Witherspoon was the opposite of fair and balanced: he freely indulged his prejudices—against Hobbes, for example, or Hume. Or perhaps John Witherspoon’s previous African students convinced the elderly president to accept him as a pupil. But Rush persisted. Harvard was older than Princeton, but under Witherspoon the New Jersey school became a political and intellectual powerhouse. James J. Gigantino II, “Trading in Jersey Souls: New Jersey and the Interstate Slave Trade,” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 77, no. But Jack Scott was right when he observed that no teacher was “so influential in shaping [Madison’s] thought as Witherspoon.” The influence was evident everywhere, from Madison’s rhetorical style to the substance of his political thought. John’s father was the son of the Presbyterian Scot, Rev. But this is hardly surprising. Although he was one of the most influential Americans of the eighteenth century, Witherspoon has been overlooked by subsequent generations of historian. The great irony that attends Witherspoon’s rejection of Hutcheson and other secular pillars of the Scottish Enlightenment is the fact that his own work owes an immense amount to them. If in religion Witherspoon was an orthodox Calvinist, in epistemology and metaphysics he was a realist. Special thanks to T. Jeffrey Clarke for bringing the date of Witherspoon’s move to Tusculum to the author’s attention. 3 (2010): 282. JOHN WITHERSPOON was born February 5, 1722 in Gifford, Haddingtonshire, Scotland. William Harrison Taylor, ed., Faith and Slavery in the Presbyterian Diaspora (Bethlehem, PA: Lehigh University Press, 2016), 18. Faction, Madison said in Federalist 10, was “sown in the nature of man”: avarice and arrogance were simply inseparable coefficients of the natural corruption man was heir to. As a reader of our efforts, you have stood with us on the front lines in the battle for culture. And Madison certainly went beyond, or at least altered while absorbing, Witherspoon’s teaching. In debates over Article XI, Witherspoon sided with Southern states and adamantly opposed the taxation of slaves, foreshadowing the conflict that would lead to the “Three-Fifths Compromise” at the Constitutional Convention ten years later. Thomas Jefferson Wertenbaker, Princeton, 1746-1896 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 7; “The Montgomery Slavery Case, 1756,” The National Archives of Scotland, accessed 16 August 2007, http://www.nas.gov.uk/about/070823.asp. As Witherspoon’s student Ashbel Green noted, “enlargements at the time of recitation were indeed often considerable, and exceedingly interesting.” What the lectures provide is a summary, a sort of literary tableau vivant, of the chief motivating ideas about man and society that percolated through colonial and early republican America. . In 1789, he was one of a handful of people (Madison was another) to whom Hamilton turned for advice in preparing two of his landmark state papers on public credit. [7] Shortly after his baptism, however, Montgomery fled his bondage on a ship bound for Virginia. In the first Genealogy of the Witherspoon Family (in America) by his grandson, Robert Witherspoon (1728-1788) states "My Grandfather and Grandmother wer born in Scotland about the year 1670; they were cousins and both of one Sir Name, his name was John and hers was Janet; they lived in their younger years in, or near, Glasgow at a place called Begardie; were … The statue is of Doctor John Witherspoon, past President of Princeton, the only clergyman to sign our Declaration of Independence, and probably our least known, “founding father.” The John Witherspoon story begins on February 5, 1723 in Scotland when he was born to Reverend James Alexander Witherspoon and Anne Walker Witherspoon. But during his lifetime Witherspoon enjoyed a very high reputation not only as a clergyman but also as a public intellectual and man of affairs. On the contrary, he seems to have regarded them primarily as a pedagogical resource, more of a starting point or springboard for discussion than a polished lecture. Collins, President Witherspoon, A Biography, 2:3. Witherspoon did not deviate much from Calvinist strictness on social or cultural matters. John Witherspoon's statue on Princeton's main campus. [4] Witherspoon granted him a certificate verifying his “good Christian conduct” and then baptized him under the name James Montgomery in April 1756. In The Political Philosophy of James Madison (2001), Garrett Ward Sheldon describes the daily routine of the college under Witherspoon. Nietzsche observes that a pupil repays a teacher poorly if he remains nothing more than a pupil. “A regimen,” Sheldon wryly remarks, “I’m sure similar to that conducted by Princeton students today.” But it wasn’t so much discipline that distinguished Princeton: it was intellectual sophistication. It was also an institution fired by a commitment to freedom of conscience. John Witherspoon of the College of New Jersey who was a founding father and signer of the Declaration of Independence. When the Revolutionary War finally broke out, many—even George III—called it “The Presbyterian Rebellion.” Ambrose Serle, a British clerk who accompanied the British army from 1776–1778, observed that “Presbyterianism is really at the Bottom of the whole Conspiracy.” He wasn’t wrong. One of his signal contributions at Princeton was to have steered the institution away from the misty if perfervid idealism of Jonathan Edwards, who had presided over the college a few years before. For them, he said, religion will be perfected only “when we shall have driven away the whole common people … and captivated the hearts of the gentry to a love of our solitary temples.”