Thursday, February 23, 2017

Yale, Like New Orleans, Tries To Rewrite History

“Your ordinary run-of-the mill historian will tell you that John C. Calhoun, having defended the bad and lost causes of state rights and slavery, deserves to rest forever in the dustbin of history. Nothing could be further from the truth. No American public figure after the generation of the Founding Fathers has more to say to later times than Calhoun.”

-          Clyde Wilson

 When I was a young boy, many aspired to attend an Ivy League school like Yale or Harvard. If you were lucky enough to get accepted into one of these prestigious universities, you were essentially set for life.

Now, Yale University finds itself in the crosshairs of the racial divide that our country is mired in.

And all because of a building.

After saying it wouldn’t rename Calhoun College, Yale officials capitulated to a growing clamor from misguided students protesting a policy that hasn’t existed in over 150 years – slavery.

Now, none of these students or their parents endured slavery, yet they are outraged by it nonetheless.

To be fair, I’ve never endured slavery either and, while I deplore the concept of slavery, I can’t pretend that it didn’t exist.

Yale University’s Calhoun College was named after John C. Calhoun, a Vice President under two administrations (one of only two Vice Presidents in our country’s history to do so), a Secretary of War and State, a Representative and Senator from South Carolina.

And, oh yeah, he was a slave owner in the late 1700s until his death in 1850.

“The danger in our system is that the general government, which represents the interests of the whole, may encroach on the states, which represent the peculiar and local interests, or that the latter may encroach on the former.

John C. Calhoun

As a Senator from a slave state, Calhoun vigorously fought for slavery and for state’s rights as did many Southerners (and some Northerners too) during that time. If you were a Senator from South Carolina (or any Southern state including Louisiana), that’s what you did in pre-Civil War America.

The Union next to our liberties the most dear. May we all remember that it can only be preserved by respecting the rights of the States, and distributing equally the benefits and burdens of the Union.”

John C. Calhoun

In fact, 12 of our Presidents including Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson and even Civil War hero U.S. Grant owned slaves.

In addition to Calhoun College, 7 other Yale colleges are also named after slave owners.

No reasonable person in this day and age would argue for slavery, but, simply because we are disgusted by something now doesn’t mean that we can ignore that it occurred or attempt to rewrite history.

We aren’t a perfect country. We’ve made mistakes along the way. But, let’s acknowledge and learn from our mistakes without desecrating and attempting to rewrite the story that is the United States of America.

It is harder to preserve than to obtain liberty.”

John C. Calhoun

Was John C. Calhoun a bad person? He was clearly wrong for supporting slavery but does being a slave owner automatically disqualify a person or cause us to want to strike that person’s name from the history books?

Then a member of Congress, Calhoun was instrumental in rallying support for the War of 1812 which made a hero of Andrew Jackson and memorialized the Battle of New Orleans.

In 1824, Calhoun created the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He signed 40 treaties with Indian nations and was instrumental in the Western migration of Indians as America grew. While many at the time would have been happy to annihilate the Indians or forcefully remove them, Calhoun signed trade agreements with them.

In 1957, knowing Calhoun’s history, a Senate Committee headed by John F. Kennedy named Calhoun one of the five greatest U.S. Senators of all time.

“The Government of the absolute majority instead of the Government of the people is but the Government of the strongest interests; and when not efficiently checked, it is the most tyrannical and oppressive that can be devised.”
John C. Calhoun

The purpose of this post isn’t to give you a history lesson about John C. Calhoun but to show the misguided thinking of some in our society who believe that they can rename buildings, streets and schools and tear down monuments because they don’t agree with the history that these things represent.

There are towns and cities, schools and streets across the country named after John C. Calhoun.  In fact, there’s a “Calhoun Street” in New Orleans.

I probably shouldn’t have written that. Now some yahoo will want to change the street’s name just as the New Orleans City Council voted last year and Mayor Mitch Landrieu approved the removal of four historical monuments, including three that commemorated Confederate Civil War leaders.

Yeah, trying to run from and rewrite history will ease racial tensions.  

There is often, in the affairs of government, more efficiency and wisdom in non-action than in

John C. Calhoun

Let me show how you can take rewriting history to a whole new level.

The Western Hemisphere was named America by a German cartographer, Martin Waldseemuller, to honor Italian explorer and cartographer Amerigo Vespucci.

Now, I’m sure we can all agree that the Holocaust (instigated by a German) was wrong.

We can probably also agree that early Romans used slaves as gladiators and made them fight to the death as entertainment. Using anyone to kill someone for amusement is wrong.

So, since the Germans and Italians did bad things, let’s rename America, right?

Ok, here’s another example, closer to home:

The City of Kenner was once three plantations owned by the Kenner family. The plantations had slaves; thus, expect protestors soon to demand that the City change its name.

As I mentioned, Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner. I guess we can also expect protestors to demand that we change the name of Jefferson Parish.

Look, we can all agree that slavery and racism, bigotry in any form whether it’s based upon gender, ethnicity, race, religion or any factor is wrong, but we can’t deny that they existed and still exist.

We ought not to forget that the government, through all its departments, judicial as well as others, is administered by delegated and responsible agents; and that the power which really controls, ultimately, all the movements, is not in the agents, but those who elect or appoint them.”

John C. Calhoun

Did you read that Mike Yenni?

Slavery was evil. The Indian massacres and forced relocation was horrific. The Japanese internment during World War II was clearly flawed (oops, there goes Roosevelt Blvd. in Kenner). Denying voting rights to anyone that was not a white male landowner goes against the fundamental core values that our country was founded upon. Racism and gender inequality remain huge issues for our country.

The U.S. is a flawed country. We’re a work-in-progress. But, even with our flaws, we are still the most diverse country in the history of world and still the Land of Opportunity.

While a judge stepped in to stop Mitch Landrieu and then-Council President Jason Williams from removing the statues in New Orleans, no one can stop Yale from renaming Calhoun College.

The bottom line is – while we can abhor history, we must learn from it. We can’t rewrite it.

Yale University should be smart enough to know that even if the leaders in New Orleans aren’t.