Princeton University must show "an ounce of courage" against pressure from "little radical activist undergraduates" demanding the school remove a statue honoring the college's former president, Fox News’ Pete Hegseth said.
Princeton University’s Committee on Naming is reviewing a proposal to remove a statue of the school’s sixth president, John Witherspoon, because of his complicated history with slavery. The petition, signed by over 300 people at Princeton, suggests replacing the statue with a plaque that "details both the positive and negative aspects of Witherspoon’s legacy."
"The idea that his statue would be removed is completely antithetical to history, antithetical to what the university says it stands for," Hegseth, co-host of Fox & Friends Weekend and a Princeton alumnus, said. "It would be bending to a really noisy, tiny percentage of radicals who try to get their way on any college campus."
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Hegseth was the publisher of the university’s conservative newspaper, The Princeton Tory, when the statue was erected in 2001 and wrote a column praising Witherspoon’s legacy. He proposed the school offer an undergraduate class, "The History of Princeton and influential Princetonians."
"I don't think most Princeton students know who Witherspoon is," Hegseth said. "That's a shame — they should, but they probably don't."
Witherspoon was a Presbyterian minister who emigrated from Scotland to serve as the school’s president from 1768 to 1794. An influential figure in the American Revolution, Witherspoon helped draft the Articles of Confederation and was the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence.
But activists, in part, want to remove the statue since the former Princeton president owned two slaves.
"The irony is Witherspoon was anti-slavery," Hegseth said. "He may have had two slaves — almost every rich White person did back then … but he worked to free the slaves and hoped and believed that the founding generation would be one of the last to own them."
In Scotland, Witherspoon broke with tradition and baptized the only slave in his town and offered him the same religious instruction as the White congregants, according to the university's website. At Princeton, he privately tutored the school's first free Black students since they were not allowed to formally enroll in the college.
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Despite believing slavery was wrong, Witherspoon thought immediate abolition would do more harm than good and advocated for a gradual end to the practice, according to Presbyterian pastor Kevin DeYoung, who wrote his 2019 doctoral dissertation on Witherspoon.
Witherspoon chaired a committee in 1790 that recommended against abolishment in New Jersey and claimed that slavery was already dying out in the state. Activists argue Witherspoon defended slavery and that the school should not continue honoring him with the 10-foot statue.
The graduate students who started the petition to take down the statue said that Witherspoon, in his time, "didn’t stand out among people in power for a commitment to defending racist norms or power structures," but still wasn't deserving of such a high-profile statue, the Princeton Alumni Weekly reported.
Washington Post columnist George Will called it "another example of 'presentism' — judging the past through the lens of the present." He wrote that it "illustrates how the woke become a suffocating, controlling minority."
"Not perfect, nobody is," Hegseth said of Witherspoon. "But instead of tearing him down or getting rid of him, we should be teaching about him."
Hegseth also advocated against "this subjective left-wing diversity, equity, inclusion, woke view of the world" in which people of the past are judged based on modern standards.
The school’s naming committee has held listening sessions since November to hear what alumni, faculty, staff and students think should be done about the statue. Princeton’s board of trustees will have the final say on the issue.
"This is an easy one if Princeton has an ounce of courage," Hegesth said. "But they're going to sit in these little listening sessions and they’re gonna listen to these little radical activist undergraduates complain about their horrible, privileged lives at Princeton."
Now, as an alumnus, he said the school cannot cave to the "woke view of the world that everything of the past must be torn down unless they were perfect based on the judgment of today."
Hegseth credits Princeton for maintaining free thought thanks to individuals like professor Robert George and said the school's response will set the tone for similar controversies in the future.
"Places like Harvard and Yale and others, they're all left-wing nonsense vacuums at this point," he said. "But Princeton has held out with the idea of free thought. Giving in to something like this signals that you are also retreating completely."
To watch Hegseth's reaction to the school controversy, click here.