The Calhoun-Buchanan vault holds the remains of 29 members of two of Baltimore's leading Scots-Irish Presbyterian families spanning five or six generations. The neo-classical granite vault is probably the work of Robert Mills (1781-1855), the architect of monuments to Washington in Baltimore and the District of Columbia.
James Calhoun (1743-1816), whose death may have occasioned the construction of this vault, was Baltimore's first mayor. His son-in-law, James A. Buchanan (1768-1840), a nationally prominent businessman, was a pivotal figure in the landmark Supreme Court case McCullogh v. Maryland.
Baltimore's First Mayor James Calhoun came to Baltimore in 1771, part of the flood of Scots-Irish Presbyterians arriving from Pennsylvania. A staunch patriot and friend of George Washington, Calhoun's success as a merchant propelled him into office as Baltimore's first mayor. His three-plus terms (1797-1804) eased Baltimore's transition from a town into an incorporated city.
James Calhoun engraving by St. Memin, ca. 1800
The Maryland Historical Society
The events leading up to Chief Justice John Marshall's brilliant opinion reveal a complicated tale of greed, manipulation, and opportunism.
In 1817 James A Buchanan became president of the Baltimore branch of the recently chartered Second Bank of the United States. Along with bank manager James McCulloh (his name was misspelled by the court), and George Williams (a bank director also buried in Westminster), Buchanan made unsecured loans and borrowed nearly $3 million from the Philadelphia branch. The Baltimore branch soon camer under attack, ruining Buchanan, Sam Smith and other businessmen, but it was an unrelated event that spurred the landmark court case.
In may 1818 the Baltimore branch was sued for refusing to comply with a Maryland state tax on bank notes that where not issued by state chartered banks. The Second Bank of the U.S. was the only such bank. When the State Court of Appeals affirmed per curriam without opinion a lower court decision, the stage was set.