Whether that is a sign of our maturity and sophistication or only, as Witherspoon might put it, our pride and natural depravity is a question we might do well ponder. For all of his discussion about the injustice of holding men in bondage against their will, Witherspoon ultimately concluded that emancipating them was not necessary, stating: Witherspoon’s conclusion that emancipation of slaves was not a “necessity” conveniently absolved him and other slaveholders of their moral dilemma. [3] Jamie Montgomery may, in fact, have been the only enslaved person in Beith. 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.”. Within two years, Witherspoon had turned the red ink to black, preaching and fund-raising indefatigably from Boston to South Carolina. John Witherspoon was born in Scotland on February 5, 1723. Collins, President Witherspoon, A Biography, 2:3. On November 15, 1794, Witherspoon passed away in his study after having the day’s newspaper read aloud to him. Even after that, however, slavery continued in New Jersey until the end of the Civil War.[24]. The fact that today his work goes unread and the name “Witherspoon” is more broadly associated with his direct descendant, the actress Reese Witherspoon, tells us something about the fragility of fame. It is unlikely that Witherspoon considered Jamie Montgomery, John Quamine, Bristol Yamma, or John Chavis on the same level as his horses. Enjoy the best John Witherspoon Quotes at BrainyQuote. Both Stiles and Hopkins were Presbyterian clergymen who operated out of Rhode Island. [9] In Witherspoon’s new home, however, enslaved people lived and worked on large plantations, country estates, small farms, and even urban businesses to produce the lucrative goods the international market demanded. The one significant influence in this tradition came from an unsurprising source: a Presbyterian pastor named John Witherspoon. [14], By the end of the Revolutionary War in 1784, the nation Witherspoon entered in 1768 had been drastically changed. 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.”. 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. David Walker Woods, John Witherspoon (New York: F.H. Special thanks to T. Jeffrey Clarke for bringing the date of Witherspoon’s move to Tusculum to the author’s attention. 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. Princeton, the only Presbyterian institution in the colonies, was deeply implicated in the rebellion. [13] Perhaps the college’s reputation throughout the country and Witherspoon’s reputation within the Presbyterian Church inspired Chavis to apply to the trustees. In 1745, the year he was ordained, Witherspoon anonymously published Ecclesiastical Characteristics, or the Arcana of Church Polity. 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. John Witherspoon is pictured in the background facing the large table, the second seated figure from the (viewer's) right. 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. It has been a literary festival of Founders these last few years, and a good thing, too. It is unclear whether the College ever acted on the charge to fund Chavis. John Witherspoon Witherspoon never intended to publish his lectures. Witherspoon held intermittent positions in Congress from 1773 to 1776, then from 1780 to 1781. “Your talents have been in some measure buried,” he wrote Witherspoon, “but at Princeton they will be called into action, and the evening of your life will be much more effulgent than your brightest meridian days have been.” Eventually, Elizabeth Witherspoon relented, and in 1768 the seven Witherspoons made the journey to America, never to return. His investment in their religious education certainly seems to suggest otherwise. 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. 17 THE DOMINION OF PROVIDENCE OVER THE PASSIONS OF MEN. This austere, Augustinian strain of Christianity put the temptation of pride at the center of its spiritual economy. In the Articles of Confederation, leaders of the new country codified slavery as a national institution and delineated the nature of human property. Share with your friends. He was 77. 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. 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. Madison went to Princeton from his home in Virginia in 1769 when he was eighteen. It was Witherspoon, for example, who is thought to have introduced the Latin term “campus” to describe the grounds of a college. John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Washington—whom have I left out? In 1757, for example, he published Serious Inquiry into the Nature and Effects of the Stage, which effects, as the title suggests, turned out to be bad. Collins, President Witherspoon, A Biography, 2:177. You might think that none can be unfairly neglected, so many books about that distinguished coterie have been published lately. John Adams was notoriously stingy with praise (Hamilton he called “the bastard son of a Scotch pedlar,” Washington “old mutton-head”), but Witherspoon emerged in his estimation “an animated son of Liberty.” Jefferson was always going on about the “irritable tribe of priests” and castigated Presbyterians as “the loudest most intolerant of sects,” but he was cordiality itself when it came to the great Dr. Witherspoon. Harvard was older than Princeton, but under Witherspoon the New Jersey school became a political and intellectual powerhouse. A good Scot, Witherspoon was blessed with keen fiscal intelligence. [Thus it is that] the private interest of every individual may be a sentinel over the public rights. Witherspoon did not deviate much from Calvinist strictness on social or cultural matters. (“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. 