. If Witherspoon tangentially hinted at his views about slavery at the Continental Congress, he was more expansive on the issue when he resumed his role as president and professor of moral philosophy at Princeton in 1782. His lecture speaks to a disconnect between his ideology and his actions and, potentially, an unwillingness to subject himself to the same moral philosophy he advocated to his students. Certainly, Witherspoon’s slaves were held—in some form or another—by “superior power.” Nonetheless, Witherspoon retained ownership over them. But for every Jefferson who re-wrote the Bible excising every mention of miracles, there was a platoon of men like Madison who wrote commentaries on the Bible. There are some deep confusions, as when Witherspoon seems to conflate the views of Hume with those of Bishop Berkeley. But John Witherspoon was a formidable intellectual and political leader whose role in the affairs of colonial and early republican America deserves wider recognition. Only when the outcome of the war was certain did he return to his duties at Princeton. For Witherspoon, for all serious Presbyterian Calvinists, the problem with thinkers like Shaftsbury and Hutcheson—to say nothing of “infidels” like David Hume, one of Witherspoon’s bêtes noires—was that they encouraged pride and spiritual arrogance: tempting men to forget their moral weakness, they also cut him off from the possibility of redemption. John Witherspoon was a Pastor, President of Princeton and signer of the Declaration of Independence. James J. Gigantino II, “Trading in Jersey Souls,” 296-97. A son of the manse on both sides of his family, he was a potent rhetorician and controversialist, an important ally for those whose allegiance to conservative religious principles was fired by a commitment to individual liberty and freedom of conscience. For her senior thesis, she explored Princeton's sixth President, John Knox Witherspoon, and his ties to slavery. Slavery in the British North American colonies was unlike anything Witherspoon knew from his native country of Scotland, where demand for tobacco, sugar, and cotton created a market for the products of enslaved labor, but did not require the presence of enslaved people themselves. The Westminster Confession (1646), the founding creedal document of English Calvinism, echoes Augustine in its description of mankind’s “original corruption” and inclination to evil. In 1789, when he was sixty-six, Witherspoon lost his wife of forty-two years. Roger Kimball is Editor and Publisher of The New Criterion and President and Publisher of Encounter Books. Madison is often called “the father of the Constitution.” His contributions to The Federalist, especially his analysis of the danger of and remedy for “faction,” is a masterpiece of political philosophy. Revell Company, 1906), 179. Ira Berlin, Generations of Captivity: A History of African-American Slaves (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003), 53-81. Born in Scotland and educated at Edinburgh, Witherspoon came to America in … Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998). 1778-1796; 1778-1796; Board of Trustees Records, Volume 1B; Princeton University Archives, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library. And in 1779, when Witherspoon moved from the President’s House on campus into the newly completed country home he called “Tusculum,” he purchased two enslaved people to help him farm the 500-acre estate.[11]. Chavis, John; circa 1796; Historical Subject Files Collection, Box 101, Folder 35; Princeton University Archives, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library. For us looking back on the generation of the Founders, it is easy to deprecate the religious inheritance that, for many of them, formed the ground of their commitment to political liberty. See: Antony Dugdale, “Ezra Stiles College,” Yale, Slavery and Abolition, accessed 10 August 2017, http://www.yaleslavery.org/WhoYaleHonors/stiles1.html. He was 77. —John Adams on John Witherspoon, 1774. Who is the most unfairly neglected American Founding Father? Ultimately, the committee’s vote against immediate abolition allowed slavery to continue in New Jersey largely undisturbed until 1804, when the state finally passed a gradual emancipation