Who was John C. Calhoun? Former Clemson Stars DeAndre Hopkins and Deshaun Watson Want Slavery Advocate's Name Removed

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson have called for Clemson to remove John C. Calhoun's name from the school's honors college.

The duo spent their collegiate careers at Clemson but have signed a Change.org petition asking for the university to "remove John C. Calhoun's name from one of our most distinguished academic programs."

Calhoun casts a long shadow at Clemson. The school campus is built on the site of Calhoun's Fort Hill Plantation where, according to the university's website, he enslaved up to 80 African Americans.

The South Carolina native, who served as vice president under John Quincy Adams from 1825 to 1829 and then under Andrew Jackson between 1829 to 1832, was a vocal advocate of slavery, famously describing it as a "positive good" rather than a necessary evil. Calhoun, who served as South Carolina senator for a combined 18 years of two separate spells, argued slavery was beneficial to both slaves and slave owners.

"Never before has the black race of Central Africa, from the dawn of history to the present day, attained a condition so civilized and so improved, not only physically, but morally and intellectually," Calhoun argued during a speech in the Senate in February 1837.

"It came to us in a low, degraded, and savage condition, and in the course of a few generations it has grown up under the fostering care of our institutions. [...] I take higher ground. 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."

Calhoun had made his view on slavery known long before his speech at the Senate. In 1828 he formed the Nullifier Party, a states' rights, pro-slavery party that maintained slavery should remain legal and that individual states should be allowed to nullify federal laws within their borders.

The party was represented by several members in both houses of the Congress between 1831 to 1839 and put John Floyd forward as its candidate for the 1832 Presidential Elections.

In 1839, Calhoun, who served as the U.S. Secretary of War between 1817 and 1825 and then as Secretary of State between 1844 and 1845, left the party he formed to join the Democratic Party and sought the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 1844, only to lose out to James K. Polk, who would eventually become the 11th U.S. President.

During his spell as Secretary of State, Calhoun played a key role in settling the Oregon boundary dispute with Britain and was a supporter of the annexing Texas to the federation. After returning to the Senate in 1845, he strongly opposed the Mexican-American War and was a staunch critic of the Wilmot Proviso—which sought to ban slavery in territories acquired from Mexico in the Mexican-American War.

Considered a member of the "Great Triumvirate" of Congressional leaders along with Daniel Webster and Henry Clay, in 1957 Calhoun was selected as one of the five greatest U.S. Senators of all time by a Senate Committee headed by Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy.

For Watson and Hopkins, however, his legacy is far more troubling. The duo spent their collegiate careers at Clemson, but the latter explained on social media Calhoun's past as a slave trader was the reason why the name of the university was not mentioned before his introduction ahead of NFL games.

"I felt this oppressive figure during my time at Clemson and purposely do not mention the University's name before NFL games because of it," Hopkins wrote on Instagram.

"I am joining the voices of the students and faculty who have restarted this petition to rename the Calhoun Honors College. I urge all Clemson students, football players, and alumni to join us, so the next generation of young Black leaders can be proud of the institution they graduate from. Now is the time for change."

Watson echoed his former Texans teammate's thoughts.

"Clemson University should not honor slave owner John C. Calhoun in any way," he tweeted.

"His name should be removed from all University property and programming. I am joining the students, faculty & DeAndre to restart this petition to rename the Calhoun Honors College."

DeAndre Hopkins, Deshaun Watson
Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins of the Houston Texans look on prior to the CFP National Championship between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Clemson Tigers at Levi's Stadium on January 7, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. Thearon W. Henderson/Getty