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. Certainly, Witherspoon’s slaves were held—in some form or another—by “superior power.” Nonetheless, Witherspoon retained ownership over them. Witherspoon’s relationship to slavery shifted when he accepted a position as president of the College of New Jersey in 1768. In 1789, when he was sixty-six, Witherspoon lost his wife of forty-two years. John Witherspoon (February 5, 1723 – November 15, 1794) was a minister, college president, and member of the Continental Congress. This piece of homely political wisdom is not just consonant with, it is a direct product of Madison’s Calvinist background, a background that was formed and articulated in large part by Witherspoon’s teaching. 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. 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. But this is hardly surprising. As did even the more skeptical Washington, who in his Farewell Address observed that “of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. 2 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1925), 167. Witherspoon’s accomplishments clearly establish him as a Founding Father of the United States. One of the early beneficiaries of this union of religious seriousness with common-sense realism was James Madison. John Witherspoon PRINCETON; 1776 John Witherspoon (1723–1794). John Witherspoon taught a large group of the Founding Fathers, his college; Princeton, proscribed the dominant view in America; Harvard, Columbia, Yale, Penn, and every other institution of higher learning, including the country at large, believed in the same views. Taylor, Faith and Slavery in the Presbyterian Diaspora, 18. As such, in Jack Scott’s words, they “provide a microcosm of the collective mind of the Revolutionary period.”. In particular, his lecture “On Politics” considered the institution of slavery on a moral, not practical, level for the first time. Born in Scotland and educated at the University of Edinburgh, Witherspoon was … He was 77. Source: Political Sermons of the American Founding Era: 1730-1805, 2 vols, Foreword by Ellis Sandoz (2nd ed. Copyright © 2021 The Trustees of Princeton University. No wonder Morrison calls his first chapter “Forgotten Founder.”. His was a voice of firm moderation: generally conciliatory in tone but unyielding about matters of principle. “What is pride?” Augustine asks in The City of God. by John Eidsmoe O n November 15, 1794. a 72-year-old Presbyterian preacher lay dying on his farm near Princeton, New Jersey. John Witherspoon and Jack Scott, An Annotated Edition of Lectures on Moral Philosophy (Newark : London: University of Delaware Press ; Associated University Presses, 1982), 125. John Knox Witherspoon (1723-1794)—clergyman, educator, and founding father—served as Princeton’s sixth president from 1768 until his death in 1794. 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. John Witherspoon’s relationship to slavery forces us to reconsider of the history and legacy of slavery at Princeton University. On May 17, 1776, John Witherspoon (1723-94) preached one of the most significant sermons in the history of this country. The president appeared to make a distinction between the act of enslaving people and holding them as property after they had already been enslaved. He acquired a Master of Arts from the prestigious University of Edinburgh in 1739 and then took a notion to study divinity. 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. 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. After the midday meal there was another period of recitation and study. John Witherspoon’s ideology of slavery—as seen in his actions as a Revolutionary-era statesman and professor of moral philosophy—both reflected and shaped New Jersey’s gradualism. Indeed, Witherspoon’s Lectures on Moral Philosophy are heavily indebted to Hutcheson’s work, especially his two-volume System of Moral Philosophy (1755) and the “common sense” school epitomized by Thomas Reid (1710–1796). Which is perhaps yet another reason he is less known today than other figures from the period. 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. Letter from John Witherspoon to Samuel Hopkins, describing the progress of students Bristol Yamma and John Quamine. 1778-1796; 1778-1796; Board of Trustees Records, Volume 1B; Princeton University Archives, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library. “A satire that does not bite,” Witherspoon observed, “is good for nothing.” In Witherspoon’s view, the Moderates cut the heart out of religion. . John’s father was the son of the Presbyterian Scot, Rev. 