John Witherspoon Improves Princeton

John Witherspoon Improves Princeton

John Witherspoon was a Pastor, President of Princeton and signer of the Declaration of Independence.

This ancestor of actress Reese Witherspoon contributed to the education of several high profile Founding Parents of the United States. His work turned Princeton into the Ivy League school it is today.

John Witherspoon

John Witherspoon was born and raised in Scotland, receiving an exemplary education and becoming a very popular Presbyterian Pastor.

After spending time in prison during the Jacobite Uprising of 1744, Witherspoon became dedicated to the principle of freedom of religion.

John became acquainted with Benjamin Rush and Richard Stockton (who, like him, were future signers of the Declaration of Independence) during their visit to Scotland. These two men managed to convince Witherspoon to accept a position as President of President of the College of New Jersey.


When John Witherspoon arrived to take control of the College of New Jersey (or as we know it today, Princeton University) he found the school lacking in every conceivable fashion.

Witherspoon went about transforming the organization into the educational institution he knew it could be. He raised funds, improved the curriculum and constructed new buildings.

By the start of the American Revolutionary War, Witherspoon had personally overseen the education of several future Founders, most notably James Madison and Aaron Burr. John was particularly influential to the political ideologies of Madison, who would become the main architect of the Constitution and a future President.

Continental Congress

In 1776, John Witherspoon was elected to the Continental Congress. He would remain a representative of New Jersey for the entire duration of the war.

In his first session, Witherspoon voted for and signed the Declaration of Independence, the only man of God to do so. Additionally, he served on the committee which drafted the Articles of Confederation.

John was a member of almost every major committee through out the early stages of the United States’ existence, including that which was designated the responsibility of concluding peace with Great Britain.


The Revolutionary War took great strength from Witherspoon as he made many personal sacrifices.

First, one of his sons, Major James Witherspoon, was killed in battle while fighting with the Continental Army.

Then, as the British approached Princeton, Witherspoon led an evacuation. Much of the school was destroyed and John spent significant amounts of his own money rebuilding it. As a Preacher and Teacher, he did not have the vast wealth we associate with many of the Founders and therefore had to live on a very tight budget for the rest of his life.

Despite this, Witherspoon made one last contribution to the American Founder before he passed, attending the New Jersey Ratification Convention as an avid supported of the Constitution his most successful student had a hand in drafting.

To read about other important educators during the Revolutionary Period, check out my articles on George Wythe and Richard Bayley.

If you are interested in learning more about Witherspoon’s beliefs (where were a unique mix of religious morals and secular government), pick up a copy of ‘John Witherspoon’s American Revolution’ from the affiliate link below.

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