About John Witherspoon College

Why “John Witherspoon?”

The name “John Witherspoon” captures the core values of the new college.  John Witherspoon (1723-1794) was the sixth President of Princeton.  Born in Scotland, he earned the Master of Arts degree from the University of Edinburgh in 1739, and remained at the University to study divinity, eventually ordained as a minister in the Church of Scotland.  In 1764, he received the Doctorate of Divinity from the University of St. Andrews.  At the urging of Benjamin Rush and Richard Stockton, in 1768, at the age of 45, he accepted a second invitation (he rejected an invitation in 1766) to become President and head professor of the Presbyterian College of New Jersey (now Princeton).  Though born in Scotland, Witherspoon quickly embraced the American cause.  He was both the only active clergyman and the only college president to sign the Declaration of Independence.  He served in Congress from June 1776 until November 1782, helped draft the Articles of Confederation, and played a major role in shaping America’s nascent foreign policy.  He also served in the New Jersey Legislature and advocated the adoption of the United States Constitution during the New Jersey ratification debates.

As an educator, Witherspoon strengthened standards for admission and for instruction, increased library and other learning resources, and modeled the Princeton curriculum after St. Andrews and other Scottish universities.  He held strong convictions about the need for a “converted” ministry, but he also worked hard to prepare graduates for civic responsibility, in keeping with the vision of Princeton’s founders to produce “ornaments of the State as well as the Church.''  From among Princeton students during his tenure came thirty-seven judges (including three U. S. Supreme Court Justices), nine Cabinet officers, twelve members of the Continental Congress, twenty-one U.S. senators, thirty-nine U. S. congressmen, and twelve state governors.  One student, Aaron Burr, became Vice-President, and another, James Madison, became President.