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1 he Planting of Princeton Collegt

By John DeWitt, Class of i86i,

Professor in Princeton Theological Seminary.

(Reprinted from The Presbyterian and Reformed Review, for April, 1807.)


I. The Beginnings of University Life in America.

nr^HE course of study pursued in American colleges, the goal of
JL which is an education described distinctively as humane or
liberal, is easily traced to the seven liberal arts which passed
over from the schools of Greece and Rome to the Christian nations
of western Europe. The great North African father, St. Augus-
tine, who more than any other western writer determined the
theology of the Latin Church, in constructing his system of doc-
trine gave character also to the system of education which that
church accepted and. promoted. In his essay on the Christian
doctrine, he places a high value on the knowledge to be derived and
on the discipline to be secured from the books of the heathen, as
introductory to the study of the Divine Revelation. And the Divine
Revelation, as thus newly apprehended, becomes, in his view, both
the test of truth and the measure of intellectual values. In his tract,
De Ordiiie, an essay on the right method of developing the powers
of the mind, he recognizes seven as the complete number of the
liberal arts ; though it is not easy in his list to find the trivium,
the circle of the formal arts, and the quadrivium, the circle of
the material arts, Avhich afterwards were clearly distinguished.

From North Africa and Italy this curriculum was carried into
Britain. There it was given a home, largely under the influence
of Wilfrid, who, at the Council of Whitby, in C){j4:, led the Latin
or Benedictine party and overbore the Celtic influence which
threatened to command the English Church and to give cliaracter t(i
its worship and its life. The victory of Wilfrid at Wliitby resulted

Reprinted from the April, 1S97, iminber of The Presbyterian and Reformed Review^


not only in the adoption of the western tonsure and the western
mode of computing the date of Easter, but also in the establish-
ment in the growing towns of North umbria of schools for the study
of the liberal arts. Of these schools, no one became more prominent
or more widely useful than the school founded by Egbert, Arch-
bishop of York, of which Aelbert became the master, and in
which Alcuin received his education ; of which, also, Alcuin
became first the assistant master, and afterwards the principal. It
was a fortunate event for the western world, that, just at the time
when the Lombards were laying waste the cities of Italy, this
liberal education found a home in the north of England ; and it
was quite as fortunate, that, before the Danish invasion destroyed
the institutions of learning in England, the same curriculum was
carried from England by Alcuin himself, and, largely through his
labors, organized into monastic and cathedral schools in Charles
the Great's kingdom of the Franks.

The interest of Charles in the education of his people was sin-
cere and profound ;. and he could have secured no one as his minis-
ter of education better fitted than was Alcuin, by learning and
ardor and industry, to organize a system of schools for the king-
dom. It is not too much to say, that the future of large and gen-
erous culture in western Europe had never since the breaking up of
the Western Empire appeared brighter than it did when, at the
close of the eighth century, Charlemagne was crowned in Rome as
the successor of Constantine. But with the death of Charles and
the division of his kingdom, the sfcnlum ohscurum may almost be
said to have commenced. The power which had been centralized
in the crown was dissipated throughout the empire. Those who
had been the emperor's administrative agents, representing him as
lords of the counties, became hereditary and almost independent
sovereigns over their small domains. Instead of a strong monarch,
a multitude of feudal lords ruled western Europe. This dissipa-
tion of power was followed by disaster to some of the highest
interests of society. It made possible the pornocracy in the capi-
tal of Christendom. It substituted for a large and imposing
government a multitude of small and warring tyrannies. On
nothing was its induence more disastrous than on the schools of
the liberal arts which Charles and Alcuin had labored so hard to
establish and endow. Everywhere they fell into decay ; and with
their decay, worship became more sensuous and religion more
superstitious and less moral, until there appeared no good ground
for hope of a revival of learning, or of a reformation of religion,
or of the reorganization of society.

