The chief source of the funds for the erection of Nassau Hall was the collection made in Great Britain by Tennent and Davies, who went out in 1753 and returned in the following year. The Presbyterians both in England and Scotland made contributions liberal for the times; and Ulster attested its own direct interest by making special effort to raise money for the New Jersey college. In view of the necessitous condition of the Ulster people and clergy at that period the action taken is a marked evidence of the close tie between Ulster and American Presbyterianism. As the official record of this event does not appear in the church histories, it has been transcribed from the Minutes of the General Synod of Ulster, in session at Antrim, Thursday, June 27, 1754, as follows:

"A Petition was presented to this Synod by the Rev'd Mr. Gilbt Tennent in the name of the Synod of N. York, & the Trustees of the infant Colledge of N. Jersey, & many of the Inhabitants of the neighbouring Provinces representing that as they had laid a foundation for a Colledge & Seminary of learning, wc they apprehend may be of important service to the Interests of Religion & Learning: & as they are not able to carry this design to such perfection as is necessary to answer the exigencys of Church & State in these parts of His Majesties Dominions: they therefore humbly supplicate for such assistance as this Synod shall think proper, particularly one Sab. days Collection in the several Congregations subject to this Synod wt previous intimation for sd. Collection. The Synod Judging the above sd Seminary to be of great importance to the promotion of the Interests of Religion & Learning in several Provinces of N. America, unanimously granted the Petition: & ordered that public Collections be made in all the Congregations under their care, some time before the first of Novr. next, in ye meantime recommending it to all the Members of this Synod, to excite by proper exhortations their several societies to this important Charity."

This is an exceptionally long minute to appear upon the Synod's records. In addition to its earnest recommendation the Synod appointed a collector in each Presbytery, to receive and transmit the contributions. The circumstances of the people were then such that it was very difficult to get money for any purpose, but the Synod was persistent in its efforts. At the meeting of the General Synod, June 24, 1755, the following minute was entered upon the records:

"There has been very little done by the Pbys in the affair of the Charity to the College in N. Jersey, as appointed at last Synod. This Synod renews the recommodation, & enjoins the several Minrs to represent it, in the warmest manner to their Congregations: & to pay their Collections to the Gentlemen formerlie appointed, before the first of Novr. next."

At the meeting in 1756 the matter is again mentioned with the remark that "as some Bn. here made contributions for that purpose the Synod is well pleased with them." There is no record of the exact amount obtained through these collections, but the entire amount raised in Ireland was about 500 pounds; in Scotland, over 1,000 pounds; in England, about 1,700 pounds. It is remarkable that with such pressing needs in the home field the Ulster Synod should have taken such an active interest in a far distant enterprise. This may be attributed to a consciousness that the Church in America was a transplantation of the Church of Ulster. Princeton is undoubtedly a Scotch-Irish educational foundation made upon their cherished principle that what makes for learning and scholarship makes for Presbyterianism.

Princeton was the fourth college to be established in the colonies, Harvard in 1638 being the first, William and Mary in Virginia coming second in 1691, Yale third in 1701 and then Princeton in 1746. It was very advantageously situated and from the first drew attendance from all the region south of New England. A record of the commencement exercises of September, 1764, in President Finley's time, has been preserved from which it appears that they were mainly in Latin with the exception of "an English forensick Dispute," concerning which President Finley noted that it had been introduced because "it entertains the English part of the Audience; tends to the cultivation of our native Language, and has been agreeable on former occasions; which I presume are sufficient apologies for continuing the custom." President Finley was a Scotch-Irishman, a native of County Armagh, Ulster. The tenor of his note on the admission of an English feature into the exercises shows that he instinctively assumed that Latin was the proper language of scholarship.

Mortality was very marked among the early Presidents of Princeton, Dickinson, the first President, did not live to see the first commencement. His successor, Burr, held the office for ten years, and it was during his administration that the college was securely established in Princeton. In the next nine years Jonathan Edwards, Samuel Davies and Samuel Finley died, each while President of the University. The vacancy created by Finley's death July 17, 1766, was not filled for two years, during which time the Rev. William Tennent, Jr., acted as President. He was put in charge of that office by the vote of the trustees at their meeting June 25, 1766, at which time President Finley was disabled from performing its duties by the illness of which he soon afterward died. Mr. Tennent, the second son of the founder of the Log College, was pastor of the Presbyterian church at Freehold, about twenty-three miles from Princeton, so he could extend his activities to cover both places. A charter member of the Board of Trustees, he had always taken an active interest in the management of the college.

