Founding of Clemson College

Cadets on Bowman Field 1904

Cadets on Bowman Field (Clemson Special Collections and Archives)

The Morrill Act of 1862 fostered the creation of land-grant colleges that would focus on the concepts of agriculture, mechanization and military strategy. The “Land Grant” Act as it is more commonly known specifically excluded the establishment of these institutions in states that seceded from the Union in 1861. It was not until 1887 and the signing of the Hatch Act that permitted the former Confederate States to create “agricultural experiment stations,” that the concept of an agricultural and military school in Upstate South Carolina became a reality[1]. The land used to support the activity of the college would be the former estate of United States Senator and Vice President John C. Calhoun, who after his death left his daughter Anne Calhoun Clemson and her husband, Confederate scientist Thomas Green Clemson an estate that stretched nearly 3,000 acres across modern-day Pickens and Oconee County.[2]  Before his death in 1888, Clemson drafted a will that would “establish an agricultural college which will afford useful information to the farmers and mechanics…"

Additionally, Thomas Clemson bequest stated that the college would be governed by seven-lifetime trustees, one of whom would be Benjamin Ryan Tillman, who at the time was a “political up-and-comer” in South Carolina. B.R. Tillman was an outspoken advocate of African-American disenfranchisement and even at one point in his political career advocated for the public lynching of Blacks.[3] A noted economic progressive for his time, Tillman rallied around education for the poor white southerner farmer, staunchly opposed Governor Wade Hampton’s revitalization of the “antebellum class” and fought ruthlessly in the South Carolina Legislature for Thomas Green Clemson’s will to be supported.[4] After a bitter debate and a favorable ruling in the United States Supreme Court case, Lee v. Simpson, Thomas Green Clemson’s will bequest was upheld, and South Carolina Governor John P. Richardson signed the Act of Acceptance on November 27, 1889, which officially established Clemson Agricultural College.[5]

[1] “Founder Bios | History | About | Clemson University, South Carolina.”

[2] Reel, The High Seminary, 10.

[3] Simkins, Pitchfork Ben Tillman, South Carolinian, xxiv.

[4] “Benjamin Ryan Tillman | Clemson University, South Carolina.”

[5] Reel, The High Seminary, 64.