Yet the institutions of modern civilization had not died. Thev
were as an oak whose substance is in it when it casts its


leaves. The tenth century, the century of the dark age, had not
passed before the Holy Roman Empire in its second form was
unified under Otho the Great ; and the eleventh century had fin-
ished onl}^ half ot its course when the institutions of religion began
to be reformed and consolidated under the leadership of Hilde-
brand. These were the tokens and the results of a vital move-
ment which did not exhaust itself in the spheres of civil and
ecclesiastical government. The energy of the new life was quite
as manifest in the sphere of pure thought which it quickened, and
in the educational institutions which it reformed or created. The
awakened intellect of the eleventh century applied itself, with an
earnestness which has never been surpassed, to the study of the
great problems in philosophy and theology ; and this at many
centres throughout western Europe. For the study of these prob-
lems no better preparation was found than the curriculum of the
schools of Charlemagne extended and developed to satisfy the
demands of the new age. Less emphasis, indeed, was placed on
classical culture and more value was attached to dialectics than in
the days of Charles ; for the great work now consciously before
the mind of Europe was the organization and defense of the theol-
ogy of the Church and its correlation to fundamental truth.

As a result of this revival, in the twelllh and thirteenth cen-
turies the universities of mediaeval Europe appeared. They appear
so suddenly and at so many points that it is difficult, in the rapidity
of the movement, to note the several steps of their historical
development. They appeared, to mention only a few of them,
at Salerno and Bologna in Italy, at Paris, at Cologne, and
later at Oxford and Cambridge. They were substantially
guilds of students, gathered to hsten to the discourses of great
lecturers on subjects either within the limits of the trivium
and qitadriviym or without those limits on subjects for which
the study of the tn'vium and quwlrivhun had prepared them ; or
they were guilds of lecturers who attracted students. On the
teachers who constituted the faculty of each of these universities
was bestowed by the pope or the monarch the privilege of teach-
ing, and this developed into the right to grant licenses to teach.
The license soon became the master's degree {Ma;/ister Sludeii -
tium), which is historically the first of the degrees in the liberal
arts.* At these universities, owing to the necessities of the students,

* A degree was a license to tcacli. II carried witli it {he jus docendi. Master,
Doctor and Professor were at first intercliangeable words designating one who
had received a license. The Bachelor was a student and apprentice. He
could teach under the direction and supervision of a master, but not indepen-
dently. Still he had taken a step (fjradmn) toward the mastership or doctor-
ate and so may be said to have attained a degree, or been graduated.


colleges were soon established. These were houses founded by the
munificence of the benevolent for a specific number of scholars.
They were founded to provide food and lodging and personal
instruction for their inmates, and to give to them a household
government and religious direction which might hold them safe
amid the temptations of a large and free community. So Oxford
was established in the twelfth century, and Cambridge a few
years later. At the close of the century Oxford was the seat of a
university, and early in the thirteenth century the University of
Cambridge was organized with a chancellor as its chief officer.
Around these universities grew up the colleges ; as University and
Balliol at Oxford, as Peterhouse and Pembroke at Cambridge ;
and the large and beneficent influence of both university and col-
lege on the life of England was soon and widely recognized.

The earliest colleges planted in America not only adopted the
curriculum of the European universities and manifested their spirit
in new conditions, but are descended from them. Almost the
youngest of the colleges of Cambridge is Emmanuel, founded in
1584. From the beginning of its life it was the home of Puritan-
ism.* Indeed, from the beginning of the Puritan movement this
was true of the university. Before Emmanuel College existed, as
Mr. Froude has said, ' ' Cambridge, which had been the nursery of
the reforms, retained their spirit. When Cambridge offended the
irovernment of Elizabeth it was by oversympathy with Cartwright
and the Puritans." This sympathy with Puritanism on the part
of the university at the close of the sixteenth century was most
intense in Emmanuel. From Emmanuel came the most of the
founders of Harvard. In this way, just when Emmanuel College
tiad passed the first half cqntury of its existence, Cambridge Univer-
sity became the mother of the oldest of the American universities.
Thus, both because of intellectual and religious sympathy, and
bv the mode of a visible historical descent, the spirit of the insti-
tution which had long existed on the banks of the Cam in Eng-
land, was embodied in the new institution of learning established
on the bank of the Charles in New England. So strong was the
sense of their indebtedness to the university in the mother country,
and so intense was the feeling of historical relationship, that the
founders of Harvard changed the name of the village in which the

