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At my alma mater, Yale, the debate took the form of a campaign to remove the name of John Calhoun from one of its residential colleges, as I posted here a few weeks ago. The connection between Calhoun and Charleston was somewhat attenuated: Calhoun died ten years before the outbreak of the civil war, and — unlike the stars-and-bars — Calhoun is not exactly an iconic symbol for white supremacists. Nonetheless, the Yale community has been eager to denounce Calhoun as an irredeemable racist.
It turns out that a very similar debate has been going on over at Princeton but — as I note over at City Journal — with very different results. Princeton has several buildings named after a notorious racist: a man who imposed Jim Crow rules on the federal government, who declared segregation to be a “positive benefit,” who believed that blacks carried infectious diseases, and who held that Chinese immigrants could never be successfully absorbed into American culture.
I refer to Woodrow Wilson. But unlike Calhoun, Woodrow Wilson is a progressive icon: a promoter of an activist government, and the founder of the modern Democratic Party. The inevitable result is that students and professors at Princeton have been falling all over themselves to defend Wilson against narrow-minded folks who focus on just “one aspect” of his presidency, ignoring all his wonderful accomplishments (the Federal Reserve! Hooray!).
I agree that Wilson should be judged upon his entire public record (a pretty awful record). However, why can’t the academy extend the same consideration to Calhoun, who served forty years in government, including two stints as vice president?Published in