In 1768 John Witherspoon, D.D., LL.D., of Paisley, Scotland, yielded to repeated solicitations and came to America to become the sixth President of the College of New Jersey. Witherspoon's administration is of special importance as it extended from 1768 to 1794, covering the whole period of the Revolutionary War and the formation of the national Government through the adoption of the Constitution of the United States. In those events through advantage of position and through Witherspoon's personal ability and influence Princeton played a great part. Witherspoon was the son of a minister whose parish was about eighteen miles from Edinburgh. He was educated at the University of Edinburgh where he distinguished himself for his scholarship. From Beith where he was first settled as a pastor he was called to the large and flourishing town of Paisley, where his labors established for him such a reputation that he received numerous calls, among them one to Dublin, Ireland, and one to Rotterdam, Holland. When called by the trustees of the College of New Jersey to its presidency, he at first declined owing to his wife's extreme aversion to leaving Scotland; but when the call was reiterated he accepted, moved by the conviction that it was an opportunity of service that ought not to be rejected. Witherspoon threw himself into the cause of American learning and American liberty with his whole heart and will. Not only did his administration enlarge the scholarship and augment the instruction of Nassau Hall but the active part which Witherspoon soon took in politics gave a distinction to Princeton that had important results. His public activities hurt as well as helped, for some youth from Tory families passed by Princeton to go to Yale, but on the other hand there were New England students who passed by Harvard and Yale to go to Princeton. The result was that the College of New Jersey became more of a national institution than any other American college during the colonial period, and it became a school of statesmanship for the forming of the nation. Gaillard Hunt, in his Life of James Madison, has made an instructive analysis of Princeton influence in the Revolutionary period. In discussing the reasons why James Madison of Virginia went to Princeton rather than William and Mary College in his own State, Mr. Hunt says:

"He had the advantage of broader surroundings than would have been possible if he had completed his education elsewhere in America; for William and Mary was a local college, and so were Harvard and Yale, with few students coming from any other colony than the one in which each was situated. At the College of New Jersey, on the other hand, every colony was represented among the students; and while New Jersey had a few more than any other one colony, she had not a fourth part of all the students, the actual number being, when Madison entered, only nineteen Jerseymen out of eighty-four students. Of the twelve students who graduated with Madison only one, Charles McKnight, afterward distinguished in the medical department of the army of the Revolution, came from New Jersey. Chief among Madison's companions in his own class were Gunning Bedford of Delaware, Hugh Henry Brackenridge of Pennsylvania, and Philip Freneau of New York."

To this unique position of Princeton must be attributed its preponderating influence in the formation period of American history. Before Witherspoon's time Nassau Hall did its part in turning out men qualified for political eminence. Richard Stockton, a member of the first graduating class, was a member of the Continental Congress of 1776-1777 and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Prior to the accession of Witherspoon in 1768 the College of New Jersey graduated 301 students of whom the majority entered the ministry, but there were many who turned to law and politics and became eminent in public life. Eighteen graduates of this period became members of the Continental Congress. Men of such national reputation as Samuel Livermore of New Hampshire, Joseph Shippen, Jr., of Pennsylvania, Alexander Martin of North Carolina, Joseph Reed of Pennsylvania, Benjamin Rush of Pennsylvania, William Paterson of New Jersey, Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut and Luther Martin of Maryland were graduated during this period. With the accession of Witherspoon the trend of the times began to shift the interest of the students strongly to public affairs. In the twenty-six years of his incumbency 469 young men were graduated of whom only 114, or less than a quarter, became clergymen. Of the 230 graduates from 1766 to 1776, twelve became members of the Continental Congress, twenty-four became members of the Congress of the United States, three Justices of the Supreme Court, one Secretary of State, one Postmaster-General, three Attorney-Generals, one Vice-President of the United States and one President.

The most critical period of our history was the formation of the national Government, the fruit of the constitutional convention of 1787. Of its fifty-five members thirty-two were of academic training, including one each from London, Oxford, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, five from William and Mary, one from the University of Pennsylvania, two from Columbia, three from Harvard, four from Yale and nine from Princeton. Moreover those nine included the leaders of the convention. They were as follows, the graduation class to which each belonged being bracketed after the name: Alexander Martin (1756) of North Carolina, William Paterson (1763) of New Jersey, Oliver Ellsworth (1766) of Connecticut, Luther Martin (1766) of Maryland, William Churchill Houston (1768) of New Jersey, Gunning Bedford, Jr., (1771) of Delaware, James Madison (1771) of Virginia, William Richardson Davie (1776) of North Carolina, and Jonathan Dayton (1776) of New Jersey. With these should be named Edmund Randolph of Virginia who studied at Princeton although he did not graduate.