* " Emmaauel owed its origin to the same movement of thouglit which pro-
duced your Commonwealth, and the ideas which found expression on the coast
of Massachusetts Bay were fostered in Sir Walter Mildmay's new College at
Cambridge. Emmanuel College was founded to be a stronghold of the Puri-
tan party in the days when they were waging a stubborn and determined war
for the possession of the English Church."вАФ Prof.^ISIandell Creighton, Record
of Harvard University's 250th Anniversary, p. 277.


new college was given a home from Newtown to Cambridge. The
college soon justified the hopes of its founders ; the hopes especi-
ally of that " reverend and godl}^ lover of learning," John Har-
vard, who endowed it with one-half of his entire propertv, and
from whom it obtained its name.

Sixty-five years later Harvard College became, in turn, the
mother of another college. For just as Harvard traces its origin
to graduates of Emmanuel, Yale traces its beginnings to the Rev.
James Pierpont, a Harvard graduate of the class of 1681, and the
Rev. Abraham Pierson, a Harvard graduate of the class of 1668.
The governor of Massachusetts, Earl Bellamont, w^hen addressing
the General Court of the Province in 1699, made this remark :
" It is a very great advantage 3^ou have above other provinces,
that your youth are not put to travel for learning, but have the
muses at their doors." It was not only the disadvantage of dis-
tance which the establishment of Harvard College overcame, but
the disadvantage also which the non-conforming subjects of Great
Britain at that time suffered, of inability, because non- conform-
ists, to enjoy the advantages of the English universities. Still
distance alone was thought a disadvantage in Connecticut. At the
close of the seventeenth century the population of the New England
colonies had risen to one hundred thousand; and already, in the
colony of Connecticut-, with a population of fifteen thousand, the
need of an institution of liberal learning was deeply felt. Like
the founders of the college at Cambridge, Massachusetts, those
most active in founding Yale College were ministers of the Gospel,
the most of them graduates of Harvard. In Dexter's historical
sketch of Yale University, he says that " tradition describes a
meeting of a few Connecticut pastors at Branford, the next town
east of New Haven, about the last of September, 1701, and implies
that to constitute a company of founders, those then met gave (or
probably, for themselves and in the name of tlieir mo.^t active
associates, agreed to give) a collection of books, as the foundation
for a college in the colony." The college cliarter clearl}^ indicates
that the end intended to be secured by the establishment of Tale
was that which had led to the founding of Harvard and the universi-
ties from which it was descended. Full liberty and privileges
were granted to the undertakers ' ' for the founding, suitably endow-
ing and ordering a collegiate school Avithin His Majesty's colonies
of Connecticut wherein youth may be instructed in the arts and
sciences who, through the blessing of Almighty God, may be fitted
for public employment in the Church and civil State." During
the same year, 1701, the trustees under the charter held tlieir first
meeting ; and Yale College began its great and beneficent career.


Harvard and Yale, witli the Virginia College of William and Mary,
the last founded by a royal charter in 1698, were the only institu-
tions of higher learning in the colonies at the commencement of
the eighteenth century. In important respects they were alike in
origin and aim. Each of them arose among a homogeneous people.
Each was the college of a people compacted by common religious
beliefs and common modes of worship, by common social customs
and ideals. Each was the college of but a single colony,
separated from the other colonies by distance, by its special govern-
ment, and not seldom by conflicting interests. Each was a college
born of the needs of the religious communion which was united
with the State : and, what it is specially important to notice, each
was born at a time when the colonies stood separate from one
another, each colony valuing most highly what was distinctive in
its constitution, and conscious only of a loose union with the other
colonies through the common government across the sea. Each
came into existence years before the colonists began to realize
their unity as Americans, and to be conscious of their affection for
a common country.

