At the time, in the early 1930s, when Yale was creating the first ten residential colleges, John C. Calhoun was regarded as an inevitable choice for one of their names. Calhoun was only too obviously the single most illustrious statesman and political philosopher to have graduated from Yale.
Eighty-odd years ago, the political conflicts of the 19th century, the contest between Federalism and the Rights of the States, Secession and the American Civil War were viewed dispassionately as past history. Yale President James Rowland Angell was born in Vermont. Neither he not the members of the Yale Corporation of that time are likely to have agreed in the least with John Calhoun on Nullification, Secession, or the benevolence of Slavery, but they all properly regarded those matters as settled and the battles and controversies surrounding them as mere history, unconnected practically or emotionally to their own time.
Naming a Yale residential college for Calhoun simply accorded with a general American recognition of Calhoun as one of the most influential thinkers and most important statesmen in American history. As Richard Hofstader acknowledged, Calhoun was “probably the last American statesman to do any primary political thinking.”
Naming a residential college for John C. Calhoun obviously did not imply that the generally-New-England-bred authorities of that Connecticut University had suddenly converted into Confederate sympathisers. It merely signified their recognition of the accomplishments, personal stature, and historical importance of one of Yale’s most famous graduates. Doubtless, it was also intended, in a minor way, to recognize the national character of the modern university by honoring the champion of the (defeated) Southern section.
It appears, now, that the 21st Century Yale under a newer and more cosmopolitan leadership is about to reverse President Angell’s decision and to reject 80+ years of Yale history by removing the name of John C. Calhoun and renaming his residential college.
President Peter Salovey, last Saturday, welcomed the entering freshman class and announced an “open conversation” on renaming Calhoun College.
We all know what that means. Yale will accede to the loudest, shrillest, most emotionalist, and most radical voices. There will be a narrative about the injured feelings, the wounded sensitivities, of 21st Century African American students. Rational observations will be shouted down, and with complete pomposity and sanctimony President Salovey will express regret, but explain the vital necessity of bowing to contemporary political correctness. Calhoun will be out. His (previously vandalized) stained glass window pulled out and replaced. His name chiseled out of the Gothic sandstone. And you can bet that the college will be renamed, specifically in order to rub it in, for some personage of color, somebody like the world-famous Edward Bouchet, Yale Class of 1874, the first African American to graduate from Yale.