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. His work turned Princeton into the Ivy League school it is today. John Witherspoon was a delegate from New Jersey to the Second Continental Congress and a signatory to the Declaration of Independence. The contemporary record is full of encomia and tokens of deference. . Yet this argument highlights a disconnect between Witherspoon’s stated ideology and his lived reality. John Witherspoon of the College of New Jersey who was a founding father and signer of the Declaration of Independence. John Trumbull's "Declaration of Independence" (1819). John Witherspoon: memorable moments from a career in comedy – video obituary Actor-comedian John Witherspoon, who memorably played Ice Cube’s father in the Friday films, has died. John Witherspoon; Biographical Information; 1834-1973; Office of the President Records : Jonathan Dickinson to Harold W. Dodds Subgroup, Box 2, Folder 13-14; Princeton University Archives, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library. [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. Like John Witherspoon. “Energy,” William Blake wrote, “is eternal delight.” Witherspoon was a prodigy of energy. Preaching at Princeton, the Scottish pastor turned college president, delivered his most famous address. Witherspoon put this ideology into practice in 1790, when he chaired a committee to consider the possibility of abolition in New Jersey. Princeton historian Thomas Jefferson Wertenbaker titled his chapter on Witherspoon “Cradle of Liberty.”[27] But in his life and career, Witherspoon also contributed to the United States becoming a cradle of slavery from its very founding. Witherspoon led Princeton University (then called the College of New Jersey) through the Revolutionary War, becoming the only clergyman and college president to sign the Declaration of Independence. John Witherspoon is perhaps best known for signing the Declaration of Independence (the only clergyman and only college president to do so). Witherspoon was, as one commentator put it, less an original than a “representative” thinker. He then went on to become a Protestant minister at the Church of Scotland and was an avid supporter of republicanism. He later testified to his belief that “by being baptized he would become free,” sparking debate within Scottish legal and religious communities regarding the morality of slavery.[8]. In some ways he may have welcomed death. Founding Father - Rev. At 6 A.M. there were chapel services. 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. 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. A sermon, preached at Princeton, on the 17th of May, 1776.... To which is added, An address to the natives of Scotland, residing in America. John Witherspoon Quotes (Author of The dominion of providence over the passions of men. There are some deep confusions, as when Witherspoon seems to conflate the views of Hume with those of Bishop Berkeley. Portrait of John Witherspoon, Princeton's sixth president. 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. His actions stood in direct contrast to his dehumanizing words in the Continental Congress. 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. Nietzsche observes that a pupil repays a teacher poorly if he remains nothing more than a pupil. Born in Scotland and educated at Edinburgh, Witherspoon came to America in … The day began at 5 A.M. with the morning bell. John Witherspoon (1723-1794), Princeton’s sixth president and founding father of the United States, had a complex relationship to slavery. So highly did Rush esteem the fiery cleric that (so it is said) he proposed to his future wife partly because of her enthusiasm for Witherspoon. His father was the minister of the parish of Yester. XXXI, No. 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. [20] In his lectures, Witherspoon discussed the nature of politics and the creation of the new nation—including the role of slavery within the country. Jeffry Morrison’s brief, excellent new book, John Witherspoon and the Founding of the American Republic,[1] both testifies to and partly redresses the neglect Witherspoon has suffered. While Virginia debated whether Anglicanism should be recognized as the only established state religion (Witherspoon was vociferously against it), Presbyterians and Congregationalists argued for religious freedom. Roger Kimball is Editor and Publisher of The New Criterion and President and Publisher of Encounter Books. Vol. Witherspoon deplored the gentrification of religion, its subordination to the genteel, humanistic, and worldly precepts fostered by self-declared Moderates and such pillars of the cultural establishment as Francis Hutcheson. John Witherspoon was not only a Founding Father, but in roles as preacher and professor he taught and influenced of the great men of the Founding era. It was also an institution fired by a commitment to freedom of conscience. In one of his essays on language, he coined the term “Americanism.” According to Thomas Miller, who edited an edition of Witherspoon’s selected works in 1990, his Lectures on Eloquence count as the first treatise on rhetoric in America. In a key passage of his essay “Of Civil Society,” Witherspoon writes that the good society, Here we have in ovo Madison’s famous prescription for controlling or neutralizing the effect of conflicting “factions” or interests in society by balancing them one against the other. Learn how your support contributes to our continued defense of truth. While a minister for the Beith parish of the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian), Witherspoon broke with tradition by baptizing an enslaved man named Jamie Montgomery. In the South, Witherspoon’s family and descendants built their lives and wealth on a foundation of slavery. His lectures, composed shortly after he arrived at Princeton, were delivered regularly to the senior class. 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. While his colleagues Stiles and Hopkins would both eventually advocate for the abolition of slavery, Witherspoon’s motivations did not stem from antislavery sentiment. Some passages are virtual paraphrases of other thinkers. 