The conditions under which the fourth American college, the
college at Princeton, was born, gave to it in important respects a
different character. It was not the college of an established
Church. It was not the college of a single colony. It was not the
college of a people sprung from a single nationality. It sprang out
of the life of a voluntary religious communion which had spread
itself over several colonies, and which united a large portion of
their people in common aims and activities ; and it sprang into
being at the time when Americans were beginning to be conscious
of their unity as Americans, and when the sentiment of patriotism
for a common country was beginning to energize in united political
action. In this way, at its birth, this fourth American college had
impressed upon it a national and American character, which it has
never lost, which has largely determined its patronage and its
policy, and which, during the war of independence and the period
of constitutional construction following the war, enabled it to render
great and special services to the United States.

The middle colonies, unlike New England, were settled by peo-
ples holding differing creeds and sprung from several nationalities.
"When East and West Jersey were united in 1702, the Province
of New Jersey formed by the union contained fifteen thousand
souls. This population was made up mainly of English Friends,
of New England Puritans, and of Presbyterians from Scotland and
Ireland. The settlers increased rapidly ; so that when, in 1738,
the Province sought an administration distinct from that of


ISTew York, it contained not less than forty thousand people. The
conquest of New York by the British had introduced into that city
and the colony to which it belonged a mixed population. The
Province of Pennsylvania, organized by the liberal constitution
called "The Holy Experiment," had opened its vast territory to
English Friends, Germans of the Reformed, Lutheran and Ana-
baptist Churches and Presbyterians from the north of Ireland.
The wave of immigration from Presbyterian Ulster, on touchino-
the American shore, spread itself more widely than any other.
Scoto-Irish Presbyterians were to be found in New York, in New
Jersey, in Pennsylvania and in the southern colonies. They
easily allied themselves with each other and in the middle colo-
nies with the Puritan settlers from New England. This alliance
between the Scoto-Irish and the New England Puritans gave to
the Presbyterian Church, from the beginning, what may be called
properly an American as distinguished from a New England or
Scotch-Irish character. The Presbytery of Philadelphia, organ-
ized as early as 1705 or 1706, by seven ministers, represented at
least four sources of the colonial population. In 1717 a synod
was formed with the three presbyteries of Long Island, Phila-
delphia and New Castle. This organization was the strongest
bond between a large part of the growing population in the three
adjoining colonies. It united them in a single church. It
brought together, often and at stated times, their religious
leaders. The Puritan clergymen of East Jersey who were grad-
uates of Harvard or Yale, and the Scotch- Lrisli ministers of Penn-
sylvania who had won their degrees at Glasgow or Edinburgh,
met and conferred at the synod and, after their return to their
parishes, corresponded with one another on the welfare of their
congregations, of the communities in which they lived, and of
what they were beginning to call their common country. In
these conversations and letters, the need of ministers for the
rapidly multiplying churches^ and the need also of educated leaders
for the rapidly forming communities were often mentioned for the
reason that they were deeply felt. The conviction soon became
strong and wellnigh unanimous, that these needs could only be sup-
plied by a college for the middle colonies.

II. The Origin of the College of New Jersey.

In presenting the origin of Princeton College, one can best begin
by repeating the statement just made, namely, that during the first
half of the eighteenth century, by far the strongest bond uniting
a large proportion of the population of southern New York, East
and West Jersey and the Province of Pennsylvania, was the organ-


