19 May 2016

Yale: John Calhoun Stays - But What About Elihu Yale?

Despite decades of fervent student protests that reached a peak last fall, the president of Yale announced on Wednesday that the university would keep the name of a residential college honoring the 19th-century politician and white supremacist John C. Calhoun. . . . “Universities have to be the places where tough conversations happen,” he said. “I don’t think that is advanced by hiding our past.” (Unless, of course, we're talking about Confederate monuments, then we do have to hide the past or, at least, vandalize it.)
More here.

Oh my, the virtue-signaling, moral reformers in academia are in such a moral dilemma these days, aren't they? The facts and truth keep rearing their ugly heads to bite them in the butt. One ugly truth is their intellectual bankruptcy which has mated with their rank hypocrisy and produced one ugly little freak. This is what happens when you use history for a morality play. Tsk, tsk, tsk. (Shouldn't a number of Civil War bloggers take a hint? Yes, but they won't. They're too heavily invested in their preferred narrative. As Hillary Clinton would say, "I come too far.")

I mean, seriously, if there is going to be any honest discussion about Yale renaming a residential college named after John Calhoun, shouldn't there be a discussion to rename Yale itself? After all, Elihu Yale (whom the school was named after) was involved (at least indirectly) in the slave trade and there was even this portrait which, until very recently, hung in Woodbridge Hall on the campus of Yale. It depicts Yale (along with others) being served by a young black boy with a silver collar around his neck:

Though this painting was removed a couple of years ago, how it was interpreted by at least one student is telling:
. . . there’s no doubting the fact that he [Elihu Yale] participated in the slave trade, profiting from the sale of humans just as he profited from the sale of so many actual objects that were part of the East India trade empire. As such, Elihu Yale’s wealth was linked to a global economy that was deeply, practically inextricably, interwoven with the sale of human beings to other human beings. In fact, when we look at the paintings it is safe to assume that Elihu Yale was a willing participant in that economy. Since he could have selected anything to represent him in these paintings we can conclude that he chose to be depicted with enslaved people because he believed this narrative would best signify his wealth, power, and worldliness.[Source.]
So if we use the same logic used in regards to Confederate figures and icons in the South, Yale should change its name. Why don't we hear that demand from the "historians" in the blogosphere? That's simple. It does not serve the purpose of their agenda, at least not yet.

And maybe, in this instance, the administration at Yale realized that Calhoun was the low-hanging fruit and once he had been vanquished, the offended would aim higher - at Elihu Yale. And what might alumni benefactors have to say about that? All that there moral reformin' could get expensive. Virtue-signaling evidently has a budget limit.

Of course, in more reasonable times, important historical figures in our nation's history were not judged by the presentism-obsessed, virtue signaling, moral reformers in academia as they are today. Rather, they were judged by the contributions they made with an understanding that they were simply products of the times in which they lived. That's how adults think. Take, for example, John Kennedy's understanding of this reality:

For 8 years in the U.S. Senate I have occupied a seat which was once held in the Senate, from Massachusetts, by a distinguished Senator, Senator Daniel Webster. He served in the time before 1850, when the Senate was at its height, and included within its ranks Lewis Cass, Clay, Douglas, Benton, and all the rest. But none of these were considered by Daniel Webster to match the talents and the character of the Senator from South Carolina, John C. Calhoun. They were both born in the same year; Calhoun was a native of Abingdon, S.C. They both went to college in New England, one to Yale and the other to Dartmouth. They had both entered Congress as young men, and they stayed in Congress for 40 years, until they died in 1850, John Calhoun, and in 1852 Senator Daniel Webster. They worked together on foreign relations, the development of the United States, fiscal improvements. Each served in the House as well as in the Senate. Each was Secretary of State. And yet through most of their lives, they also differed on great questions. But to his dying day, Senator Daniel Webster said of John C. Calhoun, "He was much the ablest man I ever knew. He could have demolished Newton, Calvin, or Locke as a logician." He admired above all his powerful mind and his courage.
Sitting as I do in the U.S. Senate, succeeding Senator Webster in succession, I have also admired John C. Calhoun. When I was selected as chairman of a committee to pick five outstanding Senators in the history of this country, John C. Calhoun's name led all the rest, and his painting is now in the Senate reception room. And when I wrote a book about courageous Senators, I mentioned John C. Calhoun. I am not here in South Carolina to make glittering promises or glowing predictions, but to express the hope that in 1960, South Carolina and the Nation will be guided by the spirit of Calhoun and his courage. "I never know what South Carolina thinks of a measure," he once said. "I act to the best of my judgment and according to my conscience. If she approves, well and good. If she does not, and wishes anyone to take my place, I am ready to vacate. We are even."~ Senator John F. Kennedy, Columbia, South Carolina, 10 October 1960
(Uh-oh - are there any buildings named after Kennedy at Yale?)

