John Witherspoon's American Revolution: Enlightenment and Religion from the Creation of Britain to the Founding of the United States

By Gideon Mailer | Go to book overview

{ CHAPTER 6 }
“EVERY ONE OF THEM FULL OF THE
OLD CAMERONIAN RESISTING SENTIMENTS”
PIETY, ANGLO-SCOTTISH UNION, AND AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE

In a private letter sent to John Witherspoon before his departure to America in 1768, Thomas Randall, a fellow Scottish clergyman, wrote that Witherspoon’s call “to the Presidency of N. Jersey College” ought to be “judged” as

a matter of thankfulness to GOD; as I have long thought it the intention
of Providence (after our abuse of our great mercies, and our dreadful
degeneracy from real religion) to fix the great seat of truth and righ-
teousness in America; and that N. Jersey seemed to promise fair for
being the nursery of the most approved instruments, for carrying on
that great design, in that wide continent.…

As to you, therefore, I esteemed it a distinguished honour, to be
called forth from so distant a region to the exercise of your talents in a
station so advantageous in the work of the gospel.

Randall sought to transport the “seat of truth and righteousness” from Scotland, where it had been corrupted by enemies, to America. He wrote to a man who, five years earlier, had claimed publicly that piety “often changes its residence, and leaves one nation, to settle in another.” Witherspoon changed his residence and supported the formation of a new political union. In 1643, his great-grandfather had signed a Solemn League and Covenant between the two nations of England and Scotland. In 1746, he had offered to fight in battle to continue their political union. Yet, in 1776, three decades after opposing Jacobites on behalf of Britain, he became the only clergyman to sign America’s Declaration of Independence.1

1. Thomas Randall to John Witherspoon, Mar. 4, 1767, in L. H. Buttefield, ed., John Witherspoon Comes to America: A Documentary Account Based Largely on New Materials (Princeton, N.J., 1953), 29; John Witherspoon, A Serious Apology for the Ecclesiastical Characteristics, in [Ashbel Green, ed.], The Works of the Rev. John Witherspoon D.D.L.L.D. Late President of the College at Princeton, New-Jersey…, 2d ed., rev., 4 vols. (Philadelphia, 1802), III, 223–224,

-217-

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