Keep the Statues

by Anna Haas ‘23

Last May, five graduate students at Princeton circulated a petition for the removal of a statue of John Witherspoon. Princeton’s sixth president, Witherspoon was an influential figure in the American Revolution as well as the only clergyman and college president to sign the Declaration of Independence. Despite his influence and legacy as a patriot, Princeton wants to remove his statue because he owned slaves. However, it is unreasonable for society to hold slaveowners to today’s standards.

Slavery was terrible, no question about it. However, owning slaves was a part of life for wealthy landowners in the 1700s and does not make their contributions to the country void. In today’s world, society knows slavery to be cruel and wrong, but back then that was not the case. There are things society does today that people 200 years from now may look upon with the same disgust as we do slavery. It can be inferred that the influential figures of today would not want to be characterized solely by actions that were legal in their time but considered wrong in future societies. The same principle applies for people like Witherspoon. Witherspoon’s owning slaves was wrong, but it does not mean all his other accomplishments should be ignored. Society cannot hold people of that time period to the same moral standards that it has today.