by Adam Manno
I hold that in the present state of civilization, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color, and other physical differences, as well as intellectual, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slaveholding States between the two, is, instead of an evil, a good–a positive good.The Heritage Act, a state law passed in 2000, prohibits the removal of any Confederate flags and of any monuments commemorating the Confederacy or the civil rights movement without a two-thirds vote by the state Senate and House. Mayor Tecklenburg said in August that he opposed the removal of any monuments amidst activists calling for the statue to come down.
This monument to John C. Calhoun (1782-1850), erected in 1896, was the culmination of efforts begun in 1858 to commemorate his career. It was erected at a time, after Reconstruction, when most white South Carolinians believed in white supremacy, and the state enacted legislation establishing racial segregation. These ideas are now universally condemned.
Calhoun served as Vice-President of the United States under two presidents, as U.S. Secretary of War, as U.S. Secretary of State, as a U.S. Senator from South Carolina and as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. A political theorist, he was the author of two important works on the U.S. Constitution and the Federal Government.
A member of the Senate’s “Great Triumvirate,” which included Daniel Webster of Massachusetts and Henry Clay of Kentucky, Calhoun championed states’ rights and nullification, the right of an individual state to invalidate a federal law which it viewed as unconstitutional.
Unlike many of the founding fathers, who viewed the enslavement of Africans as “a necessary evil” possibly to be overcome, Calhoun defended the institution of race-based slavery as a "positive good."
The statue remains standing today as a reminder that many South Carolinians once viewed Calhoun as worthy of memorialization even though his political positions included his support of race-based slavery, an institution repugnant to the core ideas and values of the United States of America.
Historic preservation, to which Charleston is dedicated, includes this monument as a lesson to future generations of the importance of historical context when examining individuals and events in our state's past.