ized Presbyterian Churcli. It constituted for these people a far
stronger social tie than the common sovereignty of Great Britain ;
for this sovereignty was manifested in different forms in the differ-
ent colonies ; and, except in Pennsylvania, where the proprie-
tary's spirit of toleration had fair play, it neither deserved nor
received the affection of the colonists. In an important sense the
British rule was that of a foreign power. The New Englanders
in East Jersey were settlers under a government in whose
administration they had no share. Far from controlling, they
could with difficulty influence the political action of the governor
and his council. In southern New York the Dutch were restive
under the English domination. In New York city and on Long
Island the relations between the Scottish Presbyterians and New
England Puritans on one hand, and the English Episcopalians on
the other, were often severely strained ; and it was only the latter
to whom, on the whole, the king's representative was at all friend-
ly. In Pennsylvania there were English Friends, Germans who
had been invited by Penn to settle in the eastern counties of the
Province, and Scotch-Irish Presbyterians. The last-named immi-
grants landed at the port of Philadelphia in large numbers
and took up farms in the rich valleys between the mountain
ranges. From the " Irish settlement" at the union of the Dela-
ware and the Lehigh where the city of Easton now stands, to
Harris' Ferry on the SuscLuehanna, now the capital of the State,
there were many Presbyterian communities ; and from these, in
turn, moved new emigrations to the great valley, called the Cum-
berland Valley, north of the Potomac, and, 'south of that river, the
Valley of Virginia.

These differing populations formed segregated communities in
each of the colonies ; and the affection felt by them for the com-
mon government of Great Britain being v/eak, the middle colonies
were not held together by the feeling of a common national life.
But a religious union, embracing a considerable number of settlers
in each of the provinces, was rapidly growing ; and this religious
union was to exert an important and continuall}^ increasing influ-
ence both in unifying the colonies and in making America, and
not a country across the sea, the object of the deepest patriotic affec-
tion. This religious union was the Presbyterian Church. The
Presbyterians of the middle colonies and of Maryland and Virginia
had secured a visible unity when, in 1705 or 1706, their pastors and
churches were organized as a presbytery. Touching the character
of this organization, there has been a good deal of debate. But
whether formed on the model of the English presbyterial associa-
tion* or on that of the more highly specialized Scotch presbytery,

* Briggs' Amer. Pres., p. 139.


the Presbytery of Philadelphia, as it was popularly called, fur-
nished a means of association and of interchange of ideas anion g
the English-speaking clergymen who were scattered along the
Atlantic coast from Cape Charles to Montauk Point. Into this
new ecclesiastical organization soon came the New England con-
gregations of East Jersey. By 1720 the Presbyterian Church was
composed of German, Dutch, Scotch -Irish and New l^ngland ele-

The rapid growth of the population, the need of new churches
and the opportunities offered to organize them impressed on the
Presbyterian ministers of that day the need of an increase in their
own ranks. Others might be depended upon to organize the
material elements of civilization in the new communities ; but, just
as it was at an earlier date in New England, the duty of providing
religious teachers for the people was largely left to the ministers
already at work. Francis Makemie, the first Presbyterian minister
to come from Ireland to America, gave expression to his anxiety
on this subject in letters written to Increase Mather of Boston and
to correspondents in Ireland and London. In response to calls from
the settlers, some ministers came from New England and others
from Ireland ; but the supply was far from being equal to the
demand. As the churches multiplied, the original presbytery was
divided into several presbyteries, and these were organized as a
synod. And the members of the synod, becoming more distinctly
conscious of their mission to their common country, began to
agitate the question of their independence, in respect to ministerial
education, of both Great Britain and New England.

This agitation did not terminate in itself. A few ministers,
unwilling to wait for ecclesiastical action, opened private schools in
which they taught the liberal arts ; and to the students thus pre-
pared who desired to become readers in divinity, they offered
themselves as preceptors. Precisely these steps in behalf of
liberal education were taken by the two Presbyterian ministers of
New Jersey who afterwards became the first two presidents of
Princeton, Jonathan Dickinson of Elizabethtown, and Aaron Burr
of Newark. Still another Presbyterian minister, William Ten-
nent, opened a private school destined to become far more influen-
tial than the school of either Dickinson or Burr. This was the
Log College at the Forks of the Neshaminy.

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