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reflects no small honour upon Dr. Witherspoon, that he should consent to cross the ocean, and take charge of a college in a new country, leaving behind him a sphere of great respectability, comfort, and usefulness. Having previously declined, it is understood, an urgent invitation to an honourable station in Dublin, in Rotterdam, and in the town of Dundee, in his own country. It deserves also to be mentioned, that a little previous to his embarking for America, and while. still in a state of suspense, respecting his duty, an unmarried gentleman of considerable fortune, and a relation of the family, offered to make him his heir, provided he would remain in Scotland.
Dr. Witherspoon arrived in America in August, 1768, and in the same month was inaugurated president of the college. The fame of his literary character caused an immediate accession to the number of students, and an increase of the funds of the college. At that time it had not been patronized by the state. It had been founded and supported by private liberality. At the period of Dr. Witherspoon's arrival, the finances of the college were in a low and declining condition. His reputation, however, in connexion with his personal exertions, excited the generosity of all parts of the country, from Massachusetts to Virginia; in consequence of which, the finances of the institution were soon raised to a flourishing state. During the war of the revolution, the college was broken up, and its resources nearly annihilated. Yet it can scarcely be estimated how much the institution owed, at that time, to the enterprise and talents of Dr. Witherspoon.
"But the principal advantages it derived," says Dr. Rogers, in a discourse occasioned by his death," were from his literature, his superintendency, his example as a happy model of good writing, and from the tone and taste which he gave to the literary pursuits of the college."
He made great alterations in every department of instruc"He endeavoured," says the same writer, "to establish the system of education in this institution, upon the most extensive and respectable basis, that its situation and its finances would admit. Formerly, the course of instruction had been
too superficial and its metaphysics and philosophy were too much tinctured with the dry and uninstructive forms of the schools. This, however, was by no means to be imputed as a defect to those great and excellent men who had presided over the institution before him, but rather to the recent origin of the country, the imperfection of its state of society, and to the state of literature in it. Since his presidency, mathematical science has received an extension that was not known before in the American seminaries. He introduced into philosophy all the most liberal and modern improvements of Europe. He extended the philosophical course to embrace the general principles of policy and public law; he incorporated with it sound and rational metaphysics, equally remote from the doctrines of fatality and contingency, from the barrenness and dogmatism of the schools, and from the excessive refinements of those contradictory, but equally impious sects of scepticism, who wholly deny the existence of matter, or maintain that nothing but matter exists in the universe.
"He laid the foundation of a course of history in the college, and the principles of taste, and the rules of good writing, were both happily explained by him, and exemplified in his manner." He possessed an admirable faculty for governing, and was very successful in exciting a good degree of emulation among the pupils committed to his care. Un der his auspices, many were graduated, who became distin guished for their learning, and for the eminent services which they rendered their countrymen as divines, as legislators, and patriots.
On the occurrence of the American war, the college was broken up, as has already been noticed, and the officers and students were dispersed. Dr. Witherspoon now appeared in a new attitude before the American public. Although a fo reigner, he had laid aside his prejudices on becoming a citizen of the country, and now warmly espoused the cause of the Americans against the English ministry. His distinguished abilities pointed him out to the citizens of New-Jersey, as one of the most proper delegates to that convention
which formed their republican constitution. In this respectable assembly he appeared, to the astonishment of all the professors of the law, as profound a civilian as he had before been known to be a philosopher and divine.
Early in the year 1776, he was elected a representative to the general congress, by the people of New-Jersey. He took his seat a few days previously to the fourth of July, and assisted in the deliberations on the momentous question of a declaration of independence. Of this measure he was an advocate. It was a happy reply which he made to a gentleman who, in opposing the measure, declared that the country was not yet ripe for a declaration of independence. "Sir," said he, in my judgment the country is not only ripe, but rotting."
