'Political correctness' and Lake Calhoun

  • Article by: H. LEE CHEEK JR. and SEAN R. BUSICK
  • Updated: June 7, 2011 - 9:09 PM

John C. Calhoun

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The recent and misguided effort to rename Lake Calhoun is a sign of how we as contemporary Americans have a tendency to "forget who we are" and engage in what has become known as political correctness.

The advocates of political correctness want to corrupt history for temporary political gains more than they desire to keep or restore it, and their efforts are, sadly, a disease on the body politic.

The operatives of political correctness have met with some success of late.

With Orwellian irony, they succeeded in having a U.S Navy ship named for a person who hated the Navy (Cesar Chavez) and have imposed "speech codes" (with the actual purpose of restricting speech) on many college campuses -- as well as more destructive examples of assaulting First Amendment rights and redefining history.

The greatest threat to political correctness is an environment in which free and uninhibited discussion and disagreement can take place. In fact, diversity of thought is the opposite of political correctness, and is at the heart of a free society.

The proponents of political correctness -- and those who wish to rename Lake Calhoun -- stand on the side of censorship against free and diverse discussion.

Equally misguided, the Lake Calhoun critics want to misrepresent and vilify one of America's greatest statesmen, John Caldwell Calhoun. Born in 1782 near Abbeville, S.C., Calhoun graduated from Yale College and Litchfield Law School.

He served two terms in the South Carolina Legislature until elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1811. As a congressman, Calhoun's reputation was that of a moral statesman who regarded limited government and patriotism as synonymous.

President James Monroe asked Calhoun to assume the helm at the War Department (later given the more politically correct title of Department of Defense) in 1817, where he served until 1825, and he is described as the ablest war secretary the country had before the Civil War, while offering a fairer and more humane approach to Native American affairs than his predecessors.

While spending most of his public life in the United States Senate, he was also vice president under both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson -- and he served as secretary of state to John Tyler.

He is generally regarded as one of the greatest senators ever, part of the "Great Triumvirate" with Henry Clay and Daniel Webster -- and each supported the Fugitive Slave Act.

What the advocates of a politically correct name change do not want you to know is that Calhoun was not only one of America's greatest statesmen, but also one of its greatest thinkers. His two treatises on American politics, the Disquisition and Discourse (published after his death), demonstrate his hope that America could avoid the pending conflict of the Civil War.

His persistent fear was that unpatriotic sectionalism would lead to civil war and a dissolution of the union. His last years were spent attempting to unify the country. On March 31, 1850, Calhoun died in Washington, D.C.

In Calhoun's interpretation, America's greatest hope lay in the interposing and amending power of the states, which was implicit in the Constitution. This alone could save the country by allowing for a greater diffusion of authority and undermining the cause of sectional conflict.

Calhoun's purpose was the preservation of the original balance of authority and the fortification of the American political system against the obstacles it faced.

The advocates of a name change may have good intentions, but as Shakespeare warned, "men are men; the best sometimes forget." John Calhoun was imperfect, but he remains one of the greatest statesmen in American history.

Keep Lake Calhoun for posterity, and for the rising generation.

H. Lee Cheek Jr. and Sean R. Busick are, respectively, professors of political science and history at Athens State University in Alabama.

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