law. The day began at 5 A.M. with the morning bell. And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion.” For many, perhaps most, of the Founders, Morrison observes, the chain of reasoning ran thus: “no republic without liberty, no liberty without virtue, and no virtue without religion.” John Witherspoon did as much as anyone to nurture that understanding. A good Scot, Witherspoon was blessed with keen fiscal intelligence. John Witherspoon was a Scottish-American Presbyterian minister and a Founding Father of the United States. [Thus it is that] the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights. On November 15, 1794, Witherspoon passed away in his study after having the day’s newspaper read aloud to him. “What is pride?” Augustine asks in The City of God. This Scotch Presbyterian divine came to America to preside over a distressed college in Princeton, New Jersey, and wound up transmitting to the colonies critical principles of the Scottish Enlightenment and helped to preside over the birth and consolidation of American independence. Taylor, Faith and Slavery in the Presbyterian Diaspora, 18. In July 1776, when the question of succession was hotly debated and one delegate argued that the country was not yet “ripe” for independence, Witherspoon shot back: “In my judgement the country is not only ripe for the measure, but in danger of becoming rotten for the want of it.”. In 1774, while serving as president, John Witherspoon privately tutored two free African men—Bristol Yamma and John Quamine—at the request of fellow ministers and educators Ezra Stiles and Samuel Hopkins. John Witherspoon One of the early beneficiaries of this union of religious seriousness with common-sense realism was James Madison. https://rts.edu/news/news-charlotte/kevin-deyoung-dissertation John Witherspoon and Jack Scott, An Annotated Edition of Lectures on Moral Philosophy (Newark : London: University of Delaware Press ; Associated University Presses, 1982), 125. Jeffry H. Morrison offers readers the first comprehensive look at the political thought and career of John Witherspoon—a Scottish Presbyterian minister and one of America’s most influential and overlooked founding fathers. Source: Political Sermons of the American Founding Era: 1730-1805, 2 vols, Foreword by Ellis Sandoz (2nd ed. In 1746, during the second Jacobite rising, Witherspoon was briefly imprisoned by rebel forces at the battle of Falkirk, an experience which his friend and first biographer, Ashbel Green, said dealt a “severe shock” to his nerves and had a permanent effect on his health. In some ways he may have welcomed death. [10] Witherspoon adapted to this new context by owning slaves himself, but he maintained a commitment to the religious instruction and education of people of African descent—much as he had with Jamie Montgomery in Scotland. John Witherspoon was born in Scotland and educated at the Haddington Grammar School. Founding Father - Rev. Yet this argument highlights a disconnect between Witherspoon’s stated ideology and his lived reality. Like John Witherspoon. Princeton, the only Presbyterian institution in the colonies, was deeply implicated in the rebellion. Witherspoon would go on to be one of the Founding Fathers of the United States as a signatory to the Declaration of Independence in 1776. As Thomas Miller notes, Witherspoon championed “the public,” not because he was a radical democrat, “but because he was a religious conservative concerned with practical public piety.” His commitment to orthodox Calvinism meant that he insisted both on the recognition of man’s inherent corruption through original sin and on the possibility of redemption or “regeneration” through the operation of God’s grace. He was lineally descended from John … He commanded immense prestige both in his native Scotland and, even more, in America. As the historian James H. Smylie put it, “Without preaching a sermon and yet relying upon his theological orientation, Madison translated the views of Witherspoon and the nature of man into a political instrument.”. John Witherspoon was a delegate from New Jersey to the Second Continental Congress and a signatory to the Declaration of Independence. John Witherspoon was born in Scotland on February 5, 1723. . In part, Morrison observes, the eclipse of Witherspoon’s reputation was due to such accidents as a fire that destroyed his library and correspondence: having less to work with, posterity tends to work less. Under Witherspoon’s tutelage, the college produced one presi- dent (James Madison), one vice-president (Aaron Burr), ten cabinet ministers, sixty members of congress, twelve governors, fifty-six state legislators, and thirty judges, including three justices of the supreme court. 