In a gosh attempt at virtue signaling, the Clemson University Board of Trustees has unanimously voted to remove John C. Calhoun’s name from the school’s Honors College. This decision came after former Tiger football stars Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins joined a petition campaign which declared: “To maintain the name [on the Honors College] is to convey Clemson University’s continued indifference toward a history of institutional racism and state-sanctioned violence against Black life.”

Hopkins further stated that “I felt this oppressive figure during my time at Clemson and purposely do not mention the University’s name before NFL games because of it.”  Watson averred that “Clemson University should not honor slave owner John C. Calhoun in any way. His name should be removed from all University property and programming.” 

Clemson University was founded in 1889 after Calhoun’s son-in-law Thomas Green Clemson bequeathed 814 acres of land and more than $80,000 in assets to the state of South Carolina.  It was Clemson’s dream that an agricultural college would thrive in the upstate of South Carolina and benefit the people of the state through scientific study. 

In his early planning for the college, Clemson hoped that the school would bear the name of Calhoun.  After all, the “cast-iron” man from South Carolina was/is arguably the state’s greatest son.  He served in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate, as Secretary of War, as Secretary of State, and as Vice President.   Calhoun is often considered one of the last of the Founding Fathers, not because he was a contemporary, but because of his understanding and analysis of republican government. Calhoun’s  A Disquisition on Government is a comprehensive study in the science of politics and how it functions in a republic.  It is one of the greatest theoretical works of the 1800s.  In short, Calhoun ought to have the university named after him rather than just the honors college. 

Calhoun was certainly a defender of what he called the peculiar institution, but this should surprise no one.  Calhoun was born in 1782 when the Articles of Confederation were the governing document of the union and before the Revolutionary War had ended.  Slavery was a legal institution throughout the British Empire.  At the time, no European country had even abolished the slave trade.  Calhoun was very much a creature of his times just as the thoughts and patterns of modern Americans are shaped by our times. 

Or what about Abraham Lincoln, who was born in 1809. Abe seems to always get a pass when issues about racial insensitivity come up.  Lincoln did not believe in the social or political equality of blacks and whites and opposed blacks serving on juries, voting, or marrying whites. In 1862, Lincoln drafted a constitutional amendment to preserve slavery in hopes of luring the CSA back into the Union. That same year, Lincoln hosted a delegation of freed slaves at the White House and asked them to support a plan for colonization in Central America. Given what he saw as the natural differences between the two races, Lincoln believed it would be better if blacks left North America and created a home elsewhere. Yes, Honest Abe was no liberal.  He was very much a creature of his times on the issue of race relations. 

It’s hard to buy Hopkins’ claims that he felt oppressed at Clemson University.  Hopkins was offered and accepted a scholarship that provided him with a free education and other perks.  As an athlete, he had access to Vickery Hall and its tutors, academic counselors, and computer laboratory.  Regular students are not allowed to darken the doors of Vickery—its athletes only. 

On Saturdays in the fall, he and the other football players were worshipped as gods—80,000 people (most of them white) filled Death Valley and roared each time Hopkins touched the pigskin.  After the game, hundreds of children rushed the field hoping to get a fist bump or high five from Hopkins and his teammates.  Thanks to dear old Clemson, Hopkins became a millionaire on July 24, 2013, when he signed four-year, $7.62 million contract with the Houston Texans. 

In an effort to make Deandre fell welcomed, Clemson lavished untold amounts on a multicultural center, a Council on Diversity and Inclusion, an Office of Access and Equity, and diversity education and training.  In 2016-2017, Insight into Diversity magazine recognized Clemson University as a recipient of its prestigious Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award for the school’s 17 initiatives/programs aimed at making Clemson into a PC paradise.  Guess all that was not enough for Hopkins, who still refuses to claim Clemson in NFL pre-game introductions. 

Watson too has fared pretty well because if Clemson.  In May 2017, he signed a four-year, $13.854 million contract with the Texans. Watson graduated with a degree in Communications, but his mind has yet to fully communicate to his mouth the breadth of his demands. If we take Watson’s words seriously that Clemson should not honor a slaveholder, then the university will have to change its name.  Thomas Green Clemson was a slaveholder and served in the Confederate Army.  Of course, this standard would also require the renaming of George Washington University, Washington University, and Washington and Jefferson College—just to mention a few schools named after our first president.  Does Watson really want to go down such a path?

Despite their foolish statements, it is difficult to be angry with Hopkins and Watson.  Yes, they are spoiled athletes who expect accolades and praise.  But our education system and media have beaten it into their heads that blacks in 2020 are no better off than blacks in 1820.  This is all in spite of the royal treatment Hopkins and Watson received from Clemson students, staff, and alumni.

 For example, The New York Times through its 1619 Project teaches that the defining story of America is racism and white supremacy.  Themes such as entrepreneurship, constitutional government, and the Protestant work ethic don’t convey what America is really about according to The Times.  Clemson itself offers a degree in Pan African Studies, which, according to the school’s website, “allows our students to adapt their major to fit individual interests, whether hip-hop or some other facet of black culture.” In addition to gangsta rap courses, the Pan African Studies major offers courses in Comparative Racism, and multiple classes with a focus on slavery.  With such a curriculum at Clemson, it is no wonder millionaire athletes such as Hopkins and Watson have been convinced oppression is rampant in modern America and that they are targets. 

The real culprits in the assault on the Calhoun Honors College are the cowards on Clemson’s Board of Trustees.  Rather than offering deliberation and placing John C. Calhoun in a proper historical context, they unanimously followed the lead of the mob and endorsed presentism—the interpretation of past events and historical figures in terms of modern values and concepts.  No person born in the 1700s or 1800s can survive this type of scrutiny.  Not Washington, Jefferson, Calhoun, or even Lincoln. 

The Board undoubtedly thinks it is on the right side of history and will receive praise from future generations.  Somehow they simply do not understand that the presentism they have endorsed will be used against them when, by the morals and values of 2120, they are weighed in the balance and found lacking. 

William J. Watkins

William J. Watkins, Jr. is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and author of the book Crossroads for Liberty: Recovering the Anti-Federalist Values of America's First Constitution. He received his B.A. in history and German summa cum laude from Clemson University and his J.D. cum laude from the University of South Carolina School of Law. Mr. Watkins is a former law clerk to Judge William B. Traxler, Jr., of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and he is President of the Greenville, SC, Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society. He has served as a prosecutor and defense lawyer, and has practiced in various state and federal courts.

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