Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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WITHERSPOON, John, signer of the Declaration of Independence, born in Gifford, Haddingtonshire, Scotland, 5 February, 1722; died near Princeton, New Jersey, 15 September, 1794. Through his mother he was descended from John Knox. His father, James Witherspoon, was minister of the parish of Yester, which included the village of Gifford. The son was graduated at Edinburgh university in 1742, and in 1745 was ordained minister of the parish of Beith. While looking at the battle of Falkirk he was made a prisoner, and confined for two weeks, to the ' permanent injury of his health, tie gained a wide reputation, first by a d satirical essay on ecclesiastical abuses, and afterward by a disquisition on the Calvinistic doctrine of justification by faith, and was installed pastor at Paisley on 16 January, 1757, and in the course of a year was chosen moderator of the synod of Glasgow and Ayr. The University of Aberdeen conferred on him the degree of D. D. in 1764. He declined the presidency of Princeton college in 1766, but accepted a second invitation, and was inaugurated on 17 August, 1768. He brought with him 300 valuable volumes as a gift to the college, while his friends in Scotland and England gave many more. Finding the treasury empty, he made a tour in New England, obtaining subscriptions in Boston and other towns, secured aid also from South Carolina, Virginia, and other colonies, and issued "An Address to the Inhabitants of Jamaica and other West India Islands on Behalf of the College of New Jersey." His special department of instruction was that of divinity, and during the entire period of his presidency he officiated as pastor of the church in Princeton. He was the first teacher in this country of the system of metaphysics that was contemporaneously expounded in Scotland by Thomas Reid. He also enlarged the course of philosophy so as to include political science and international law, and promoted the study of mathematics. The college received a great expansion through his administrative ability and the introduction of progressive educational methods. Besides other improvements in the system of teaching, he introduced the lecture method, and gave lectures himself on rhetoric, moral philosophy, history, and theology. In 1772 he instituted a class in Hebrew, and he also introduced the study of the French language. He was a leader of the Presbyterians of the country in embracing the side of the patriots in the difficulties with the British crown, identifying himself with the colonial contention from his landing in America, and by his influence and example doing much to attach the Scotch and Scotch-Irish population to the patriot cause. When the preparations for a general congress were in progress he met the New Jersey committee at New Brunswick to urge resistance to the tea tax, and was accounted "as high a son of liberty as any man in America." On 17 May, 1776, which was appointed by congress as a day of fasting, he delivered a sermon on " The Dominion of Providence over the Passions of Men, which was published and dedicated to John Hancock, and reprinted in Glasgow with notes denouncing the author as a rebel and a traitor. The people of New Jersey elected him to the convention that framed the state constitution, and he surprised his fellow-members with his knowledge of law. On '22 June, after taking part, as a member of the Provincial congress, in the overthrow of the authority of the royal governor, William Franklin, he was elected to the Continental congress. He was impatient of delay in passing the Declaration of Independence, declaring that "he that will not respond to its accents, and strain every nerve to carry into effect its provisions, is unworthy the name of freeman," and protesting for himself that "although these gray hairs must soon descend into the sepulchre, I would infinitely rather that they should descend thither by the hand of the public executioner than desert at this crisis the sacred cause of my country." He was a member of the secret committee of congress whose labors were of supreme importance in the prosecution of the war. In November, 1776, he was appointed on a committee with two others to visit General Washington and confer with him on the military crisis, and in December, when congress had been driven from Philadelphia to Baltimore, he made one of a committee, the other members being Richard Henry Lee and John Adams, which issued a stirring appeal to the people. He was also a member of the board of war, and in 1778 was made a member of the committee on the finances. In the following year he distinguished himself as a member of the committee to procure supplies for the famishing army. He also acted in that year on the committee to conduct negotiations with the people of Vermont, who were determined to organize a new state on the New Hampshire grants. In 1779 he resigned his seat in congress on account of the expense that was incident to the place, and with the desire to devote his attention to a revival in the college" but he was persuaded to return in 1780. Many of the state papers on the emission of a paper currency, the mode of supplying the army by commission, and other important subjects were from his pen, and some of the chief measures of congress were initiated by him. Retiring from congress in 1783, he visited England with Joseph Reed, intending to appeal to the people of Great Britain and the continent for contributions to the treasury of Princeton college" but he found the British so embittered toward the people of this country that he refrained from presenting his object to the public. He did not resume the work of teaching after the war, but occupied himself with the administrative affairs of the college and with the cultivation of a farm near Princeton till the close of his life. For two years before his death he was blind. The earliest publication of Dr. Witherspoon was his "Ecclesiastical Characteristics, or the Arcana of Church Policy" being an Humble Attempt to open up the Mystery of Moderation," first issued without his name (Glasgow, 1753), but afterward avowed in "A Serious Apology for the 'Characteristics.'" His "Essay on the Connection between the Doctrine of Justification by the Imputed Righteousness of Christ and Holiness of Life" (Edinburgh, 1856) was often republished. The publication by the Reverend John Home of the tragedy of " Douglas"' drew from him a "Serious Inquiry into the Nature and Effects of the Stage" (Glasgow, 1757). A sermon entitled "Seasonable Advice to Young Persons" (Paisley, 1762), denouncing some young men for mocking the sacrament, subjected him to a heavy fine for libel. The first collection of his writings, which bore the title of "Essays on Important Subjects, with Ecclesiastical Characteristics" (3 vols., London, 1764), included an "Essay on Regeneration," which was also published separately. "Sermons on Practical Subjects" (Glasgow, 1768) and "Practical Discourses on Leading Truths of the Gospel" (1768) contained nine and fourteen homilies, respectively. After coming to this country he published single sermons; lectures on philosophy, eloquence, divinity, and education" an "Essay on Money," "Letters on Marriage," philological papers in "The Druid," and political essays, one of which, entitled "Considerations on the Nature and Extent of the Legislative Authority of the British Parliament" (Philadelphia, 1774), was attributed to Benjamin Franklin. After his death appeared a volume containing "Sermons on Various Subjects," and numerous controversial tracts, one of which was the "History of a Corporation of Servants," satirizing the Church of England, which was written before he left Scotland. A collected edition of his "Works," with his funeral sermon by Reverend Dr. John Lodgers, and a memoir of his life by Reverend Dr. Samuel S. Smith, was edited by the Reverend Dr. Ashbel Green (4 vols., New York, 1800-'1: 9 vols., Edinburgh, 1804). The "Life" had already appeared by itself (New York, 1795), and was reprinted in an edition of his "Select Works" (2 vols., London, 1804). Dr. Green left a memoir of Dr. Witherspoon which remains in manuscript in the library of the New Jersey historical society at Newark. A colossal statue of Witherspoon was unveiled on 20 Oct, ., 1876, in Fairmount park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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