17 (February 6, 1931), p. 2. Witherspoon’s relationship to slavery shifted when he accepted a position as president of the College of New Jersey in 1768. John Witherspoon, a man alike distinguished as a minister of the gospel, and a patriot of the revolution, was born in the parish of Yester, a few miles from Edinburgh, on the 5th of February, 1722. In fact, the Presbyterian Church settled this matter in 1741, decreeing that “baptism simply freed slaves from the bondage of sin and Satan,” but did not free them from their physical bondage. [23] The committee report recommended that the state take no action on the issue of abolition—claiming that slavery as an institution was already dying out in New Jersey and would not last beyond twenty-eight years. John Witherspoon is pictured in the background facing the large table, the second seated figure from the (viewer's) right. Within two years, Witherspoon had turned the red ink to black, preaching and fund-raising indefatigably from Boston to South Carolina. In his oral argument (a rare move for the otherwise quiet minister), Witherspoon reasoned that the value of land and houses, not slaves, was the best measure of the wealth of the country for taxation purposes. Ambition, Madison wrote in one of The Federalist’s most famous passages, “must be made to counteract ambition.”, Man’s redeemable nature makes self-government possible, but lingering depravity makes checks and balances a prudent indemnity. Witherspoon never intended to publish his lectures. 1. Inspired by revolutionary ideals of liberty and equality, some white Americans in northern states willingly sought to extend freedom to enslaved people. He was 77. Hi.s wife had died five As such, in Jack Scott’s words, they “provide a microcosm of the collective mind of the Revolutionary period.”. (“Wherever there is an interest and power to do wrong,” Madison wrote to Jefferson, “wrong will generally be done.”), But if there is a “a degree of depravity in mankind” (Federalist 55), so, too, “there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence.” Yet the way to nurture that esteem and confidence is not to rely upon the goodness of men (that, as Witherspoon put it, would be “folly”): “Enlightened statesmen,” Madison observed, “will not always be at the helm.” Rather, one should rely on man’s energy, his ambition and self-interest. He was sent, at an early age, to the public school at Haddington, and at the age of fourteen, he went on to the University of Edinburgh. Witherspoon’s reputation in Scotland was due partly to his talents as a preacher, partly to the power of his pen. [18] However, he also contributed to the founding of the United States by helping to draft the Articles of Confederation in 1777. John Witherspoon, an actor-comedian who for decades made audiences laugh in television shows and films, including the hit Friday franchise, died suddenly at his home today. This policy of supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives, might be traced through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public. While his colleagues Stiles and Hopkins would both eventually advocate for the abolition of slavery, Witherspoon’s motivations did not stem from antislavery sentiment. [26] At the time of his death, three of Witherspoon’s children lived and prospered in Southern states—at the heart of slavery in the young nation. David Walker Woods, John Witherspoon (New York: F.H. “Energy,” William Blake wrote, “is eternal delight.” Witherspoon was a prodigy of energy. After the midday meal there was another period of recitation and study. He was 77. “In fine,” Witherspoon writes in a section called the “Athenian Creed,” “I believe in the divinity of Lord S[haftesbury], the saintship of Marcus A[urelius], the perspicacity and sublimity of A[ristotle], and the perpetual duration of Mr. H[utcheson]’s works, notwithstanding their present tendency to oblivion. [6] He baptized Montgomery with the understanding that he was freeing him from sin, not slavery, and likely did not anticipate that his actions would embolden Montgomery to seek his freedom. His work turned Princeton into the Ivy League school it is today. Witherspoon did not appear to see a conflict between the relationship he had with Yamma and Quamine and the practice of slaveholding. As early as 1774, in an essay called “Thoughts on American Liberty,” he wrote that “We are firmly determined never to submit to, and do deliberately prefer war with all its horrors and even extermination itself, to slavery riveted upon us and our posterity.” He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the only clergyman among that group of fifty-six. In 1745, the year he was ordained, Witherspoon anonymously published Ecclesiastical Characteristics, or the Arcana of Church Polity. John Witherspoon and the Founding of the American Republic Book Description: Jeffry H. Morrison offers readers the first comprehensive look at the political thought and career of John Witherspoon—a Scottish Presbyterian minister and one of America’s most influential and overlooked founding fathers. Bound for Virginia positions in Congress from 1773 to 1776, then from 1780 1781. 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