Yale’s Accidental Tribute To John C. Calhoun

“When I was an undergraduate, John C. Calhoun went largely unmentioned and unthought of in residential college life. If the college had instead been named (as a puckish friend suggested) for William Barron Calhoun (Yale class of 1814, a lawyer and politician from Massachusetts, ardent opponent of slavery), nothing about the day-to-day life of the college would have been different.

Yale’s residential colleges derive very little personality from their namesakes, or from anything else. Freshmen are assigned to them randomly, which prevents the colleges from developing reputations (as ‘the arty one’ or ‘the sporty one’). And Yale’s goal in recent years has been to homogenize the residential colleges even further, pooling money that alumni had given to their own colleges and distributing it equally, so that no college may have more or do more than another.


If Yale had wanted to make real use of Calhoun’s name, it could have drawn from his clashes with another Yale college namesake, Timothy Dwight IV, a Congregationalist minister and president of Yale. Calhoun had studied under Dwight, and the two debated the merits of strong federalism versus republicanism. After one heated exchange, Dwight declared, ‘You seem to possess a most unfortunate bias for error.’

I would have loved an annual debate, cosponsored by Timothy Dwight College and the former Calhoun College, on the proper balance of federalism and republicanism within our democracy.”

Read more at First Things