James Madison was the wheelhorse of the federal movement. Although the Virginia plan in which representation was based on population was submitted by Randolph, it was inspired by Madison. The Jersey plan, based on the principle of State equality, was devised by Paterson. The great controversies of the convention were over the issue raised by these two plans. Ells-worth and Davie took a leading part in arranging the compromise that finally ended the dispute, the small States being accorded equal representation in the Senate, while in the House representation was based upon population. Madison was active and influential at every stage of the proceedings, and he assisted in putting the final touches to the Constitution as he was a member of the committee on style. To his Princeton training may be attributed the fact that such a complete record of the work of the convention has been preserved. Gaillard Hunt's Life of James Madison is the most exact and authoritative biography. He remarks that Madison went to the convention with carefully prepared notes on Government. "They were the results of profound study begun twenty years before at Princeton and continued unremittingly." We learn from Madison himself that he derived from his Princeton experience the motive of this exceptional industry. In the introduction of his journal of convention proceedings, which he left for publication after his death, he says:

"The curiosity I had felt during my researches into the history of the most distinguished confederacies, particularly those of antiquity, and the deficiency I found in the means of satisfying it, more especially in what related to the process, the principles, the reasons and the anticipations, which prevailed in the formation of them, determined me to preserve, as far as I could, an exact account of what might pass in the Convention. . . .

"In pursuance of the work I had assumed, I chose a seat in front of the presiding member, with the other members on my right and left hands. In this favorable position for hearing all that passed, I noted in terms legible and in abbreviations and marks intelligible to myself, what was read from the chair or spoken by the members; and losing not a moment unnecessarily between adjournment and reassembling of the Convention, I was enabled to write out my daily notes during the session, or within a few finishing days after its close."

That is to say he took notes of convention proceedings in the same way and by the same method that he had become accustomed to at Princeton in attending lectures in his course of study.

In addition to the Princeton graduates who were members of the constitutional convention of the United States there were at least thirty-six Princeton graduates who took part in State constitutional conventions including those of New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Kentucky. Such a wide distribution is signal evidence of the national scope of Princeton influence.

Besides this close association of Princeton with the organization of American independence the accidents of the Revolutionary War invested Princeton with distinctive historical interest. Nassau Hall was pillaged and wrecked during the war, and since then it has been burned out twice, but it was so well built that the original walls form part of the present structure, a tablet upon which gives the following record:

"This building erected in 1756 by the College of New Jersey, and named Nassau Hall in honor of King William III, was seized by British forces for military purposes in 1776 and retaken by the American army January, 3, 1777. Here met from June 30, 1783, until November 4, 1783, the Continental Congress, and here August 26, 1783, General Washington received the grateful acknowledgments of the Congress for his services in establishing the freedom and independence of the United States of America."

Elias Boudinot of New Jersey, a Princeton trustee, was President of Congress in 1783. As a special compliment to the college Congress adjourned to attend the commencement exercises of that year, and General Washington was present. At the meeting of the Board of Trustees on the same day a committee was appointed to request General Washington:

"to sit for his picture to be taken by Mr. Charles Wilson Peale of Philadelphia.—And, ordered that his portrait when finished be placed in the hall of the college in the room of the picture of the late King of Great Britain, which was torn away by a ball from the American artillery in the battle of Princeton."

This portrait now hangs in Nassau Hall in the same frame that had formerly contained the picture of George II. The college familiarly known as Nassau Hall in its earlier days was later known generally by its place name of Princeton, its legal title as the College of New Jersey being used only on formal occasions. In October, 1896, on the 150th anniversary of the founding of the college the present title of Princeton University was assumed.

Read this book at your leisure

The Scotch-Irish in America cover

There ain’t nothing like the real thing — get the softcover second edition to read The Scotch-Irish in America at your leisure and help support this free Irish library. The author, Henry Jones Ford had this to say about the book:

“This book tells the story of the Ulster Plantation and of the influences that formed the character of the people. The causes are traced that led to the great migration from Ulster and the Scotch-Irish settlements in America are described. The recital of their experiences involves an account of frontier manners and customs, and of collisions with the Indian tribes. The influence of the Scotch-Irish settlements upon American institutions is traced, particularly in organizing and propagating the Presbyterian Church, in spreading popular education, and in promoting the movement for American national independence. In conclusion, there is an appreciation of the Ulster contribution to American nationality.”