John C. Calhoun was a man of many titles: Vice President of the United States, Senator from South Carolina, Secretary of State, Secretary of War, and member of the House of Representatives. However, one title overshadows them all— slave owner.
Students at Clemson University have signed a petition pushed by the campus chapter of the Southern Poverty Law Center to remove his name from the Honors College, which is currently called the Calhoun Honors College.
Why is his name on the Honors College, one might ask? That’s because the University sits on his land which was gifted to the State to form an institute of higher education by his son-in-law, Thomas Green Clemson. This petition has garnered the attention of the largest newspaper in South Carolina, The State, which released an article on the matter the morning of February 11th. Attempting to remove a great American statesman from the Honors College of the institution he made possible is vacuous and leads to a dangerously slippery slope.
It is a widely shared consensus that slavery was a sinful, depraved and diabolical establishment. However, once one begins to wander down the road of renaming everything denominated after slave owners, we’re going to have to come up with a lot of new names. By this logic, the University itself should be renamed since Thomas Clemson fought for the Confederate army in the Civil War. The town of Clemson in which the University sits should also be renamed.
How about Washington, D.C.? It is named after the father of America and one of the greatest advocates of freedom in history, who, unfortunately, was also a slave owner. The “disgraced” name of Washington alone would result in the U.S. Capital, one state, and hundreds of cities and towns being renamed. In fact, twelve U.S. Presidents owned slaves, including Ulysses S. Grant who famously won the Civil War for the anti-slavery North. Many other famous historical figures participated in the nefarious act of owning slaves: Julius Caesar, Plato, Francis Scott Key, and Benjamin Franklin to name a few. This doesn’t mean their legacies should be ignored and their significant contributions be forgotten.
Not only did John C. Calhoun give 814 acres of land to allow Clemson to exist, he is a massive figure in American history. Along with Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, he formed the “Great Triumvirate” and dominated American politics for the first half of the 19th century. A Senate committee headed by 38 year old freshman Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy dubbed Calhoun as one of the five greatest Senators in U.S. history. It is seemingly absurd that the SPLC wants to rid a university of the name of a historical figure, who was a favorite of arguably the most famous Democratic president in history.
In conclusion, nobody is perfect. Slavery was among the most horrific of moral travesties in recorded history. However, it happened. The fact that some participated in this does not preclude them from making other significant contributions to American history.
The article in The State claims that many students “leave off of their resumes” the name of their Honors College due to embarrassment. It is doubtful that this is a common issue at other institutions founded by slave owners such as the University of Virginia, George Washington University, or the University of Pennsylvania. In short, the University should not take action over a petition, which as of February 11th, has been signed by less than 1% of the student body.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.