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. 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. Quotations by John Witherspoon, American Actor, Born January 27, 1942. Amen.”, Ecclesiastical Characteristics was a sensation, quickly plowing through five editions and earning its still-unknown author the abiding enmity of elite opinion. He graduated after two years but stayed in Princeton for another six months to study elementary Hebrew and theology with Witherspoon. He was, as one modern scholar puts it, “Quite possibly the most influential religious and educational leader in Revolutionary America.” In the last quarter of the eighteenth century, his imprint was everywhere, from small things to large. [18] However, he also contributed to the founding of the United States by helping to draft the Articles of Confederation in 1777. Wertenbaker, Princeton, 1746-1896, xxvii. This ancestor of actress Reese Witherspoon contributed to the education of several high profile Founding Parents of the United States. As he stated: By comparing slaves to horses, Witherspoon denied enslaved people their humanity and defined them simply as another form of property. 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. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998). Both of their congregations welcomed African-American members, enslaved and free. Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography of Thomas Jefferson, 1743-1790 (1821), 44. Others are virtual caricatures. When in 1768 he came to the College of New Jersey (as Princeton was then officially denominated), the young school was so nearly bankrupt that it could only afford to pay part of the travel expenses of its new president. As one Princeton historian has written: “his influence upon the college and upon American education was profound and lasting.”[1] In order to understand Witherspoon’s “profound and lasting” legacy, however, it is first necessary to understand his complex and sometimes contradictory relationship with slavery and enslaved people. 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]. Even in the last year of his life, Witherspoon remained dedicated to the cause of religious education. Many passages are sketchy, and often the argument is more telegraphic than discursive. In 1773, the eighteen-year-old Hamilton, bursting with ambition, presented himself to Witherspoon and asked to be admitted to the college and be allowed to advance “with as much rapidity as his exertions would enable him to.” Witherspoon was deeply impressed by the young man, but wrote denying his request because it was “contrary to the usage of the college.” Hamilton, for his part, was impressed by Witherspoon. John Witherspoon was born in Scotland and educated at the Haddington Grammar School. 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. Modern scholars, Morrison points out, “have not made much out of Witherspoon one way or another.” For example, a standard text called The Forgotten Leaders of the American Revolution (1955) omits Witherspoon entirely. John Witherspoon and the Founding of the American Republic, by David decided not to enter the ministry like his father but instead read law and became a member of the bar in New Bern. Rather, he hoped that these students would ultimately serve as missionaries and spread Christianity throughout Africa. [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. 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. William Harrison Taylor, ed., Faith and Slavery in the Presbyterian Diaspora (Bethlehem, PA: Lehigh University Press, 2016), 18. 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. After migrating to New Jersey in 1768, he also became a major figure in both Princeton and United States history. Her independent research focused on Princeton University's connection to slavery. [4] Witherspoon granted him a certificate verifying his “good Christian conduct” and then baptized him under the name James Montgomery in April 1756. As Jack Scott, the editor of a modern edition of Witherspoon’s Lectures on Moral Philosophy, noted, what began as a theological debate evolved into a “broad-gauged, thoroughly secular protest movement.” The role of Witherspoon and his brand of Presbyterian Calvinism in that protest movement cannot be overstated. Benjamin Rush spoke for many when, a few years after Witherspoon died, he eulogized him as “a man of great and luminous mind” and predicted that “his work will probably preserve his name to the end of time.” He radiated what his contemporaries called “presence”: a personal dignity and charisma that transcended ideological differences and commanded respect. The pair corresponded often on issues concerning the Presbytery. At first, the forty-five-year-old Witherspoon declined the post: his wife had no wish to uproot herself and their five children to decamp to a half-savage land thousands of miles from home. A fugitive slave worked on the Princeton campus. His Essay on Money as a Medium of Commerce, with Remarks on the Advantages and Disadvantages of Paper Admitted into General Circulation (1786) was not only a warning against adulterating the money supply but also an early brief for free market policies. 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. He was 77. 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