Slavery and Bribery at Yale University

Yale University students typically board in one of twelve “residential colleges.” One such college is named for John C. Calhoun who was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate in 1804.

Presently, many Yale students demand that the college name be changed because Calhoun advocated slavery. The students correctly note that slavery and racism are immoral. They further insist that such evils are absolute and that Calhoun’s immorality cannot be softened by the accepted attitudes of his lifetime.

But there’s another story to be told in “Yale’s Tale of Two Legacies.”

Upon his death in 1900, railroad mogul Collis Huntington owned an ostentatious New York City mansion at 57th Street and Fifth Avenue where Tiffany & Company is presently located. Huntington’s will stipulated that if his stepson remained childless the mansion – or the proceeds from the sale of it – would be donated to Yale. The stepson was childless and Yale got the home sale proceeds as well as much of the internal art collection. Three years ago the collection was put on display at the Yale University Art Gallery where it has been labeled the “Huntington Murals.”

Collis P. Huntington

Collis P. Huntington

Evidently, since Collis Huntington did not advocate slavery Yale students have no objection to the Murals. But slavery is not the only form of evil. Huntington, for example, paid bribes to protect his business interests. As explained by John Brooks in a June 1977 American Heritage article, “The Businessman and the Government:”

General cynicism…had reduced, or elevated, bribery and corruption to the role of…public entertainment. It was the relished, and protected, pornography of the age. The business leader most forthright on the subject…was the railroad man Collis P. Huntington. In 1877 he explained his philosophy of bribery in a letter to a colleague, as follows: “If you have to pay money to have the right thing done, it is only just and fair to do it. … If a man has the power to do great evil and won’t do right unless he is bribed to do it… it is a man’s duty to go up and bribe the judge.”… At one point in the 1870s Huntington complained with bitter indignation that competitive bribers were causing such inflation in the corruption market as threatened to ruin him. “To fix things” now cost $200,000 to $500,000 per session of Congress: “I am fearful this damnation Congress will kill me.”

If political correctness is to be extrapolated to the Nth degree, Yale might want to ponder renaming the Huntington Murals as well as Calhoun College. The university might want to further examine the uses of Huntington’s financial legacy. For example, the sale proceeds from his home together with their accumulated interest might be removed from Yale’s endowment and distributed to the descendants of the farmers (black and white) who were harmed by the discriminatory freight rates of Huntington’s railroads.

My three Civil War Books:

Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies
Trading With the Enemy
Co. Aytch: Illustrated and Annotated.



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