created by the...

 was passed instead of a repeal of the 1828 tariff, Calhoun attempted to fight both with the doctrine of nullification
Nullification (U.S. Constitution)
Nullification is a legal theory that a State has the right to nullify, or invalidate, any federal law which that state has deemed unconstitutional...


The doctrine, which essentially said that any state might declare specific federal laws void within the borders of the state, required a concurrent majority of the legislatures of each state in addition to the federal legislature to assent to a law for it to have nation-wide effect. South Carolina passed the Ordinance of Nullification
Ordinance of Nullification
The Ordinance of Nullification declared the Tariff of 1828 and 1832 null and void within the state borders of South Carolina. It began the Nullification Crisis...

 of the two tariffs and began preparations to defend the nullification against federal enforcement. A Compromise Tariff of 1833
Tariff of 1833
The Tariff of 1833 was proposed by Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun as a resolution to the Nullification Crisis...

 was passed, avoiding armed conflict and ending the Nullification Crisis
Nullification Crisis
The Nullification Crisis was a sectional crisis during the presidency of Andrew Jackson created by South Carolina's 1832 Ordinance of Nullification. This ordinance declared by the power of the State that the federal Tariff of 1828 and 1832 were unconstitutional and therefore null and void within...

. Calhoun's philosophy of concurrent majority had found little support in the Southern states outside of South Carolina.

Further reading

  • Brown, Guy Story. "Calhoun's Philosophy of Politics: A Study of A Disquisition on Government" (2000)
  • Cheek, Jr., H. Lee. Calhoun And Popular Rule: The Political Theory of the Disquisition and Discourse. (2004) online edition
  • Ford Jr., Lacy K. "Inventing the Concurrent Majority: Madison, Calhoun, and the Problem of Majoritarianism in American Political Thought," The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 60, No. 1 (Feb., 1994), pp. 19–58 in JSTOR
  • Potter, David M., Don E. Fehrenbacher and Carl N. Degler, eds. The South and the Concurrent Majority. (1973). 89 pp., essays by scholars
  • Safford, John C. Calhoun, "Lani Guinier, and Minority Rights," PS: Political Science and Politics, Vol. 28, No. 2 (Jun., 1995), pp. 211–216 in JSTOR
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