For the space of seven years, Dr. Witherspoon continued to represent the people of New-Jersey in the general congress. He was seldom absent from his seat, and never allowed personal considerations to prevent his attention to of ficial duties. Few men acted with more energy and promptitude; few appeared to be enriched with greater political wisdom; few enjoyed a greater share of public confidence; few accomplished more for the country, than he did, in the sphere in which he was called to act. In the most gloomy and formidable aspect of public affairs, he was always firm, discovering the greatest reach and presence of mind, in the most embarrassing situations.
It is impossible here to particularise all, or even a small part of the important services which he rendered his country, during his continuance in the grand legislative council. He served on numerous committees, where his judgment and experience were of eminent importance. He seldom took part in the discussions of public measures, until, by reason and reflection, he had settled his ideas on the subject. He would then come forward with great clearness and power, and seldom did he fail to impart light to a subject, and cause even his opponents to hesitate. His speeches were usually composed in closet, and committed to memory. His memory was
unusually tenacious. He could repeat verbatim a sermon, or a speech, composed by himself, by reading it three times.
Dr. Witherspoon, it must be admitted, was a sagacious politician. He indeed adopted views which, in some respects, differed from those of his brethren in congress; yet his principles have been justified by the result. A few examples may be mentioned. He constantly opposed the expensive mode of supplying the army by commission. For several years this was the mode adopted. A certain commission per cent. on the money that the commissioners expended, was allowed them, as a compensation. A strong temptation was thus presented to purchase at extravagant prices, since the commissioners correspondingly increased their compensation.
In consequence of this mode of supplying the army, the expenses of the country became alarmingly great. Much dissatisfaction, from time to time, existed in reference to the management of the commissary general's department, and a reform was loudly demanded by many judicious men in the country. Among those who loudly complained on this subject, and who deemed a change essential to the salvation of the country, Dr. Witherspoon was one. This change, so useful and economical, was at length agreed to, July 10th, 1781. The superintendent of finance was authorized to procure all necessary supplies for the army and navy of the United States by contract, i. e. by allowing a certain sum to the purchaser for every ration furnished.
Another point on which Dr. Witherspoon differed from many of his brethren in congress, was the emission of a paper currency. After the first or second emission, he strongly opposed the system, predicting the wound which would be ultimately given to public credit, and the private distress which must necessarily follow. Instead of emissions of an unfunded paper beyond a certain quantum, Dr. Witherspoon urged the propriety of making loans and establishing funds for the payment of the interest. Happy had it been for the country, had this better policy been adopted. At a subsequent date, at the instance of some of the very gentlemen who opposed him in congress, he published his ideas on the
nature, value, and uses of money, in one of the most clear and judicious essays that perhaps was ever written on the subject.
At the close of the year 1779, Dr. Witherspoon voluntarily retired from congress, desirous of spending the remainder of his life, as he said, in "otio cum dignitate." Accordingly, he resigned his house in the vicinity of the college to his son-in-law, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Smith, to whom was committed the care and instruction of the students, who now began to return from their dispersion. Dr. Witherspoon retired to a country seat, at the distance of about one mile from Princeton. His name, however, continued to add celebrity to the institution, which not long after recovered its former reputation.
But he was not long allowed the repose which he so much desired. In 1781, he was again elected a representative to congress. But at the close of the following year, he retired from political life. In the year 1783, he was induced, through his attachment to the institution over which he had so long presided, to cross the ocean to promote its benefit. He was now in his sixtieth year, and strong must have been his regard for the interests of learning, to induce him, at this advanced age, to brave the dangers of the ocean. Much success could scarcely be expected in an undertaking of this kind, considering the hostility which still subsisted between England and America. The pecuniary assistance which he obtained exceeded only, by a little, his necessary expenses, although he was not wanting in enterprise and zeal in relation to the object of his voyage.
After his return to this country, in 1784, finding nothing to obstruct his entering on that retirement which was now becoming dear to him, he withdrew, in a great measure, except on some important occasions, from the exercise of those public functions that were not immediately connected with the duties of his office, as president of the college, or his character as a minister of the gospel.
Although Dr. Witherspoon was peculiarly fitted for political life, he appeared with still more advantage as a minister