This whole issue at Yale reveals a number of things about the juvenility of many modern historians and academics:
  1.  They're rank hypocrites and phonies.
  2.  They have an agenda and one that's easily recognized by a growing number of Americans and even professional historians within academia, such as Professor Gordon S. Wood.
  3. They're doing a great disservice to students and Americans in general by their own, self-serving, self-centered moral posturing. (Which is why Americans go elsewhere to learn about American history.)
I would suggest readers do what more and more Americans are doing when you read and hear about such nonsense. Roll your eyes and laugh at them.


alphonse-louis de tran said...

Dear Sir,

Since you wrote this excellent column regarding my alma mater, I thought you might be interested in new recent column published by the Abbeville Institute.

Deo Vindice,

Alphonse-Louis Vinh (yinshih@aol.com)


Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Mr. Vinh:

Thanks! I've enjoyed your writings (when I can find them) for years and I'm pleased you took the time to comment here. Yes, I read this piece a week or so ago. As a matter of fact, I've got it lined up for a future post.

Thanks again for reading and for taking the time to comment. Also, if you'll notice, I quote you at the foot of my blog page.


Jeffrey Mathews said...

My Dear Sir:

One word.


Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...


Mark Snell said...


As an old, retired, "juvenile" historian, I think it's important to note that JFK's Oct. 10, 1960 speech in Columbia, SC, was given only four weeks before a tight presidential election. As such, I would guess that his remarks are not necessarily evidence of his admiration for Calhoun but instead, an indication of political pandering to an important voting bloc.

That said, I'm glad to hear that the Yale president made the right decision to retain the name. What really surprised me was the uproar over naming a new residential college after Ben Franklin. (In retrospect, I am not surprised.) Would the offended faculty members refuse their salary if they were paid only with $100 bills?

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Hello Mark.

"As an old, retired, "juvenile" historian"

As many bloggers, I often paint with a broadbrush, though I did say "many", not all. ;-)
Present company excepted.

"I would guess that his remarks are not necessarily evidence of his admiration for Calhoun but instead, an indication of political pandering to an important voting bloc."

I would disagree, at least in part. While I have no doubt Kennedy was pandering to his audience (what politician doesn't?), I actually believe he could look at someone like Calhoun with admiration. Again, I believe he understood the man measured against his times, not ours. That mistake is at the core of all the faddish presentism and pontificating by many modern historians and politicians. It's a morality play and, often, a means of saying, "Look at me, I'm not a (fill in the blank) like this person was."

It is juvenile and silly.

Yes, if you know anyone objecting to Franklin, I'll give you an address where they can send those $100 bills. ;-)

Have a great weekend!

James Weeks said...

Thanks for preserving the Name of John C. Calhoun. Mr. Calhoun was the son of my great grandfather Patrick Calhoun of Abbeville, S.C.
James Weeks
Bella Vista, AR

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Mr. Weeks. You're welcome, though I did little other than expose the hypocrisy and agenda of the moral reformers in academia. Your ancestor's accomplishments stand for themselves, as JFK noted.