John Witherspoon Comes to America: A Documentary Account Based Largely on New Materials

John Witherspoon Comes to America: A Documentary Account Based Largely on New Materials

John Witherspoon Comes to America: A Documentary Account Based Largely on New Materials

John Witherspoon Comes to America: A Documentary Account Based Largely on New Materials

Excerpt

In his incomparable Literary History of the American Revolution, Moses Coit Tyler says of the sixth president of the College of New Jersey:

"Although John Witherspoon did not come to America until the year 1768,--after he had himself passed the middle line of human life,--yet so quickly did he then enter into the spirit of American society, so perfectly did he identify himself with its nobler moods of discontent and aspiration, so powerfully did he contribute by speech and act to the right development of this new nation out of the old cluster of dispersed and dependent communities, that it would be altogether futile to attempt to frame a just account of the great intellectual movements of our Revolution without taking some note of the part played in it by this eloquent, wise, and efficient Scotsman--at once teacher, preacher, politician, law-maker, and philosopher, upon the whole not undeserving of the praise which has been bestowed upon him as 'one of the great men of the age and of the world.'"

If this is one of the longest sentences in Tyler's volumes, it is also one of the most just. Considering his impact on the education, politics, and religion of his adopted country, John Witherspoon was unquestionably a great man.

The story of how he came to America is therefore important, and the present collection of letters tells this story more fully than it has been told before. The most detailed account hitherto available of the long and complex negotiations that brought Witherspoon to Princeton is that by Varnum Lansing Collins in his President Witherspoon, published in 1925. Collins' narrative is admirably written and firmly grounded on all the sources known when it was published. But the sources were relatively meager. Witherspoon's own early papers were apparently destroyed or scattered along with his library when the British occupied Princeton late in 1776. "Old Weatherspoon has not escap'd their fury," wrote Thomas Nelson, Jr. to Thomas Jefferson from Baltimore, 2 January 1777. "They have burnt his Library. It grieves him . . .

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